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Review – Guardian (The Protectors #2) by Nancy Northcott

cover_guardian

Publisher: Forever Yours
Publish Date: Out Now
How I got this book: eARC from publisher

A POWER TO KILL

FBI agent Camellia “Mel” Wray is no stranger to violence but when an old friend is brutally murdered, she takes it personally. The case hits even closer to her heart when the best person to help with the investigation is Dr. Stefan Harper, the only man she ever loved-and lost. One look at the gorgeous medical expert and Mel realizes he’s still impossible to resist — and still harboring a secret after all these years . . .

A POWER TO LOVE

Afraid Mel wouldn’t accept him, Stefan never revealed his study of magical medicine or his abilities, instead allowing her to believe he’d been unfaithful. Now she’s back in his life-and their mutual attraction burns hotter than ever. But when something dark and otherworldly threatens humans, Stefan must summon his mage powers to keep everyone safe. Will Mel be able to trust him again? Or will their love cost him even more than it did the first time?

*blurb from Goodreads

I have been anxiously awaiting Northcott’s follow-up to Renegade, the first book of The Protector series, ever since I reviewed it last fall. I loved that book and couldn’t wait to get back to the interesting world of mages, mundanes and ghouls that Northcott had created. Also, I knew the story would focus on Dr. Stefan Harper, a character I had really enjoyed in the first book.

As a mundane (non-mage) human, FBI Special Agent Mel Wray viewed the world in black and white. Because of her training and her past, she didn’t believe in coincidences or “woo-woo” science — be that ESP, psychics, energy, tarot cards, crystals, and certainly not magic — a point of conflict that drove Mel and Stefan apart years ago. When Stefan gets called in to help on a case, he struggles with walking the line between keeping the mage world a secret (as dictated by protocol), and wanting to be honest and open with Mel knowing all the while that she would have a difficult time accepting him if she knew the truth.

I felt the first book blurred the boundaries between UF and PNR with its fast-driving, action-oriented plot, however this second book felt grounded primarily in PNR as the action elements of the plot seemed to take a backseat to the developing relationship between Stefan and Mel. In that sense it was more character-driven. In the first book, we were immediately dropped into the action of the story and the pace took off from there. In Guardian, we first encounter Mel in a moment where she must deal with a heavy sense of loss and regret which sets the tone for the rest of this story. Both Mel and Stefan have issues from their past that they must resolve before they are able to come together as a couple. However, the story wasn’t just about resolving past issues as Mel and Stefan had to unravel the mystery of the super-ghouls and solve a murder. Northcott did an good job of upping the ante in the world-building as we got a closer look at just how horrifying the ghouls really were and how capable the mages were at dealing with them.

I again enjoyed Northcott’s writing style and voice and her ability to create characters and place them in a world that I have fun visiting — even if there are some ugly parts to that world. Including characters from the first book anchored the story for me. It was good to read about Griff and Val again and see just a bit about how their lives were unfolding. However, I missed the action-packed pace of the first book. By 50% into the story, I want to be knee-deep in the action of the plot, but in this story, the characters were still spinning their wheels on the case and lost in emotional angst. In comparison to Renegade, this second installment was a bit slower paced and angsty with characters who were mired in their pasts. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but the over-angsting is just not my personal cuppa.

The story shifts POV between Mel and Stefan, so we do get a closer look at both characters which I liked. It’s clear that these two have unresolved issues with each other and within themselves which gave them a three dimensional appeal. However, since the internal dialogue of both characters focused on their unresolved issues and attraction to each other, I think that emphasized the angsty tone of the book. Of course some of that had to be there to set the tone for this particular story, but all that time spent ruminating on their inner turmoil slowed the pace. If I hadn’t been anticipating action, perhaps this would have bothered me less. However, I must say, when these two finally got out of their own way, they fit together very well. I liked how their respective broken pieces fit together in a healing way for both.

Mel had the potential to be kick-ass. In the human world, she was very effective at her job and didn’t back down from a challenge. However, when faced with a supernatural related case, keeping her in the dark for so long really made her an ineffectual heroine. She and Stefan were not on a level playing field. He held all the cards which left her to bumble along as best she could. It put her in the damsel-in-distress category even though given a level playing field, she would have been anything but. The plot set her up in a way because of the mage’s need for secrecy and the defined protocols that must be adhered to before revealing the mage world to a mundane human. On the other hand, I felt that (very mild spoiler): [spoiler] if Griff could get his hands on a mage-made weapon that he could use to fight the ghouls even though he still hadn’t recovered his personal magic, [/spoiler] then the same could have been provided to Mel giving her a chance to fight back against the ghouls instead of being side-lined.

There were a couple plot choices that left me scratching my head. And both Mel and Stefan spent a lot of time angsting over their attraction to each other and over what had happened in the past. And there was a condom-copout scene. (Ya know, if characters are going to address birth control at all in the story, I’d just as soon they don the condom rather than say something like “I’m on the pill and I’m healthy. Please don’t wait.”) All that aside, I really enjoyed this book. Northcott does such a good job at writing a readable story with characters I come to care about. I will definitely continue to follow this series – especially as the danger factor relative to the ghouls has ramped up considerably. I suspect the mages will have their hands full come the next book, and I can’t wait to read how that plays out!

I give Guardian a B-.

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