It's been six weeks since I read this and I'm struggling a bit to remember what it was about, so I'm just going to start writing and see what resurfac...moreIt's been six weeks since I read this and I'm struggling a bit to remember what it was about, so I'm just going to start writing and see what resurfaces. Deadlocked begins with a dodgy party at Eric Northman's house where he's entertaining the vampire king of the region, Felipe de Castro, and his entourage. Considering Eric, Sookie and their cohort were directly responsible for murdering Victor, Felipe's regent, in the previous book, Dead Reckoning. Things get messy at the party: Sookie is delayed by Mustapha, Eric's shifter guard, and when she does arrive she finds Eric drinking blood from a drugged girl - and it looks like sex isn't far behind. After Sookie's evicted the girl from the house, she turns up dead of a broken neck on Eric's front lawn, and the police are called.
Things are messy for Sookie at home, as well. Her great uncle Dermot, a fairy, and her cousin Claude are still living with her, having been left behind when Sookie's grandfather, a patriarch of the fae, closed the doorways between the two worlds. When her grandfather, Niall, turns up unexpectedly and Sookie confronts him about his treatment of his son, Dermot, certain things come to light and Niall begins his own investigation into his family, taking Claude with him back to faery.
Without Claude managing the other strange fae in the area, they begin to get restless and Sookie isn't sure how long it'll be before they make a mistake and eat something - or someone - they shouldn't. The police are watching Sookie; her best friend Tara is about to have twins; her friend Sam's new girlfriend, a werewolf called Jannalynn, has taken exception to Sookie's existence; there's a robbery at the antique store selling some of her grandparents' old furniture; and it dawns on Sookie that others might be aware that she has a cluviel dor in her possession: a powerful magical artefact that her grandmother's faery lover Fintan had given her, which had been stowed away in a secret compartment in her grandmother's desk, which Sookie found.
I can't remember all the thoughts I had while reading this and directly afterward, but here are the lingering impressions (which are perhaps the ones that really count).
Like many Sookie Stackhouse novels, Deadlocked is busy and full of small details - which is just how I like my Sookie books (I've adjusted to the lots-of-little-plots over one-big-cohesive-plot that you get in this series, so now I just go with it and try to keep up). So far this is the only Urban Fantasy series I really enjoy, and the only one I've actually stuck with. Sookie is no detective, she just happens to have the tools - her telepathy and all the people she knows - to be in the right place at the right time and the smarts to figure things out. She's a waitress with only year 12 education, and no ambition, but she's comfortable with that and she's such a well-developed, enjoyable character that she carries the story well. There's just something about Sookie that I have always liked, even though if she were a real person and I met her, we wouldn't have anything in common and wouldn't be friends. I enjoy reading about her life, the mundane details as much as the exciting ones. The only trouble I have with her is that, lately, she seems a bit unemotional.
Perhaps there's just so much going on in her world, and she's had to face the loss of loved ones, a load of violence, torture and betrayal, that she's a bit numb now. It's just that, she says she loves Eric (and he says he loves her) but I just don't believe it. The book where Eric was bewitched and forgot who he was and charmed Sookie by being a sweetheart was probably my favourite in the whole series, but the chemistry between the two of them has vanished in the last couple of books. It's also been dulled by the clear fact that there's no future for these two. Sookie has no interest in becoming a vampire. And she seems to be sacrificing a great deal of her own morals, or principals, merely to remain in the vampires' social circles, and that does seem to be affecting her, even if she hasn't realised it. So the way this one ended was both a pleasant surprise and a bit of an "a-ha!" moment, though I rather hope that things aren't going to be that obvious.
There are a couple of different strands to the plot of Deadlocked, and they both come to fruition at the end - only they didn't quite make sense to me. I had a great many interruptions while reading this, having started it in Canada while surrounded by movers, and finishing it here in Australia days later. I did enjoy it, it was much stronger than the previous book or two which were rather boring, but my increasing sense of despair for Sookie's personal life spoiled it somewhat.
Still, things have been put into place to make the next book (the last one I think?) a solid finale. I hope. I'm looking forward to reading it, because having got to know Sookie as a fictional character, I so want to see her happy - and safe - because I don't know that I really understand her anymore. She's not the person she was in the beginning, which is understandable, and I don't think she likes herself as much anymore. You can actually feel the mild depression coming off the narration (I have to wonder how much of that is Harris being tired of Sookie and her story, too). She was often grumpy, upsettingly small-minded, begrudging, angry, and so on. She doesn't seem to have anyone to really talk to, and Eric has become a pretty useless boyfriend. The last book has a lot of work to do, is all I can say.(less)
The Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night Hunt...moreThe Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress #6.5).
