Imitate the Dawn (Whitethorn Security #3) by M.A. Grant

imitate the dawn

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Cristian Slava and Atlas Kincaid despise each other. At least, that’s what they need everyone to believe. In truth, the charismatic vampire and his fierce bodyguard are more in love than ever. But when a powerful political faction emerges and threatens Cristian’s family, the only way into their enemy’s inner circle is without each other by their side.

From Romania to New York and beyond, though apart, their blood-bond cannot be severed—but it can be used against them. When Cristian sacrifices his life to save his family and save Atlas from having his darkest secrets revealed, only faith in that bond will keep Atlas from utter despair.

And only by facing his past will Atlas be able to accept who he is and finally defeat their most powerful enemy yet…

Death itself.

Rating: B+

The action in Imitate the Dawn, book three in M.A. Grant’s Whitethorn Security series, moves from Romania back to the US, where Atlas Kincaid and Cristian Slava need to move fast to counter the threat to their home and to save the life of Cristian’s father, who has been arrested and is being investigated by the Vampire Council. Because the trilogy is, in effect, one story divided into three, it’s essential to have read the previous books in the series before starting this one. It also means there are spoilers in this review.

In book two, Crooked Shadows, Atlas and Cristian fled to Romania following a devastating strigoi attack at the family home in upstate New York, intent on finding out who is creating and controlling the gruesome creatures. In Romania, a bloody coup deposes the ruling vampire family – allies to Decebal Vladislavic (Cristian’s father) – and the he is now suspected by the Council of being responsible for the creation of the strigoi and the attacks which led to the coup. Christian and Atlas are sure that their arch-enemies, the Wharrams (Cristian’s late mother’s family) are involved somehow, and will have to race against time to prove Decebal’s innocence and prevent the Wharrams taking over the Council.

The romance between Atlas and Cristian developed into a lasting bond which has survived everything that has been thrown at them, including betrayal, lies and physical danger, and they’re stronger together than ever. Atlas realises the strigoi were responsible for the attack on his unit years ago from which he emerged as the sole survivor, and as the story progresses, begins to suspect the truth of what happened to him. At the end of a fast-paced and action-packed story where there was peril on all sides and Atlas and Cristian were not always sure who to trust, they were were blindsided by the discovery of a truly terrible betrayal by someone who had been part of Decebal’s inner circle and whom Cristian had regarded as a good friend.

When Imitate the Dawn opens, Cristian, Atlas and their friends Daria and Radu have survived another attack by the strigoi and learned of the overthrow and murder of the territory’s ruling family. Moves are being made to close the borders, so they have to get out quickly – but before they can leave, they’re contacted by the council’s lead investigator who informs them of Decebal’s arrest and of the accusations being made against him, intending to take them in, too. It’s only when, during the ensuing fight, she gets a taste of Cristian’s blood that she can see the truth and realises that she was an unwitting instrument in the council’s machinations and offers to help Cristian and Atlas to prove that the Wharrams are working against the council and everyone on it.

Once back in the US, Atlas and Cristian have to come up with a plan to locate and destroy any remaining strigoi nests before the creatures can be used against them, and find a way to save Decebal. Their one advantage is that Helias Casimir doesn’t know that they know he’s the traitor and what he’s been doing – and they decide the first step is to return to the house to see where things stand. Knowing Helias will be suspicious, Atlas and Cristian are going to act as though they’re at each other’s throats in order to distract him and prevent him questioning their motives for returning; he’ll want to separate Cristian and Atlas and the fact they’re fighting will give him the opportunity to do it. Neither of them is happy with the idea – Cristian especially, knowing he’s going to have to be hurtful and cruel if he’s going to be at all convincing – but Atlas reassures him, reminding how much of a pain in the arse Cristian was when they first met, and how he wasn’t able to run him off despite it. The deception works. Helias moves quickly to get Atlas out of the way and to enact his plan to dispose of Cristian; Atlas and Cristian have already agreed on what’s going to happen next, and they know pretending not to suspect Helias is incredibly risky, but it’s their only chance to find out what he is really up to.

