THE CURSED – Alyssa Day
The League of the Black Swan , Book 1
Berkley Sensation
ISBN-13:  978-0-425-25577-3
May 2013
Paranormal Romance

Bordertown, (Behind, Beneath and Between the Streets of Manhattan) New York – Present Day

Luke Oliver is the wizard of Bordertown, and also a private detective.  As the bastard son of Lucrezia Borgia, he has lived with a curse for centuries, balancing his life between goodness and evil.  Luke's gift is fire that erupts from his hands, unfortunately when he gets mad he tends to burn the nearest car in the area.  His neighbors don't mind so much; he always buys them a replacement.  The residents of Bordertown are a varied mixture of demons, grendel, ogres, fae, goblins, and everyone else that doesn't fit in the human world.  Everyone thinks Luke should be the Sheriff of Bordertown and try to keep some kind of order, but he resists every attempt to rope him into that role.  His life changes the night Rio Jones comes to him for help.  Luke knew something was up; an old friend Maestro gave him an envelope from the Black Swan with a single picture inside—that of Rio.  He doesn't know what the League wants with Rio, but with grendels following her as she runs to his office, she must be scared about something.

Rio is a bike messenger and lives in a small apartment in Bordertown.  As far as she knows she is human, almost, except she can read the minds of people she meets when she allows herself to open her mind and listen.  She especially likes delivering to Luke, a private detective whom she once asked out.  He very deliberately turned her down, and she can sure take a hint, until she sees a small girl being kidnapped off the street, and realizes later that day whoever did it knows who she is and is after her, so she quickly leaves her apartment.  Three huge grendels track her down at her friend's bar, and she takes off as fast as she can to find Luke and get his help.  By the next day her landlady has thrown her out, and she's been fired from her job.  But when Merelith, a High Court Fae, tracks her down at Luke's to find her kidnapped niece, Rio is even more confused.  Merelith says she knows who her parents are, and Luke shows her the picture he got from the Black Swan, a sure sign they want her to join their group, which used to be dedicated to eliminating troubles among the many creatures.  Then millionaire Chance Roberts want her to go with him to the Demon Rift, and he says he also knows who her parents are, and her upcoming twenty-fifth birthday will reveal all to her

Luke has his hands full protecting Rio from three different groups, all claiming something important will happen on Rio's twenty-fifth birthday.  Merelith appears to be playing with them, Chance wants her to join the demons, and the Black Swan is a group that started out with everyone's good in mind, but soon evolved into something else.  Rio has always had a crush on the explosive and handsome Luke, but sensed he wanted to keep himself separate.  Luke tries to keep a distance between them, but with everyone wanting a piece of Rio, he can't help the feelings of protectiveness that overwhelm his good intentions.

Alyssa Day has penned a really delightful and fascinating story of the world around Manhattan where creatures of all types live.  Told from Rio's and Luke's points of view, they have different life stories, yet are similar in many ways.  Luke has lived centuries with a curse, and must watch himself at all times to not do evil.  His mother never had anything to do with him, and his father was the one who put the curse on him.  Rio grew up in an orphanage run by nuns, and always wanted to know who her parents were.  Though there are a lot of paranormal creatures, they all seem to get along in their own way, and respect each other's gifts and lifestyles.

There are fascinating secondary characters almost too numerous to mention.  There's Merelith, High Court Fae, and her niece Elizabeth who is kidnapped.  Merelith claims to know who Rio's parents are, but refuses to tell anything more.  The small fox or Yokai is Kit, who knows she is to protect Rio, but not why or from what.  Chance Roberts is a Prince of the Demon Rift, and says he holds the secret of Rio's past if she will but join the Rift.

THE CURSED is the first in The League of the Black Swan series, and is in a place all its own in the paranormal genre.  I loved Bordertown—around and under Manhattan, yet nobody knows about it, or the many different species of other-worldly creatures that inhabit it.  Rio might be closing a big hole in her life, and Luke battles his own soul over Rio and whether she could stand to be with him and the curse he has lived with for centuries.  Two spunky and brave people fight everyone in their quest to make a life for themselves and to put an end to all the secrets in Rio's life.

Carolyn Crisher