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One With the Darkness    by Susan Squires order for
One With the Darkness
by Susan Squires
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Contessa Donnatella di Poliziano was first introduced in One With the Shadows. While she only appeared in a short scene at the beginning of the story, the vivacious Contessa left an immediate and lasting impression. One With the Darkness re-introduces Donnatella and tells how her friend Leonardo Da Vinci gives her the opportunity to make right her greatest regret - the loss of her human lover and soulmate, Jergan.

In the letter Da Vinci has left her, he says that throughout their years of friendship he had come to realise that 'you are not human. Did you think I did not notice the hum of energy about you? I measured it without your knowledge, and was astounded. The people around you think it is vitality, a force of personality ... your power is real and it is incredibly strong. It keeps you young and heals you. The you of today thinks I did not know those things about you, either. But the you who you will be told me in the past. It is the knowledge of this source of power that inspires me to build a machine worthy of its use'.

Following Da Vinci's precise instructions, Donnatella calls upon the power of her Companion, infuses it into the time machine, and is whisked back to Emperor Caligula's Rome. Returned to her sprawling villa, she encounters her earlier incarnation. However, before Donnatella can explain herself, her essence is absorbed by Livia Quintus Lucellus, as are Donnatella's memories and the knowledge of how to return to the year 1821. Livia is naturally shaken by what's happened, but quickly shrugs it off as stress. Even so, an insistent voice within her compels her to visit the slave market to obtain a bodyguard, for unseen political enemies have become more persistent in their assassination attempts. Nothing can kill her of course - she is a vampire - but to protect her true nature she must maintain her humanity at all times.

The moment Livia sees the proud, untamed barbarian, she knows that there is something oddly familiar about him - and that she must have him at any price. As she leads Jergan away, the battle scarred warrior vows that he bows to no one and that he will be the worst slave she has ever owned. But in short order he realises that his mistress, while determined to hold firm sway over her household, is a kind and gentle woman, the only one among Rome's cruel and decadent citizenry who's shown the slightest spark of humanity toward him. As Donnatella struggles to make Livia understand that her time to save Jergan is desperately short, mistress and slave cannot deny their attraction. But as the pair discover their love all over again and others loyal to Livia's cause show their true colours, Donnatella fears it may already be too late.

Squires presents another beautifully realised and riveting story in One With the Darkness, a tale ripe with historical detail, marvellous characterizations, and a gripping plot packed with political intrigue, as Livia and Jergan try to outguess her political enemies and the suspicions of an emperor whose decadent proclivities and cruelty knew no bounds. Susan Squires has always excelled in putting an inventive twist into her mythology and she does so again with her take on time travel and the possible consequences of toying with the time line. Best of all, she presents another touching and sensuous love story as Livia and Jergan are given the opportunity to relive their past and redirect their future.

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