In "The Gift", Port Henry's middle aged bachelor police chief, Teddy Brunswick, gladly accepts Margeurite Argeneau's offer of her cottage in Muskoka to avoid being alone and pitied on Christmas. But the morning after he arrives, he wakes up to find that a storm has taken out the power, his truck is completely snowed in (even the door handle is frozen), and a fallen tree has blocked the road. He has no food and his mobile phone needs recharging - all he has is a fireplace and some heat.
When he treks out to the road to survey the damage, he encounters a lovely young woman called Katricia, who is also alone and borrowing the neighbouring cottage which belongs to friends of hers (Mortimer and Sam, from The Rogue Hunter). She has loads of food but no heat, so they decide to pool resources. Tricia brings over the food, something she didn't think she'd need since she hasn't been interested in eating for centuries - but now that she's met her life mate, Teddy, it's one of the things that's returned to her.
Like all her kind, she'd despaired of ever meeting her life mate, and now here he is - and they're confined to a cottage on a lake for a few days. It seems the perfect situation to Tricia, but Teddy is fifty and thinks he's way too old for her, and that his attraction to her is a little creepy. But he knows about her kind, coming from Port Henry where immortals are a kind of half-open secret, so Katricia has every hope that he'll welcome the idea. She just has to find the right moment to tell him.
"Home for the Holidays" begins with a surprise birthday celebration for Bones, organised by his loving wife Cat, to which all the old crowd is invited (their main paranormal crew is there except for Vlad - Ian, Spade, Fabian, Elisabeth, Denise, Mencheres, Kira and Annette). Annette is late to the party, though, and when Ian goes to her hotel to fetch her, he finds her being assailed by an unknown man, the room covered in blood. The assailant flees out the window and Annette is strangely reticent in giving Bones any information.
That night, a stranger breaches their property, a vampire in a frilly shirt who calls himself Wraith and claims to be Bone's half-brother, and a loner whose Sire is dead. Bones is sceptical, but hopeful, for he's never known where he came from. But soon after Wraith is welcomed into the house, Cat notices something strange. Everyone except her, Denise and Ian are entranced by the vampire as he tells long-winded story after long-winded story. When Bones completely loses interest in Cat and doesn't show any of his usual reactions towards her, she becomes as worried as Ian. The two of them have to work together to figure out what's going on and how to fix it, before Bones is lost to her forever.
I enjoyed both of these stories a great deal, though "Home for the Holidays" was the stronger one - and glad I was of it too, since the last Cat and Bones book I read was pretty disappointing for me.
"The Gift" was a fun read, returning to the lighter early books in the series in tone, with no dark sub-plots, just a scenario that brings together two people and gives them time to explore things. Interestingly, after Teddy is turned (not a spoiler, since of course he's turned) and becomes young again - about twenty-five - I found myself missing the Teddy I'd come to know, the older man facing retirement. Of course it changes things, getting your youth back, and if this were a longer story, or a work of speculative fiction rather than romance, it could have become a very dark story, if Teddy wasn't as lovely as he is. But I really liked him, so it was easy to be happy for him and to smile at his sudden youthful enthusiasm. Still, when you fall in love with a person, having them suddenly lose decades would make me feel like I was now stuck with someone I didn't know. Interesting thought, anyway.
Overall, it was great getting back to Canada and a quieter, more light-hearted story in the Argeneau series.
With "Home for the Holidays", Frost struck gold, creating a neat, tight story, plenty of action, a situation that seemed unsolvable (Kresley Cole has turned me into a fan of these kinds of twisted plots!), and Cat gets to seriously kick arse, again. Plus, you will actually like Ian in this story, since he gets to act hero without losing his crude and irreverent sense of humour.
More than that, though, we learn more about Bones' lineage and past, and that glimpse of repressed hope that Cat sees in his eyes when Wraith dangles the long-lost-brother card makes your heart break a bit. The ghosts get some good air time too, action-wise, which I always love, since the vampires always ignore and underestimate them. And on the romance front, there are some lovely intense scenes between Cat and Bones - not the sex, interestingly enough, but before that.
