Tag Archives: Vampires

Steam & Sorcery

Pape, Cindy Spencer. Steam and Sorcery (2011). 305 Pages*. Carina Press. $5.99**

Don’t let the cover stop you. The contents of the story are much better than the cover suggests with its cheesiness.

From the Publisher

Sir Merrick Hadrian hunts monsters, both human and supernatural. A Knight of the Order of the Round Table, his use of magick*** and the technologies of steam power have made him both respected and feared. But his considerable skills are useless in the face of his greatest challenge, guardianship of five unusual children. At a loss, Merrick enlists the aid of a governess.

Miss Caroline Bristol is reluctant to work for a bachelor but she needs a position, and these former street children touch her heart. While she tends to break any mechanical device she touches, it never occurs to her that she might be something more than human. All she knows is that Merrick is the most dangerously attractive man she’s ever met– and out of reach for a mere governess.

When conspiracy threatens to blur the distinction between humans and monsters, Caroline and Merrick must join forces, and the fate of humanity hinges upon their combined skills of steam and sorcery…

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The Dead Girls’ Dance

Caine, Rachel. The Dead Girls’ Dance (2007). 238 Pages. Penguin. $6.99

The Morganville Vampires: Volume 2

From the Back Cover

Claire Danvers has her share of challenges– like being a genius in a school that favors beauty over brains, dealing with the homicidal girls in her dorm, and above all, finding out that her college town is overrun with vampires. On the up side, she has a great roommate (who tends to disappear at sunup) and a new boyfriend named Shane… whose vampire-hunting dad has called in backup: cycle punks who like the idea of killing just about anything.

Now a fraternity is throwing its annual Dead Girls’ Dance and– surprise!– Claire and her equally outcast best friend, Eve, have been invited. When they find out why, all hell is going to break loose. Because this time both the living and the dead are coming out– and everybody’s hungry for blood.

First Lines

It didn’t happen, Claire told herself. It’s a bad dream, just another bad dream. You’ll wake up and it’ll be gone like fog…

Thoughts

I was warned that book 1 was a cliffhanger, so I had book 2 at hand to continue. I would advise doing the same, should you choose to read it.

The story definitely shifts a bit from volume 1 to volume 2. There is some major violence, and quite a bit of angst and drama in this volume, which works well, considering the storyline. Things start to get more involved, and the end result is a story which keeps drawing you in, making you want to know even more than Glass Houses told.

Things are complicated by the fact that the vampires aren’t very happy with the residents of Glass House. None of them are safe, and it’s a difficult thing to read about. There aren’t any strong females, and none of them rise to the challenge. There is a moment of potential gang-rape, and I was unimpressed by the character’s inability to help herself at all.

There is a complete story arc here, but it’s clear that there is much, much more to come.

It gets a 3 of 5.

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Glass Houses

Caine, Rachel. Glass Houses (2006). 239 Pages. Penguin. $6.99

The Morganville Vampires: Volume 1

From the Back Cover

Welcome to Morganville, Texas. Don’t stay out after dark.

It’s a small college town filled with quirky characters. But when the sun goes down, the bad comes out. Because in Morganville, there is an evil that lurks in the darkest shadows– one that will spill out into the bright light of day.

Claire Danvers has had enough of her nightmarish dorm situation. The popular girls never let her forget just where she ranks on the school’s social scene: somewhere less than zero. And Claire really doesn’t have the right connections– to the undead who run the town.

When Claire heads off campus, the imposing old house where she finds a room may not be much better. Her new roommates don’t show many signs of life. But they’ll have Claire’s back when the town’s deepest secrets come crawling out, hungry for fresh blood…

First Lines

On the day Claire became a member of the Glass House, somebody stole her laundry.

When she reached into the crappy, beat-up washing machine, she found nothing but the wet slick sides of the drum, and–like a bad joke– the worst pair of underwear she owned, plus one sock.

