Warning aside, I liked this book a lot more than I did the first and I believe it could actually be read first. If book one served as an opener, book two certainly gets the story rolling. Characters round out and history develops enough to reveal a possible epic tale.
Sophia Claremont has escaped her ordeal on vampire island and is back home, in the arms of her beloved best friend Ben. They're both haunted by memories of the vampires that abducted them, and neither of them is willing to heal and move on, yet for very different reasons. Ben was scarred emotionally and physically by a cruel slave driver, so his thirst for revenge is understandable. Sophia pines for Derek, who never became much more than a questionable fancy for her, so once again I find myself not quite getting her. I spent the first part of the book just wishing she would open her eyes and heart to Ben, and reach out to grab what she has desired for years.
The plot does coalesce when Vivienne, seer of The Shade, takes a great risk to meet with Sophia in the human world and convince her to return to Derek. This is when characters start to crystalize for me: Vivienne is the first vampire in this series for whom I developed a fondness. Her vulnerability comes across in her shaking hands, darting eyes, and obvious terror at being discovered by the hunters she knows have followed her. Sophia’s worth is upped considerably, since such an important vampire to The Shade risks her life to talk to her.
Meanwhile, Derek becomes more impressive and commanding, while assessing the military catastrophe of The Shade. The deference shown to him by the other vampires makes us wonder why they find him to be so powerful. His role as the founder of The Shade gradually unfolds, and we're aware that much blood was shed in the process--something that has tainted him irrevocably, in his eyes. He’s convinced that “darkness is coming” again, and his dependence on Sophia hints at his bleak depravity and a possible relief with fulfillment of Vivienne's prophecy. Sophia plus Derek equals salvation somehow, yet the reason is still a mystery.
And then there's Ben. Poor Ben is lost when Sophia rejects his advances, and he finds his only comfort in joining the hunters. I know Bella Forest is twisting me this way and that on purpose, with this love triangle. Who cares? It’s still fun to read. Ben is the wholesome, faithful best friend, wounded and vengeful. Derek is the beautiful monster, with enduring love and endless patience for Sophia. Sophia capitulates in strange ways that hurt a lot of people, but by the end of the second book, her character finally begins to shine. The initial murkiness of her personality speaks to a young woman not truly believing her worth, even though everyone around her sees vast potential. Perhaps I expected too much out of her at first, but with the swiftness A Shade of Blood takes on, I think Sophia will be tested more severely soon.