The 'Love at Stake' series by Kerrelyn Sparks
Updated: Aug 12
Paranormal romance series about vampires and shifters
Not the backstory of the books. My personal backstory with the books. See, I'm not much of a paranormal romance reader, but I do love me some vampires, and I do occasionally read full-on romance novels. Still, this sort of book never really held much appeal for me. I ended up kind of reading them on accident.
It started when I just happened to (on separate occasions) pick up two books in the series. The first was book 9, Eat, Prey, Love, which I bought because the title amused me. (This series has a haphazardly-implemented trend of making spins from popular book/movie titles, though the things they're riffing on have absolutely no relation to the books in this series.) Another book I bought because one of the characters had the same last name as me. Neither of these are really very good reasons to buy a book.
When I went through a round of purging my bookshelves, I decided I should go ahead and read these two books to get them off the shelf. Well, I got about sixty pages into Eat, Prey, Love and thought, "I'm really enjoying this, but I'm missing a lot. I bet I'd enjoy it more if I knew who these other characters were." So I went to the used book store and bought as many of the others in the series as they had. I also grabbed a couple on Kindle (or already had them from randomly picking them up when they were on sale for 'free'), as well as one audiobook from the library. So I stopped where I was and started the series from the beginning.
A Good Start
The first book hooked me right away with something utterly silly but which I'd never seen in a vampire book before. The main male love interest vampire got his tooth pulled out on accident and needed a dentist to fix it. I loved how ridiculous and unexpected this was. So I really enjoyed the book ... for a little while. Basically, until his tooth got fixed and the female human lead found out about him being a vampire. Then the book got a little boring.
The second book, though, was my favorite of the whole series. Once again, it had a premise I'd never seen in a vampire book before, and this one actually carried through the whole book. This is the main reason that it's my favorite. It's about a couple of male, human vampire hunters who spy on their prey by infiltrating a vampire dating show (like The Bachelorette). That whole premise was so hilarious, it kept me engaged. I also really enjoyed the male lead, who was also, I think, the only human male lead in the whole series. Though he was strongly telepathic and telekinetic, so he definitely had some interesting and unique (for this series) things about him. I still had some major issues with the way the plot played out, and I really don't think the vampire dating show premised was utilized to anywhere near its full potential, but I was still very happy with this book by the end of it.
And Then Things Went Downhill
The third book, unfortunately, was incredibly dull. Its plot was your complete standard 'vampire and vampire slayer' plot. Which was the exact same dynamic as the last book, but without any additional hook to make it interesting. The fourth book, about a vampire fashion designer, was not nearly as interesting as that premise should have been.
As I continued to read the series (because the series is very readable), I never again saw such an interesting and unique premise as the vampire dating show or even the vampire losing a tooth hooks from the previous books. Everything started to get very samey.
Worse (and this is a problem I see in a lot of romance series), the lead characters were pretty much all the same, at least when they were the leads. The women were nearly all indistinguishable from each other, no matter what background or profession they had. The men were exclusively tall, handsome in one very particular, generic way, alpha but tender, just generic, generic, generic romance leads. The men were always, always taller than their female romantic counterparts. They were always (either actually or in appearance) in their mid-to-late twenties. Many of them were Scottish vampires and so carried even more of the same traits as each other. They were all just very slight variations on the same guy.
There's the guy who used to look fifteen years old but doesn't anymore. (In other words, the author took the single defining, interesting trait that this guy had and made sure to get rid of it before he was the lead in a book.)
There's the guy who loses a hand and has a prosthetic one. (The author, luckily, doesn't get rid of this trait, and it does occasionally crop up and cause issues in the story he leads. But not many, and he's not actually disabled in any real way, because apparently having any sort of real disability isn't sexy.)
There's ... the guy who runs the company.
And the other guy who runs a different company but is also Scottish.
And another guy who runs a fashion empire but doesn't actually think or act in a way that is different from any of the other guys, and you never really see him designing clothes or actually being a designer.
There's a guy who's ... grumpy. That's pretty much his whole character. Until he meets the right lady, and then even that goes away.
There's the black guy. Who is more modern and used to be a drug dealer, but none of that really plays much into his story or personality. Really, he had one of the most unique characterizations of all the men ... until he became the lead in his own book. Then it all went away.
There's a playboy who also had a fairly distinct personality ... until he became the lead, when he immediately goes, "I'm tired of sleeping around. I want to find true love. And I'm also not nearly as happy-go-lucky as I pretend to be. I'm actually deep and angsty on the inside." In other words, he's exactly like all the other men. He was just pretending to have a more unique personality.
But hey, some of the men aren't vampires. That was always a somewhat nice change. Among the male leads, there's a werewolf, a werepanther, and a werebear.
Who are all secretly the same alpha, serious, exact same guy as the rest on the inside, but shush.
