I hadn't read the first three books in the series, the only reason I read this one is because I'm a huge fan of Nalini Singh. I expected to skim through it and have to overlook many references to the first three, but this book works so well as a stand-alone novel that I hadn't known any better I would not have realized it was a larger series.
The beginning of the book reads a lot like a fairytale and by the end makes a smooth transition into a classic fantasy novel; but don't worry, there's lots of great sex scenes. Both the leading man and the leading lady had so many characteristics of archetypal fairytale and fantasy characterization as well. Instead of simply the inexperience heroine, both the leading man and lady had led a sheltered and abusive lives, leaving them both immature and un–tried; it is difficult to pull off a believable romance within these limitations, but Nalini Singh wrote it flawlessly, as she always does.
I've said this before but I really do wish that Nalini Singh could rewrite every book ever published; her talent could save even Where the Red Fern Grows.
The only complaint I have about this book is that in the end the ugly and disfigured heroine magically becomes beautiful. As ugly characters are one of my fetishes I was disappointed with this, but have read enough books to know to expect it all along. In this particular case it seemed wholly unnecessary seeing as how the leading man was unconcerned with her uncharacteristic beauty, and by the end it seemed she had accepted herself. Ruining a perfectly good ugly heroine would usually have me scoring the book poorly, but I can't do that to Nalini Singh, she's just that damn good.