I am sorry I waited so long to read Shadows & Dreams by Alexis Hall. (Confession: I'm a book hoarder. Hey, I'm working on it. Well, to be honest, I don't hoard all my books, just certain ones that I save to be read at just the right time, and Shadows & Dreams is one of those books.) Everything I loved in Iron & Velvet is here in this installment of the Kate Kane series, and I easily fell back into this fascinating world of vampires, shape shifters, demons, faeries, and other supernatural creatures, including the Rat Gestalt. The humor as well as the 'epitaphs' Kate pens in her head at different times had me in stitches at times, and most of the characters I loved in Iron & Velvet are back - Ashriel the incubus, Elise the animated statue and Kate's Girl Friday (who is my absolute favorite character and who really needs her own book), Nimue the Witch Queen, Thierry and Acton Knight, and, of course, Julian The Prince of Cups and Kate's latest girlfriend. I loved getting to know Eve, another of Kate's ex-lovers, better and seeing the dynamics between the two of them.
What was so much fun and kept me glued to the pages was how Alexis Hall took a simple missing person case and steadily built on it until Kate was juggling not only her trial before the vampire council for the murder of Aeglica Thrice-Risen, searching for an ancient baddie who's creating a vast vampire army to take over the world, trying to prevent a vampire-werewolf war, finding an ex-lover who's escaped from prison after murdering her business partner, but also stopping a crazy vampire from ascending to godhood. Oh yeah, and trying to spend some quality time with Julian. The plot was a bit like a Japanese puzzle box, with Kate trying to figure out the correct pieces to be manipulated, in what order and what kind of manipulation to open the box in order to get the charm hidden inside. All in a day's work for Kate Kane.
I loved all the characters from the more enigmatic ones to the power-hungry deranged ones, but Elise is wonderful! She is a fantastic mix of charming child-like innocence mixed with an almost maternal protectiveness for Kate and scary efficiency. Elise loves gadgets of all kinds (TomTom for the car, driving the car, coffee makers, toasters, coin sorters, and 'hard-core power tools' to name a few) and fixing broken gadgets is a passion for her, but she's also quick to offer Kate a hug when she needs one, whether Kate wants it or not. I loved that her favorite gadget is a remote control helicopter that she cannot 'use in the flat' after The Drinks Cabinet Incident. Again, the interactions between Kate and Elise alone are worth the price of admission.
"I rang Elise from the front entrance of the hospital.
'Good evening, Miss Kane.'
'Hugh's a vampire.'
'Are you attempting to convey information, or are you trying to recreate a popular Abbott and Costello routine?'
'What are you talking about?'
'I am sorry. I thought you may have wanted me to reply 'I don't know' so that you could respond with 'No, I don't know's a werewolf.'
'Elise, you can rest easy in the knowledge that I would never, ever want you to do that.'
'That, Miss Kane, is because you have no soul.'" (15)
Elise brings out a softer side to this snarky, hard-living, chain-smoking, paranormal investigator that would otherwise be hard to see. When Kate's car is demolished, Elise is troubled that 'the vehicle has suffered terribly', and Kate-being-Kate initially shrugs off the damage to the car as 'a write-off.'
'Oh no, Miss Kane, I did not believe you would discard a thing so casually.'
'It'll cost more to fix than to replace.'
Elise turned away and I remembered, too late, that the last time she's been to a wrecking yard she'd been, well, in it.
I put my hand awkwardly on her shoulder. 'Fine, fine, we'll keep the car.' (261)
Girlfriends may come and go in Kate's life, but I think (and hope!) Elise will always be a major part of Kate's life. And, did I detect more than a passing interest in Elise from Ashriel, the celibate incubus? I can't say that I blame him. After all, we all need an Elise, I think.
If you haven't tried the Kate Kane series, you really should. Start with Iron & Velvet so that you can fully appreciate all the goodness in Dreams & Shadows. There was one slight niggle in Shadows & Dreams for me. Julian was not as much a part of this book as she was in Iron & Velvet, and I missed the way she and Kate bantered and teased and tormented each other as they did so well in the first book. Still, Shadows & Dreams is excellent, and both books are fun and fast-paced, the world building is amazing, and the characters are wonderful. Plus, Elise is in both books.