Lena Ivanova- young woman from Bulgaria, student in Chicago University
Kyle Gray- Soul Taker/Collector
Gordon- Kyle’s friend/colleague
Maria- Lena’s best friend
Sophie- Lena’s roommate, later becomes closest friend
Jacky- Kyle’s sister
Lena Ivanova is a young Bulgarian woman studying on a student visa at Chicago University. Lena feels alone in the United States, but it’s a familiar feeling: even in Bulgaria, she was an outsider, plagued with unexplainable premonitions and visions that she kept to herself, fearing that she’d be considered weird or crazy. Lena’s most persistent vision was that of a handsome but troubled young man; he haunted her dreams and even her waking thoughts, and she seemed to always be looking for him.
Lena is befriended by Maria, a volunteer with the college’s foreign students program. Maria aids Lena to find an apartment where she meets and becomes fast friends with her new roommate, Sophie, a school librarian who is odd but spirited and fun.
On a cold winter day, Maria slips onto the tracks of an L train and is knocked unconscious. Lena is unable to reach Maria and is panicked that no one is able to assist, when suddenly two young men appear – one of them the mystery man from Lena’s dreams. This phantom man is now flesh; she learns he is named Kyle, and his friend is Gordon. Instead of helping the unconscious Maria, the men instead attempt to prevent Lena from helping her, but still she is able to save her friend. Meeting with Kyle again at the hospital, he is there when Maria dies, and claims that he has taken her soul.
Lena faces a dilemma: while she still feels in her heart Kyle is good, witnessing him taking Maria’s soul has shaken her faith in her visions, and she blames him for her friend’s death. Despite this, she still feels attracted to him, and almost despite herself, she feels compelled to follow him. They become closer, until finally their attachment leads to physical contact, but Lena is horrified to discover that when she kisses or touches him, Kyle becomes terribly sick. Their love grows stronger, even when they are denied physical contact, and Lena finds herself drawn deeply into his mysterious world.
Lena learns that Kyle is not in fact evil, but an agent of death – he does not cause death, but merely eases the passing of those who are leaving this world as a Soul Taker and Collector. Kyle’s friend, Gordon, is also a Soul Taker, but of a very different sort: he takes souls whether they are ready or not, fated to leave this earth or destined to live longer. Lena fears Gordon, and, sensing that there is something different about Lena, he wishes to take her soul as well. Once close as brothers, Kyle and Gordon now are mortal enemies, with Kyle trying to protect Lena’s life while Gordon attempts to take it.
The two young lovers hide from Gordon, and Lena doesn’t eat or sleep, forgetting everything but her fear of Gordon, and her love of Kyle. An encounter with Kyle’s family, especially his hostile vile sister Jacky, leads to the discovery that Lena is in fact just as extraordinary: while Kyle and Gordon are soul takers, she is a giver of souls, the other side of the same coin. The reason Kyle and Lena are unable to touch becomes clear: physical contact would result in him taking her soul, a soul that she would give to him without hesitation as a soul giver.
During this, Gordon continues to hunt them down, killing Lena’s friends and acquaintances as he works to find the two lovers. Knowing they cannot run forever, Kyle thinks of a solution: if Lena wants to learn about herself, the soul takers and the soul givers, she needs to pass between the worlds of the Living and the Dead. Kyle insists that Lena undergo proper training to hone her skills before she undergoes the dangerous journey, but Gordon finds the two and abruptly Lena’s time is up: she must make the leap into the world called Aphra, limbo between the world of Living and the world of the Dead, finding herself alone at an ocean beach with torn clothes, not remembering what happened and even who she is.
Genre Science Fiction/Fantasy