Thoughts

I clearly have a strong bias towards strong female characters, which are not really present in this series. Claire is smart, but she’s a victim; she doesn’t get revenge, doesn’t stop the bullying, and the violence, she just flees. There are definitely times when retreating is the best idea, and this book is full of those times.

There’s a lot going on here; an entire town is run by vampires, and most of the human denizens live in fear, and are largely treated as livestock. They are branded by their “protector” who has control over many parts of their lives. They are required to donate blood, their movements are tracked, and they don’t even pretend to have the freedom to leave. What makes them put up with it? Fear and complacency.

Perhaps because of the fear and complacency, when Claire gets into trouble, the only people who try to help her are the loners and outsiders, the people who nobody else wants; Eve, Shane, and Michael. Things start to get really crazy when the four outcasts realize that they can’t keep running, and they aren’t safe, even together.

The novel manages to be interesting, and relatively unique. Everything fits together, and it seems cohesive, which is something. It’s hard to read about characters who are victims to everyone, who never have a true victory, and who are unfortunately at the bottom of the totem pole with no hope of ever rising from that position. There are still moments of humor which lighten the whole thing up, and which count for quite a bit.

This particular volume ends in a semi-cliffhanger, so I would advise having the second volume on hand to continue the story.

It gets a 3.5/5; it’s good, but not amazing.

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Sunshine

McKinley, Robin. Sunshine (2010 ed). 405 Pages. Speak. $8.99

Sunshine is not a vampire story the way Pegasus is not about winged horses. Sunshine is about Rae Seddon– commonly called Sunshine– a young woman whose life is forever altered by her choice to go out to the local lake, alone, and at night. It is there that she is grabbed by Others and dragged to a remote, abandoned house.

At first Sunshine is confused, because she isn’t dead yet, and Vampires don’t usually play with their food for long. However, she is not alone in the abandoned mansion; she is to be dinner for Con, a vampire no freer than she is.

To get out of this alive, Sunshine needs his help, and strangely enough, he needs hers.

First Lines

It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life.

Monday evening is our movie evening because we are celebrating having lived through another week. Sunday night we lock up at eleven or midnight and crawl home to die, and Monday (barring a few national holidays) is our day off. Ruby comes in on Mondays with her warrior cohort and attacks the coffeehouse with an assortment of high-tech blasting gear that would whack Godzilla into submission: those single-track military minds never think to ask their cleaning staff for help in  giant lethal marauding creature matters.

Thoughts

While Sunshine’s world is similar to ours, it is not ours. It is a sort of parallel dystopia, in which the Voodoo Wars– a battle between the Humans and the Others– have left humanity struggling to rebuild in a wasteland. This world is simultaneously eerily similar to, and startlingly different from our own*. There is a lot going on here; the human population has been decimated, Others are discriminated against, part-bloods held responsible for their heritage, cities are slowly growing, around the “bad spots,” and places like Charlie’s Coffeehouse are small havens from the insanity.

I think the world-building may be my favorite part of this book, actually. The characters come second to the world for me. I wanted more about the world, more about the why, the what, the how. Things are hinted at, bits are mentioned, there are “bad spots” where humans dare not go, left-overs of powerful magic. But why are they there? My curiosity was not completely satisfied, which was a little frustrating, because I’m usually quite content with her worlds.

I do like Sunshine, but she is not the strongest female McKinley has ever written, and I have an affinity for the strong girls. At first, Sunshine is rather inactive, she is victimized, and spends a lot of time recovering from the trauma. She struggles with her sense of self, with needing support and being afraid to reach for it, with the ramifications of what exactly she has done, and with her bond.

Something which is particularly problematic to me are the relationships in this book. Sunshine is dating Mel**, but they seem stuck in a sort of loose dating, where they’re together when it’s convenient. Sunshine never seems to talk about things to him, and though he could be there for her if she just asked, she doesn’t. There are hints about her heritage, things which her mother may have been hiding, but it is never verified, it remains Sunshine’s theory, and is never really tested. She’s surrounded by family and friends and people who care about her, and some of them are powerful enough in their own right that they could protect her, but she doesn’t turn to any of them. She instead relies upon a Vampire who she has only known for a brief amount of time.

