Review: Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco

Review: Silver Under Nightfall by Rin ChupecoSilver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Dark Fantasy, epic fantasy, fantasy, Gothic, horror, steampunk, vampires
Pages: 512
Published by Gallery / Saga Press on September 13, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Full of court intrigue, queer romance, and terrifying monsters—this gothic epic fantasy will appeal to fans of Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree and the adult animated series Castlevania.
Remy Pendergast is many things: the only son of the Duke of Valenbonne (though his father might wish otherwise), an elite bounty hunter of rogue vampires, and an outcast among his fellow Reapers. His mother was the subject of gossip even before she eloped with a vampire, giving rise to the rumors that Remy is half-vampire himself. Though the kingdom of Aluria barely tolerates him, Remy’s father has been shaping him into a weapon to fight for the kingdom at any cost.
When a terrifying new breed of vampire is sighted outside of the city, Remy prepares to investigate alone. But then he encounters the shockingly warmhearted vampire heiress Xiaodan Song and her infuriatingly arrogant fiancé, vampire lord Zidan Malekh, who may hold the key to defeating the creatures—though he knows associating with them won’t do his reputation any favors. When he’s offered a spot alongside them to find the truth about the mutating virus Rot that’s plaguing the kingdom, Remy faces a choice.
It’s one he’s certain he’ll regret.
But as the three face dangerous hardships during their journey, Remy develops fond and complicated feelings for the couple. He begins to question what he holds true about vampires, as well as the story behind his own family legacy. As the Rot continues to spread across the kingdom, Remy must decide where his loyalties lie: with his father and the kingdom he’s been trained all his life to defend or the vampires who might just be the death of him.

My Review:

I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into this book, and now that I’ve read it I’m still not entirely sure. Except that it was fantastic. Heart-pounding, fingernail-biting, stay up until 3 in the morning to finish fantastic.

But the question about whether this is fantasy or horror still feels a bit up in the air.

Let me explain…

Remy Pendergast is a Reaper. In this world that means vampire hunter. But Remy only hunts so-called “rogue” vampires – ones who are causing mischief in human-controlled countries like Aluria. Vampires also have fiefdoms of their own where the rules are undoubtedly different.

Where Remy wouldn’t exactly be welcome because he’s famous for hunting their kind.

Not that Remy is exactly welcome in his own country, either. And not because he’s a Reaper. There are plenty of Reapers in high positions in Aluria’s government. In fact, his father used to be one of them.

But his father, who is a cantankerous old bastard at the best of times – of which he has damn few – is also in the midst of a lifelong feud with the head of the Reaper’s Guild – who also happens to be the Royal Chancellor. A man who is just as big a bastard as Remy’s father, and who is taking his feud out on the son now that the father has publicly retired.

And that’s just the tip of the really massive and ugly iceberg of why Remy is persona non grata in his own country – unless they need something killed and everyone else is too scared or too prissy to get their hands dirty.

That’s where the zombies come in. Well, not really and not exactly zombies. But sorta/kinda and close enough.

Someone is creating monsters that at first seem to be super-duper enhanced vampires. But they’re not. They’re mindless husks who regenerate at will and seem to be impossible to kill. Upon closer scientific study (this world is steampunk-ish so there’s plenty of mad science at least of the medical variety) it’s revealed that these mindless husks were never vampires – and that vampires are immune to the infection that creates them.

Lord Malekh and Lady Song, leaders of the Third and Fourth vampire Courts, have come to Aluria to ally with its Queen in order to combat what they call “The Rot” and whoever is behind that threat.

They need a human liaison. They both want Remy (in more ways than one) – who isn’t at all sure what he wants except to get out of Aluria for a while. The political temperature is getting way too hot for him and his father’s demands are becoming even more outrageous than they always have been.

And he’s tempted. Even though becoming a vampire’s familiar is against the law. Even though he’s fought vampires all his life. Even though a vampire killed his mother and he was born from her corpse.

Even though Malekh and Song are clearly in love and engaged to marry each other. Remy can’t understand why either of them wants him when no one else has ever wanted to do anything except use him for their own purposes.

He has a chance at having the kind of happiness that he never expected to even get a glimpse of. And he’s so, so certain that someone will take it away from him – unless he does it to himself first.

Escape Rating A+: Clearly, the setup for this is ginormous. It’s also endlessly fascinating. I got stuck into this and absolutely could not get out until I finished the last page at about 3 AM. It was just that good.

