Cat is now a weird new vampire hybrid: due to the fact that she was born half-vampire, her conversion to full vampirism has had a couple of strange si...moreCat is now a weird new vampire hybrid: due to the fact that she was born half-vampire, her conversion to full vampirism has had a couple of strange side-effects: she only drinks vampire, not human, blood; and when she drinks the blood of a master vampire she temporarily absorbs their gifts too. Welcome to the world of the Night Huntress, or "Red Reaper" as Cat is known amongst vampires. And yeah, even though she's "one of them now", she still hunts down the "baddies" with the aid of her husband, Master vampire Bones, and his lineage, as well as her mortal uncle Don's secret governmental crew.
A self-proclaimed leader of ghouls, Apollyon, is stirring up a war between ghouls and vampires, using Cat as a catalyst. It's up to Cat and Bones to uncover Apollyon's plans, find new allies and show the ghouls that vampires really are superior. Sorry, that last bit's all me: it was one of Apollyon's arguments for stirring up trouble, and the way the ending was handled, he was kinda right. That's how I remember it, anyway.
This used to be one of my favourite series, but this fifth novel was really disappointing. I had no interest in the ghouls, Cat was wearing thin, there seemed to be little plot holes here and there, and maybe it's been a while since I read the last book but I thought she hated Don? Her grief seemed overdone and phony and didn't make me feel sympathetic or empathetic, I just felt impatient and snappish at her. I've never liked Cat less. I felt completely detached and apathetic towards her, and the ghoul-war plot was rather boring.
I also don't really know why these books are still shelved in Paranormal Romance - if they were borderline at the beginning, they're clearly in the Urban Fantasy camp now. I know, it's not all that important, I just like things to be organised!
I gave this three stars on Goodreads when I first updated my status here, but if I can't remember anything good about the book when I write the review (finally!) nearly two months later, I'm reducing that rating to 2. (less)
I had to wait two years for this to come out in paperback, but I'm glad I didn't spend the money on the hardcover. It's not a bad couple of stories, b...moreI had to wait two years for this to come out in paperback, but I'm glad I didn't spend the money on the hardcover. It's not a bad couple of stories, but they weren't up to par either.
The first story, "Untouchable" by Kresley Cole, is the 8th book in the Immortals After Dark series and follows on from the very first story in the series, "The Warlord Wants Forever" (which is in the Playing Easy to Get anthology or available online as a free e-book from the author's website). There are three - no, four, Wroth brothers, all vampires from Estonia: Nikolai, Murdoch, Conrad and Sebastian. This is Murdoch's story, his and Daniela's. Danii is a Valkyrie whose mother was queen of Icergard before being betrayed; thus, Danii is half ice-queen - literally. The Icere are a fey race in the Lore who live in a fortress made of ice; they are half-ice themselves, and for Danii, regulating her body temperature takes concentrated effort. She can't even let anyone brush up against her on the street. She's untouched, in all ways, but yearns to be touched, kissed, made love to.
When Murdoch, the ultimate womaniser and seducer, helps her defeat a band of Icere sent to kill her due to her status as exiled queen-in-waiting, he discovers Daniela is his Bride: the woman who makes his heart beat again, his fated mate. And unlike her Valkyrie sisters, Danii would like nothing more than to experience what Murdoch can offer even if he is a vampire. But they can't touch, not if Murdoch wants Danii to live. It presents the ultimate dilemma.
This story, much like the other short story in the series, is light on plot and focuses more intently on character development and a slowing building, genuine relationship that may have started with lust but develops into something more precious. While I did like the story and the characters, the slower pace and more serious tone made it less enjoyable for me. I'm pampered by Cole's skilfully interweaving plots and witty banter, and except for how Danii and Murdoch overcome the barrier between them - which was disappointingly obvious from early on - there isn't much of the usual Cole fare here. Still, it's a good story and good too to round out the Wroth brothers - I've read all their stories now.
The second story, "Tempt Me Eternally" by Gena Showalter, is the fifth story in her Alien Huntress series. I haven't read anything else in this series but that won't slow you down - much. I would like to have understood this futuristic world better, but if you have read other books in the series you don't have to worry about getting too much backstory in this one.
Aleaha is a shape-shifter, a woman who steals other people's identities. Currently in the body of Macy, a young woman who was murdered in an alley, Aleaha has followed through on Macy's abruptly-terminated life and joined AIR, "alien investigation and removal". A mission to intercept an alien invasion of Schön, who infect other species with a zombie-like desire for the flesh of their own kind (in particular, loved ones) goes awry when, instead of Schön appearing through the portal in the forest, a band of seductive male warriors called Rakan turn up. They too are on the hunt for the Schön, who devastated their home world and robbed them of women, and they've been slipping through portals to Earth for a while now to set up a base of operations to defeat the Schön.
AIR doesn't team up with aliens, though, so battle ensues. The Rakan are soul-stealers, though, and so fast they turn invisible. AIR is defeated, the agents taken hostage, and along with them Aleaha, who's captured the eye of the Rakan commander, Breean. Breean is far from repulsed by her unusual gift, and yearns to see the real woman under Macy's façade. But Aleaha, as much as she finds herself attracted to this big warrior, can't see him as anything but the enemy until her fellow AIR agents are freed.
This was a pretty good story - Showalter generally writes great chemistry and playful scenes, but I couldn't get into the story, both because it was shorter than a full-length novel and because I didn't understand all that much about the world. It also didn't have a resolved plot: the bigger plot was left open, and only the issue of their relationship was resolved at the end. I was expecting something a bit more final, but if you go into it without such expectations it'd be more enjoyable. (less)
Cale Valens is one of the ancient immortals, born in 230 BCE, and the nephew of Marguerite Argeneau, matchmaker extraordinaire. He's also a serious, s...moreCale Valens is one of the ancient immortals, born in 230 BCE, and the nephew of Marguerite Argeneau, matchmaker extraordinaire. He's also a serious, staid fellow, a mercenary in his previous life but now a businessman in Europe with great taste in expensive suits. When he arrives in New York for a multiple-immortal wedding, Marguerite tells him he needs to meet Sam's sister Alex. Sam has two sisters whom she's very close to, Jo and Alex, and didn't want to change when she met her lifemate, Mortimer, because it would mean never seeing them again. So she's been keen to find her sisters lifemates too, even though the likelihood seems slim that all three of them would be lifemates to immortals. But with Jo settled down with another Argeneau - and turned as well - Alex is the only one left.
A successful restaurateur and chef in Toronto, Alex has no time for men, especially as she prepares to open her second, much larger restaurant. Everything that could possibly go wrong has, including fire to the property and the wrong carpet being installed. She's fired her project manager and is using her own personal savings to try and get the restaurant finished in time for opening night, but it means she can't be head chef at her other restaurant. When her recently-promoted head chef, a pompous twit who's adopted a French name to sound more authentic, suddenly quits on her, Alex is desperate to find a chef. That's when Cale Valens turns up and declares he is a master chef from France.
Except that Cale can't cook, and hasn't eaten real food in centuries. But when he meets Alex for the first time, he discovers that he can't read her mind - which makes her his lifemate (there are other clues, but this is the most important). Pretending to be a chef is his friend Bricker's idea, and it's disastrous - luckily, they can change people's memories and make them think they're eating gourmet food instead of blackened fish. Cale needs a new plan, desperately, because he badly needs to get to know Alex and give her a chance to get to know him.
This is one of the funny Argeneau novels - some of them are more serious, though they all have Sands' trademark humour in the banter - and a joy to read. It is predictable: it's quite obvious that someone is messing with Alex's restaurant and it's equally obvious who that is, but I guess we can put it down to Alex's nature and how preoccupied and stressed she is that she can't see it. She's a very together kind of woman, strong of mind and a great heroine. Cale is a delight, he's quiet and considerate and genuinely wants to get to know Alex and spend time with her so she can get to know him - unlike some other series (*cough cough* Feehan's Carpathians), being lifemates doesn't mean instant love and sex. When an immortal discovers someone they can't read, they know only that this is someone they can live with, that they're compatible with. They still have to learn about the person and find love with them, and build a proper relationship.
So in Hungry for You we get more of a focus on building their relationship, with the mystery plot merely a device to bring Cale and Alex together. And their relationship develops in believable ways and you can see the chemistry building between them. I liked both the protagonists in Hungry For You; they didn't feel like stock characters (which can be a problem with long-running series, *cough cough* Christine Feehan *cough*).
I love the books in this series that are set in Sands' native Canada, though this one didn't have the landmarks that were in a couple of the earlier books. We also get other well-known characters appearing in this one, notably Bricker, Mortimer, Marguerite and Lucian and their lifemates.
If you're not familiar with Sands' Argeneau series, she has a more original take on the vampire-like immortals (they always stress that they're not vampires, and it's true, they're not - but they do have fangs and drink blood). The immortals originated from Atlantis, where advanced technology created super nanos that, injected in the host body, would repair the damage of, say, cancer, and essentially cure people. When Atlantis collapsed, the people with the nanos still in them had no way of removing them once they'd done their job, and because of the constant daily damage to the body from ageing, the sun, food etc., the nanos kept repairing the body - and this required blood. These days, the immortals drink bagged blood except in dire emergencies, and to keep their numbers low they can only have a child once every hundred years. The nanos have made them sensitive to the sun, but also stronger, faster and given them special skills like mind reading. I'm not an Atlantis believer but I enjoy this unique take on vampires.
Overall, this was a highly enjoyable instalment in the series, and if you haven't read any I would recommend this as a good one to start with.(less)
There have been some great books in this series, but sadly this isn't one of them.
While the main characters here are John Matthew, a mute Brother (a...moreThere have been some great books in this series, but sadly this isn't one of them.
While the main characters here are John Matthew, a mute Brother (a vampire warrior), and Xhex, the half-vampire, half-sympath assassin he's in love with, there are so many other storylines going on here that it gets pretty cluttered. And it's a loooooong book for a Paranormal Romance. I've said in the past how much I love that Ward's series has grown increasingly more Fantasy-like, with a vivid, multi-layered world and history etc., but in this eighth outing it was all just more of the same. Also, the whole vampire aspect has seriously faded into the background and is basically inconsequential, and I find myself missing that.
There's too much internal monologue-ing here, and the particular style of language the Brotherhood - and Ward - has become notorious for has seriously lost its appeal. I did enjoy the Blay-and-Qhuinn side-plot; though it doesn't get resolved here it does make some good progress, and I hope Ward doesn't back away from depicting a loving gay relationship.
I struggled to get through this one: it was too unfocused (at least compared to most of the previous books), too slow-moving and too bitter. I'll keep reading the series since I'm so invested in it now, but I hope the next one (Lover Unleashed) gets back on track (less)
While this is a standalone Argeneau novel, it's also a continuation of the previous one, The Renegade Hunter, because it covers the investigation into...moreWhile this is a standalone Argeneau novel, it's also a continuation of the previous one, The Renegade Hunter, because it covers the investigation into who killed the pregnant woman and framed Nicholas (in the previous book). The problem with it is that it reads too much like a mystery-filling-a-story-gap, and not enough like a genuine romance.
