Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Vampires Need Tons-o-Sunblock and So Do I

In an attempt to postpone grading lots of Spanish final exams and end of the semester projects, I’ve spent (or misspent) the last several days reading some fun books. Two of these were vampire novels. Both were well written, but one made me want to throw the book across the room. Fortunately for my Kindle, I resisted that urge, but nothing makes me madder than cliffhangers at the end of a book, especially when the next installment of the series isn’t being released for months! From what I hear, Diana Gabaldon is particularly bad about this, and that remains the principal reason I have yet to start her Outlander series. I can’t STAND cliffhangers, particularly when so many authors are able to complete the arc of a story within one novel while generating interest for future books. Seriously, if you want to generate interest in the future book, include a teaser chapter, but don’t cheat your readers out of an ending just so you can string them along for months! 

    The novel that managed to really tick me off is Chloe Neill’s Hard Bitten, the fourth book in her Chicagoland Vampires series. I’ve really enjoyed Ms. Neill’s novels featuring Merit, the English Lit graduate student who was viciously turned into a vampire, and Ethan Sullivan, the studly vampire master of Cadogan House in Chicago. I like the series because we get to see Merit develop as a vampire and a character. She has taken on the role of Sentinel, or protector of the house, and in Hard Bitten she gains confidence in her skills. Her contentious relationship with Ethan also matures and starts to show promise.

    While you can pick up Hard Bitten without having read the earlier novels in the series and still follow along without too much difficulty, I recommend that you start the series from the beginning, because you will enjoy this novel all the more. Unfortunately, having read the series from the beginning, I had a lot invested in these characters, and the cliffhanger and stunning plot development made me so mad I was in a funk all day. Ms. Neill has stated on her webpage that the readers need to trust her, and that all will be explained in the fifth novel to be released in November, Drink Deep. Argh! 

    I did read another vampire novel this weekend that came out late last year, Dianne Sylvan’s Queen of Shadows. This is the first of a series for Ms. Sylvan, and it did NOT have a cliffhanger. In fact, I found the ending to be very satisfying! The heroine, Miranda Grey, is a talented musician in Austin, Texas, and, while under attack, is rescued by the city’s vampire leader, David Solomon. I should warn you that Miranda is sexually assaulted at the beginning of the novel. I’m uncomfortable with novels that use sexual assault as a form of character development, because some authors seem to gloss over the truly devastating effects of such an assault. Ms. Sylvan does a good job of showing how Miranda goes through the recovery process; I’m just not convinced that such a violent episode was really necessary to develop the character, since she was already suffering emotionally before the incident. I will admit to skimming over the scene. 

    I liked that this was not a Pygmalion-type scenario between the hero and heroine. David teaches Miranda to control her psychic empathic abilities so that she can live comfortably, but it's obvious that she possesses her own strength, one that isn't limited to being his "emotional" compass, which is a trope you see a lot in romance (and makes me roll my eyes). Even though there is a clear power imbalance at the beginning of the novel, this is clearly resolved by the end, and Miranda’s efforts to take charge of her own life will leave you cheering for her. 

    I’m hoping that the sun will soon make an appearance here in the Midwest, as I’m eager to use that sunblock I mention in the title of this post. Until then, I’m going to have to settle for being as pasty white as a vampire, without all the cool supernatural benefits. Bummer!

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