I liked Laura Anne Gilman's STAYING DEAD a lot. The romance is very understated although that made it seem a lot more real to me. ("Real" people are always a plus.) The heroine, Wren, had been involved with Sergei as an employee/partner for ten years as a "Retriever"--a thief who steals things back, more or less.
Wren was very young--17 or so?--when they first became partners, and it is just a business/mentor relationship, at least overtly. It is clear very early in the book that Sergei and Wren both feel differently, but both display a healthy caution about changing the relationship. This persists even as the story develops. The duo takes a very appealing and sensible attitude that even if there is going to be a romantic relationship, stopping to delve into that when all hell is breaking loose around them may not be the smartest thing they could do.
In addition, Sergei has kept some pretty major secrets about who he is and about some of his motives for being involved with Wren over the years. I have a pretty strong sense that that may well be continued to be worked out in future books.
STAYING DEAD reads more like the beginning of a mystery series that will have a longer plot arc and further character development. Only the immediate mystery solved in this first book. I also found the particular "magic" stuff to be consistent and well thought out in a pleasant and competent sort of way.--Lynn (27 Sep 04)