Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Obsidian Prey by Jayne Castle

Lyra Dore is an Amber tuner in the city of Frequency on the world of Harmony, and right now, she's holding a good deal of hatred in her heart for Cruz Sweetwater, once her boyfriend, and now her ex. Lyra was walking through the alien ruins beneath the human city when she discovered the rainforest, and a ruined temple made out of unusual lavender amber. But before she could register the claim for her own as an independent prospector, Cruz swooped in and registered in his own name and the name of his family company, leaving her with nothing save a whole lot of bad feelings for the man she once loved and who claimed to love her.

The only thing that keeps her sane is her relationship with Vincent, her pet dust bunny, who is not just any old dust bunny but also a noted artist under an assumed name. Selling the paintings that Vincent does allows her to keep her head above water, because the business of tuning amber isn't a very lucrative one. But when Cruz finally shows up at a party that Lyra is attending, she can't keep her eyes off of him.

He's there to reconnect with her. She assumes romantically, since someone- she assumes Cruz, has been sending her gorgeous orchids every couple of weeks. But when he goes back to her apartment to talk with her, he tells her that it hasn't been him sending the flowers. Instead, he's come to ask for Lyra's help. Inside the Amethyst Amber ruin, a psy-storm has blocked the door, and five people are trapped inside. He wants Lyra's help in freeing them.

Lyra would love to tell him to go straight to hell, but her sense of revenge towards Cruz is not evolved enough to condemn five other people to a lingering death by doing so. She agrees to help, and goes with Cruz and Vincent into the underground chamber known as the jungle to free the three researchers and two Guild men. She also has a confrontation with Dr. Webber, the head of Amber, Inc.'s research team, who is nasty to her and accuses her of setting up the situation for her own benefit. She laughs at him, and opens the chamber anyway, letting the people trapped within go free.

Although she's still angry at being denied ownership of the ruins she discovered, when Cruz takes her home, she discovers that she is still attracted to him in a very physical way. He asks her to consider resuming their relationship, and she promises him an answer later, after she's had a chance to rest.

But later, she isn't thinking about their relationship when she heads to her meditation class. And just as she has had before, she begins hallucinating in the middle of the city streets, seeing monsters in place of people. After a few minutes, and contact with Vincent, the hallucinations fade, but she's worried about them. She can't seek help because she would have to admit that her perceptions are different than most people's, and that would probably get her locked up and studied, and she hardly wants that.

But its clear that someone is interested in the Amber ruin, and the artifacts found within. Not only has one of the artifacts recovered from the ruin been stolen, but one of the researchers working on them was killed only a few weeks before the opening to the temple closed by itself. At her date with Cruz that night, they are attacked by two strange men who clearly want to kidnap Lyra. Cruz is able to call on the power of his black amber, but the whole attack and the strange flowers she's been getting make Cruz assign her one of his men as a bodyguard. But first, the danger and Cruz's use of his talent ignite the passion still simmering between them and they make love, and when she wakes to another episode of hallucinations, she confesses to Cruz what's been going on.

She's afraid she's going crazy, but he reassures her she isn't. He also tells her that people in his line didn't just arise on Harmony, but had roots back on earth, and were known as Hunters. They talk some more about their families, and Lyra reveals that one of Cruz's biggest competitors has asked her to evaluate a piece of Amethyst Amber at a famous auction house, and she's agreed.

Meanwhile, she goes to work with Jeff, her bodyguard, and he finds out why Lyra is in such demand as an amber tuner. Unlike most turners, she can precisely tune amber to a specific wavelength that resonates strongly with her clients. But when the time comes to attend the gathering at the art gallery, her client tests her with one piece of Amber, then has her escorted into the back to see the real piece he is interested in acquiring. The problem is that the piece, as she senses, is one of the artifacts from the ruin she discovered.