I’ve really enjoyed the tight plotting, the worldbuilding and the vividly written action scenes in this series. Once again, the author does a great job of keeping the forward momemtum going, ramping up the tension as we barrel towards a nail-biting climax that pits our heroes against family, against the Council, and into a final showdown with the strigoi. The love story has been excellent, too, as Atlas and Cristian’s chemistry-laden slow-burn romance moves from wariness and distrust to understanding, affection and love, so that by the beginning of Imitate the Dawn, they’re a solid couple, secure in their relationship and have each other’s backs without question. But because the focus of this story is on saving Decebal and preventing mass murder by the strigoi, their romance is perhaps less prominent – although their love for each other permeates the novel. The bond they already share is strengthened here, so even when they’re physically distant they’re never really apart, and there are some moments towards the end in the aftermath of the battle which really tug at the heartstrings.

The biggest problem I had with this book is that I found it difficult to get into because it’s been nine months or so since I read Crooked Shadows. As I said earlier, the series is essentially one story broken up into three parts, which makes it essential to be able to recall a lot of detail about the other instalments – and I struggled for the first three or four chapters. I accept (to an extent) that’s on me – I don’t typically have time to re-read previous books in series – but it also shows there’s a danger when you’re essentially splitting up one story into smaller parts, of your audience losing track.

In the end, though, once I got into the story I really got into it and found it a hard book to put aside. Imitate the Dawn brings the Whitethorn Security to a thrilling close and although I can’t quite push grade  for this one higher than a B+  the entire series has a place on my DIK shelf.

Crooked Shadows (Whitethorn Agency #2) by M.A. Grant

crooked shadows

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Everyone has secrets. Especially those who live in the shadows.

Cristian Slava doesn’t fear much. After he was betrayed by the man he called an uncle, leaving upstate New York for the Carpathian Mountains of his childhood is more a matter of practicality than fear. With him is Atlas Kinkaid, a former marine turned fierce bodyguard…and fierce lover, albeit a hell of a complicated one.

Cristian’s cunning is tested by the politics and intrigue of the vampire families of Romania, and the warm welcome he and Atlas were assured of quickly turns to ash as they race to unravel the mystery of an old friend’s disappearance. Searching for the missing vampire draws them into a web of betrayal and half-truths that reaches further than Cristian ever could have imagined, and they uncover a string of grisly murders that bear a striking similarity to the attack that changed Atlas’s life forever.

Stalked by the past and uncertain of the future, Cristian learns he does have something to fear after all…

Losing the man he loves.

Rating: A-

Crooked Shadows is the second intriguing and exciting instalment in M.A. Grant’s paranormal/urban fantasy Whitethorn Security series, and as it picks up immediately after the first book – Rare Vigilance – ended, I’d strongly advise reading that before jumping into this one or you’ll be a bit lost.

Note: There are spoilers for the previous book in this review.

Rare Vigilance ended with its two protagonists, Cristian Slava and Atlas Kincaid, about to go on the run following an attack by the strigoi – a terrifying creature that even vampires fear – at Cristian’s family home.  Barely escaping with their lives, they need to find whoever is controlling the strigoi, stop them, and in the process, prove that Cristian’s father isn’t responsible for their creation and prevent his overthrow by the ruling Council. They’re both convinced that the Wharrams – Cristian’s mother’s family – are behind the increased strigoi activity and the attack on Decebal Vladislavic’s nest, and they travel to Romania intending to find out more about the creatures and to seek help from Decebal’s allies there.

It’s apparent from the moment they arrive that neither of those things is going to be easy.  Cristian and Atlas have to navigate the complex and dangerous politics of the vampire world at every turn, never knowing who to trust and forever looking over their shoulders for the next betrayal.  The author does a fantastic job here of creating and sustaining an atmosphere of uncertainty and near-paranoia and conveying just how exhausting and knife-edged a situation the two men are facing.  Their first port of call is to meet with Voivode Mehai, a former associate of Decebal’s who, if not precisely a friend, should at least offer Cristian basic courtesy and safe passage through his territory.