To the point where I’ll probably be squeeing uncontrollably more than reviewing per se. But I did love it so, so hard.

While the blurbs reference the anime series (and videogame) Castlevania, I think that’s because of the vampires, the politics and the monsters. I haven’t played or watched that so it’s not where my mind went. Instead, I kept seeing Remy as a younger, less confident Geralt of Rivia, in a world where hunting magical creatures gone rogue is needed while the people who do it are reviled. I would call it a bit of a coming-of-age story for The Witcher but I’m not sure Remy is fully adulting even by the end of the story – although he’s finally getting there.

Where I started with this review was that I still wasn’t sure whether the book was horror or fantasy. It was presented to me as horror and the scientific experimentation with zombie-like monsters who roam the countryside and infect others definitely has that vibe. There’s even a Doctor Frankenstein who is entirely too proud of his work even if he doesn’t use electricity to achieve his goals.

And then there’s the vampires, both the rogue vampires and the sexy vampire nobility. Which pushes the whole thing towards the paranormal which is an offshoot of horror.

But the form of the story reads like a big, sprawling epic fantasy. The world is huge and vastly complicated. The political agendas have political agendas and everyone is trying to knife everyone else in the back. The grudges seem to last for centuries – and not just among the vampires who have the excuse of living that long.

Basically, the politics behind everything are beyond Byzantine – as much as that is still an understatement if I ever heard one.

All of that makes the story feel epic in scope in a way that horror seldom is. And most of what is truly horrible in this story isn’t the monsters. It’s all the endless betrayals. It feels like the foundations of Remy’s world get pulled out from under him over and over as he keeps learning that under the corruption of everything if you scrape it away there’s yet another layer of, you guessed it, rot and corruption. Nothing he thinks he knows turns out to have any bearing on any truth.

That the triad relationship between Malekh, Song and Remy becomes both his only source of solace and a never-ending well of betrayal AT THE SAME TIME is just the icing on what is an utterly decadently delicious devil’s food cake of a story.

Whether it’s horror or fantasy or gothic or all of the above it’s riveting and downright compelling every step of the way. But whatever genre it falls into, I’m absolutely thrilled that the story isn’t over. Silver Under Nightfall is the first book in a projected duology, so there’s more dark, deadly and decadent delights to come!

Review: Detroit Kiss by Rhys Ford

Review: Detroit Kiss by Rhys FordDetroit Kiss by Rhys Ford
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, urban fantasy, vampires
Pages: 150
Published by Dreamspinner Press on April 12, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

For Javi Navarro, Detroit will become another blood-splattered city in his rearview mirror after he puts its dead back into the ground. Expecting an easy hunting job, Javi instead finds a kiss of ancient vampires on the hunt for a descendant of their long-dead creator.

Reclusive Ciarnan Mac Gerailt abandoned his family legacy of blood and death magic after it nearly destroyed him. Unfortunately for Ciarnan, the Motor City can only be saved if he resumes his dark arts and joins forces with Javi Navarro, the hunter who brought the vampire apocalypse—and hope for the future—straight to Ciarnan’s front door.

Previously published as "Legacy of Blood and Death" in the anthology Creature Feature 2

My Review:

Have you been wondering where urban fantasy went? I certainly have. Once upon a time, it was the hottest thing since, well, whatever metaphor seems appropriate for the 1980s or thereabouts, but then it kind of died off, sort of like the vampires that seemed to be the backbone of its antiheroes and tormented villains, sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Not that ongoing series didn’t continue, but new ones just didn’t emerge from the shadows.

So to speak. Ahem.

I love urban fantasy and missed it when it slunk back into those shadows. It was one of my go-to genres when I was in a reading slump. But it’s starting to feel like it’s back from the dead. Or the graveyard. Or wherever it’s been hiding for the last decade or so. (If you don’t believe me, take a look at Holly Black’s Book of Night when it comes out next month. Because the heroine Charlie Hall is pretty much every hard luck and worse trouble kick ass heroine to ever stalk the pages of an urban fantasy. But I digress. Sort of.)

Because when I started reading Detroit Kiss, the first, second and third things I thought of were just how much it reminded me of the early Dresden Files books, to the point where I’m not sure whether Javi’s musings as to why so many magic-wielding heavy-hitters ended up in Detroit instead of Chicago. It felt like half explanation, half intercity rivalry and half homage to Harry Dresden’s stomping ground.