When I first read this book, I remember really liking it. I was on a vampire kick, and I was reading everything I could. This was not a YA book then, but that didn’t stop me. Looking at it, and having read it, I wonder if it is a YA book now. There is a fairly explicit scene around page 250 which left me wondering if it should be called YA. I don’t necessarily feel that teens need to be protected from everything sexual, but I felt a little awkward reading this scene, and I’m an adult. I imagine most teens would either be titillated or would feel as awkward as I did.

It is sad, knowing that I will never know more. McKinley doesn’t write sequels. She may eventually venture back into the same world, if her muses drag her there, but this is the only guaranteed book in this setting. It’s a pity, because there is so much you can do with a post-apocalyptic world. There are options, and ideas, and worldwide locations.

Anyway, this volume gets a 4/5. There is a lot more that could have been done with Sunshine, and I wasn’t wholly satisfied (and not just because I wanted more, which is a good sort of unsatisfied.) It is worth reading, because it is enthralling, and it’s very different from what you expect, if you’ve been told it’s a vampire book, because it’s not. There are vampires, but ultimately, this book is about Sunshine.

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* It left me thinking of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan world, actually.

** I like Mel, a lot. He’s got magical tattoos, which remind me of Pritkin’s tattoos from Karen Chance’s books.

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Soulless

Carriger, Gail. Soulless (2009). 357 Pages. Orbit. $7.99

The Parasol Protectorate: Book 1

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations.

First, she has no soul. Second, he’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquitte.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire– and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia is responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart? ( From the Back Cover)

There’s a lot going on in my brain right now, largely because of this book, which I really enjoyed reading. On the one hand, I hate you– those of you who reviewed Soulless and made it sound so very appealing, so I had to start reading it, which then led to me staying up all night reading it because I just could not put it down— and on the other hand, I wonder how you guys felt about some of the issues brought up by The Book Smugglers when they reviewed it.

“It’s an awful lot like Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody.” (among other issues) which could very well be the case, and which I could perhaps agree with, if I’d ever read the series in question. Coincidentally, I have several Elizabeth Peters books sitting here– I was digging through boxes and boxes of books which my grandmother gave me last time I went to visit. The vast majority are mystery/suspense/thriller, which is not my genre of choice, so they’ve sat, largely untouched, since she gave them to me. I was going through them, trying to ascertain exactly what I had in the boxes, so we could deal with them appropriately. ( My mom and I intend to go through them and figure out which ones we each want to read, and which ones neither of us are interested in, so we can donate/sell those that we are not interested in.) So perhaps my next read will be one of those Elizabeth Peters books.

Disconcerting similarities to already-published works aside, I’m pretty sure I really liked Soulless. I didn’t notice any of the issues which so perturbed the ladies at The Book Smugglers, but perhaps that is because I had no trouble suspending my disbelief, and had no experience with similar characters. Despite the (inappropriate) Fantasy/Horror genre tag which my copy sports, it was definitely supernatural/paranormal period romance. I was expecting that, so it didn’t throw me too badly. I also really enjoyed the characters, their banter, the way it was so clear they did care about each other, even though they didn’t really know it yet.

Lord Akeldama annoyed the hell out of me. (From page 46:)

He minced into the room, teetering about on three-inch heels with ruby and gold buckles. “My darling, darling Alexia.” Lord Akeldama had adopted use of her given name within minutes of their first meeting. He had said that he just knew they would be friends, and there was no point in prevaricating. “Darling!” He also seemed to speak predominantly in italics. “How perfectly, deliciously, delightful of you to invite me to dinner. Darling.”

Gee, wonder what his sexual orientation might be? I mean, he takes more badass out of vampire than sparkling in the sun did. Ugh. I don’t have a problem with gay characters, but I do have a problem with inexplicably flamboyant, annoying characters who are described as speaking in italics. Ugh.

