Argeneau Novel No. 27: Twice Bitten. By Lynsay Sands. Avon. $7.99.
In the 26th novel of Lynsay Sands’ long-running Argeneau series, Immortally Yours, the lead female character has been a strong, appealing, sexy and determined vampire for more than a century. As the plot progresses, she re-encounters a strong, appealing, sexy and determined male who, it turns out, is her “life mate” – a Sands invention that helps explain, in the context of paranormal romance, the intensity of characters’ physical attraction and connection. But there are complications standing in the way of their happily-ever-after – and “ever after” means a loooooong time when it comes to immortals. The primary one is that someone is trying to kill the female protagonist. So female and male protagonist must team up for purposes of protection and link up for purposes of extreme sexual pleasure, until eventually the nefarious doings are uncovered and the life mates are mated, presumably, for life (or, as it were, for life after death).
Fast-forward to the 27th Argeneau novel, Twice Bitten. Here, the lead female character has been a strong, appealing, sexy and determined vampire for more than a century. As the plot progresses, she re-encounters a strong, appealing, sexy and determined male who, it turns out, is her “life mate.” But there are complications standing in the way of their happily-ever-after. The primary one is that someone is trying to kill the female protagonist. So female and male protagonist must team up for purposes of protection and link up for purposes of extreme sexual pleasure, until eventually the nefarious doings are uncovered and the life mates are mated, presumably, for life (or, as it were, for life after death).
To be fair to Sands and the Argeneau series, there are a number of differences between No. 26 and No. 27. And to be fair to fans of this long-running, multi-character sort-of-vampire sequence, the stylish writing and reasonably hot sex scenes in Twice Bitten will more than satisfy expectations, just as the sex itself more than satisfies the participants in it. More-recent Argeneau novels have started to seem a tad repetitive, more inclined to plot duplication with different characters filled in than were earlier Argeneau books. It is really true that Twice Bitten follows what has become a fairly standard plot of immortal and life mate meeting when one of them is in peril and the two must work together to survive while discovering their unbreakable physical attraction. But it is also true that Sands is good at varying plot details enough so that the similarities seem less important, except perhaps to book reviewers – but in truth, books that fit their series snugly, in series that fit their genre with precision, are in a sense beyond criticism, since they do not pretend to be anything more than they are and do not reach out to anyone except readers who are already enamored of their approaches and/or authors.
To keep Twice Bitten distinctive but clearly connected to the Argeneau series, Sands focuses not only on female protagonist Elspeth Argeneau Pimms but also on her mother, Martine, as cold-hearted and determinedly intense a character as Sands has created anywhere. Elspeth, who is more than 140 years old, finally gets away from her mother’s iron-fisted supervision in Twice Bitten (the Elspeth-Martine relationship was explored earlier in the Argeneau series, but Twice Bitten is self-contained). Martine can control not only the minds of mortals (a standard sort-of-vampire trait in this series) but also those of younger immortals – the twist being that nearly every immortal is younger than Martine, who was born before the fall of Atlantis set the long-long-ago machinery of the series into motion. Elspeth has gotten away by moving from England to Canada and setting herself up with a nice apartment and a pleasant, elderly landlady named Meredith MacKay. This would be fine, except that Martine decides to visit her daughter and, uh-oh, perhaps move across the Atlantic herself. And on the very day that Martine shows up at Elspeth’s apartment, Meredith’s grandson, Wyatt, shows up as well. Elspeth finds him vaguely familiar – and Wyatt remembers Elspeth quite clearly, having fallen in love with her four years earlier. But she does not remember him, not really, and this is a major puzzle for Wyatt, who is not yet versed in the machinations of the Argeneau ethos. And soon enough, Wyatt has other things to worry about, since brutal attacks on Elspeth put him quickly into protective mode – where he goes with alacrity, since he turns out to have a background in “special ops,” that catch-all “tremendous ability for controlled violence” category. The rest of Twice Bitten involves the simultaneous search for Elspeth’s would-be assassin and exploration of the sexual intensity between Elspeth and Wyatt as predestined life mates – that “predestined” bit being rather charmingly old-fashioned in all the Argeneau novels. With the shadow of Martine looming over everything, the book has some flavor of a triangle, as Elspeth’s mother and life mate both try to protect her – in very different ways and to very different effect. Twice Bitten breaks no new ground in the Argeneau sequence, but fans of the series will not care: the book has plenty of action, plenty of sex, and enough humor (a characteristic of Sands’ writing, albeit more so in the early novels than in the more-recent ones) to provide yet another dose of the enjoyable escapism that Sands proffers skillfully, if formulaically, again and again.
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