Overall, a winning novella in the Night Huntress world that reinvigorates my previously waning love for the series.(less)
Only fourteen years old, Sophronia Temminnick is well established as the troublesome child in her family. She likes to take the mechanicals apart to s...moreOnly fourteen years old, Sophronia Temminnick is well established as the troublesome child in her family. She likes to take the mechanicals apart to see how they work, and her adventurous spirit and complete lack of interest in the latest fashions or appearances in general are a trial for her mother in particular. Desperate to get her daughter on the right track and "cure" her of her failings, her mother enrols Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
It all happens rather fast, and within an hour of learning about the school and her mother's plans, Sophronia finds herself in a carriage with Mademoiselle and two other children: Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott and her brother, Pillover. Their parents have great hopes of them being evil; Pillover is going to Bunson and Lacroix's Boys' Polytechnique, the sibling school, to learn how to be bad, but looking at Dimity's pretty face and fancy clothes, as well as her friendly, rather naive manner, it's hard to think of her as at all bad. Sophronia is starting to wonder just who these people were and what was going on, when their carriage is accosted by flywaymen and Mademoiselle Geraldine is revealed to be an older student in disguise, sent on a mission not only to collect the three new students but also a prototype, in order to graduate.
The prototype is not in the carriage and the girl masquerading as their headmistress, Monique, refuses to tell anyone where it is. She also takes the credit for their escape from the flywaymen. Once at the school - three huge, connected dirigibles perpetually floating through the mist - Sophronia quickly comes to realise that this is no simple school of etiquette: the girls here are being trained to spy and kill. She just as quickly comes to love it.
With the help of a nine year old inventor called Genevieve, a boy from the boiler room called Soap, and her friend Dimity, Sophronia is determined to figure out where Monique hid the prototype - something that the Picklemen are after and have already attacked the ship for - and who she's planning to sell it to. Little does she realise just how close to home the answers really are.
Set in 1851, approximately twenty or so years earlier than the Parasol Protectorate series, Carriger has set her new YA series in the same world as Alexia Tarabotti's. Werewolves and vampires are a part of society, as are mechanicals - coal-fired servant bots and handy gadgets. The link between the two series is Genevieve, the inventor, who is a youngish woman in the Parasol Protectorate. The key difference, though, is in the writing: while I struggle a bit with the slightly forced, "upper crust" style of speaking and describing used in the earlier series, this book is written for Young Adults, and is very smooth and fast-paced in comparison.
Carriger has all her much-loved trademarks out: a predilection for tea, good manners and parasols; a wry, often ironic sense of humour; and a flamboyant imagination. I'm not supposed to quote from an ARC but I just have to include this snippet (and I can't see it being changed or scrapped for any reason!):
"I'm sorry you're going to miss the theatricals." "In Swiffle-on-Exe? It could be worse." "It is worse: all the boys [from Bunson's] will be attending. [...] Some of the girls even keep score. They use what we learn to make as many boys as possible fall in love with them." [...] "Isn't Bunson's training evil geniuses?" "Yes, mostly." "Well, is that wise? Having a mess of seedling evil geniuses falling in love with you willy-nilly? What if they feel spurned?" "Ah, but in the interim, think of the lovely gifts they can make you. Monique bragged that one of her boys made her silver and wood hair sticks as anti-supernatural weapons. With amethyst inlay. And another made her an exploding wicker chicken." "Goodness, what's that for?" Dimity pursed her lips. "Who doesn't want an exploding wicker chicken?" [pp.162-3]
The plot is simple enough but the story keeps itself busy by introducing Sophronia to a whole new world - and the readers along with her. It's not necessary to have read the Parasol Protectorate in order to understand the world here, though if you have you'll pick up on little inter-connecting characters and details and understand what's going on a lot more than Sophronia does. Carriger keeps the tone light and even slightly frivolous throughout the story, lending it a cartoon-like quality that serves it well. This isn't a serious story, though it does touch on class snobbery and hints to the darker side of supernatural-human politics.
Mostly I enjoyed the concept of the espionage school disguised as a finishing school, a fact that the real Mademoiselle Geraldine is completely ignorant of. Sophronia is intelligent, adventurous, strong and courageous and makes for a great heroine and a solid role model. There's no real romance going on here - she is only fourteen after all - though there is the start of something with her friendship with Soap, a black boy whose real name is Phineas. I'm still curious about this whole other side to Victorian England that Carriger has created, the idea that there are people - upper class gentry, no less - who are part of a secret evil society and want their children to follow in their evil footsteps. Not sure where that's going or what that looks like; Dimity certainly didn't have an evil bone in her body, and it makes me wonder what her parents are like - and what they actually do.
This is such a fun read, though I struggled with the first couple of chapters which had some awkward turns-of-phrase that had me confused for a bit, but when in the mood for a light-hearted, silly and imaginative adventure story you can't go wrong with Etiquette & Espionage.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via the Ontario Blog Squad. (less)
Four years ago, a spot of nighttime journalism leaves Darcy Newhart dead - and reborn as a vampire. She didn't choose it, and she hasn't adjusted all...moreFour years ago, a spot of nighttime journalism leaves Darcy Newhart dead - and reborn as a vampire. She didn't choose it, and she hasn't adjusted all that well, and after four years stuck in Roman Draganesti's harem, her opinion of vampire life hasn't improved all that much. Things have changed now for the vampire coven master: he's getting married to a mortal woman, and has kicked the centuries-old harem out of his house. Now Darcy's forging her own path, trying for a spot as news' anchor on the vampire television station, DVN.
