I was positively quivering with excitement to get my hands on Heroes at Risk, the fourth book in Moira J. Moore's excellent and incredibly fun heroes series. With each installment I've grown fonder of Taro and Lee. Bonded together as Source and Shield, respectively, they've been forced to deal with each other for awhile now and it's always a treat to watch them circle each other once more, to attempt to navigate the treacherous waters that lay between their opposing natures and meet somewhere in the middle. For the most part this has meant Taro putting up with Lee's obstinately pragmatic way of leading her life. For a brief period, in book three, things changed and a few important things came to the forefront in their relationship. I, for one, was very anxious to see what happened when they returned to their habitual home and roles.
Back from "that damned island," as Taro would say, our Pair barely have time to settle back into the Triple S Residence at High Scape before danger and intrigue come knocking on their door. The city seems to have changed in their absence. The inhabitants of High Scape are uneasy. After the events of the first two books, they have lost faith, so to speak, in the powers that be. Namely, the Triple S. There are rumors of magic, of people casting spells using the ashes of the dead. And not just any dead, but those considered most lucky in life. It is hoped that the luck of the dead will rub off on the living and change the course of their lives for the better. Never mind that no one really believes in magic and that such activities are highly illegal. Meanwhile a mysterious illness is cutting down scores of people in the city and no one seems to be able to put their finger on the source of the plague. Faced with these challenges, Lee has very little available energy left to address the state of her personal life, which has become a bit more complicated than she'd like.
Taro and Lee are their old selves (particularly Lee) and I had a smile on my face for the majority of this book because I know them. I know all about them. And here we are adventuring together once more. I had high expectations for developments in this fourth installment in the series. There were so many wonderful scenes and I delighted in the familiar tug and pull of their interactions. It did take me a minute to remember that Lee, as ever, has to move at her own pace. That back in her normal environment, she would revert to form to a certain degree. And I find myself, like Taro, stabbing my hands in my hair in frustration. At the same time, I love how fiercely loyal she is to Taro. When he is threatened she is there. She refuses to let anyone run over her volatile, at times vulnerable, partner and that made me smile. Several times. Because in other respects Lee struggles in this book. She's made decisions that make the running of her life, at least the way she'd like it to be run, difficult. She keeps running into walls trying to reconcile her choices with her expectations and it was hard to watch her sometimes as she takes two steps backward for every one step forward. Fortunately, she has Taro to remind her of what's important. Or at least he tries to. Lee's inability to see beyond her carefully constructed world view does not make things easy. And whenever he tries to get through to her, his emotions are so raw they lend an edge to every scene he's in, a couple of which are exquisitely sweet.
I have to highlight one particular scene that I'm still thinking about days later. It came at a point in the story where I wasn't expecting to be touched. But it was incredibly effective in demonstrating why I love Lee, even when she's at her most thickheaded:
Taro came into the room, strands of hair flying free of the tie at the back of his skull, sweat plastering his cream-colored shirt against his chest and back. I wished I had an artist's skill, that I could make renderings of him in all his states of beauty. He would never want to look at them, or even know about them. I would just like them for myself. Maybe he would want to see them when he was much older, and beautiful in a different way.
That last line. Sigh. I was reading in bed with DH asleep beside me and thus no one to turn to and say, "I just read something breathtaking." Because it's Lee, at her most vulnerable. And Lee is never vulnerable. But even when she is unable to see herself or anything else for what it is, she sees Taro. She knows what he's worth. And that's why I love Lee. So even though I rolled my eyes at her a few times and wanted to shake her several more times than that, I enjoyed this story very much and am looking forward to the next. I have a hunch we're going to learn a lot more about how Sources and Shields came to be and how they're inherently different from the "regulars," as Lee calls them. Lastly, Heroes at Risk has a killer last line. It's irreverent and funny and guaranteed to make you close the book with a smile on your face.