Eshe is one of the ancients, and an Enforcer, sent by Lucian to his brother Armand's farm in southern Ontario to investigate the supposedly accidental deaths of all three of Armand's wives - and the wife of his son Nicholas. Both Eshe and Armand have had lifemates before, and instantly recognise the signs of meeting a new one in each other: they can't read each other's minds, they've rediscovered their appetite for food, and they share sex dreams. Eshe gently probes Armand about his past wives in order to cross him off the suspect list, and when they get to the point of being unable to keep their hands off each other (which leads to post-orgasmic unconsciousness), attempts are made on their own lives that makes it clear someone is definitely trying to kill not just the women in Armand's life, but him as well, now.
My problem with this book was that the relationship between Eshe and Armand was a little bit pat. A bit too easy and convenient. I know, I know, they're both immortals already, they've both had lifemates in the past and know how to appreciate the gift of a second one and not waste time, but even when they're spending time together and not talking about his dead wives, I just didn't feel it. I didn't get a sense of their chemistry. I didn't really believe in them. And that's the first time it's happened with Sands, whose books I usually love - they've got humour, they're well-written romances, the pacing is great, the characters are usually well developed and grow naturally - but here it felt like a story that needed to be written but lacked heart. Eshe and Armand were quite different people and I couldn't even really picture them together.
Though, introducing a black immortal was a nice, if belated, touch. A previous heroine was Portuguese, but by and large the women (and men) in romance novels are always white. Probably because the authors are always white, but still, it's not that realistic is it? I can also see why Sands has lately been introducing characters who've had lifemates in the past - it would be rather strange for all these people to go so long without, and then WHAM! they all meet lifemates within a few years of each other, and in more or less the same country. Speaking of, I liked that this one was set in Canada, rural Canada no less, though as often happens there aren't any cultural markers to speak of.
This is a good one to read, regardless, especially for the whodunnit part - you'll probably figure it out as quickly as I did but the details weren't as predictable - and it's nice knowing Nicholas is now a free man and Armand isn't cursed. (less)
I think the gloss is falling off this series for me. I had fun with the first one, and I do still enjoy the stories and the characters, but they are b...moreI think the gloss is falling off this series for me. I had fun with the first one, and I do still enjoy the stories and the characters, but they are becoming more annoying and I'm finding myself less and less patient with Carriger's style and tone here. It's so exuberant and so determined to be silly. She rather belabours the point, especially in her trying "Britishness".
This third outing follows on from the dramatic ending of book 2, Changeless - which I won't spoil, not to worry! But it does see Alexia on her own, back living with her odious mother and half-sisters, dismissed from her job on the Shadow Council, and with the cause of all her troubles unescapable. (That's vague, but if you read them you'll know what I mean.) With her friend, the inventor Madame Lefoux, and Floote, her butler (and everything else), she leaves the now unfriendly England for Italy and the Templars, who have a long history of association with Paranormals like Alexia. Hoping to find answers, she's also trying to escape threats on her life from the vampires, who seem determined to off her now that the unthinkable has happened.
It's rather impossible to give a decent summary without giving things away (I can't understand why I try except it's a habit), but considering this book took me a sporadic month to read - I just couldn't get into it for any length of time - it's a wonder that I can even give a summary. It was overall quite disappointing, one hurried flight after another, one attempt on Alexia's life after another, that I got quite tired of it all. Alexia is separated from her husband, Alpha werewolf and leader of BUR, Lord Conall Maccon, so there's no fun to be had there, and Alexia on her own can begin to get pretty tiring.
Still, knowing me I'll probably read the fourth one, Heartless, due out in July 2011. 'Cause there's some pretty cool stuff going on here and let's face it - they have great covers.(less)
Set between 1899 and 1903 in a world where the sun never set on the British Empire, where America is still deeply British on those small territories s...moreSet between 1899 and 1903 in a world where the sun never set on the British Empire, where America is still deeply British on those small territories secured from the natives and with the French breathing down their neck across a tenuous border, New Amsterdam presents the great amateur detective, Don Sebastien de Ulloa. Travelling from Europe to the colonies across the Pacific by dirigible with his trusted young friend Jack, Sebastien is one of the oldest wampyrs living. While wampyrs are welcome in Europe, they are most definitely not in the colonies, so he and Jack work hard to keep it a secret on board the air ship. It’s not long, however, before Sebastien’s detective skills are required when a passenger disappears, and a sorcerer reveals his true nature.
When he arrives in New Amsterdam – only recently handed over to the British by the Dutch – Sabestien teams up with Detective Crown Investigator Abigail Irene Garrett, a sorcerer who drinks a lot, is loyal to the Crown – or at least, the oath she took to serve it – and is having an affair with Duke Richard, the British Empire’s representative in New Amsterdam. The two find themselves neck-deep in grisly paranormal murders and international politics, along with Jack and a curious widow who writes fiction, Phoebe Smith.
This is my first Bear outing, and I have to admit from the outset that it didn’t greatly impress me. I always start a book with a feeling of excitement, of possibilities, with my mind open to a fresh new story. It took a while for Bear’s actual story to get boring, but I think her writing style here made it rather plodding from the start. Normally, I like a high level of detail, but because I found her sentence structure often hard to follow, or clunky, the details just became burdens.
Part of my problem is, I freely admit, that I don’t care for mystery/detective/crime type stories much. I have enjoyed some, extremely so. This wasn’t one of them, sadly. I couldn’t follow their leaps of reasoning – hell, sometimes I couldn’t even follow a simple statement! It only makes me frustrated. You know those conversations, those slices of dialogue, where a character says something that sounds random, but others in room go “Ahh” or jump from there to some new realisation – this book was full of those. (I can’t really give you examples, you’d have to read the whole thing.)
Structurally, the book is comprised of chapters or parts that are something like connected short stories or novellas – each deals with a new and separate mystery to solve, but as a whole they are meant to tell a greater story than the sum of their parts. I say “meant to” because one of the biggest disappointments for me was how lacking the overall story was. Here we have two very interesting characters – an old, lonely wampyr who’s forgotten much of his past, and an intelligent, strong, independent sorceress who defeats beasts and the like, in an America where the indigenous tribes still hold much of their land, and where war with the French looms. The biggest let-downs were that there’s no great character development or change going on, and the setting – the very alternate history that so fascinates me – was only loosely sketched out, never really explored, and didn’t always make sense.
On the positive side, I did like the two main characters and Jack, and I did like the sensuality that we get glimmers of – it was very nicely done, especially around Sebastien’s potent bite. I was thrown by the very last line – Garrett tells her black maid, who wants to stay in Paris, “On your head be it”, which, am I wrong? I always understood to be something of a threat, or warning. It means “Fine, do what you like, but I take no responsibility for the consequences so don’t come to me for help if it goes wrong.” Which doesn’t match the scene - she was giving her maid her blessing. I wonder if it has more to do with the overall editing – and copy-editing – because the book was rife with mistakes, not to mention my dissatisfaction with the clunky sentence structure. And when a book’s lacklustre qualities stand out this much for me, I lose interest in its other points – its themes, its attempts at being profound.
For such a short book, it took me far too long to get through and hasn’t made me all that eager to read more of Elizabeth Bear – though I don’t want to dismiss her after just one book. (less)
The second standalone novel in the spin-off series to The Night Huntress series proved to be a much stronger novel than the first one, First Drop of C...moreThe second standalone novel in the spin-off series to The Night Huntress series proved to be a much stronger novel than the first one, First Drop of Crimson.
Mencheres is an ancient and powerful Master vampire, but now that the only vision of the future he can see is of darkness, he's convinced it's time to pay for past sins and end this long and weary life. When a mortal woman steps in unexpectedly to save him from what was a suicide-by-ghoul attempt, Mencheres ends up rescuing her in turn. The problem is, he can't wipe her memories. He can't read her mind at all. Sure that it's because of his ancient blood that he had to give her to heal her, he politely keeps her prisoner until such time as he can access her mind. When he still can't, but finds himself trusting her, he lets her go.
Kira is a private investigator, and being suddenly set free by the beautiful and charismatic vampire Mencheres is only the beginning. When her search for Mencheres brings her into contact with other, less gentlemanly vampires, she is forced deep into the dangerous vampire world - and on the run with Mencheres, who is being framed by one of the vampire Council Guardians and Mencheres nemesis, Radje.
I've always liked Mencheres - there's a sad, little-boy-lost quality to him that adds depth to his scary, powerful presence. He's rather fatalistic in this book, but understandably so. And Kira is a great heroine, smart and brave and warm. They had great chemistry together, and Frost doesn't overwhelm the romance side with the mystery/action plot side of things.
I'll just add, though, that I find this cover hilarious. It would have been quite a nice cover if they hadn't felt the need to add fake - and very badle done - blood drops. It looks ridiculous. (less)
It's quite true: I've read one book by Martin previous to this one, and I was not a fan. In fact, I rather hated A Game of Thrones, and my criticisms...moreIt's quite true: I've read one book by Martin previous to this one, and I was not a fan. In fact, I rather hated A Game of Thrones, and my criticisms of the book have drawn attacks on my character, my intellect and anything else you care to think of, from some fans. (I don't know why people take it so personally when others dislike their favourite books, unless they think that a negative review also says "you're stupid if you like this book". That's sad.)
But that was that book, and when I read Roxane's glowing review of Fevre Dream on The Honeyed Knot, I was more than willing to give Martin a second go. It's still Fantasy, but a very different book from his Song of Ice and Fire series - the two can't really be compared.
Set in the years from 1857 to 1870 in the American south, on and along the Mississippi, Fevre Dream is about a large and ugly steamship captain, Abner Marsh, who is offered a promising partnership with a young and charismatic man, Joshua York. They build the finest steamship on the river, the Fevre Dream, and begin their voyage down the river. Only, York is a vampire who is on a mission to save his race from their own folly, which means winning over the vampires living with ancient vampire Damon Julian - a task doomed to fail, with violent results.
The blend of fantasy and horror worked very well here, and if it's become a cliché to combine scary vampires - or any kind of paranormal activity - with the American south, and rivers in particular, it's still very effective. The atmosphere is rich and ripe - you can practically smell the river and the steamships. The marsh and decrepit house where Damon Julian lives, the mould and rotting heart of it, is tangible and fitting, a true reflection of Julian's heart.
In fact, "rotting" is quite a theme of the book, if you can call it that - symbolic, perhaps is a better word. Set in a time when slave ownership was still the thing, but with stirrings of abolition in the air, with black steam spewing from the boats, corpses of boats and people and god knows what else at the bottom of the river, and the vampire nest living in a rotting mansion in a swamp full of drained corpses, Fevre Dream highlights the rotting core of a nation - a not-irreversible state, and here it becomes all the more American in its ideals: that of individuals using their perseverance and ingenuity, plus their belief in right and wrong, to save the day. It's historical and current at the same time. Abner Marsh never gives up, and in this trait in particular he distinguishes himself from his vampire foes.