Unfortunately, vampires are notoriously chauvinistic, and the going theory is that no one will want to listen to a woman giving the news - they'll be too distracted by her womanly bits. Instead, Darcy's given the chance to direct DVN's first-ever reality TV series, a show where male contestants vie for the position of master to Roman Dragenesti's master-less harem - and a million dollars. Darcy hits upon the idea of calling it The Sexiest Man on Earth, and to add an extra layer of surprise, sets out to recruit a few mortal men to throw into the mix of vampires. She knows a mortal isn't allowed to win - that would cost her her job - but the vampires' general sense of arrogant superiority annoys her enough that she wants to prove human men can be their equals. To a point, anyway. She also has to convince the harem women to take part as the judges, which is no easy feat after their lifetime of indulgence and high expectations.
The undercover Stake-Out team is paying close attention to this new TV show. Their leader, Sean Whellan, is Shanna's - Roman Dragenesti's new wife - father, and he thinks she's been brain-washed and wants to rescue her. Sean doesn't understand that there are two kinds of vampires, the "Vamps" who drink synthetic blood and wouldn't hurt anyone, and the "Malcontents", Russian-based vampires who see it as their right as superior beings to take whatever they want, including mortal lives. Austin Erickson is on the Stake-Out team, and with his high-level telekinesis and telepathic abilities, he's a formidable foe to the vampires. He goes undercover as a contestant on the show to gather intel on the vampires and find out where Shanna is, but his objective becomes muddied after meeting Darcy Newhart, whom he can't take his eyes off.
Austin is sure Darcy is human - she must be, with her thoughts of sun and the beach and her kindness. Vampires, Austin has been taught, are only one thing: evil monsters. Discovering that Darcy is in fact a vampire shakes his world, and her state of being isn't enough to put Austin off. But something has to be sacrificed: his new love for Darcy, or his career with the CIA. Someone will end up betrayed. And he's not entirely sure what he's willing to give up.
The second book in the Love at Stake series is hugely entertaining and so much fun! While there are definitely moments of serious introspection and tension, not to mention life-changing decisions, the tone overall is one of humour, silliness and a playful mockery of reality TV.
I don't watch reality TV shows, whether they're reality game shows or the cameras-inside-the-house type, I can't stand them, I find them incredibly boring and I don't see anything of merit in them at all, but as Darcy, the harem ladies and the contestants work their way through the different tests and elimination rounds, I was engrossed. Being "behind the scenes" was much more fun than watching the edited version on the telly, plus you get the added layer of plot with Austin and one of his co-workers from the Stake-Out team, Garrett, working undercover. Some of the scenarios as well as the harem ladies were really very funny, and as a mortal reader naturally it's fun to see the vampires - so sure of their superiority - get taken in by a couple of mortals.
Darcy is very sweet, with enough backbone in her to propel her forward and make her a strong protagonist. Her situation - having to give up her life, her family, her career all because of an attack by a Malcontent and then being converted by a Vamp in order to save her "life" - is sympathetic because it's one of those "that could have been me" scenarios. Darcy's a modern-day woman and she's now in hiding from the world she used to live in; that has to be tough. The other Vamps had been changed centuries ago, or in times of war or other upheavals, and have no particular attachment to the current age, so that they can have more fun and they've had more time to come to terms with things. Everything's still very fresh for Darcy, and she can see the world she used to belong in but isn't allowed to move around in it. Her character-growth arc was very satisfying, watching her make a place for herself in the Vamp world, make new friends, and ultimately a big decision - it worked well.
Austin is also very likeable. He's a fun blend of modern man, sexy man, dangerous man, skilled man. He's not perfect, but he's relatable, familiar. When he first sees Darcy, he's instantly struck by his lustful desire for her - she ticks all his boxes, and he ticks all of hers. A happy coincidence! Lust turns to love after they spend more time together on the set of the game show. Probably the thing I liked about him the least was the unapologetic way he'd trespass on Darcy's mind and listen to her thoughts. But he makes up for it in other ways. Austin and Darcy have some solid chemistry, and while there's little in the way of graphic sex scenes (I think I remember there being one), there's some very heated kissing and some well-timed interruptions that add to the tension nicely.