Seriously, let's talk about Carlos. Despite everything, he's one of my favorite leads of the series. When he's introduced (in a book where he's not the lead), the reader is led to assume that he's gay (even though there are plenty of hints that he isn't). We find out later that he only pretended to be gay (so that women would stop throwing themselves at him, natch). That was an interesting character trait, and a lot could have been done with it if it had actually been carried through more. But he basically stops even pretending once he joins the team. He still does have the somewhat unique cat shifter thing going on, so at least he is a bit more memorable than the other guys.
The female leads are pretty much interchangeable. I have a hard time remembering who most of them were. There's Vanda, a vampire with a chip on her shoulder, who is introduced in the first book and pops up a few times before she becomes a lead. But nearly all of the other women are first introduced in the book where they are the lead, meaning we know nothing about them and have no feelings for them, and proceed to be ... exactly the same as the rest of the leads. And usually only appear for brief cameos through the rest of the series, if at all. Almost all of them are human women who fall for a vampire man. Some are more unique, especially in the later books, but they still don't really get fleshed out enough to be interesting, and they still mostly all act the same.
Basically, it's another case of a romance writer only knowing how to write one type of female lead and one type of male lead. These people aren't characters; they're placeholders. For 'female reader' and 'female reader's presumed perfect guy', apparently. Or so I can only assume the author believes. Or maybe the female leads are stand-ins for the author. Who knows?
This author is not very good at writing villains or action. Her villains are all one-dimensional and cartoonish. Her action goes by so quickly and perfunctory that it is really quite unsatisfying. Maybe part of the reason I liked book 2 the best was because there was essentially no bad guy.
The series really started to lose me, though, when it brought in the angel/demon angle. I was on-board for vampires, and I didn't mind the addition of shifters. I felt like pulling angels and demons in half-way through a long series was just unwelcome.
The lore of this world was somewhat interesting. Though there were some things that were inconsistent. In the first book, kind of a big deal is made of 'vampire sex' (which is telepathic sex) and how it's most vampires' preferred way to have sex. I think mind sex comes up maybe once or twice in the series after that, and none of the other vampires ever show any preference for this type of sex or give any indication that they don't like regular sex or that they only have regular sex for feeding-related reasons. Yes, the mind sex thing was super weird, but it was weirder how it just disappeared pretty much immediately after it wasn't needed anymore to explain how the male lead could technically, physically be a virgin but still also be super experienced and amazing in bed. (This was a whole other weird thing I won't bother getting into, but I really am not a fan of the "man must be super experienced at sex" aspect of this particular male lead alpha type.)
Also, vampires can teleport. Which was fine. But their ability to teleport changed over the course of the series, when there was no in-universe reason for it to. It just got easier for no reason other than because the author wanted it to.
Early on, the vampires come up with a way for vampire men to have 'their own children' with human women by ... using donor sperm and replacing the DNA with his own. Whatever that means. The author apparently thought it was so critical that the male leads were able to have 'their own' biological children that magic science was needed. Yet when a formerly-vampire women gets pregnant, it's because her sister donated eggs, which means they didn't make any attempt at all to make her child 'her own' biologically. Which is just an irritating double standard there. (Every single couple that didn't include a female vampire ended up having kids--aside from the couples that got together too late in the series to see that far into their future. And even the couple who were both vampires by the end of their story ended up with adopted kids. All the human women who married vampires? Yeah, they were absolutely expected to have a kid or two before they'd be allowed to become a vampire. Gotta get those 'real' heirs for the men, dontchaknow.)
Some interesting things happened that I really wanted to see more of. Like the one-time appearance of an FBI manager who's also a weredog. Or a major antagonist getting changed and becoming an unlikely ally. Or one of the guys getting turned into a sort of vampire/werewolf hybrid. Unfortunately, none of these interesting developments were pursued and instead it was just more of the same rehashed romances with the same nearly identical leads. What a wasted opportunity.
The Best Parts
My favorite character in this series is Laszlow, the short, nerdy scientist vamp who is (of course) never a lead and sort of gets thrown a bone (in terms of romance) at the end of another guy's story. But he's different and likable, and in this series, that made him the stand-out guy for me.
My favorite couple was Austin and ... whatsherface. From book 2. See, the females are sadly unmemorable, even the ones I mostly liked.
I also really enjoyed J.L. Wang, who seemed a bit more interesting than the other guys, maybe because he never became a lead and was therefore never made to suffer the male-lead-personality-conformation.
I still love the 'vampire needs a dentist' part of book 1, many parts of book 2, and a lot of Carlos's stuff.
As someone who's not super into paranormal romance, this series did not change my mind. I really didn't like how samey all the characters and all the relationships were. This is especially true because I didn't find the female leads relatable and the male leads were very far from my own personal idea of an ideal man. (I think a whole lot of this series appeal relies on how much you love the standard, tall, strong, handsome, alpha male sex god with an angsty past type of guy.)
I might re-read books 1, 2, 5, and 9 at least in part at some point in the future, but that's about it.