In general, I found the characters to be rather thinly drawn, rather obvious and bland, cliches of themselves. Even keeping in mind the fact that this novel is 30 years old, and even with the small differences Martin made to his vampire race from other authors, I found the characters stereotypical. Martin gets great praise for creating unique, interesting, believable characters, but it's one area where I still strongly disagree. I did enjoy these characters a lot more than in the other book, but I didn't find the writing strong enough to really lift them off the page. Perhaps with Marsh, Martin succeeded fairly well, but he was still a fairly limited character.
And then there are the steamships themselves, which were like characters all of their own and generally far more interesting than their human counterparts. I greatly enjoyed the descriptions of steamships, their races and their captains' boasts. When one of Abner Marsh's steamships is damaged while trying to out-run Damon Julian, I was more upset for it than when any of the human (or sympathetic vampire) characters met their end. The details of the boats, of how they worked and the people who worked on them, was the most interesting element of the book, though other historical details also struck me - the slave markets, the corrupt and filthy towns along the river, the historical positioning of the story in the context of the young country's rumblings of discontent and, finally, civil war.
To be honest, if there weren't steamships and the river, I probably would have struggled to stay interested in this book, because after a strong start the plot ambles along without really going anywhere, the pacing drops off a cliff, and it took me nearly a month just to finish the last hundred pages. Martin presents his vampires more in the traditional sense - the horror sense - than is common these days, and it made for a nice change.
It looks like I am once again disappointed in Martin, though - and not meaning to compare the books in any way - I did like Fevre Dream much more than I liked A Game of Thrones; I just wasn't very satisfied by it at the end.(less)
With the second book in the trilogy, The Twelve, coming out in October this year, I thought it was about time I dusted this off and finished it, since...moreWith the second book in the trilogy, The Twelve, coming out in October this year, I thought it was about time I dusted this off and finished it, since the reason why I got so far and then put it down for so long had really nothing to do with how well I was enjoying it. I was, quite simply, pregnant when I started reading this sometime around late 2010. It seemed like every book I started reading while pregnant (and at one time I counted about 36 books I was "currently reading") was heavy and depressing or sad and tragic - mostly because of my extreme fatigue and all the hormones, I'm sure. I got up to Part VII: The Darklands - or page 495 - before putting the great big heavy thing down and losing the willpower to pick it back up again. Starting it again now, I found I had little trouble remembering most of it, though of course small details and who was who amongst the minor characters were forgotten. The one-and-a-half year gap didn't do any damage to my enjoyment of the story, though.
It begins in the present day - or year 1 as it becomes known as - with a group of scientists working on a top-secret project for the U.S. military (or aided by them, in arms and money). Led by Dr. Jonas Lear, they travel to the jungles of Bolivia on the hunt for a gravesite to exhume in the search for a mystical cure for death. But when the team of scientists and soldiers get close to the site, they are attacked by hundreds of bats and several people are killed, their equipment mostly ruined. The survivors, many of them chewed up and feverish, press on and discover... something.
They bring back a virus, Project NOAH, one they barely even understand, and experiment on twelve death row inmates, convicted murderers, that they have collected from around the country, starting with Giles Babcock. If Dr Lear was looking for an answer to disease, the army is looking to create some superhuman soldiers using these criminals as guinea pigs. Injected with the virus, the men ... change. Mutate. Become distinctly Other, and extremely dangerous. Babcock just hangs in his cell, like a bat. They no longer look human. But there is a thirteenth, a little six-year-old girl called Amy whose mother dropped her off at a nunnery in the care of Sister Lacey and didn't come back. Picked up by the man responsible for "recruiting" the death row inmates, Special Agent Brad Wolgast, she's taken to the hidden facility in the mountains of Oregon and given the virus. In Amy, Dr Lear has his first real success, in terms of his own agenda. Amy does not become like the other twelve. Her appearance doesn't change. She doesn't have a thirst for blood. She's sensitive to light, and doesn't really need to eat.
Meanwhile, the Twelve are no longer content with being kept in cages. With their superhuman strength and speed and their ability to leap so high and far they almost fly, they easily break out. Chaos erupts. The highly contagious virus quickly spreads amongst those that they bite, and within days the entire country is under siege. Part vampire, part zombie, the risen dead have an undying thirst for the living. Agent Wolgast, having developed a fatherly love and protectiveness of Amy, escapes with her. But nowhere is safe. There's nowhere to run to.
Fast forward a hundred years, and we find ourselves in a very changed America. A community of survivors descended from children who had been rescued by the army and brought here to this place in California, goes about its business, with no expectation of change. Surrounded by high walls, floodlit at night, they are perpetual survivors, fending off the "flyers" from all sides. But two things happen to forever upset the tight-knit community: there's a problem with the generators that supply power to the lights that keep the undead away, meaning that soon, they will go out and that will be the end; and one of the men trained to man the wall, Peter, meets a silent girl in the abandoned old shopping mall, a girl called Amy who appears to be about fifteen years old. A hundred year old girl.
I'll leave the summary at that, it's enough to get you started. It's a long and involved story, with a huge cast of characters, but Cronin takes the time to set everything up and really develop the characters - because as with any work of fiction, but especially with the horror/thriller type, you have to care about the characters or you won't care for their struggle to survive.
I loved the originality of the "flyers", as Peter's people call them. They are a kind of vampire-zombie hybrid, with the original twelve something more extreme and monstrous even than that. The origins of the virus is a little vague - it hasn't been revealed what exactly they found and brought back to America. Good horror is often in the details left out and subsequently filled in by your imagination, so using emails from Dr Lear to a peer called Paul for the Bolivia sequence worked really well, even if I was frustrated by the details left out.
Then we have Amy, who's compelling in her quiet, calm presence, her ethereal nature, her Otherness. She holds the key for freeing the undead, but it's knowledge and understanding she has to figure out over time. Perhaps because she's still just a girl, in appearance at least, but it's easy to feel sympathy for her, and compassion, no matter how alien she comes across as. Perhaps, also, it is because she was abandoned by her mother, ostensibly to help her, but still, that's tragic.
The first part, the "present day" part, was incredibly gripping and very exciting. It was a finely choreographed set-up with a deliciously slow-burning suspense, and then it stops. It stops at just the right place, of course, but you get so invested in the story that when you turn to Part IV and discover yourself in a totally different place and time, you feel a bit cheated. This middle section of the book, set in First Colony about 92 years later (the escape of the twelve marked that year as "year zero"), settles into a slower, more gently burning tension: threat is present but like anything that is there every day, it loses its edge. Here we feel Cronin settle into his seat and take the time to establish this new place and its occupants, their new way of living, what they understand and what they're ignorant of. Because from here onwards, they carry the story.
We have Peter, arguably the main character if there is one, who takes on Amy's mission. There's Alisha, another guard and the woman Peter secretly-not-so-secretly loves. Michael, the engineer and technical expert who controls the power and the lights, and Sara, his sister, who works as a nurse - or doctor, if they have such. Young Caleb, taken under Alisha's wing, and Hollis. Pregnant Mausami of the Watch, married to Galen but in love with Peter's older brother Theo, who was recently "taken up": caught by the flyers and given up for dead, or as good as. No longer human, anyway. These are the characters you need to keep track of, because they are the ones who will go with Peter and Amy in search of ... I'll leave that detail for you to discover.
Once this group leaves the now deteriorating safety of the community, the action picks up again and it switches from Fantasy-Horror to a Hollywood-esque adventure playground with many zombie story tropes. That isn't to say it isn't exciting and interesting. Cronin hasn't previously written horror but he writes it well, very well indeed. It reads like an exciting Hollywood movie, but with more meat to its bones. Where I felt that the writing was not as strong as it could have been, was in establishing the characters. Maybe this was because it had such a huge cast, but Cronin tended to fall back on simplistic character markers. Peter's the leader. Alisha's the soldier. Michael's the nerd. Sara's the womanly compassionate one. Maus is the difficult one. Theo's the traumatised one. And so on. Nothing really wrong with it, but because the story is focused on the present, and on surviving, even when you get slower scenes where the characters talk and grow flesh in your mind, they still remain confined by these parameters and don't really go beyond that.
But the story has weight, and moments of sheer fear as well as tears. Yes, a horror book made me cry! Power to you, Cronin, I love that. I would have really appreciated a map of the States, or the relevant portion of it - I'm not familiar with the geography, either natural or manmade, so it was hard to visualise their journeys. I kept feeling surprised at how much was still intact after a hundred years - thinking, surely the trees and plants would have taken over it by now? - only to remember that it's the desert. There were some fabulous realistic details, like the methane from the sewers brewing under Las Vegas, and when they saw abandoned vehicles, or something that catches their eye, they speculate as to what had happened all those years ago. That really bridges the gap in time and almost condenses it, creating even more tension because the threat doubles in size and tangibility.
He was so wrapped up in his thoughts he didn't realize where he was, that he'd reached the top of the ramp. He paused to take a drink. The turbines were out there, somewhere, spinning in the wind that was pushing into his face. All he wanted was to get to the station and lie down in the dark and close his eyes. The dancing specks were worse now, descending through his narrowed field of sight like a glowing snowfall. Something was really wrong. He didn't see how he would be able to continue; someone else would have to take the point. He turned to Tale, who had moved up behind him, saying, "Listen, do you think--"
The space beside him was empty.
He swiveled in his saddle. No one was behind him. Not one rider. Like a giant hand had plucked them, mounts and all, right off the face of the earth.
A wave of bile rose in his throat. "Guys?"
That was when he heard the sound, coming from beneath the overpass. A soft, wet ripping, like sheets of damp paper being torn in half, or the skin being pried off an orange fat with juice. [p.502]
Overall, a superb read, truly scary at times without boring me to tears with zombies all the time. (Am I really the only one who finds zombies really boring?) The horror elements are nicely balanced with the kind of human survival story that draws us in and gets us every time (hence the tears). This is a horror story with the kind of length and depth of detail typically found in epic fantasy, which is probably why it was a win for me. With this one ending on a cliffhanger, I'm definitely reading the next book.(less)
The sequel to Carriger’s debut, Soulless, Changeless picks up three months into Alexia Tarabotti’s marriage to Lord Conall Maccon. Alexia is “soulles...moreThe sequel to Carriger’s debut, Soulless, Changeless picks up three months into Alexia Tarabotti’s marriage to Lord Conall Maccon. Alexia is “soulless”, otherwise known as a preternatural – in an alternate Victorian England where vampires and werewolves are out in the open and more-or-less accepted into polite society, Alexia can revert a vampire or werewolf back to mortal human with just her touch. Since the cause of vampirism etc. is understood to be due to an excess of soul, the newly minted Lady Maccon is their direct opposite. Still, that didn’t stop her from marrying a werewolf - the Alpha of the London pack, no less.