I've read quite a few of the books in this series now, having read them slightly out-of-order, but whether you're coming to the second book as a new reader of the series or you've been reading later books before returning to the beginning, like me, Vamps and the City offers great world-building, introduces new characters, and presents a great story that can easily be read as a stand-alone. Reading the first book, How To Marry a Millionaire Vampire, would help supply some backstory to this one, especially in regards to the Stake-Out team and who the kilted vampires are, but it's not hugely necessary. Vamps and the City is a funny, entertaining, well-paced and plotted romp. Makes me remember why I used to love reading Paranormal Romances so much!
Roman Draganesti leads the largest vampire coven in America; he's also a scientific inventor who changed everything for humans and vampires alike with...moreRoman Draganesti leads the largest vampire coven in America; he's also a scientific inventor who changed everything for humans and vampires alike with his creation of synthetic blood eighteen years ago. Now the world's vampires are divided - they're either modern Vamps who drink synthetic blood from a glass, or Malcontents (who call themselves the True Ones), who believe themselves superior to humans and that it's unnatural to drink any other way than from the source: mortals.
When Roman's head of marketing, Gregori, brings one of their scientists to Roman's New York townhouse with a new idea for making drinking synthetic blood more palatable, or fun, for the Malcontents, Roman decides to test it out himself. Laszlo's invention is called VANNA: a life-size, realistic human sex toy equipped with a pulse to stimulate blood flow and special tubing to bite into. The trouble is, the doll's synthetic flesh and skin is a tough bite, and one of Roman's fangs is wrenched out of his mouth. Knowing he has to get it put back in before he falls into the dead sleep, during which his body will heal all wounds; otherwise he'll be a one-fanged vampire for the rest of his existence.
Shanna Whelan works the night shift at a 24-hour dentistry clinic. The nights are long and slow and lonely; her only interruption is usually the pizza delivery she orders every night. She has to remind herself that boring is good: since being put in the witness protection program after being the only witness to a Russian mob killing at a restaurant, she needs to lay low. Tonight everything changes, though. The Russians have found her and are coming, and then a darkly handsome man turns up - despite the door she's just locked - asking her to put a wolf's tooth in his mouth.
Roman quickly takes control of the situation, rescuing Shanna from the Russians and convincing her she needs his help - especially when he sees that a Malcontent called Ivan is involved with hunting Shanna for reward money. He takes her under his protection, but will need to do something creative to get her to help him with his tooth, since she resists mind control.
In Roman's home, Shanna learns new things about Roman: like how he has night guards who are all large Scottish men in kilts, and a harem of mostly mean women demanding to have sex with him. There's plenty that's fishy about Roman and his home, but Shanna also finds him sexy and charming, as well as a genius and a great philanthropic man. She wouldn't have a problem following her hormones on this one, if it weren't for the harem.
As the Malcontents come closer than ever to grabbing Shanna and wrecking serious havoc at the compound where synthetic blood is made, dark secrets come to light and Shanna must make a decision that she will have to live with, forever.
Several years ago I read the third book in this series, Be Still My Vampire Heart, and liked it but not enough to want to read more of the series. But I kept seeing them, with their lively covers (most are much better than this one) and funny titles, and decided to try another one, the sixth book, Secret Life of a Vampire. That one was much more fun, and wasn't saddled with much of a Malcontent sub-plot, so I happily got back into the series. I finally got around to getting the earlier books that I'd skipped over, and have lots to catch up on. I already knew a few bits of Shanna and Roman's story - I knew that she was a dentist, and I remembered there being something funny about a tooth, and about Shanna waking up next to Roman during the day and thinking he was dead. But it's always fun to get the full story.
This series is the closest vampire paranormal romance series to Lynsay Sands' Argeneau series that there is, in terms of humour and characters and general plot. But the vampires are more traditional, following the usual rules for vampires, and more diverse too. The relationship, romance side of the story is propelled forward by the drama and escalating action - in this first book, there's quite a bit of action and plotting, while the romance builds slowly and takes quite a while to become physical. As an introduction to the series, it's pretty exciting, but it wasn't as good as some of the later ones. It can take a while for an author to hit their stride, perhaps.
I like Roman a lot, and as you'd expect with a vampire who's lived a really long time, he's a pretty consistent character. Once a monk, the sins he believes he's committed weigh on him, and he thinks he has no soul - thus doubling the sins even more. I liked Shanna a great deal at the beginning, but after a while she seemed to be just like all the other paranormal romance heroines, a blend of fiesty, stubborn, argumentative, and sometimes bereft of common sense. Why must these women do stupid things in order to come across as strong and independent? Or is the aim to make them seem more human, a human in unusual circumstances. I don't know any women like this, that's for sure.
