Shadowdweller Trace, warrior and advisor to the leaders of his people, uncovers a plot which threatens the stability of the government which has finally pulled his people together after years of civil war. Pursuing one of the conspirators into Shadowscape, an empty world of endless night just a step outside of the Realscape of our world, Trace kills the enemy but receives mortal wounds in the process. Ashla has been wandering through the dark and lifeless alternate New York for months, with no understanding of how she came to be there, until she comes across the battling warriors. As one of the Lost, Ashla should not be able to sense either Shadowdweller, normally spirits of comatose humans like hers are unaware and unable to interact with `Dwellers. Fortunately for Trace this is not the case with Ashla, the fragile golden angel, and she heals the dying dark stranger with her touch, using a gift that has marked her as an abomination in the eyes of her own family. The act of saving Trace's life establishes a sacred soul bond beween Trace and Ashla, though it's not immediately clear how their relationship can work when Ashla is only a 'ghost'.
In 'Ecstasy' Frank ups the sensuality level of her writing while exploring this darkest corner of her Nightwalker world leaving the familiar Demons, Lycanthropes and Vampires of the Nightwalker world behind - except for a brief cameo from one of her former stars. Here we enter the shadowy darkness that is home to the Shadowdwellers. Those of the `Dweller race find pain in even the barest bits of light. Though Shadowscape, and its absence of light, would seem to be the perfect home for the `Dwellers, they can only spend short periods there before succumbing to a euphoric madness. So they have instead learned to cultivate a world of darkness within the hostile environment of the Realscape of our world migrating yearly to the darker hemispheres and living in cities beneath the Earth.
Despite the apparent differences between fragile self-sacrificing Ashla and strong honorable intelligent Trace, they both have emotional scars. Trace's brutalization at the hands of an evil woman has meant that he has not touched or desired the touch of a woman for 12 years and the abuse that Ashla suffered at the hands of her family has left her disconnected and insecure. The initial consummation between Ashla and Trace explodes off the pages as Trace's control is lost to an all consuming mindless lust when the euphoria takes hold of him, erasing all the care for a partner that is so important in his culture and immersing him in a selfish desperation. Ashla accepts his overwhelming sensual assault even as she senses the pain and regret that is buried beneath Trace's madness. Ultimately her surrender here is just what Trace needs to overcome the horror of his past, and his later honor and patience will be just what she needs to regain her own personal power.
I really enjoyed Ecstasy even though it didn't manage to become my new favorite out of all of Frank's romances, I loved Trace and his inability to maintain his control around Ashla, and liked Ashla except for a brief bit when she goes off on a nasty screaming snit, which seemed a bit out of character. (In fact that whole scene, including Trace's subsequent digression describing his early training in every imaginable flavor of sexuality, knocked my rating down a notch.) But then again, unlike Frank's Nightwalker series, in the end Ecstasy was not just about the relationship between Ashla and Trace and I loved the larger incredibly detailed Shadowdweller world and culture that Frank brought to life with her story. And with this first book in the Shadowdwellers series, Frank has already captured me with her intriguing supporting cast in the ruler Tristan, his twin and co-ruler the lovely war weary prescient Malaya, Malaya's deadly dedicated body guard Guin, and Trace's powerful warrior priest foster father Magnus - hopefully they all get books of their own I want to read more about these fascinating characters. The Shadowdweller saga continues in June with Rapture: The Shadowdwellers.