But even more bad news awaits them.  Mehai’s son Radu – a friend of Cristian’s – disappeared while investigating a recent spate of attacks and killings in their territory, attacks which result in injuries which could only have been caused by strigoi – and now the Council is about to pay Mehai a visit not to help, but to attempt to assign blame for the current rise in violence to him and his leadership.  With the Council members – including Theo Wharram – due to arrive any day, it’s imperative that Atlas and Cristian leave as soon as possible. The timing of the Council’s visit and Radu’s disappearance can’t be coincidental; if Radu has learned something that could help Mehai prove his innocence to the Council, they’d want him out of the way.  Cristian tells Mehai that he and Atlas will search for Radu, hoping to bring him back in time for whatever information he’s found to be of use.

M.A. Grant really ramps up the action in this book; there’s danger on all sides and Atlas and Cristian are forced to confront some of their deepest fears and to rely on each other as never before.  The relationship they began to develop in Rare Vigilance is still on somewhat shaky ground emotionally – for a number of reasons – and everything they go through in this story really pushes at its boundaries and tests its limits.  This book is more action-focused than the previous one, but it does include some solid relationship development, with a deeper, stronger connection gradually forming between the two men as they face ordeal after ordeal together.

The PoV in this book switches to Cristian (Rare Vigilance was told solely from Atlas’ perspective) which brings him into much sharper focus than before, when he was quite enigmatic for most of the story.  When I reviewed that book, I said that there were hints at a different man behind the cocky exterior, and those words are borne out here as we see a much more thoughtful, gentler side to Cristian.  He’s clearly head-over-heels for Atlas but fears Atlas doesn’t feel as deeply for him, and I loved seeing that vulnerable side of Cristian, and how he tries so hard to be patient and open with Atlas, and encourage a similar openness in him.  He worried that bringing Atlas back to the place he and his unit were attacked was bound to bring back horrific memories that would trigger Atlas’ PTSD, but he will do whatever is necessary to keep Atlas safe – from his nightmares and from whatever creatures are lurking in the woods.

I really enjoyed this instalment in the series, but there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me.  The first part is a little slow in places, and although I absolutely love stories that feature intrigue and political manouevering, I occasionally had trouble keeping track of who was who and how they related to each other.  And then there’s the sudden switch from Cristian’s to Atlas’ PoV at around the 90% mark.  For spoilery reasons I won’t go in to, there was no other way for the author to continue the story, but it was jarring nonetheless.

Crooked Shadows is otherwise a terrific follow-up to Rare Vigilance.  It’s thrilling and sexy, with plenty of high-stakes action as well as some lovely, tender moments between the two leads. Be warned, however, that it ends on a real humdinger of a cliffhanger, one that is sure to complicate our heroes’ lives still further and plunge them into yet more danger in book three.  I’ll definitely be here for that when it’s released in 2022.

Rare Vigilance (Whitethorn Agency #1) by M.A. Grant

rare vigilance

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Former Marine Atlas Kinkaid knows not to ask questions about the clients he protects at the behest of the elite Whitethorn security agency. Just like he doesn’t like anyone asking about his scars—scars left by a mysterious attack that haunts his every waking moment.

Consumed by the need to find out what happened to him, Atlas takes a job providing security to Cristian Slava, the indolent—and gorgeous—son of a notorious businessman. Cristian seems to be just another entitled client, but when nights at the club turn into secret meetings and people start going missing, Atlas realizes there’s more to Cristian—and to protecting him—than meets the eye.

But the same people who are after Cristian have something Atlas desperately craves: they know exactly what happened the fateful night he was attacked—and are willing to tell him everything…

For a price.

Rating: A-

M.A. Grant has been on my radar for a while, but I haven’t yet managed to get around to reading any of her books, so when I saw she was starting a new series, it seemed the perfect time to jump in.  Rare Vigilance is book one in her Whitethorn Agency trilogy and the well-paced, wonderfully balanced combination of action, paranormal suspense and slow-burn romance had me captivated from start to finish.

Note:  This is a trilogy with an overarching plot and this book ends on a cliffhanger, so don’t go into it expecting an HEA or a firm conclusion. 

