Ash Krafton’s BLEEDING HEARTS (Book One of the Demimonde) is about Sophie Galen, a human advice columnist, and Marek Thurzo, a Demi-Vampire. Sophie meets Marek at the local museum, where they bond over the Egyptian exhibit; Sophie takes to Marek right away even though he’s dark, dangerous, and brooding. (Or perhaps because he is all those things; it depends on Sophie’s mood.)
But Sophie isn’t your average human being, as she has the gift of empathy. Perhaps this is why she guesses that Marek isn’t exactly what he seems, though it doesn’t stop her from getting to know him. Of course, it does take Marek a while to admit to Sophie what he is (a Demi-Vampire, or “D-V” for short; the D-V have souls, are long-lived, and have to drink blood for sustenance. But they also can eat regular food, at least some of the time.), and as you’d expect, Sophie is floored. But she quickly adjusts because she knows Marek is telling the truth; he is a D-V, but he wants to get to know her better.
By this point, Sophie likes Marek way too much to give him up just because he’s not human. But as Marek isn’t an empath — none of the D-V are — he has the same emotional worries as a fully human male, which helps to balance the romance nicely.
During the course of BLEEDING HEARTS, Marek punctures many myths about the other paranormal species (for example, it is not pleasant to have a vampire or even a D-V drink your blood, and the D-V absolutely, positively will not drink from anyone they care about as they view it to be unutterably wrong). He also does his best to encourage Sophie to believe in herself — not just her gift, which will be of enormous benefit to the D-V if she can learn how to use it effectively, but in her complete self. (Which is yet another reason to want to root for the guy.)
Sophie’s gift of empathy is essential to the plotline, because the D-V need someone with Sophie’s talents to help them. They are desperate to avoid “evolving” into full Vampire (no -s in Krafton’s vision; “vampire” works for both singular and plural), because the regular Vampire are nasty, brutal thugs without any vestige of a soul. (The D-V believe the Vampire to be eternally damned.) Someone like Sophie may be able to keep them from this terrible “evolution,” as she can both feel their pain and project her own caring back due to her gift as an empath. And so long as the D-V can still feel and/or still care, their souls remain intact.
Of course, Sophie’s gift is quite rare. It, and she, must be protected at all costs. But Sophie doesn’t truly understand this, which makes for some harrowing complications toward the end of BLEEDING HEARTS (to avoid spoilers, I’ll stop there with regards to a plot summary).
BLEEDING HEARTS has much to recommend it. There’s a good woman who makes wisecracks in her spare time (Sophie), a brooding leading man who’s on the edge of eternal damnation (Marek), and a truly nasty villain (Still-heart the Vampire). There’s a believable romance between Sophie and the much-older Marek. There’s excellent atmosphere. And there’s a good backstory that fits the D-V into the more common mythos of vampire and werewolf without a hitch.
But perhaps the best reason to read BLEEDING HEARTS is because of how well Krafton depicts Sophie’s various struggles. Even though Sophie is past thirty, it’s obvious that there’s a lot about herself that Sophie simply doesn’t know. Sophie’s “coming of age” adds an enormous amount of emotional depth and feeling to what could’ve easily become a clichéd and/or stilted narrative, but thankfully didn’t.
Bottom line: BLEEDING HEARTS, despite its superficial similarities to both Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, has something to offer that isn’t done very often — humor mixed with emotional depth and heart. If you have a fondness for urban fantasy in general, vampires in particular, or anything in between, BLEEDING HEARTS will fill the bill.
– reviewed by Barb