Armed with her trusty parasol, Alexia is also Mujah to Queen Victoria – completing a triad council of vampire, werewolf and preternatural. When a large area of London is suddenly afflicted with a state of mortality, several eyes look to Alexia as the cause. But the afflicted area is on the move, heading north to Scotland – where her husband is headed to deal with his old pack’s alpha-less state.
Alexia decides to travel – by dirigible – to Scotland herself and discover what’s causing the problem. Intending to travel alone, she is finds herself suddenly burdened with not just her insufferable younger sister Felicity, but her best friend Miss Ivy Hisslepenny as well – not to mention Ivy’s hideous hat collection. Her entourage grows even larger when she finds that a cross-dressing Frenchwoman and inventor, Madame Lefoux, is on the dirigible, where it becomes clear something is going on between her and Alexia’s maid. Mystery abounds.
The Kingair pack in Scotland is hostile to their presence, to say the least, but Alexia is sure they’ve brought something with them back from Africa that is causing the vampires’ and werewolves’ reversion to mortality. But someone is trying to kill her, maybe more than one person, and the vampires are up to something that Alexia is determined to foil. Thank God she has a new, reinforced parasol with some deadly secrets hidden in it!
There’s lots to enjoy with this series – it has a wonderful flippant sense of humour, lively characters and some neatly paced action. It also makes for a nice blend of steampunk and the supernatural, in an alternate-history Victorian England. As a result, it has some very funky inventions! It’s marketed as Fantasy/Horror, but it’s very light on horror. It’s more like … Historical Fantasy.
As fun as the dialogue and narration is, it does tend to belabour the quaint Englishness a bit. Carriger is, as far as I can make out, English by default (one parent being an ex-Pom), but it sometimes reads as trying too hard to sound English, and overdoing the expressions. She also uses “bollix” as alternate spelling for “bollocks” – I hadn’t seen that spelling before so I looked it up, and found that the change was “to make it appear less vulgar”. Spelling it that way also alters the meaning, to refer to something being messed up. In the book, “bollix” was used as “bollocks”, as in, “damn!” I know, I get hung up on these details – mostly I just find it interesting, but I do find that historical romance authors don’t research very well and even though this isn’t technically historical romance, I do find myself looking out for mistakes. (Dialogue is always a toughie, since so many expressions – the way we say things, our word choices and speech patterns – are fairly modern, including, don't get me started, the word “gotten”.)
I did love the ending though. I have to question the intelligence of most of the characters in their reaction to the news, since they all know that Alexia’s touch turns a supernatural being mortal - with that comes hair growth, slow healing and bodily fluids. Sorry, am trying not to spoil the ending for you but I still wanted to say that. It made the titles of books 2 and 3 suddenly make sense – well, 2 should have been obvious from early on except I wasn’t thinking about it, but 3 - Blameless - became clear. I’m quite looking forward to it, even if it is a bit of a cliché!
Ivy Hisslepenny provides quite the foil, being completely blind to what's going on around her, but Felicity was a largely forgotten character altogether - which wasn't a bad thing, as she was drawn to be as snide and selfish as could be. There wasn't much of Conall Maccon in this one, and when he did appear he alternated between single-minded forgot-I-was-married to very sweet and attentive. If you don't mind your characters a bit cardboard from time to time, you shouldn't have any problems here. I guess it goes hand-in-hand with the tone of the novel, which conjures up the word "buffoon". It made it hard to start, but if you can sit down with it for any length of time you can get back into the swing of things. A bit less re-capping would have been fine by me though. And a bit less pointing-out-the-obvious-irony too.
I'm still enjoying these, complaints aside. Alexia is a loud, strong-minded, decisive heroine who doesn't beat about the bush, which is refreshing, and I do find her sympathetic. Especially now. Looking forward to Blameless, perhaps because of the personal angle that's been set up for it. (less)
I've really enjoyed this series, though it's annoying that recently the books are being published in hardcover first and, a YEAR later, in paperback -...moreI've really enjoyed this series, though it's annoying that recently the books are being published in hardcover first and, a YEAR later, in paperback - it's crappy having to wait that long! I think the last couple, if I'm remembering right, weren't as good as some of the earlier ones, but I did think that Dead and Gone was one of the better ones. Part of that is because Eric plays a larger role here, and I'm a big fan of Eric. We get to hear the story of how he became a vampire, and he gets all sexy again with a very willing Sookie - finally! It's been a while. ;)
There's also a lot more action and tension in this one, with the faeries at war with each other and several attempts made on Sookie's life, plus there's a murder to investigate, the werewolves come out of the proverbial closet, and the FBI are showing too much interest in Sookie (Sookie's telepathy would be very useful to them). While there was a bit of an "end of an era" feel to the ending - especially considering who dies - there's still plenty going on in the overall Sookie world to keep the series going. (less)
This is a good series for starting at any point and reading out of order. Actually, the first one I read I didn't care for much, but the last few have...moreThis is a good series for starting at any point and reading out of order. Actually, the first one I read I didn't care for much, but the last few have been much better.
In this vampire world, synthetic blood has been perfected (by a vampire scientist and millionaire), dividing the vampires into those who drink from humans - called Malcontents - and those who drink synthetic blood. Robby is one of the latter. He works for McKay Security and Investigations, who provide security for the labs that make the synthetic blood - often a target of the Malcontents, especially a group led by a vampire called Casimir. Now suffering from post-traumatic shock after being captured by Casimir's group and tortured, Robby is packed off by his boss, Angus, to a Greek island to recuperate. During his last week there he encounters a beautiful woman, an American of Greek heritage, Olivia, who's staying with her grandmother.
Olivia is fleeing her own demons: namely, a stalker who sends her apples and insistent love notes. The problem is, she knows who the stalker is, and he's locked up in jail for killing and skinning multiple women. She's also an empath, which helps her in her job as an FBI psychologist. When the apples find her on the island, Olivia knows it's no longer safe and takes her grandmother back to America with her; worried about how her stalker managed to find her she is suddenly suspicious of Robby's appearance and interest, and leaves without explaining things to him. Robby knows he's met the woman for him, though, and is not about to let things end there, or let Olivia come to harm.
I really enjoyed this one. It had great chemistry between the two leads, who I didn't find annoying at all (if you haven't read much romance, trust me, "annoying lead characters" is an oft-repeated complaint!). The action was multi-layered and well structured, the plot never dull. I'd say this was the best I've read in this series, yet. It's also got nice humour and, when needed, a light touch to balance the darker tones. Sparks is definitely in her groove here, and her fantasy world gets more and more interesting. Oh, and did I mention that most of the vampire characters are Scottish and often go around in kilts with claymores? Mmmmmm!(less)
When it comes to Kresley Cole, there's no such thing as "too much of a good thing". In fact, it only gets better and better. I love Cole, I love this...moreWhen it comes to Kresley Cole, there's no such thing as "too much of a good thing". In fact, it only gets better and better. I love Cole, I love this world she's created, I love her characters, she always cheers me up and makes me laugh, makes me feel, and has me on the edge of my seat.
Pleasure of a Dark Prince begins at about the same time as the first (full-length) book does, A Hunger Like No Other. It's been a few years since I read that one but Cole artfully slips in enough details of that parallel story that you don't feel lost and confused. Nicely done. While Emma and Lachlain run around Europe together in that book, Lachlain's younger brother Garreth MacRieve, the "Dark Prince" (he's a bit of a lad - no, that's not a euphemism for "gay"), has had to take up leadership of the Lykae - a responsibility he doesn't really want. Besides, he misses his brother, whom he hasn't seen in a century.
Living next door to the Valkyries, when he first sees Lucia the Archer he knows instantly that she is his mate. But, knowing that she might run, he pretends otherwise. Lucia was gifted with her ability to shoot true by a goddess, and if she misses she experiences agonising pain. She will also lose her ability if she has sex, and she needs it more than ever during the Accession, when the god Cruach rises: it's Lucia's job to shoot him and stop him from meddling with the mortal world.
This time around, she and her sister Regin the Radiant are determined to kill the god for good - only they need a dieumort, a god-killer. Nix sends Lucia to the Amazon with the one thing she'll really need: Garreth. For Lucia must find a temple that no one has ever returned from - except Garreth. Determined to win Lucia over and protect her at the same time, Garreth makes a deal with her. As the time for Cruach to rise grows closer, their perilous trip through the Amazon becomes ever more fraught with dangers - one of them being the danger Garreth poses to Lucia's celibacy, and, consequently, her one chance to be rid of Cruach for good.
As "plot-devices designed to keep lovers apart" goes, this one isn't as corny as you'd think. It was actually quite perfect, and really added to that conflicting feeling you get, where you want a happy ending but you don't see how. Cole does this to me every time: creates an inescapable situation, lets her characters really suffer until it seems like there will be no happy ending at all, and then comes up with a very neat solution in the nick of time. Nice. The further along you get in this series, the more intertwined the stories become, the more detailed the world, the better the adventures.
Because the stakes are so high - life or death high, often with chained-to-an-evil-god-for-nefarious-purposes thrown in just to make me bite my nails - I find the suspense especially thrilling, and the sexual tension thrums. Then something'll happen, someone will say something, and I'll just start laughing. (Am I repeating myself? Tough titties.) If I had to give a definition of FUN, I'd say "Immortals After Dark".
The over-arching plot-line (you really do need to read these in order, the full-length novels anyway) gets a new layer here and you can really feel the build-up as Something Big brews. I can't wait for more. These are real comfort reads for me, books where any flaws simply don't bother me, where I'm happy just reading. Offer me a choice between this series and a year's supply of chocolate and I'd pick the books. Hands down. Who needs chocolate when you've got these steamy sex-on-legs men and kick-arse women? Mmmm chocolate.... It goes well with sex-on-legs and strong women doesn't it?(less)
This review contains spoilers for the Night Huntress series.
You need to be familiar with Jeaniene Frost's popular Night Huntress series - the one star...moreThis review contains spoilers for the Night Huntress series.
You need to be familiar with Jeaniene Frost's popular Night Huntress series - the one starring Cat, the half-vampire vampire hunter, and her "other half", Bones, the vampire bounty hunter - before digging into the Night Huntress World spin-off series. The Night Huntress series is easily one of my favourite paranormal romance/urban fantasy series, but I didn't have particularly high expectations of First Drop of Crimson, the first spin-off novel in a new series that focuses on the other characters from Cat and Bones' world.
The first "minor" characters to get starring roles are Spade, Bones' best friend and fellow Master vampire, and Denise, Cat's human friend who lost her husband in one of the Night Huntress books. It's been a year since Randy died in the zombie attack, and Denise wants nothing to do with the supernatural world. She's even lost contact with Cat, though she knows her friend is in New Zealand somewhere. When her family members start dying, she doesn't see anything strange about the manner of their deaths - heart attacks, in people so young and healthy - but mostly because she doesn't want to. Her cousin Paul tries to convince her something's wrong, and that he feels watched, but by then it's too late: Denise watches a man who is not vampire, not anything she's familiar with, induce a heart attack in her young cousin, and then turn into a dog and disappear.