There was enough action to keep the story zipping along at a good pace, tempered by quieter, slower moments where Roman and Shanna get to know each other. Roman was a fairly serious character, but the people around him could lighten a scene. It's a good intro to the series, though certainly not the strongest book. Well worth reading for fans and newbies of the genre. (less)
It's no coincidence that Sookie always seems to be around when trouble strikes - these days, it's coming after her, specifically, even when she doesn'...moreIt's no coincidence that Sookie always seems to be around when trouble strikes - these days, it's coming after her, specifically, even when she doesn't realise it at the time. First a fire bomb is hurled through the window at Merlotte's during her shift, then a gang of men turn up hyped up on vampire blood. Turns out Debbie Pelt's insane younger sister Sandra is out of jail and gunning for Sookie with everything she's got, and there's no one around anymore to hold her in check.
Meanwhile her vampire boyfriend Eric, the Sheriff of Area 5 in which Sookie lives, continues to have his own problems with Victor, the vampire who manages the whole state and more, a regent for their king. Victor's doing everything he can to squeeze Eric and make life difficult for him - to provoke him, ideally, into an attack so Victor can get rid of him altogether. Now Victor is refusing to let Pam change over her lover, Miriam, who's dying of cancer and has little time left.
And Sookie's newest housemates, her fairy relatives Claude and Dermot, seem to have an ulterior motive in moving in with her, and Sookie's not entirely sure whether she should trust them or not. With Eric and Pam now seriously plotting a way to kill Victor for good, and Sandra sending people to kill her, Sookie's got her hands full. Worse, Eric's keeping a secret from her which could change everything for Sookie, as she learns about a new queen and an old promise. With all these new complications, Sookie still manages to find time to clear out her attic, discover an old letter addressed to her from her grandmother, and host a baby shower.
Wow are we really up to book eleven in this series already?! I would never have guessed there were so many - perhaps because some stand out a lot more than others. This wasn't quite a stand-out novel but it was much more exciting and interesting than the previous book. I always enjoy them regardless, because I love Harris' style - Sookie's voice - and the combination of daily routine, paranormal politics, danger, mystery and romance. I find it very easy to settle into Sookie's storytelling, her narration, and there's so much going on in the details that they're much more satisfying books than a lot of other Urban Fantasy.
While this had more plot than the previous book, Dead in the Family - which was one of the "filler" books - it still lacked one of the high-octane plots of some of the earlier books. I actually kept forgetting about Sandra - in fact I couldn't remember her at all, from previous books! - but I mean I kept forgetting about the danger she posed. I just couldn't quite take her seriously, even though I should have.
I was more tense about the situation with Victor, who's a real bastard and definitely a serious threat. But as far as plots go, it wasn't really central to the story. In fact, nothing was central, it is a story made up of smaller plots, side issues, more character development, and a progression of on-going plot lines. This isn't a negative, just an observation. It doesn't mean it lacked cohesion, tension or excitement - Harris is good at keeping things tight and on track. She doesn't seem to forget details or contradict herself. Yet there was also a lack of energy in this instalment which isn't typical of the series. Could Harris be winding down?
In particular, I found the romance between Sookie and Eric to be, well, not really there. Where was the passion of previous books? The tug-of-war that was always so entertaining between them. Sookie says she loves him - and does something rather serious to find out the truth of those feelings - and yet I didn't feel it. She came across as almost indifferent, and her tendency to treat Eric as an irritating young relative wasn't funny anymore, just ... off. Likewise, what with all the problems in Eric's life, I didn't buy into his feelings either. Sure he's a kind of alien and I don't expect him to behave like a "regular" romantic hero, but the chemistry that's usually between them just wasn't there. It was hugely disappointing, and rather sad.
As a story that continues to flesh out this interesting world that Harris has constructed, it's a good one, and there is some excitement and one very tense, danger-riddled scene at Fangtasia; it opens some new doors and closes others. But in terms of characters and the "human" side of the story, it wasn't Harris' best. I still really enjoy the books, and this was no exception, but it didn't really go anywhere - except, maybe, in the Victor storyline - and the "Bill spectre" loomed large again. I just would have thought that by now, eleven books in, I would know Sookie better than this, and have an idea of what her future goals and plans are - does she want a full-time relationship? Marriage even? Kids? Her life seems stalled at the moment, especially dating vampires and other supernatural creatures, and it starting to feel a bit depressing. I'd like to see her progress in her life, in some way - rather than see her constantly be a kind of plaything for vampires or a useful tool for the "supes", I'd love to see her do something for herself, something that shows how she's grown and what direction she wants to take her life. Because loving a vampire, that's a life that really isn't going to go anywhere. (less)
This review contains minor spoilers for the series to date.
