I'm reading the final book in the Sanctum trilogy, The Prophecy. The series has gotten better with each installment, always a nice surprise. And I haven't finished it yet, so we'll have to see how Madhuri Blaylock sews it all up into a tidy bow for us, but I'm certainly enjoying the ride along the way to completion. Halfway through the book, however, the aspect that has struck me the most is the number of couples portrayed in the plot, and just how different each of their love stories is. Also quite unexpectedly, this fantasy series is not following the usual (and beloved, don't get me wrong) patterns of paranormal romance or even urban fantasy. There are many more than one set of lovers, and certainly not all of them are going to get a traditional HEA, or perhaps even any HEA at all. But, as I love surprises, this is all good and definitely provides lots of material for me to think about and write about. Yay me.
In the interest of not spoiling the book for anyone, as well as for the benefit of those who read my blog but not the books I write about (an audience I will be trying harder to reach over the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned for upcoming changes to my modus operandi), I won't tell you which specific characters I'm talking about as putter along here.
There are many of sets of complicated couples in this book. And because all of these characters are supernatural, many of them have lived and loved through many human lifetimes. Something I really can't imagine (my husband and I will celebrate twenty years of marriage this year and that seems like quite a long time to me--can't think what a two-hundred year celebration would look or feel like, but I digress). For some of these characters, it also means they've been locked in passionate battles for centuries as well. Can you imagine engaging in the dynamics of a dysfunctional relationship over that many years? Yikes!
But the most compelling thing about Madhuri Blaylock's characters is the authenticity of the duality of love that she portrays for each of her couples. One couple accepts that the other will share as many beds as they want, but that that relationship between the two of them won't be affected. Talk about an open relationship. Maybe that’s the way to make centuries of love last. Expand your horizons, so to speak. For this pair, it seems to be the difference between lust and love; sex with others falls into the first category, but for the two of them together, it's making love. This would be a bridge too far for many, but would also embody the definition of to each their own. It doesn’t go quite as far as Laurrell Hamilton, but it goes too far for my apparently provincial tastes. I’d be interested in your thoughts on the matter.
Then there is the couple in The Prophecy who have loved each other across multiple lifetimes but who have chosen, each in their own way, to leave each other in this lifetime. Except they still yearn for each other. And mostly stay away from each other, but not entirely. Sucks to be them for sure. I don't believe I could deny myself to that extent, and, honestly, it’s all a little too much Brief Encounter for me, but I will say this for Ms. Blaylock: she does an excellent job of describing the simultaneous holding of mutually exclusive realities, which is really what life is about, isn’t it? It reminds me of one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver, In Backwater Woods, which exhorts us to hold on as tightly as we can to love, even knowing that the objects of our love are mortal and will pass from this earth and from us. It is hard to reconcile such diametrically opposed realities, and yet that is what life calls us to do all the time. The couples portrayed in The Prophecy reflect this difficult experience.
Another pair in the book has loved each other over the years—the long years of immortal lifetimes—and for each the other is the one that they call home, the one that they feel compelled to come back to. And yet despite this bond, this durable magnetism toward each other, one is betrayed by the other in an undeniable and unendurable way. Elements of Greek tragedy all over the place here, and then the real heartbreak unfolds when the one betrayed must kill the beloved who transgressed. The whole scene was absolutely gut wrenching. And then, in the aftermath of the murder, there is an attempted suicide that was a visceral reminder that love doesn’t die in the face of betrayal, but is transmuted into something aborted and distorted. It left me wishing for the possibility of an off switch or a reset button, although neither exists in reality nor in the world of the Sanctum. But when I think about love betrayed and the pain that is engendered by feelings that no longer have a basis in purity or joy, I find myself slipping into fantasies of “if only.”
For yet another couple in this book, there is the confusion that accompanies love divided. The author describes the lingering touch of first love combined with the futility of ill-fated lovers mixed in with the certainty of love in the present moment. What a hot mess that whole thing is. And I do mean in every sense of the word. Hot as in passionate, angry, sexy, dangerous, damaging, and compelling. All at the same time. Who wouldn’t be confused?
But the thing about love is that it comes in all of these shapes and sizes in the real world, and it’s always interesting, thought-provoking and inspiring to read about its various manifestation in my beloved books. It’s only my love of books that is completely pure and uncomplicated. All the rest is mostly a muddle. One we can’t, and wouldn’t want to live without, of course, but a muddle just the same.