There's no denying that the supernatural has forced its way into Denise's life again, and this time, she desperately needs help before anyone else in her family is killed. In the end, the only person she can turn to is Spade. Before he can arrive at her home though, the man turns up first. And he's no man: he's a demon called Raum, and he stinks of sulphur. He makes a deal with Denise: find her ancestor, Nathaniel, who made a deal with Raum to get powers and then double-crossed him, and hand him over. In exchange, Raum will let her family live and lift his touch from Denise herself.
Spade and Denise will have to immerse themselves in the vampire world to find him, before time runs out and Denise becomes a demon herself, corrupted by Raum's touch. But as they delve into the seedy, dangerous world of a vampire drug lord, the stakes become even higher, the repercussions more dire. For Denise can no longer let Spade risk his life for her, her family, her ancestor; cannot let him fight Raum. Her growing love for Spade, and his for her, will lead her to make the ultimate sacrifice.
This was a lot of fun, there's no denying it. Frost is very good at constructing a tight, deceptively simple plot and going hell-for-leather right to the end, leaving you a tad breathless. However, as much as I enjoyed it and as much as I came to love Spade and Denise, it was still somewhat lacking. The romance side of the plot was a bit forced, a bit by-the-numbers, a bit squished-in. It didn't feel terribly organic, just rushed. The problem mostly lies in the two main characters not spending enough time together, or rather, when they are together, the narrative glosses over it. I would have liked some slower, character-building, relationship-building scenes here and there. More than I got, anyway.
Denise was an archetypal character in paranormal romances, one I see all the time. The young woman (with great smell/perfume) who's both stubborn and vulnerable, who makes those I-stand-alone decisions that always make her look stupid (often, anyway), and allow the hero to swoop in and save her - literally, usually. She wasn't terribly original, is what I'm trying to say. She was different from how I remember her from the early Night Huntress books, but then she was happier then too, she didn't know about vampires and zombies and hadn't lost her husband, whom she didn't even have. It's bound to make you more serious and anxious and depressed. Change is good in character development. Here, Denise mostly gains confidence as well as demon powers. She does not get her sense of fun back. It was sad.
We get a bit of backstory about Spade, but he wasn't as fleshed-out as I would have liked - the downside of having a rip-roaring plot and cramming a relationship into one book. Cat and Bones had the benefit of a longer relationship story-arc that carried over several books; poor Spade got the short stick. He was never a character I took much notice of in the other books, to be honest, but I came to like him a lot. He was sympathetic, heroic, endearing, rose to the occasion nicely, was just as resourceful and intelligent as Bones, and basically ticked off all the right qualities in the supernatural heroes' checklist. Fun, but again, not very original.
I know I sound like I'm complaining, but I did enjoy the book and I do recommend it - though I also recommend you read the previous books first, because this follows on from them and you need the background to understand it all. (less)
I read The Society of S, the first book in this series of "ethical vampire novels", last year and it instantly became one of my favourite reads all y...moreI read The Society of S, the first book in this series of "ethical vampire novels", last year and it instantly became one of my favourite reads all year. I especially recommend it for people who aren't keen on romantic vampire tales, or horror ones either - though fans of paranormal romance and horror are just as likely to enjoy this. Hubbard has taken a slightly different path from all the other vampire writers I've read to date, and has created one of my favourite fictional worlds.
There's always the problem, when reviewing the next book in a series, of how to talk about it without completely spoiling the first/previous books. Especially with this one, which picks up where the last one ended. But I will do my best to avoid spoilers.
Ari is a half-breed in a world where vampires live alongside humans, secretly and discreetly. Most survive on a tonic so that they don't need to feed off people; in fact, the entire vampire society is very modern and scientific. Ari, who narrates, is only fourteen - both her parents, Sara and Raphael, are vampires, but her mother was mortal when she had Ari - and Ari was home schooled by her scholarly, old-fashioned father; as a result, Ari's education is more classical than her peers, and also more advanced, though she's never heard of Elvis and doesn't know a lot of things about modern society.
Now living with her mother and her mother's friend Dashay in Florida, Ari is just as lonely as before but quietly interested in making friends. She awkwardly befriends two rather stupid girls in the town of Saratoga Springs, Autumn and Mysty and, rather reluctantly, Autumn's brother Jesse, but when Mysty goes missing Ari finds herself to be just as much a suspect as Jesse. Yet Mysty isn't the first person to disappear - as well as other people, bees and birds have also been disappearing. It is the year of disappearances, and Ari is considered a suspect by some and a target by others.
Because Ari is only fourteen - though she often seems much older - many people consider this series to be Young Adult. It's not. In fact, it annoys me that any novel with a teen-aged protagonist is automatically assumed to be YA. You will not find Hubbard's book in the YA section. Not Fantasy either. It's fiction, like Christopher Moore is fiction. By all means, teens can read these books, but they're not the target audience.
It's also worthwhile to point out that this isn't a genre novel, and doesn't come with the tropes familiar to genre novels, especially vampire ones. It's refreshing, in that respect, though I enjoy the others too. What you get is a carefully and realistically created world in which vampires exist, vampires who can go out in the sun (but with lots of sunscreen because they burn easily), eat normal food and can have families - they just choose not to, for ethical reasons. Many also choose not to drink from humans, again for ethical reasons. In fact, they are greatly concerned with living ethically.
This theme is what makes Ari, as the protagonist, a clever construct: she's still growing, still feeling her way through the vampire-human world, still discovering her ability to hypnotise people, read their thoughts etc as well as the reasons why she shouldn't. There are other groups of vampires in this world, who look down on humans, but Ari is not part of that group.
The novels also weave in degradation of the planet, deforestation and other environmental concerns - in fact, it's intrinsic to the plot. While it doesn't have the clean, focused plot of the first book, I found that the deceptively scattered-looking plot of The Year of Disappearances, woven in amongst Ari's continuing coming-of-age and maturation, was gripping. Hubbard writes with a very steady, evenly-paced momentum, like a gently flowing river that has few rapids or sharp corners but offers plenty to do and see while moving inexorably onwards. I love the way Hubbard writes. It's simple and straightforward, but not simplistic or boring.
Ari is a mixture of childlike naiveté and mature wisdom - she doesn't think like a "typical" teenager and she doesn't talk like one either, but she feels just right to me. I find her refreshing, familiar and understandable. It's true of most books, I think, that if you don't bond in some way with the characters then the book itself tends to fall flat (maybe "high brow" literature and the classics are different, but we are less forgiving of contemporary stories). If you don't connect with Ari or anyone else, you probably won't think much of the story and the way it's written, either. For me, I can sit down and read it in a day if I have one to spare, and be totally caught up in Ari's world. There's plenty here for me to chew on.(less)
This series has come a long way from its very daggy beginnings, and so has the author. What started as yet another cheesy, formulaic Paranormal Romanc...moreThis series has come a long way from its very daggy beginnings, and so has the author. What started as yet another cheesy, formulaic Paranormal Romance series (and one that was quickly duplicated by one or two other authors) has become an impressively fleshed-out and thickly populated Urban Fantasy world with its own distinct trademarks. A little too distinct, but I'll get to that later.
The cheese is still there, don't get me wrong. But aside from being lots of fun and better written than most paranormal romance, which tends to be extremely lazy, it has gristle and, supporting it, bone and sinew, such that the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood easily stands on its own two feet. The cheese has become something tongue-in-cheek, over-emphasised in good fun, giving these hulking, muscle-heavy vampires-but-not-vampires a lighter side.
Set in New York State, the vampire world of this series is old-fashioned, extremely wealthy, quite powerful, and very isolated. The vampire side is downplayed: no sunlight, can teleport, can only drink from other vampires of the opposite sex, long-lived (by centuries), but otherwise very modern. Living among humans but apart, the two worlds rarely collide. The creation of an immortal being called the Scribe Virgin, the vampires are in a long and costly war with the lessers: humans turned into slaves to the Omega, the very picture of evil. Lessers were the worst of humans: murderers, rapists, remorseless; now they're that and more. Protecting the aristocratic and civilian vampires from this threat is the Black Dagger Brotherhood: warrior vamps currently led by the king of the race, Wrath.
Wrath is one of the more normal names (this is where we start to get into the cheese). The others are Rhage, Vishous, Tohrment, Phury and Zsadist. Butch, a once human cop, was brought into their ranks when it was found he was part vampire. There is also three younger in-training brothers, mute John Matthew - whose warrior name is Terrhor - and his friends Quinn and Blay. On the sidelines is Revhenge, a pimp and drug lord whose sister Bella fell in love with Zsadist in Lover Awakened.
Lover Avenged is primarily about Rehvenge, but as I mentioned, the series has taken a deeper, more plot-heavy turn and stories about Wrath's blindness; John Matthew's non-relationship with Xhex, Rehvenge's head of security at his club; the new leader of the Lessers, Lash, and his plan to form an alliance with a sub-species called symphaths who have been ostracised and persecuted by the vampires; Torhment's struggle to deal with the death of his wife Wellsie (which happened, when, back in book 1 or 2?); and a plot to assassinate Wrath. These books are getting very busy indeed.
Rehv is half-symphath with a sordid past, and to protect his fellow half-symphath, Xhex, he lets himself be blackmailed by the symphath princess. To pay her, he went into the drug-and-pimp business, and drugs himself to suppress his symphath side. It is while getting the medicine he needs for himself from the race's physician that he meets Ehlena, a nurse whose goodness and cleanness of heart and soul is the exact opposite of everything in his world.
All the women who, following the romance formula, fall for these men are "good" and "pure" , proving that paranormal romance authors really haven't moved all that far from Christine Feehan's trademark "you are the light to my darkness" relationship (and character) formula. But Ward's characters are still sympathetic, and fleshed-out enough to help you overlook the clichés. I find that the way the characters are described is sometimes incongruous and doesn't sit easily in my imagination: for example, Rehv has a short mowhawk, wears a big fur coat (the drugs make him cold), a dapper striped suit and a cane (the drugs also mess up his balance) - all clothes that instantly, in my head, give him a stout frame and a belly and slightly bowed legs, while I have no idea what to do with the mowhawk - I tend to just omit it from my mental visualisations.
The other issue I have, and it's been a while since I last read one of these so I can't remember if they were always this bad, but the excessive product placement disgusts me. It is consistent and it does fit, but talk about commercialisation! Ward should be getting sponsorship money from them all for this! There's also a tonne of slang, most of which I could figure out - took me a while to work out what "POS" stood for; when used to describe a person, it didn't click - it wasn't until someone said "POS car" that I realised it meant "piece of shit". Who says "POS"? And it's not like Ward's trying to avoid having any swearing in the book - it's heavy on the f-word and everything else you can think of. It all fits into the image - not just the characters' image but the series too. Think: good marketing. Think: this is a package that sells itself. You kinda just go with it, and since it's so consistent and, dare I admit it, well placed, it doesn't irritate me all that much.