Alexia Tarabotti, now Lady Maccon, is eight months pregnant and reinstated as mujah in Quee...moreThis review contains minor spoilers for the series to date.
Alexia Tarabotti, now Lady Maccon, is eight months pregnant and reinstated as mujah in Queen Victoria's Shadow Council. Attempts against her life because of her "unnatural" unborn child continue, until her husband, the Earl of Woolsey and alpha werewolf of the Woolsey pack; vampire rogue Lord Akeldama; and her husband's Beta, Professor Lyall, come up with a solution: let Lord Akeldama adopt the baby, and the vampire hives will cease thinking of the baby as a threat, as it will be raised by another vampire.
As a compromise, Alexia insists she and her husband live with Lord Akeldama too, and as a cover to disguise the fact that Akeldama's second closet has been turned into a bedroom for them, they lease the house next door and create a bridge between hidden balconies.
The vampire threats to her life successfully ended, Alexia now finds herself on a new case: a rapidly disintegrating ghost has warned her of a plot to murder the queen, and with few leads to follow, Alexia starts investigating the last major but unsuccessful attempt on Queen Victoria's life - twenty years ago, when her husband's former pack, Kingair, plotted to do her away. She enlists the aid of her friend, Ivy Hisselpenny (now Tunstell), by faux-swearing her in as a secret spy. Meanwhile, her other close friend, the lesbian inventor Madame Genevieve Lefoux, is preoccupied and acting rather strangely, but Alexia is too preoccupied herself - and too polite to ask questions - to worry about it much.
With her frivolous sister suddenly in residence and pack secrets and politics getting in the way of her investigation, Alexia waddles around London doing what she does best: being invited in for tea and sniffing around for the truth. But will she uncover it in time?
I continue to be somewhat on the fence with this series. It has much to recommend itself, but other elements become sticking points for me. The tone is witty and ironic, intelligent and sometimes silly - fun and charming, in other words. But the stiff Victorian tone taken in the narration makes it read surprisingly slowly, so that it takes me seemingly forever to read one of these books. That alone can be enough to make me weary of the story overall, not to mention the fact that mystery-detective type stories just don't hold my attention. I'm not sure why, but I always find myself a bit bored by them.
My other challenge, with this particular volume, is Alexia herself. I like her, and she makes for a great protagonist, but I did find her situation unrealistic. Eight months pregnant and doing all this? I know every pregnancy is different and there are no rules, no "right" way of being pregnant, but it just didn't seem realistic to me. Even allowing for the fact that she's one of those women - or it's one of those pregnancies - where she feels great and full of energy (!!) and the pregnancy hasn't, miraculously, given her baby brain, what about all the physiological details, like constantly needing to go to the toilet, or aching feet (even if not swollen, they still hurt!) and back. For me, my biggest thing was fatigue. By the time nine months came around, I didn't want to do anything. But there are other women who keep working right up to the day before they give birth. It's all different. But the only reminder we get that Alexia's even pregnant is how awkward she now is, having trouble getting up. That's it. Otherwise, she may as well just be carrying a large bag everywhere. I couldn't relate.
My thoughts then move to the whole "Alexia is preternatural and there's a lot of emphasis placed on her not being quite human", but because this is the Victorian era (1870s) and no solid scientific or other reason behind her state has been put forward - I don't buy into the soulless thing, something about the way it was put forward has always made me think it's just the only way they can understand it, based on their theory of excess soul, not a reason I'm supposed to take seriously, as a reader - I don't think that is a reason for her having such a tickety-boo pregnancy, or not needing to rush to the toilet every thirty minutes (it's like that when you're as mobile as Alexia is). She's still a woman.
And the other thing related to her pregnancy that made me screw up my face was when she goes into labour, in the middle of the big action-packed climax. Narratives like films, books and TV shows are notorious for misrepresenting labour and childbirth for the sake of the medium, but personally, I'd prefer a bit of accuracy please. I'm not saying it isn't possible - at this point I think we'd all agree that anything's possible when it comes to labour and childbirth - but there is such a thing as the "flight or fight" response that is, again, physiological: labour isn't triggered by extreme situations; on the contrary, the body recognises it's a really bad time to go into labour, and will do the very opposite: leave it for a better day. So sure, I can see that all that exercise and excitement and the jostling of a speeding coach could start contractions - they do advise exercise for that purpose, after all - and it's true that Alexia was perfectly calm in the midst of it all, so maybe her body didn't recognise it as a perilous time to go into labour, but I doubt it.