I realize that’s too many halves, but there are always too many somethings nasty in this kind of urban fantasy. In the case of Detroit Kiss, too many feral vampires. The bloodsuckers are definitely not the heroes of this piece. They’re the evil pests, to the point where the good guys call them “ticks” because they are mindless evil bloodsuckers.

So the tone of Detroit Kiss, with Javi Navarro working as a bounty hunter for the beleaguered Detroit Police Department, had the same feel as the early Dresden books, minus Harry’s somewhat leery male gaze. Plus, however, a slightly better love life – eventually – as Javi’s luck turns out to be better than Dresden’s frequently was. At least so far.

We’re introduced to this version of Detroit in decay when a construction crew attempting to revive the city yet again uncovers a “kiss” of vampires who have been trapped underground, gnawing on the bones of their makers and each other for a century. They’ve been stuck in the ruins of a speakeasy since Prohibition with nothing to drink except each other.

Until they eat the construction crew, that is.

But these ticks are fixated on the two magic users whose bones they’ve been picking clean all these years, so once they escape they go hunting for whoever is left of the bloodlines that made them.

And that’s where Ciarnan Mac Gerailt comes in, the only descendant of one of those mages within easy reach. Ciarnan is existing someplace between hiding out and living in an old theater he’s never bothered to refurbish in one of the many down-at-heels neighborhoods in this version of the city. He’s given up the death magic that is his family’s heritage and taken up growing vegetables and just trying to get himself, his wolf dog Elric and his fae familiar Shaddock through the day and the sometimes very long and dark nights.

Ciarnan looked into the abyss, the abyss looked back and took his friends, his apprentice and very nearly his life. He’s given up magic. Really, truly.

At least until Javi Navarro helps him put down one of the entirely too many ticks that has come after him in place of his several greats-grandfather. Javi wants Ciarnan to help gather up the ticks so they can pick the place and time and have a better chance at bringing them down.

And honestly, he just wants Ciarnan the minute he sees him – even though Ciarnan clocks him with a shovel the minute after.

But in order to help Javi, Ciarnan will have to look back into that abyss – and hope to heaven or hell that this time it doesn’t swallow him whole. While praying that the vampires don’t either.

Escape Rating A-: I have one and only one complaint about Detroit Kiss. It’s too damn short.

I mean that. Seriously. It’s too damn short and there aren’t any more. Rather like the author’s Dim Sum Asylum, which was another gem of urban fantasy that bordered just a bit on paranormal romance AND also had a fascinating world that seemed like there was oodles of backstory to explore, a riveting case to solve, a terrific pair of heroes and DAMN no sequel.

I loved the way that this almost-now/nearish future Detroit felt like an all too easy extension of where the city has been for the past decade or two (or maybe three), partially devastated and partly gentrifying and still trying to get back up on its feet in spite of all the forces trying to tear it down.

The magic system seems cool and interesting, and the whole idea of finding a buried speakeasy filled with rogue vamps was an absolutely chilling way to kick things off.

Ciarnan is one of the author’s signature wounded-but-trying heroes who do the right thing even if sometimes for the wrong reasons and are always one half-step away from backsliding into darkness.

The climactic scene is dark, deadly, dangerous AND squicky and heroic at the same time. I’d absolutely adore seeing where these guys and their world go next. I hope the author gets there someday because I’d be all in for it!

Review: Insurrection by Nina Croft

Review: Insurrection by Nina CroftInsurrection by Nina Croft
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera, vampires
Series: Dark Desires Origins #3
Pages: 384
Published by Entangled: Amara on October 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Malpheas is one of the most powerful demons from Earth, but when he wakes up from cryo on the other side of the galaxy, he notices something is wrong—he’s human. Oh, hell no. In order to get his powers back, he must remove the sigil on his arm by carrying out three good deeds. But acts of kindness aren’t exactly his strong suit. Working undercover as a security officer investigating a suspicious death, he’s assigned to work with Hope, the most softhearted woman he’s ever met. If she can’t teach him how to be good, no one can.
Hope is in a pot of trouble, and if anyone finds out what she did, that pot would quickly boil over. She just needs to lay low until she can figure out a way to fix this mess. But when she’s ordered to show Mal the ropes and introduce him to everyone, sorting out her problems becomes impossible. Mal is sexy as sin, broody as hell, and believes she can help him change his bad-boy ways. Fine. If that keeps him from discovering her ties to the rebellion, she’ll teach him how to be a perfect angel.
As they work together, though, it becomes clear that Hope isn’t the only one with a hidden agenda, and their irresistible attraction to each other just adds fuel to the fire. When secrets are exposed, they must make the impossible choice between doing what’s right and doing what’s necessary.
Light meets dark, good meets evil…and love can hurt like Hell.