On the romance side, well, it's not really the focal point, and hasn't been for the last couple of books. There's nice sex and dirty sex and pretty much everything in between, but not a whole lot of it altogether. There's still the happy ending for the relationship, which gets the book a one-way ticket to the Romance section from which nothing will ever save it (I know, I read romance but I'm hard on it). Ward has well and truly found her groove, settled comfortably into this world, given it a real Fantasy bent that I love, and turned her vampires into something resembling a biker gang but without the beer bellies (they call their big leather boots "shitkickers" - they tend to do more shit talking than kicking these days though. Where's the action gone?).
There're things to love and things to hate. Seven books in and I'm still reading. Granted, I could say the same about Christine Feehan and that's just shameful. But, if you like gritty, violent Urban Fantasy (with lots of swearing), can ignore the incessant product placement and enjoy seeing how Ward's going to overcome the giant obstacles she puts up in the way of a happy ending to the love side of the story, definitely: read on.(less)
There are two kinds of vampire in the world: the Aeturnus, who after centuries of bloodshed forged a treaty with humans to live peaceably together; an...moreThere are two kinds of vampire in the world: the Aeturnus, who after centuries of bloodshed forged a treaty with humans to live peaceably together; and the Necrodreniacs, those vampires who have become addicted to the high they get from killing humans, draining them dry. It is a distinction that Antoinette Petrescu, the legendary Venator whose job it is to hunt down and execute Necrodreniacs, has never been able to see, not since her mother was murdered and her father died.
But now a serial killer is running wild in New York, targeting women who look an awful lot like Antoinette, and she must team up with the Aeturnus Christian Laroque - who used to bear the nickname the Crimson Executioner. With the help of Christian's friend and fellow Aeturnus, Viktor, and a bear-shifter called Oberon, Antoinette and Christian follow all the leads they can find. But what Antoinette finds is more than she ever could have expected: she comes face to face with a ghost from her past, learns the truth of her family, and discovers that the difference between sexy Aeturnus Christian and a filthy Necrodreniac is as wide as an ocean.
This book is marketed as Urban fantasy but I found it in the Romance section - for once, I think the bookshop has it right. Though it was gritty, it had the happy romantic ending that is the trademark of romance novels, and several sex scenes scattered throughout. Looking at the cover and reading the blurb, I was prepared for a Night Huntress-type book - it's one of my favourite paranormal series, and I wouldn't mind something a bit similar, but this one can't compare.
There were a few issues. One, Antoinette could get pretty annoying in her stubbornness - and her violence. It didn't quite add up: one minute she's an intelligent, deadly Venator, the next she's throwing a tantrum like a five year old. It made it hard to give a toss what happened to her. Secondly, I didn't buy the chemistry between her and Christian. I wanted to like Christian - he had all the markings of a dark, charismatic, enigmatic, powerful man/vampire, but failed to deliver. I didn't care for the way he treated Antoinette either - the way he tended to treat her like a child, so perhaps it's not surprising she sometimes behaved like one.
Parts of the plot were predictable - it was easy to guess who was the mastermind behind it all. On the other hand, the structure of government and parahuman departments etc. were confusing as hell. If the series continues with Antoinette and Christian as the main characters, it might work out, but it it doesn't it'll lose it's edge, and our chance to see these characters grow and develop and mature (they need it).
There were parts I liked as well, though it's been several days since I read this and it's not a good sign that I can mostly only remember the negatives. The prose relies heavily on well-worn descriptive clichés but at least the grammar is sound (except it could have benefited from more semi-colons or the start of NEW sentences!). The pacing is good, with some nicely timed slower scenes amongst the chases and fights. There's some good atmosphere: dark and gritty and a bit smelly, violent and nasty. Sadly, with under-developed characters and a lack of emotional intensity, it doesn't work for me. The potential is there, but so were my high hopes and, now, my disappointment. It was a three-star book when I finished it, but after writing this I have to lower it. I simply can't justify 3 stars anymore. (less)
Riley Jenson is a Guardian - a supernatural enforcer - and half-werewolf, half-vampire. As a dhampire, she's one of the few daytime Guardians the Dire...moreRiley Jenson is a Guardian - a supernatural enforcer - and half-werewolf, half-vampire. As a dhampire, she's one of the few daytime Guardians the Directorate has (whose ranks are filled mostly with vampires), and she's acquired some unusual extra skills along the way - like being able to commune with the spirits of murdered people, and being able to shift into a seagull. She's smart, sassy, a strong fighter, has an incredibly sexy and ancient vampire boyfriend called Quinn, and is finding it more and more easy to be monogamous with him. After all they've been through, Riley and Quinn have finally reached a stage where they're not fighting each other anymore, but are trying to make it work.
The big proverbial wrench in the works is Kye, a werewolf and cold-hearted assassin, who also happens to be Riley's soul mate - her werewolf soul mate, anyway. It's destiny, fate, an unavoidable pull, but Riley doesn't want Kye any more than he wants to be out of control around her. A double murder case puts him in her orbit once more, and the biggest problem Riley has is how much of herself she'll lose to him and his demands in exchange for the information he has that could save the next victims' lives.
There are actually, at one point, three cases on the go here, but one of them was partially solved early on and never referred to again. Here's the thing: the first three books (which formed a trilogy in terms of an on-going plot line) were excellent, I loved them. Then Quinn was absent for a few books and I struggled to maintain my interest, because without him I realised how little I cared for the stories. When he returned, it got better but by then I'd realised how shaky the actual mysteries/murder investigations were, and become shall we say disillusioned.
I don't read thrillers or crime novels, it's a genre that doesn't appeal to me - I have read a John Grisham and a Patricia Cornwell, and both bored the crap out of me sufficiently to put me off, aside from other flaws. I find the sketchy character development lame or painful, or both, and the mystery dull and flawed. What helps with the Riley Jenson series is that I've come a long way with Riley, and I know her well enough not to be constantly annoyed by her - though I find myself somewhat nostalgic for her earlier, carefree days.
The push-and-pull relationship between Riley and Kye invigorates the story, and creates one of the biggest dilemmas of the series - one whose fatal ending is rather predictable, because there's no other way out. Kye is a character who can never change who and what he is, will never be likeable or honest or at all deserving of Riley. You can hardly blame her for feeling betrayed by her werewolf half. She has yearned so long for her soul mate; but I confess I'm glad she got someone so crappy, just as she was owning up to the honest love she has for Quinn, because really it creates less of a dilemma. The answer of who she should be with is obvious. Quinn wasn't always as good to her as he could have been, but he's a character who has changed - or rather, stopped blocking Riley out because of past tragedy that has nothing to do with her. The resolution of Riley's relationships in this volume is what makes it a satisfying read.
My biggest grumble is, as with previous books in the series, the mystery side of the story, which struggles to hold my attention and often confuses me to the point of distraction. Since there's usually more than one crime going on at once, it's often hard to tell which case they're referring to, and I can't always keep up with the surnames involved. Also, there are often holes, details that are forgotten or just not referred to again - in this case, one of the big ones was the third, minor case of a vampire draining children at Luna Park. The culprit is found and dealt with, but reveals a bigger problem - one that isn't investigated further.
What gets me about crime investigations as frame and substance of a book like this, is that everything else gets side-lined. You never get to delve into the characters or the world quite like you'd like to. And that's one of the strengths of this series: it's present-day, alternate world was highly original at the time the first book came out, and is still relatively unique and very interesting. I suppose you could compare it to the world of Sookie Stackhouse, but it takes the concept much further.
The other big disappointment for me with this series is that, while it is set in Melbourne, you would hardly ever know it. Aside from a couple of references to places - suburbs, well-known streets, Luna Park (which I used to live near), there's nothing at all "Australian" about these books, and to me, homesick as I am, that's a big shame. It also makes me ask: "where is our pride?!" Why do we let ourselves be Americanised so easily? Is it really just because, like Canadians, we aren't obsessively patriotic and xenophobic? A topic for another day, perhaps.
I've said this is Paranormal Romance, but truly it's more Urban Fantasy - having read a lot of Paranormal Romance by now, the differences seem pretty clear, but it's still being shelved in Romance. The romance side of things is minimal - there's sex, but it's cursory or angry or mindless. There's some violence, not as much in this book as in others but still plenty. I would still recommend the series, especially the first three (if you don't like those three, you certainly won't care for the rest), and I'll keep reading, but my disappointment has too often outweighed my enjoyment for me to be overly enthusiastic.(less)
The Argeneau vampire series is one I've been reading and loving for the last few years; this instalment marks the third book in a trilogy within the s...moreThe Argeneau vampire series is one I've been reading and loving for the last few years; this instalment marks the third book in a trilogy within the series, that should be read in order (a lot of the earlier books I read completely out of order and it didn't make much difference, but lately they're more tied together). Even so, each book deals with a different hero and heroine and is their own complete story, despite continuing plot lines.
Nicholas Argeneau was an Enforcer until fifty years ago when, apparently in the throes of grief after his lifemate and wife, Annie, died in a car accident, he killed a pregnant mortal woman - a crime punishable by death amongst his kind. He's been on the run ever since, until he was caught up in the events of this trilogy. In protecting another Enforcer's lifemate, Samantha, and her two sisters, Jo and Alex, Nicholas meets Jo - and sparks fly. When he's distracted by kissing Jo and captured by the Enforcers, Jo sets him free. But now that he's met a new lifemate, the other Enforcers - especially Lucian, their leader - knows he won't be able to keep away. And it's just as well for Jo that he can't, because a rogue vampire has her in his sights for his own agenda, and Nicholas is determined to keep her safe even if it means turning himself in.
I really liked this one - Nicholas has depth and sexy charm and humility, and Jo is spunky and down-to-earth and determined to fight for Nicholas' innocence in the crime she's sure he didn't commit fifty years ago. Despite the action and running the couple get caught up in, there's great chemistry build-up and quality time spent on establishing them as a couple.
It does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, though, so you definitely want to have the next book, Born to Bite, on hand to start straight away.(less)
Aden Stone has never been a normal boy. Abandoned at a tender age into foster care and a string of psychiatric hospitals, he's learnt to keep his diff...moreAden Stone has never been a normal boy. Abandoned at a tender age into foster care and a string of psychiatric hospitals, he's learnt to keep his differences to himself to avoid more drugs and therapy. And he is very, very different.
Four souls are trapped inside Aden. One, Eve, can time travel, sending him back in time and into his younger self, where the slightest change can affect the future. Another, Julian, can raise the dead. Zombies rise from graves if Aden steps foot in the cemetery. A third, Elijah, can tell the future - deaths, mostly, so that Aden knows how everyone is going to die, including himself. The fourth, Caleb, can possess another human being.
And yet, they're his friends, his only friends. Their chatter in his head can become deafening, until one day Aden meets a girl called Mary Ann whose presence sends the souls into a temporary void, giving Aden blessed peace. The mystery of Mary Ann is only the beginning - soon the mystery girl Elijah predicted enters Aden's life, a beautiful, enigmatic girl called Victoria who is the daughter of none other than Vlad the Impaler - otherwise known as Dracula. As a vampire princess, her bodyguard is a werewolf called Riley, who spends more time getting to know Mary Ann than he does keeping Victoria and Riley apart.