That aside, I think Alexia was an interesting character, to a point. She was a little too inclined to lean on being half-Italian* as an excuse for well, being blunt. What I loved was the whole idea of a preternatural, set in Victorian England. I wish this had gotten a bit more page-time, because it was perhaps the most unique and outstanding thing about the entire book, and it really got glossed over. She’s soulless– enough so that the book is titled Soulless– and per a few early comments, this has a lot to do with her ability to relate to other humans, and her grasp of emotions, but she has absolutely no problems with lust or “love.”

In Conclusion:

I’m pretty sure I liked this book. I mean, I started reading it at about 10pm, and could not put it down until 4am. That is a very good sign in a book, being that involved in it. It gets a 4.5/5 because it wasn’t until well after I was done reading that I began to even think about the flaws (which is a good sign.)

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* No love from me here. I’m basically 50% Irish, 50% Italian. Acting like that’s a handicap? Not cool.

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You Suck: A Love Story

Moore, Christopher. You Suck: A Love Story (2008) 352 Pages. Harper Collins. $13.99

Sequel To: Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story (1995)

As I have said previously: I am not allowed to read Christopher Moore in public. It has become increasingly obvious to me that I should also avoid reading Christopher Moore at work. When you’re sitting awkwardly in the corner of the break-room giggling to yourself, coworkers tend to ask questions like: “What are you reading?” Sometimes, that’s not a problem, but there are times when I just want to read, and do not want to be asked. (Nor do I want people leaning and moving to where they can read the cover without asking, because that is somehow more annoying).

Anyhow, because this is a sequel, my review will likely contain at least a few spoilers for the first book. (Though I will try to keep a lid on any spoilers for the book at hand.) Proceed at  your own risk…

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Kiss Me Deadly (Anthology) Part 1

Telep, Trisha (Editor). Kiss Me Deadly (2010). 430 Pages. RunningPress. $9.95

Review: Part 1 (Part 2, Part 3)

This was a definite impulse grab. I was at Borders, looking for a specific book, though at the moment I can no longer remember which book I sought. I don’t think I remembered what I was looking for then, either. When I walk into a building which contains more than a few books, I tend to get a little sidetracked. So I was staring at the Y.A. Paranormal section, feeling a little concerned for the sheer quantity of Twilight-knockoffs — we all know them, they’re the generic vampire romance that has exploded since sparkly vampires were first published — and my eye fell upon Kiss Me Deadly. I had a moment of oh dear, not another, but I’m such a fan of anthologies as a way to sample new authors that I couldn’t help picking it up.

I know it wasn’t an author’s name that grabbed me, because I have to admit that I do not know a single author from this volume. (Though I did also grab Shiver while I was there, because as a fan of romance, paranormal, and young adult, it seemed like a reasonable combo.)I think it was the Editor’s Note which opened the volume which got my attention;

Love in the time of… Zombies?

Somehow, that just doesn’t have the classic ring of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s famous novel Love in the Time of Cholera* …  my bet, after titles like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter**, is that this is likely in some publisher’s pipeline somewhere, probably slated for publication next year, or the year after that. (Intro)

Anyway, in a sort of gimmick-y “paranormal = horror” way, there are 13 stories in this volume. Because I do intend to talk at least a little bit about each of them, I’m going to cut this into several posts.

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Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story

Moore, Christopher. Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story (2008 ed.) 290 Pages. Simon & Schuster. $14.00

I am not allowed to read Christopher Moore in public. I’ll be discreet, I promise myself, I won’t be awkward, I won’t seem like a maniac. I promise myself anything, just get the book out of your ugly purse and start reading, it will make the trip so much more bearable, I think. And for a few minutes, I’ll keep my promise. It will start with a smirk, which will then turn into a silent snicker, which grows into a soft giggle. This is where things get really tough, as I’ll realize that I’m breaking my promise, and will attempt to be serious. So what eventually escapes is a strangled snort, which may or may not develop into full blown idiotic laughter. Soon, the seats beside me are vacant. Eventually, even on an incredibly crowded commuter train full of people with their own books, strangers will edge away ever so slightly. Because as the unwritten rules of the train say– you may read, but only quietly. Laughing aloud and making a scene of yourself, being seen enjoying your book is forbidden. When I let myself read Christopher Moore, I inevitably break that unwritten rule, which is why I am not allowed to read his books in public.