Cruz walks in on her and implies that she is just his bimbo, making her slap him and run out, crying, accusing him of trying to ruin her by destroying her business. But it's all an act, and she tells him about what she felt from the vault, then leads him to the artifacts she took from the ruin and concealed because she felt they were too dangerous to be let fall under anyone's hands. She's been hoping to dissipate their power, but hasn't been able to, and the three pyramid-shaped stones are still where she left them, so the artifact in the vault that she felt must have been the one stolen from Cruz's company, Amber, Inc.

She's also gotten more flowers, and Cruz suggests a stalker attracted to her by the attention from the lawsuit she filed against him, which creeps her out. Once again, though, they make love, and afterwards, they are attacked by another two men. Cruz, Lyra and Vincent overcome them, but this time it is Cruz that is hit with the hallucinations, which cause him to accidentally shatter his black amber. Before he can pass out he tells Lydia to call Jeff and have him take her to Amber island.

On the way, she is told that unlike other Ambers, which melt when stressed too strongly with Psi power, Obsidian Amber shatters, turning into psychic mirror that send the user ricocheting off them in his mind. Some men go mad after losing their Amber talents, others simply die. But Lyra is able not only to save Cruz, but retune his amber for him as he recovers from shattering his Amber stone.

When he recovers he tells her that she is not going crazy, that someone attacked him with the same kind of hallucinations she's been having, and that they were definitely induced from the outside. Not only that, but the man who induced them had been there with the others who attacked her, but he'd gotten away. But they have bigger problems. First, Fairstead, the owner of the gallery has been killed, and the artifact is not among the contents of the vault. Second, Cruz must track down whoever has been inducing the hallucinations on Lyra. Third, he must find out who stole the relic in the first place, and bring them to justice- with Lyra's help as she can discern if and where the Amber is- as long as it is close by.

They recover the stone, and find the thief, Dr. Webber. He's dead in a pool in the jungle underground. But Cruz feels that the whole scenario is a bit too pat, and feels that Fairstead and Webber had a third partner. But who is he, and can Cruz prove that this partner is to blame? And when Lyra is kidnapped, can Cruz come to her rescue in time to save her from her stalker?

Another excellent Jayne Castle book. Jayne Castle, of course, is the same writer as Amanda Quick and Jayne Ann Krentz, but this is the first Harmony novel in which she explicitly links her Harmony stories with her Arcane Society novels she writes under her Amanda Quick persona/psuedonym. But here we can see that Lyra Dore, who has power over stones, is linked to those of the Arcane Society with the same power, which would mean Leona Hewitt of the "The Third Circle", and Cruz Sweetwater is linked to the Hunters (here called Para-Hunters) like Thaddeus Ware.

This book is a reminder of the saying about how love and hate aren't far apart, for Lyra professes to hate Cruz, but the truth is that she still feels something for him, and when they work together, they work very, very well. Seeing them work together and learn to trust each other again was wonderful and I found myself unable to put the book down. I enjoy the Harmony stories. In many ways they somewhat remind me of an expanded version of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover, complete with stones to focus Psi Power, and a planet of Psychics who are gifted to varying degrees- only here we have vanished aliens who are responsible for much that the colonists have found, and unlike Darkover being cripped by lack of iron and lack of technology, Harmony has managed to retain more technology of their own.

Another work this series puts me in mind of is Crystal Flame, another Jayne Castle book, which had some of the interesting stone/alien power source vibe, one which I'd actually forgotten she was the author of until now. So, suffice to say there are lots of influences that go into making up this series, and I can't wait to read more, especially now that the field has been opened up to all sorts of new kinds of Amber, not just the usual type in the books before this. Now. we've been tantalized with hints of all sorts of new ambers, from sapphire and ruby amber to crystal, diamond, tourmaline... well, those are the ones I remember being mentioned, all very rare, as are the people who can rezz, or resonate with them.

This is a wonderful book, and the series just continues to get better and better- I honestly have a hard time waiting to read more. I plan on looking up the modern-day Arcane Society books as well, so I can understand more about that group. I think Jayne Ann Krentz has his on a real winner here. Highly recommended.

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