But the vampires aren't the only ones Aden's strange powers have called into the area. Soon the neighbourhood and nearby city are crawling with witches, fairies, goblins and other supernatural folk who want to capture Aden, learn his secrets, appropriate his power if possible, and kill him. Even if he weren't falling in love with Victoria, the vampires are his best chance of an ally.
As Aden, Mary Ann, Victoria and Riley delve into the mystery of the trapped souls, they discover a surprising truth - and the chance to free them forever.
As you can tell, this is a novel with pretty much every paranormal creature you can think of thrown in. It comes about fairly gradually, which makes it more believable than if they'd been thrust in your face from the start, but it also makes it incredibly crowded. Part of me would have liked it better if it had just been Aden and the souls (and their strange powers) who supplied the true, the only, supernatural "meat" of the novel. I also find it hard to pinpoint which genre it's mostly aiming for. The beginning was a classic horror zombie attack, but there's not much of that here really. It has an urban fantasy plot, with thick dollops of paranormal romance - too thick, I thought, and too convenient.
That was my main problem with the story: it was often too convenient. I don't mean that the characters had a smooth ride, that things always worked in their favour (except that, really, they did), but that despite the apparent messiness of the premise, it's incredibly neat. And the only reason this bothers me is because the romance side of things, especially, was too neat. Love and relationships are never neat - Romance novels in general take that way too far and create all sorts of ridiculous, real and psychological obstacles for the hero and heroine to clamber over. It's actually refreshing not to have that. But because there's so much crowded in, because it's also Fantasy and so needs to keep the Fantasy plot going, you don't get to spend much time with the characters as they explore their first real relationship. Since that's one of the big draws of Romance for me, it did make this feel a little rushed, a little paint-by-numbers.
But there was plenty to love. It is fast-paced, and Showalter has a firm hand on the various sub-plots, weaving them together like a skilled choreographer. Okay, yes, at times it was a bit rehearsed, sticking with that analogy, but it was also a lot of fun. The premise of Aden with four gifted souls trapped in his head is a good one - I haven't come across it before either, or certainly not to this scale. The voices were sadly a bit indistinguishable, aside from Eve being "mothering" and Caleb being vain and predictable. Mary Ann is a goodie goodie but I found myself liking her anyway - especially because of how firm she was when breaking up with her clichéd-American-football-boyfriend Tucker (seriously, what kind of name is "Tucker"? Ugh).
Aden started out charismatically, but after a while he became surprisingly ordinary. Not a bad thing in order to keep him from being too Other, and it allowed the strangeness to shift to Victoria. Let's face it, if Aden didn't have souls stuck in him he'd be perfectly ordinary. It's not him who has these powers but the souls. No souls, no powers. Although, he probably has something which we won't find out about until after he's freed them all. Seeing as how one soul is freed in this book, that probably allows for four books in the series: one for each soul.
I know I keep highlighting the book's flaws, but I gave it four stars because I did really enjoy it, I did get drawn into this world and I did care for the characters. I've read a few of Showalter's adult paranormal romance and some of them I really enjoyed - this YA novel is aimed at the 16+ teens who don't get embarrassed at French kissing. Or maybe I'm showing my age ... (less)
As a life-long fan of Fantasy fiction, I figured that, when Urban Fantasy took off on the market several years ago, naturally I would enjoy it too. Ma...moreAs a life-long fan of Fantasy fiction, I figured that, when Urban Fantasy took off on the market several years ago, naturally I would enjoy it too. Magic, adventure, danger, great characters... Sadly it is not to be. I haven't given up entirely, far from it, but each one I try just seems to disappoint me more than anything. Part of it is that they're always mysteries/detective stories. Why? That's not an inherent part of the sub-genre - the sub-genre is what it's name says: fantasy in an urban setting (namely, our world, generally present-day-ish or thereabouts). Truth is, I get bored by investigations. I can't read mystery or detective fiction, my eyes glaze over. With Urban Fantasy you have at least got a much more interesting set-up, lots of surprises that are limited only to the author's imagination, and a lack of normal laws and rules dictating the outcome.
And yet, maybe that's part of the problem, at least with a first novel in a series. You spend the whole time fumbling your way through this new world, trying to understand it on top of who killed who and why (and how), that for me at least the books lack flow or cohesion and leave me with more questions than answers.
The other part is that they tend to have the same or similar writing style, with or without a degree of humour. Grittiness, sassiness, sarcasm, tough calls, a general seediness... The attempt to merge film noir with Fantasy isn't, I think, all that successful.
And then we have the Kate Daniels series, of which this is the first book and the only one I've read (so far anyway; I'm undecided about continuing). The husband and wife author team of Andrew and Ilona Gordon aren't the first couple to work together on books - my favourite would have to be Nicci French (and they do write mysteries, of a kind - but the psychological thrillers they produce are fraught with suspense and you don't have to learn the ropes of a new world at the same time). Here they've created a world that flares between magic and non-magic, meaning that, without warning, magic rules and technology goes dead until, just as suddenly, magic dies and technology works again. Interesting, but not all that fleshed out - yet. Also in this world are vampires - not the romantic kind but the horror kind, practically zombies that are controlled by magicians called Masters of the Dead - and shape-shifters who have formed a kind of military of their own called the Pack.
Kate Daniels is a mercenary who kicked herself out of the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid - referred to simply as the Order - a body of magicians and others who govern the magical side of the world (at least, that's how I remember it but I could be slightly off: I never really did understand it). Armed with a magical sword called Slayer, Kate picks up random jobs like bodyguarding but has few connections and fewer trustworthy friends. When a vampire controlled by a man called Ghastek tells her that her mentor, Greg, has been killed, Kate goes immediately into action. First stop, the Order, to get permission to investigate his death - knowing all the while that the Order is letting her be the visible cluefinder while one of their own does the real investigating in the shadows.
Kate's undeterred, and finds out a few interesting details about the murder that don't make sense but lead her to seek out the Pack, led by a lion shapechanger called Curran. With new allies Kate's investigation takes her deeper into the world of a plotting monster with almost no vulnerabilities and a plan to use Kate for its own ends.
As much as there are new elements going on here, and a fairly likeable heroine in Kate, it still felt like the other Urban Fantasy books I've read in the last few years, especially Guilty Pleasures and Storm Front, both of which were dreadful. At least Magic Bites didn't have an insufferable main character who thinks they're clever and funny, like in Storm Front, or a truly boring plot that makes no sense like in Guilty Pleasures. (One Urban Fantasy I did quite like was Blood Memories by Barb Hendee, and <Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, and I loved Ill Wind by Rachel Caine - not to mention Kelley Armstrong's Otherworld series... See, there are lots of Urban Fantasies I love now that I think of it!) The ending had some zest and zing to it and I liked Curran a lot, but I was still left with a great many questions that just annoyed me, and there's not that much fun in reading a mystery story that you have no hope of engaging with and solving in your own mind because you don't know this world, its laws make no sense and you have no idea what epiphanies and realisations the characters have just had because you lack their knowledge and their context. All of which leaves you feeling pretty alienated.
SLIGHT SPOILER I also felt like there was a plot hole or two - one was that it was Curran who said that Crest had to be the upir (the bad monster), but when he's cleared Curran turns on Kate and blames her for the misinformation, and she just accepts it. WTF? The other is that I didn't get, or it wasn't explained properly, the whole Olathe and her hive of vampires thing, and why Kate would think Olathe was behind Greg's death. I also found the true identity of the upir rather weak. /SPOILER
Like I said, I have other Urban Fantasy novels on my shelf to read, but the reason I keep putting off reading them is because I'm expecting them to bore and alienate me. I by far prefer the kind that can also be categorised as Speculative Fiction, or the YA variety which has less of a focus on murder mysteries. I liked this one better than I expected to, but nowhere near enough to make me enthusiastic about the genre.
I had originally given this 3 stars on Goodreads, but now that I'm writing this review I can't remember why and have had to demote it. (less)
Miss Alexia Tarabotti has many things against her. First, she is half-Italian and has the nose and skin to prove it. Second, she is a twenty-six year...moreMiss Alexia Tarabotti has many things against her. First, she is half-Italian and has the nose and skin to prove it. Second, she is a twenty-six year old spinster who must chaperone her silly younger half-sisters to balls where she would like to dance but where no one asks her to. Third, she is assertive, has an independent streak, and talks too much. Fouth, she is soulless.
Her soulless state is a secret from everyone but the paranormals - she is, after all, on the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR) register. The vampires know of her, as do the werewolves and ghosts, but humans don't even know the soulless, or "preternatural", even exist.
So imagine her shock when a vampire in a very cheap shirt tries to bite her neck. Her soulless state neutralises him, but he keeps trying, so she is forced to use her trusty custom-made parasol to fend him off. When she accidentally kills him, the head of BUR, Lord Conall Maccon, is soon on the scene. Lord Maccon is also alpha of the Woolsey pack and he and Alexia have constantly butted heads ever since the hedgehog incident when they first met a few years ago.
It's soon apparent that something's not right with this dead vampire, aside from his embarrassing fang lisp. He didn't belong to any of the London hives, even though he smells - according to Lord Maccon - of the Westminster hive. The cases of disappearing vampires and werewolves, and the appearance of new rogue vampires, increases, and Alexia herself seems to always be in the thick of things. A wax-faced man keeps trying to kidnap her, and Lord Maccon has set BUR paranormals to guard her. It might not be enough to save her life, but as long as she can get a cup of tea and some decent cake Alexia is up to the challenge of discovering what is really going on.
One of the fun things about genre fiction is how fluid the boundaries are. Soulless is such a rich mix of genres and sub-genres that trying to pinpoint them all makes you dizzy, and yet it works wonderfully. Marketed as Fantasy/Horror, I can tell the publisher was also a bit confused as to how to sell this one, because it could just as easily have ended up in the Romance section. The romance isn't the main point of the novel, though, which is why it fits better in Fantasy - it does have a happy ending, romance-wise, though. The steampunk elements are slight and generally subtle, but important to the plot, and there's definitely a touch of the gothic.
Set in a more mechanised London - roughly 1870s, going by the clues - with a history of vampires and werewolves incorporated into society dating back to Henry VIII (the real reason behind the schism with the Pope), it seamlessly integrates new and fictional history into Victorian society without losing any of the prim and proper-ness of the period (more on that in a bit).
The story is fun in more ways than its mish-mash of generic tropes. Possessed of an ironic humour with a slight tongue-in-cheek touch - aimed at the social mores of the day - Soulless has witty banter and intelligent observations. Alexia can be at turns annoying and loveable, but always sympathetic. Lord Maccon the werewolf has his moments of also being a bit of a twit, but there's balance between wanting to laugh at him and respecting him that saves his character from being a buffoon. Besides, he's a romantic hero.
Theories about the soul are integral to the story, including the idea that vampires and werewolves exist because of too much soul, rather than none at all. Alexia, having no soul, can revert a vampire to human just from a touch. Aside from Alexia's own calmly reasoned opinions on the subject, the "truth" of the matter is very much open and quite fascinating to think about.
