Conquer the Highland Beast is the second book in Eliza March’s Hearts of Darkness paranormal erotic romance series. I enjoyed the first installment, Defeat the Darkness, but I found this story of vampire Dylan Macgregor even more compelling. Some of this may be because I’m now familiar with the fictional world March has created, a murky southern landscape populated by a multitude of pure-blooded and hybrid supernatural creatures. It was fun to catch up with characters from the first book and see how their situations have evolved.
The structure of Conquer the Highland Beast is rather unique and added a lot to the reading experience. The main story concerns Dylan, a Vampire-Berserker (with overtones of Fae) who is the acting leader of the paranormals in New Orleans. It’s not always an easy alliance. Lately there’s been trouble with invading demons. In the course of exercising covert damage control, Dylan crosses paths with FBI profiler Caitlin Donovan. The attraction is instantaneous. Caitlin is a well-rounded character. March takes the time to establish her as an individual with her own complicated past.
At this point the author begins a second story, a deep and lengthy exploration of how Dylan became a vampire. This second tale takes us to 17th century Scotland. March does a great job depicting what clan life might have been like in that scary, violent time. She mixes historical detail with fairy tale touches in just the right proportions. We follow Dylan from when he’s a frightened child determined to avenge his betrayed family,through adulthood when he actually makes good on that promise. The character development is carefully wrought and believable. The erotic encounters evolve naturally and don’t seem out of place.
When we rejoin Dylan in the present, we have a clear understanding of where he came from as a character and we want so much for him to find some peace and–dare we hope?–lasting happiness. And it looks like it may happen. He and Caitlin share a serious attraction and, as they grow closer, sparks fly. Even here, March is restrained in her use of the erotic, never allowing it to overwhelm the narrative. I did wish that Caitlin and Dylan were given just a tiny bit more time to fret and struggle individually before they declared their feelings to one another, ratcheting up the tension even more, but by now both characters have been well established and their coming together seems inevitable.
That said, there’s a big twist that points to future challenges for this couple. I wouldn’t call the ending a true cliffhanger–there’s no doubt that Caitlin and Dylan are crazy in love. It’s just that this is a complicated world with its own rules and contradictions that the couple will have to deal with. I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll just say that I can’t wait to read the third installment and see how March writes her way through the exciting complication she’s created.