Despite all the public awkwardness and the sideways glances, I am endorsing his books, most especially Bloodsucking Fiends. It was brilliant, and had me laughing loudly and crazily on public transit, and managed to get me laughing just as hard the second time I read it.*

To start with the beginning:

Sundown painted purple across the great Pyramid while the Emperor enjoyed a steaming whiz against a dumpster in the alley below. A low fog worked its way up from the bay, snaked around columns and over concrete lions to wash against the towers where the West’s money was moved. The financial district: an hour ago it ran with rivers of men in gray wool and women in heels; now the streets, built on sunken ships and gold-rush garbage, were deserted–quiet except for a foghorn that lowed across the bay like a lonesome cow. (page 1)

I’ve had problems with books which were “set in” the Bay Area in the past, most notably geographic and cultural annoyances. This book manages to avoid all those pitfalls completely; the neighborhoods (Chinatown, Northbeach, SOMA, etc.) are all represented, and there were no imaginary streets. There were a couple locations which I cannot be sure existed, but it was nothing too major. I even forgave him The Emperor of San Francisco and Protector of Mexico — a not-entirely-imagined character who shows up in A Dirty Job as well– because The Emperor adds an awful lot to the story, and does actually remind me of several San Francisco transients who do exist.

I suppose I really should say something about the contents and storyline, so I’ll give you a quick synopsis. One night after working late, Jody is accosted. She wakes up beneath a dumpster, her hand badly burned, and her senses strangely heightened. Her jerk of a boyfriend proves to be rather worse than she ever realized, and she finds herself in need of help. Tommy is our other protagonist– a farm boy fresh from the midwest, overwhelmed by the city– who finds himself helping Jody before he even gets to know her. Things get complicated as a string of murders seem destined to lead the police to their doorstep. Of course, their entire story is told with excellent wit.

In Conclusion:

I am not allowed to read Christopher Moore in public. Regardless, you should definitely pick this one up and give it a read. Then read its sequel You Suck followed by Bite Me, which both seem rather promising. It gets a 5/5 for being brilliant and funny and just altogether awesome.

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* For some reason, my boyfriend kept looking askance and shaking his head at me as I sat on my couch and devoured the book.

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Jane Bites Back

Ford, Michael Thomas. Jane Bites Back (2009). 320 Pages. Ballantine Books. $14.00

Have you ever picked up a book, and not expected anything from it, but been pleasantly surprised? Jane Bites Back was an impulse-grab off the new books shelves at the library. I was just there to pick up my holds. “I promise, I’ll be done in just a minute. I’m only grabbing one book and I’ll be right back!” My unfortunate (and non-bibliophilic) boyfriend does not enjoy trips to the library, so when he comes along I try to hurry. It works well if I’m attempting to limit myself to my holds.

Anyway, Jane Bites Back was on the shelf, and I couldn’t help picking it up. It’s even got a cover-blurb by Seth Grahame-Smith (of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) mentioning that it’s lovable. Having not loved anything about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies any of the several times I tried to read it, I took it as dubious praise at best. But I let myself get it (and Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter) off the new-books shelves.

I made the mistake of reading it while we drove home. Three chapters in, I realized that we were home, and that I was sitting in the car in our parking space. Whoops. It’s that good though. The premise is silly, but it somehow works– Ford is an author, writing about an author (Austen) who is writing about an author (Constance). Ultimately, Ford is writing an Austen-inspired book about an un-dead Austen who wholeheartedly disapproves of Austen-inspired books. It’s really quite funny how this works out.