Soulless also breathes fresh life into the paranormal genre, blending more traditional vampires etc. with a few new twists. These aren't ridiculously handsome, all-powerful specimens: if a man was bald in life, he'll be bald as a vampire. The addition of the ultra-gay Lord Akeldama, who left his hive over disagreements about waistcoats, pokes irreverent fun at the hyper-heterosexuality of contemporary vampires.
There are a few slow points to the plot, but I often found the book hard to put down. The "bad guys" you can spot from the beginning, so it's not much of a mystery; the attempts to abduct Alexia add danger and threat to the tone of the story, and it's nicely dark and even macabre at points. It bothers me that, despite it's very English setting, it's littered with American spelling - absolutely jarring and completely weird, when they do that. Removes some of the authenticity of the setting and period, too.
The Victorian time period - which is lengthy (1837 - 1901) - has already produced great works in literature, such as that of Dickens, H.G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Contemporary genre fiction though has been slow to utilise it, especially Romance which possibly gets side-tracked by the illusion of gloom and prudish hide-the-ankles-of-the-table sexual repression (whereas they were just as horny and sexually active as any other period - and sex also took on what we would now see as gothic overtones, such as in the treatment of female hysteria by giving orgasms - the vibrator was invented around 1870 for doctors to give their upper class female patients orgasms).
It's fantastic to see writers like Laura Lee Guhrke (in Romance) and now Gail Carriger, bring new life to what is arguably one of the most fascinating time periods in British history - fascinating for all the changes that occurred, for being the "beginning" of the modern period, for being a time of flux and inventions and new ideas and Freud and vivid contradictions and even the beginnings, late Victorian-era, of feminism. There is some Fantasy of the steampunk variety already set in this period, but not a lot. I certainly hope to see more genre fiction set in this period, but it will need some thorough research.(less)
Eleisha is one of only a handful of vampires in the world. Once a servant in a lord's castle in Wales, she was turned in the 1830s at the age of seven...moreEleisha is one of only a handful of vampires in the world. Once a servant in a lord's castle in Wales, she was turned in the 1830s at the age of seventeen by Julian, the lord's son, a man everyone fears. She's put on a boat to America with a very specific responsibility: to care for William, a vampire everyone but Eleisha is repulsed by.
In America, Eleisha finds friendship with another vampire, Edward, who teaches her how to hunt, how to feed, how to ensure mortals never discover what she really is, and how to use her gift. When turned, a vampire's singular personality trait as a human becomes a tool of manipulation with which to lure mortals. Julian's was fear. Edward's was charm. Eleisha's own gift is to appear angelic but helpless, weak and vulnerable - and make people want to help her, protect her, rescue her.
Little changed over the course of years, decades, centuries - not for the small clan of vampires: Eleisha and William, Edward, Maggie, Philip and Julian. But everything changes when Edward commits suicide, dramatically bursting into flames when he steps into the sun - right in front of the police.
Now Eleisha is on the run, and not just from the police but also from a telepathic police psychologist who has somehow linked to Eleisha. Unable to turn to the cold and brutal Julian, she runs to Maggie in Seattle ... only to have trouble follow her and change her immortal existence, forever.
First published in 1998, long years before the vampire craze took off some time in 2007 (I remember it well - I'd just finished reading Twilight and about two months later, so had everybody else and suddenly vamps were IN!), Blood Memories has more recently been re-released - "resurrected", you could say - and very timely it is too, now that there's a more appreciative audience for vampire Urban Fantasy. The present-day dates have been moved to make it more current, but I don't think it needed it. It reads fresh and modern and is solid Urban Fantasy - no dash of Romance here, not even a whiff, as they tend to have these days. (Hendee is also co-author of the Nobel Dead series, a Fantasy series featuring vampires, which I've yet to read. I've got the first book, Dhampir, just haven't got around to it. There are a few authors who were writing about vampires in new ways, long before they became mainstream. Credit where credit's due.)
Eleisha narrates, though there are flashbacks told telepathically through memories that shift to third-person. Eleisha's voice is at once strong and vulnerable. She's come a long way, matured hard, and can fend for herself, hold her own, fight and kill efficiently when necessary, albeit reluctantly. The others think she's weird for genuinely liking William, and for seeking out the companionship of other vampires - they've been taught by Julian that they should always be alone.
As vampires, they're traditional - sleep all day, sun will kill them, as will fire and decapitation - and yet not: no fangs, no super-human strength or speed or hearing, though they're better than mortals and have good night vision. They're not invincible. And they're messy eaters. They have their personalised gift and, as Eleisha learns, something extra too. Overall they struck me as surprisingly vulnerable, but more organic for it. It could be their self-induced loneliness, their superiority complexes that mask a pathetic desire for companionship. It makes them sympathetic - alien, but understandable.
I liked that Eleisha's inhumanity - her non-humanness - was there to see, as well as the residues of her humanity. She's unapologetic about what she does to survive, but is also keen to explore ways of changing their methods of feeding without killing. The male vampires are more varied - Julian is more insane, insecure and deluded than plain evil (though maybe that combination is one definition of evil, especially when acted upon?).
Structurally, it's fast-paced for the most part but free of the worst traits of genre fiction, traits ever more prevailing today - the things that make my right eyelid tick: too much introspective thought, explaining everything and over-thinking everything; and those abominable standalone dramatic sentences that too many genre authors overuse, reducing the intended tension to the incessant landing of a fly on your leg that tickles and just won't leave you alone. It's why I haven't read any Kushiel since 2006, even though I keep buying the new books (I loved the stories, but the writing style got on my nerves and I needed a break), and why Rita Herron's abysmal Dark Hunger got such a bad review from me. Dramatic standalone sentences (which get their own paragraphs) should be used sparingly, or they won't be dramatic anymore. Just irritating to the point of being obnoxious. I can't bring that up without diverting into a mini-rant. Thankfully, Hendee's narration is just right: mature, nicely balanced between light and heavy, confident, firmly grounded in her protagonist.
However, the story itself did start to lose my interest towards the end for a bit. It lost momentum with all the flashbacks, as good and necessary as they were and interesting to read too. The ending was too static to give a suitable climax after all that build-up, and left me less interested to read Eleisha's next story. (less)
Raised by her handsome, clever, enigmatic father, Raphael, thirteen-year-old Ariella Montero never knew her mother or why she suddenly left - she only...moreRaised by her handsome, clever, enigmatic father, Raphael, thirteen-year-old Ariella Montero never knew her mother or why she suddenly left - she only knows how sad her father always is, and that he won't speak of her.
Ariella tells her story of growing up in a large, mostly empty mansion, looked after by a daytime housekeeper called Mrs McGarritt who has ten kids of her own, while her father and his friend and assistant Dennis spend their time in the basement laboratory working on biomedical research with a woman, Mary Ellis Root, who scares Ariella. Home schooled by Raphael in classic literature, philosophy, science and mathematics, she is mature beyond her years. It's not until Mrs McG finally convinces Raphael that Ariella needs friends her own age, and takes her home to meet her own kids, that Ariella gets a wider, more modern and less formal world view.
Mrs McG's daughter Kathleen befriends her, and her older brother Michael takes an interest in Ariella too. As she grows older and enters adolescence, Ariella starts thinking more closely about her strange life, about the mysteries of the past and the ghosts that haunt the house. Feelings of being watched taunt her, she has dreams that connect her to her mother, she never sees her father eat and the one time Kathleen took a photo of him he disappeared from the shot - not to mention the fact that Ariella always looks blurry in photos - all lead her to research vampires.
When she finally learns the truth from her father about his real nature, she also learns the truth about her mother - or what her father knows of it, anyway.
Now thirteen and restless, Ariella ventures out into the world to find her mother and learn why she really left her only child motherless as soon as she was born. Following the clues of her mother's favourite letter, S, Ariella hitchhikes south to Florida, and finds something wholly unexpected.
This was recommended to me by a friend who doesn't care for paranormal romance, and who said it was a more realistic, adult take on vampires. Incidentally, I've seen people categorise this as Young Adult - it's not. A teenaged protagonist does not a YA novel instantly make. Teenagers can, by all means, read this book, but I haven't seen it shelved in YA and I wouldn't expect it to be. I believe it can generally found in the Fiction section, though it is also a mystery and has a touch of horror too.
So I wasn't sure what to expect when I started this, and I admit I was a bit worried it would be dry and too far removed from the paranormal. Quite the opposite is true. From the opening scene, which is the story of how her father and mother met - or part of it - I was drawn in and hooked. The story is engrossing, the pacing superb, the prose simply lovely. I felt instantly captivated by Ari's story, fascinated by her seemingly eccentric father and her life in the empty mansion. Her loneliness comes across not because she tells her she is lonely, but from her descriptions. The elements of horror are deliciously subtle and chilling, little glimpses of shivery terror, gone almost as fast as they appeared.
As different as Ari is, hers is a very human story. She barely left the house, growing up, because of Raphael's over-protectiveness, yet she was fairly content to read and write in a journal. She didn't really know what she was missing until she met Mrs McG's children. Then she starts asking for clothes rather than just wearing the plain black pants and white shirts Mrs McG always buys for her (her father can't stand prints and patterns). She gets a bicycle and with Kathleen they ride to places she's never seen before, and visit the track where the racehorses are being exercised. She's introduced to TV and modern music, though she doesn't take to either. The internet proves more useful.
As her education expands, and she gains insight into other families, she realises how strange her own is. But she's not going from a typical world into a strange one, so when she has the truth confirmed she's not at all shocked. She's half-vampire, because her mother was human, and her father isn't sure what that means for Ari but is sure she has a choice. The vampire plot isn't a spoiler because the fact that this is a vampire novel is no secret. It's the details that give it new life, for a vampire novel. These vampires are more traditional and yet different again. The classic things of sunlight, garlic and crosses have no effect on vampires, though the sun can severely burn them. Many have found ways around drinking blood from humans, and many have strong ethics about it. Yet they can also read minds and live longer - they're just not superhuman.
The strength of this novel rests in its characters, who are vividly realised and realistic, while also being somewhat larger-than-life. Mary Ellis Root is so realistic she's almost a caricature, but she's no laughing figure. Even Raphael can be scary at times. Ari often describes them as Other, and it's a perfect use of the word. Even she is Other, and she knows it. Having the chance to be inside her head as she narrates is quite a treat.
The third part of the novel, the Florida part and the ending, is quite different in tone, but this suits the situation perfectly. Hubbard creates atmosphere effortlessly, and keeps the story rolling just as easily. It was a hard book to put down but thankfully I had a day off and read it almost in one sitting. I haven't done a great job of reviewing it, I know - it's different enough that I don't know where to start, and I loved it so much I find it hard to articulate why.
For a new and refreshing vampire story, this is exactly what you want, and even if vampires aren't your thing but you love a bit of mystery and horror and an engaging coming-of-age story, I highly recommend this. (less)