I initially read this story on Ilona Andrew's website. I stopped at an early part of the story because I didn't want to be spoiled for the rest of the book when it eventually was published. I really wish now that I had tracked the story a bit better on the website, then maybe I would have realized that this story would not work for me as well as the first book in the series did. I definitely applaud Ilona Andrews for publishing the entire book on their website for free. Next time, if they do that, I will just read along there and see if I want to purchase the final version.
The main issue I had was a lack of development with new characters that were introduced, that Dina's powers and the house seem to just be ever increasing to the point that I am ready for it to be revealed that she can turn back time or something, and the romance angle in the book did not work at all.
The main character, Dina DeMille comes from a family of innkeepers. Innkeepers are neutral third parties that give temporary respite to travelers (not your typical ones either) and have powers connected to the inn that they live in. Readers already know from the first book that Dina is the innkeeper for Gertrude Stein (the inn) and is a long mission attempting to find out what happened to her parents and her parents inn. There is absolutely no forward momentum in that plot at all. This book focuses on Dina hosting an international peace summit after being asked to do it by an Arbitrator (pretend that I said that in a low solemn voice). There is an ongoing war on a planet called Nexus which involves vampires, a Hope-Crushing Horde and merchants.
The above would be exciting if we had any time to sit and absorb two new factions that we are unfamiliar with (we were introduced to the space vampires in the last book) and were given enough time to understand what in the world was so important about Nexus and how the heck do the Arbitrators work.
Dina was not as developed for me as she was in the last book. I think the main problem is that she is in a passive position for the majority of the book (until the very end) and when she's not she's describing things and/or taking about Sean (the alpha space werewolf from the first book). The romance angle with Dina and Sean really didn't work and for me, it wasn't realistic that after a week and one kiss she is still hung up on a guy who she hasn't seen or spoken to in 6 months. It would be different if they were in communication at all, or heck you actually see them trying to date while Sean is off exploring space. Since none of that happened it just felt like the romance was forced-fit. It didn't help that we got a lot of exposition about Sean and his feelings for Dina from a third party. I mean it was the most ridiculous information dump I can recall in a romance novel regarding the hero and his feelings for the heroine. Forget that noise, you can't articulate why you like me, we don't need to date or anything else.
Also since we get a plethora of new characters in this book it was pretty hard to keep track of them and it became obvious that some of the characters were more developed than others. Someone mentioned that the Arbitrator's group are characters that have appeared in another series by Ilona Andrews. I just responded that I was not impressed with any of them. If anything I felt annoyed by all of them, and I was hoping that Dina would have smacked the mess out of the Arbitrator George. His manipulations really don't make sense, and when you find out how much damage these will have on Dina I really disliked the guy a lot.
We get a reappearance by Caldenia who was honestly the best part of the secondary characters for me. I wish that the Officer who is straight up stalking Dina now has less of a role in the next book if Ilona Andrews brings him back. His showing up and causing problems took away from more interesting things that the book could have focused on. Based on the ending we now have another permanent guest staying at the inn and since I liked this character, I can't wait to see them again.
The writing is typical Ilona Andrews. It definitely reads different than the Magic series (not a bad thing), but there needs to be an explanation of how the inns work and the innkeepers because we seriously got a deus ex machina regarding the inn in this book and I really had a hard time even believing it. We also had another (IMHO) ridiculous reappearance by someone from the first book in a new role and once again, I wish that either it had been skipped or someone else had been in that role. It made absolutely no sense except for them to show up again.
One thing that makes these books must buys for me is the art that is included. Man is the art gorgeous. That is another complaint that I have though. We really didn't get much art in this one. I don't know if we got more in the first book or not. I will go back and check since I still own that book too.
The flow was off in a lot of places too, and I don't know if that was because there were so many characters to juggle or what. Once again since we had some new beings to get familiar with it was hard to even understand how they operated besides a line/paragraph that described them.
The setting of Gertrude Stein is set up very well. I wish we had more description of the inn and the grounds though. Or at least more art showcasing it.
The ending really didn't work at all. We were told how awful things would be for Dina because of certain actions, but that was kind of handwaved away. I wish I was more excited for book three.