Former marine Atlas Kinkaid returned from his military service in Eastern Europe with scars both inside and out, the result of an attack on his unit from which he emerged the sole survivor.  He has PTSD and lingering health issues – sensory sensibilities and debilitating migranes which can affect his balance and vision – so finding work hasn’t been easy, but his half-sister Bea, the owner of the successful and rapidly growing Whitethorn security agency, has been able to offer him enough work to enable him to keep body and soul together.  Her biggest client is Decebal Vladislavic – the businessman  and investor who is almost single-handedly revitalising the small previously industrial town of Scarsdale, and who has business interests in pretty much everything in town, from medical facilities, to housing to entertainment.  Recently, Decebal has experienced “complications” with some of his business deals, and he wants an agent to provide security at home. He’s asked Bea to provide someone who is happy working night shifts – which is perfect for Atlas, who agrees to take the job.

Arrived at Decebal’s impressive home on the outskirts of town, Atlas is waiting to meet his new employer for the first time, and hears the unmistakable sound of an argument – not in English – coming from the office he’s waiting to enter.  The raised voices quickly stop and then a strikingly handsome young man emerges, muttering under his breath and clearly annoyed – until he notices he’s not alone and his whole demeanour changes.  Suddenly all effortless poise and charm, the rudeness with which he treats Atlas is clearly designed to make him re-think his desire to work there.   Atlas is, however, undaunted and refuses to be put off; and it’s just as well, because of course this man is to be his new charge – Cristian Slava, Decebal’s son and the heir to his business empire.

Rare Vigilance starts out as a regular-enough bodyguard romance in which the protectee is convinced they don’t need protecting and takes every opportunity to be rude and to give their minder the slip.  Cristian clearly expects Atlas to quit just as his other bodyguards have, but when Atlas proves himself to be surprisingly tenacious and impervious to Cristian’s attempts to drive him away, Cristian starts to gain a reluctant respect for him.  And as Cristian begins to accept Atlas isn’t going anywhere, Atlas gets intriguing glimpses of a different side of Cristian, seeing a quieter, more thoughtful and capable man behind the charming party-boy image – and starts to actually like him a little.

After a few weeks, they’ve reached a détente and have settled into a routine of sorts, but there’s a seismic shift in their relationship – and the direction taken by the story – when Atlas takes Cristian to what is supposed to be a business meeting, but which instead sees them being attacked by – well, I’ve seen other reviews mention it, but I’m not going to because it’s a neat plot twist the author has been carefully seeding all along – and if you’re been paying close attention you’ve probably figured it out by now anyway.

What follows is a gripping, tightly-plotted story in which a dangerous family feud threatens to explode into all-out war and Atlas comes face to face with his worst nightmare – which turns out not to be a nightmare at all, but something very real and utterly lethal.  Secrets, lies, betrayals of the worst kind, mysterious night time deliveries and unexplained animal-like attacks all combine to make Rare Vigilance a real page-turner, and I raced through it in a couple of sittings, unwilling to put it down.

While all this is going on, Atlas and Cristian are growing closer and the author does a really good job with their slow-burn romance.  They have terrific chemistry and there’s lots of lovely UST along the way as the attraction that sparks between them at their first meeting starts to grow into a bond that transcends their status as employer and employee, and Atlas’ competence and protectiveness slowly win Cristian’s trust.  I liked them both; even when Cristian is at his most brattish, there are hints that his brash, cocky persona is an act to prevent people getting close, and there are hidden vulnerabilities beneath Atlas’ stoic, take-no-crap exterior that soften his hard edges and make him rather endearing.  We don’t know much about either character right now, but I’m hoping that will change as the series progresses; what we do get is a good start and a pretty solid foundation in terms of their characterisation and relationship, and I’m eager to find out where things are going to go.

Having Atlas as the sole PoV character means that the reader finds things out at the same time he does, and that works really well here, especially in the early stages of the story were the author creates a real sense of edginess and of something being not quite as it seems. The only negative comments I can really make are that there’s one aspect of the world-building that could have used a bit more detail, and WTF is with that cover? but neither spoiled my enjoyment in any way, and I guess the world-building issue may be addressed in a future book.

Rare Vigilance is a terrific read and a superb start to this new series.  The cliffhanger ending has me chomping at the bit for more, and I’ll be pouncing on book two, Crooked Shadows as soon as it appears.