Yes, I rated this four stars. I found that some flashback scenes were overdrawn or just unnecessary, which made this book feel a tad too long for my taste. Some of them were absolutely necessary not only to understand Balthazar, but also the relationship between his sister, Charity and his Sire, Redgrave. These were more interesting to me, although I was most absorbed by what was happening between Balthazar and Skye.
She's drawn the attention of Redgrave because of her unique blood, or at least the unique properties of her blood. Balthazar is sent to protect her since Lucas and Bianca are running themselves.
Still, Skye had a crush on Balthazar at Evernight Academy and he's strong enough to protect her. And if this were all the story were, a supernatural beatdown, it wouldn't pack the punch this novel did. Between Balthazar's guilt over his sister, and how that relationship evolves in this book and the myriad of issues Skye deals with, this book, wow, just covered a lot.
Skye has recently lost her brother, Dakota. On top of that, her ex-boyfriend, Craig, slept with her soon after Dakota's death, and then dumped her to date Britnee Fong, a seemingly dimwitted, slightly chunky girl. (This is important in that Madison, a girl at the school Skye is going to, cracks jokes about how dumb and fat Britnee is - a lot. It's really uncomfortable to know that Skye justifies it as Madison trying to make her feel better, and as being angry that Britnee stole her boyfriend. The situation between the three evolves: Britnee is never portrayed as intelligent, but she's not portrayed as super dumb, either. It's all about perception. And I'm still not super comfortable with how this all started, but I was satisfied with how it ended, all around.) Skye also relives violent deaths - not necessarily murder, but violently uneasy deaths such as sudden, and yes, violent heart attacks.
On top of all this, her parents bury their grief in work and are barely present in her life. All she has to cling to, to protect her, is Balthazar, a vampire with his own issues, his own tragedies, and who has a hard and fast rule: no humans. He refuses to have romantic entanglements with humans, but finds Skye not only beautiful but brave.
I find most vampire/teen girl books... um, gross. There tend to be issues such as stalking and abuse, which weren't present in these books. Yes, Balthazar feels guilty for watching Skye standing in her room, silhouetted by the lights, but she knows he's there to watch for other vampires. He never pressures her into posing, consciously or not, and in fact would rather she didn't. She tempts him, but he also takes full responsibility for his own desires. (The power dynamic and simultaneous refusal of the older being to take responsibility for their own desires or actions is often troublesome.) Then again, given the brief, but powerful, statement about slut-shaming later in this book - it's bad, maybe don't do it, by the way - I'm unsurprised to find the power dynamics this thought through - and dealt with deftly. (A vampire retains his emotional level when he dies. Or she when she dies. Balthazar was nineteen, so he can learn, but not really change. Since Skye is eighteen, this puts them on the same emotional level which makes it feel even less like a gross, abusable power dynamic. Balthazar's insistence on spelling out what being with him would mean, and asking if she's sure, insisting no until she clarifies that she knows, and she truly wants this, also helps. Also, she's eighteen, not sixteen, and pretty self-reliant given how she's had to live on her own for the most part since Dakota's death. Again, all mitigating factors.)
I could have hated this, quite easily, but Claudia Gray refused to give into an easy trope, and bucked the Twilight trend. Instead, she created a full, rich world, full of characters who were mature and took responsibility for what they had done. It was fun, it was funny, and it was a romance without much erotic content. (There are mentions of sex being had, and some sex, but it's not graphic, at all. Which pleased me greatly.)
I may have to go back and get the other books in this series, most likely from the library. I can't see myself rereading Balthazar, even not that often, even though I'm glad I read it once, or else I'd probably actually buy the series. (Yes, this was a library book.)
Still, I'll be looking for more books by Claudia Gray in the future.