A little over 200 years ago, Jane Austen was turned into a vampire. Shortly after, she “died,” and has been living under a series of pseudonyms ever since. In the last few years, she has become Jane Fairfax and purchased a bookstore in the town of Brakeston, NY. Due to a recent Austen craze, Jane has seen a lot of spin-offs and rip-offs appear (making her long for royalties and recognition she will never receive) and as a result is rather irritated that hacks who use her name can get published, while she cannot sell her own manuscript to anyone. It’s a failure, she knows this because she’s been trying to get Constance published since she “died,” and it’s still only a manuscript.

So, when she finally gets a letter from Kelly Littlejohn saying that Constance is brilliantly Austenesque, and that they would love to publish it, Jane is surprised. That is not the only one in store for her, and unfortunately not all of them are quite so pleasant. A “dark man from her past” (back cover) makes an unwelcome reappearance in her life, and makes unwanted advances. Meanwhile, Jane struggles to come to terms with her attraction to Walter Fletcher– a local carpenter– who Jane has refused repeatedly.

As if romantic entanglements weren’t enough for Jane to deal with, she’s also got a publicity tour– to Chicago and New Orleans– for her book. Things get really complicated while she’s away from home, and a surprising new villain appears in the latter half of the book (to help set it up for the sequel Jane Goes Batty from Ballantine Books, due February 2011.)

The book ends well, but leaves some things unfinished. It was clearly setting up for a sequel which will be out next year.

In Conclusion:

I really loved Jane as a narrator and a character– especially the way she changes– and I feel like she is a large part of the reason that I enjoyed this book. You want to like her (not just because she’s Jane-Freaking-Austen) and you root for her. The prose is solid, and the story is really fun, and light. There is a lot which is clearly being set up for future novels– not the least of which is Jane’s revelation of vampirism to loved ones (and how she avoids discovery). Perhaps it is because I didn’t expect anything from it, though I’m more inclined to think that this was just a surprisingly good book, but this novel gets a 5/5.

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Blood Bound

Briggs, Patricia. Blood Bound (2007). 292 Pages. Ace Fantasy. $7.99

Mercy Thompson: Book Two

Please be aware that it is extremely likely that there are spoilers for the first book. You have been warned. Proceed with caution.

I was so excited when I figured out there was another book in this series. I hadn’t yet figured out that most authors write whole collections of books these days, as stand-alone novels just don’t sell as well. Well, that might not be the case, but it would hardly be surprising. Anyway, this is one character I was glad to see again.

Stefan is collecting his favor, and boy is it a doozy. There’s a sorcerer-turned-vampire who’s infected with a demon, and it’s bringing unwanted attention to the supernatural world. Sure, people know about some of the fae– the cuter, weaker, and less-threatening fae, anyway– and people have learned about the werewolves, but the vampires remain a closely-guarded secret. It’s not exactly easy to both suck blood and be a good guy*.

We learn a lot more about Mercy’s past, and her powers. More of Mercy’s character gets to shine through here, and she manages to kick some ass without being the most powerful being ever. She’s got some unique talents– compliments of her Walker heritage– which enable her to help her friends when they are unable to help themselves. Native American walkers used to hunt vampires, until the vampires hunted the walkers into near extinction. (One doesn’t expect vampires to worry about committing genocide.) Mercy learns more about herself and her abilities from this vampiric entanglement than she learned growing up with werewolves.

Of course, Mercy’s love-life gets more complicated– both Samuel and Adam are vying for her affection. She’s got quite the past with Samuel, and doesn’t quite buy that he loves her for the right reasons. Adam is a pack Alpha, and comes with a lot of werewolf complications. There’s a lot more coming Mercy’s way, and despite the fact that this is largely a paranormal romance, Mercy’s love-life takes a back seat to the adventure in this novel.

The Quick Version:

Mercy remains a kick-ass heroine who has a strong voice. Her story grows more complicated as the story goes on. She kicks some ass. And characters actually seem to grow. This gets a 4/5, because I don’t generally give a damn about vampires, and this plot is not my favorite. (Though it remains pretty well written, and solid.)

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* And universes with “good vampires” are made of suck. (Pun not intended) (I’m looking at YOU, Twilight.)

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