These things are minor details in the plot, but when the plot feels a bit hole-y and the main character a little too superwoman-y, it just adds up to a story that rubs you up the wrong way. There were things I liked about it, things that are present in all the books: the humour, the over-the-top Victorian politeness and sensitivity, Lord Akledama (though his italics do get a bit much), and the inventiveness of the steampunk aspects, and it did have a solidly-constructed plot (much better than the previous book, which I found hard to follow). This remains a series that I like but can never relax into, and really love. My enjoyment is always tempered by niggling quibbles and a difficulty in following the train-of-thought, plot-wise.
There is some fleshing-out of Alexia's world (on a side note, I find it hard to believe that she was "allowed" out in "her condition" at eight months pregnant - don't quote me on this, but I had always understood "confinement" to begin pretty much when a woman started "showing"), and she finally learns that Ivy isn't the twit she's always thought of her as (just mostly a twit!). In fact, Alexia learns just how much she underestimates others, especially her friends and close acquaintances. The title of the book, heartless, is apt, not only because at the beginning she agrees to let a vampire adopt her baby, but also because she takes a decidedly pragmatic, politician's view to Madame Lefoux's problem (which I won't give away, as it's key - which isn't a spoiler, as it's pretty obvious that whatever's wrong with Genevieve is going to be important to the plot). I think this is another reason why I find it hard to relate to Alexia - she's an interesting character, and I love her, but I just can't empathise with her seemingly heartless view of children. It did alienate me, I have to say.
So yes, I'm ambivalent, both pleased that it was a more cohesive and interesting story than the previous one, and peeved at how many things distracted me from enjoying it - and they do outweigh the positives. In the end, the baby stole the novel, because it's not your average baby, and with its arrival, I found I forgot pretty much everything that came before. (less)
The fifth and final book about the Seminus demon siblings - Eidolon, Shade, Wraith, Lore and Sin - features Sin and continues the storyline began in t...moreThe fifth and final book about the Seminus demon siblings - Eidolon, Shade, Wraith, Lore and Sin - features Sin and continues the storyline began in the previous book, Ecstasy Unveiled. While Lore's demonic gift is the ability to kill with a touch - or resurrect; his sister Sin's touch creates disease in a person that kills within a few minutes. An interrupted assassination of a Warg (werewolf) inadvertently created a deadly and highly contagious disease among the Warg population, and the Warg council is crying out for Sin to pay for it with her life.
Her half-brother Eidolon, a doctor in the underground demon hospital, is sure Sin holds the cure to the disease, but with war brewing between the two types of Warg - those born Warg and those bitten and turned - and Sin's life in danger, keeping her safe and alive becomes a priority. But her own assassins are out to kill her in order to take over her job, and the sensual and sexy dhampire (half-vampire, half-Warg) Con battles his desire for Sin with his orders to bring her in to the Warg Council to face the charges.
There's nothing like a plague-like disease to stir up terror and apocalypse, as it does here. What I liked about the plot was how, with the discovery that the disease was, at first, only targeting those who had been bitten and turned, it became an excuse for the elitist born Wargs to eradicate the turned Wargs. It became a class war, even though the plague had nothing to do with the Wargs' old animosities. It was fascinating to see it turned into a tool and used to fuel a slow-burning fire into an inferno.
But I wasn't keen on Sin, as a character, as a heroine. She suffers from the usual cliches that crop up with heroines of paranormal romance: stupidly stubborn, resistant, a "tough girl" persona hiding vulnerabilities and low confidence, an inability to listen to anyone (that's "stubborn" again), and a basically unconvincing persona, especially as an assassin. There was such potential there but she just failed to interest me. Also, "Sin" is meant to be a short form of her full name, Sinead - but the two aren't pronounced the same; you'd have to pronounce "Sin" as "Shin" which just sounds silly, whereas "Sin" was clearly chosen as her name because it suits her demonic side and makes her sound bad.
Then there's Con, who I did like but didn't feel like I really got to know - what precisely was his attraction to Sin? I wasn't really feeling it. But he was a stronger character, interesting and sensual and charismatic, and since he was no warrior demon or anything, he came across as more sophisticated than most paranormal romance heroes, with intelligence and lacking the need to flex his muscles all the time.
The ending sets up the next series, the Lords of Deliverance, featuring the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse - at least one of them makes an appearance in this book, but to be honest I found that part really confusing and have no idea what War was talking about or what Sin had to do with anything. Which rather spoiled the tidying-up of the plot.
This was easily the least satisfying novel for me in the Demonica series, but I still enjoy Ione's writing in general and the world she's created - something like a more serious Kresley Cole world, or a less overblown JR Ward - is always enjoyable.