From the BLURB:
Ex-cop Lily Yu and werewolf Rule Turner’s engagement announcement is stirring up ugly passions in the Humans First camp. There’s hate mail, followed by death threats. And when a lupus in Tennessee goes on a killing spree, Lily realizes that it’s only the opening skirmish in an all-out war.
FBI agent Lily Yu and her Lupi (werewolf) prince mate, Rule Turner, have a rough road ahead. Rule has done the impossible and uncouth by proposing marriage to his human chosen mate. This is unheard of amongst the notoriously promiscuous Lupi. . . it is even unheard of for bond-mates like Lily and Rule, who are bound to one another per the Lupi’s deity, The Lady. But it’s not just Rule’s clan-mates who are suspicious of the upcoming nuptials. Human anti-werewolf groups are airing their grievances too – and one man in particular. Robert Friar is head of the ‘Humans First’ camp, and desperately trying to push for bestiality argument in banning human/Lupi marriage and couplings.
Is it a coincidence that when Robert Friar’s public arguments reach fever-pitch, Lily is put on the case of a homicidal werewolf?
It’s not just Lily and Rule’s life that is spiralling out of control. . . Rule’s elder brother, Benedict, has found the impossible... a second chosen mate. Years ago Benedict lost his love and his mind – he and Claire were the only mate-bonded pair in generations, and then Claire died and Benedict didn’t want to live. Now, at the age of seventy, Benedict has literally stumbled across Arjenie Fox. . . and a second mate-bond. It’s unheard of that a Lupi would get a second chosen in his lifetime.
‘Blood Challenge’ is the seventh novel in Eileen Wilk’s ridiculously brilliant ‘World of the Lupi’ urban fantasy series.
I wasn’t overly thrilled with the sixth instalment, ‘Blood Magic’. . . I felt like there was a big disconnect between emotion and plot in that book. So I was going into ‘Challenge’ with a small amount of trepidation. . . but came away with a smile on my face.
One thing I missed in ‘Blood Magic’ was a Lily and Rule focus. It felt like, for a long time, Wilks was walking around on eggshells when she wrote those two – as Lily grew concerned with the upcoming wedding arrangements (but didn’t voice her concerns) and Rule became increasingly agitated by Lily’s clear cold-feet. Well, I am happy to report that there’s not much room for eggshell-shenanigans in ‘Blood Challenge’, since the main focus of this book is the mate bond. Now, that’s not to say that the focus is specifically on Lily and Rule’s mate bond. . .
Surprisingly enough Lily and Rule are really not the star’s of ‘Blood Challenge’- that role is more reserved for Benedict and his recently discovered bond mate, Arjenie. Normally I hate it when Eileen Wilks veers away from Lily and Rule’s perspective (and I still haven’t forgiven her for making me slog through Cynna’s book, ‘Night Season’). But when the alternate romantic storyline is as romantic as Benedict and Arjenie’s, well then I welcome the shake-up.
Benedict has been a lurking secondary character throughout the ‘World of the Lupi’ series. He’s always been a bit of a black sheep and lone wolf (pardon the pun) but his history has always been referenced. From book one Lily has known about Benedict as a cautionary tale for bonded pairs. Benedict’s chosen died, and his sanity along with her. . . and for a long time he was an unstable and dangerous Lupi.
So when Benedict literally stumbles across a woman who reawakens his mate bond, he is startled, to say the least. Benedict is reluctant to succumb to another potentially disastrous bond mate, especially with a woman who is nabbed lurking around clan home for reasons she refuses to disclose.
Benedict and Arjenie’s romance is terribly sweet. Not least of all because Arjenie is a genuinely infectious and wonderful heroine. She has a permanent limp, riotous curly red hair and a perpetually racing mind. She’s brilliant. She’s a little clumsy, overtly earnest and incapable of lying – and she sends Benedict into a tail-spin. . . because as much as he may want to resist the mate bond, he (and readers) can see that there’s simply no resisting Arjenie.
“The most efficient way to live a life is to die a couple of seconds after you’re born. Pfft. Done.” She dusted her hands to demonstrate that. “It’s too late for you to achieve optimal efficiency, but you could still. . .”Benedict was laughing. Silently. She couldn’t hear a thing, but his face, his open mouth, his whole body said laughter. It only lasted a few seconds before dwindling to an audible chuckle.“You have a strange mind. I like it. I like you.”He sounded surprised. She was surprised, too. Also delighted. And turned on. Her cheeks heated.
It’s quite odd that I so enjoyed Benedict’s storyline. It does take up a good chunk of ‘Blood Challenge’ page-time. . . yet I whinged about the lack of Lily and Rule page-time in ‘Blood Magic’ and hate the Cynna/Cullen side-story. But there was just something about Benedict and Arjenie that was just too good to hate.
But like I said, ‘Blood Challenge’ is primarily about the mate bond. As much as it’s about how it impacts Benedict, there’s also direct and indirect reference to how it impacted (and is still impacting) Lily and Rule’s relationship. I will say that Eileen Wilks still doesn’t go into enough relationship detail with these two, but it is an improvement over ‘Blood Magic’. Lily, for instance, finally admits some regrets to herself that come with being Rule’s mate.
But even if I wished there was more Lily/Rule focus in this book. . . I think ‘Blood Challenge’ succeeded in clearing some things up for me about the trajectory of this series. I’m starting to understand that Wilks’s ‘World of the Lupi’ series is not really ‘The Lily and Rule’ series. Maybe it’s a little late in the game (seven books late!) to finally have an accepting grasp of the series’ overarching objective. . . but I feel like things have never been more clear, for Wilks and readers alike, than in ‘Blood Challenge’. The ‘World of the Lupi’ series is bigger than the sum of its parts – it’s easier to think of it as being about the members of clan home and the impact of celebrity on an entire species of supernatural beings. . . perhaps Lily and Rule are often a convenient vessel through which to experience the changing social norms that come with their human/Lupi union, but they are not always going to be the focus of this ‘World’. And that’s okay. When you have side stories as good as Benedict and Arjenie’s, you hardly even notice that Lily and Rule are often sidelined.
I will also say that ‘Blood Challenge’ is some of Wilks’s finest writing. There are times throughout the book when her writing becomes a simmering blend of noir and urban fantasy. . . something dark and fantastical with a biting edge. Brilliant, and worthy of Raymond Chandler.
Fear comes in many flavours. Tonight’s dish was sour apples with a soupcon of bile. Arjenie swallowed and swallowed again.The moon was high and nearly full. A few tatters of high-flying cirrus clouds marred the sky’s dome like scuff marks left by skidding giants. Arjenie held herself still so as not to send any crackles or crunches out into the moon-flooded night.
I really, really loved this installment. I went in with trepidation, and came out with a new series favorite. . . I will warn that there is a BIG cliff-hanger at the end, but that just seemed to make the novel all the more robust and fulfilling. ‘Blood Challenge’ was overall an enlightening and wonderful installment in a beloved urban fantasy series. I am now on pins and needles for the eighth book, 'Death Magic'!