My Review:

At the end of Insurrection, it feels a bit like the circle just got squared. Or it feels like the series has either come to a conclusion or is headed for one. It kind of depends on whether you boarded the ship on the way to the Trakis system at the beginning of the Dark Desires Origins series in Malfunction, or whether you’ve been aboard for the whole wild ride starting at the very beginning in Break Out.

Because at the end of Insurrection, while we aren’t exactly where we were at the opening of Break Out, we can certainly see that beginning from here. The pieces that we picked up then are just about in place now, which makes a certain kind of sense as the Dark Desires Origins series, which began with Malfunction and was followed by Deception, seems to be heading towards its conclusion here in Insurrection.

Break Out, the first book of the Dark Desires series, takes place several centuries after the events in Insurrection. Events that are so far back in the rearview mirror that they’ve taken on the patina of myths and legends – even though Rico Sanchez lived through it all, as we’ve seen in this prequel series.

But then Rico has lived through a LOT of human history – even though he is no longer exactly human himself, and hasn’t been since the Spanish Inquisition. While no one expects the Spanish Inquisition in the first place, even less do they expect to meet a vampire who began hunting the night at that same time.

The premise behind the entire Dark Desires and Dark Desires Origins series is that Earth was well on its way to becoming uninhabitable, so a fleet of sleeper ships left the dying planet for what would hopefully be greener pastures.

Or at least pastures less fucked up by humans. At least not yet.

In the series that seems to conclude with Insurrection (I could be wrong about this being the conclusion but it feels close) we watched the maneuvering and the finagling, the bribery and the theft, as the places that should have been assigned by lottery were instead filled with the rich and the powerful. While Rico Sanchez bought, bribed or murdered his way into filling half of one ship with his own people. Not just vampires, but also shapeshifters and other things that go bump in the night, including one warlock (his story is in Deception) and one of the seven lords of the Abyss, more colloquially called Hell.

The demon Malpheas just so happens to be the warlock’s father. True to his demonic nature, Malpheas is used to getting his own way, reigning from the top of the heap, and killing anyone who gets in his way. In other words, he’s an entitled alphahole with the power to back it up.

Power he has been cut off from by the time Rico wakes him from cryosleep at the beginning of Insurrection. Malpheas has to commit three “good deeds”, definition rather nebulous, before he’ll have access to all his powers again. The curse he has to labor under is one last “present” from his old frenemy Lucifer.

All Mal has to do is figure out what “good” means, keep the humans on the other ships from discovering just what Rico has been hiding aboard his own ship, and plot and scheme to take over everything once he’s managed to beat the curse.

Unless Mal learns the lesson that his curse is trying to teach him, first.

Escape Rating A-: Now that I’ve finished Insurrection I have the strongest urge to go back and reread the expanded version of Break Out again. It feels so much like this story puts all the pieces in place for that one, and I want to check just how well it did.

This also feels like a great place to end the Dark Desires Origins prequel series, as we’ve seen in detail just how much the humans of the Trakis expedition brought humanity with them, very much warts and all. Readers who began this journey with Malfunction will leave Insurrection primed and ready to see where things have ended up by the time of Break Out, while readers who boarded this flight there will be sorely tempted to see how well the ends meet.

I’m not sure that readers who start here will be completely satisfied. On the other hand, their appetites may be whetted well enough to tempt them to read the entire series from start to finish!

In addition to all of the historical and human – or human-ish – pieces being put in place for the story to continue in that already explored future, one of the reasons that this story read like so much a part of the original book was that both deal explicitly with the problems not of mortality but of immortality.

The process that is discovered on Trakis Seven makes people practically immortal, just as Rico’s vampirism does. People who have gone through the process CAN be killed – decapitation is always an option – but don’t die from disease or accidents or even extreme old age.

The problem with immortality is that the human lifespan is meant to be finite. Psychologically, we need purpose and surprise and a whole bunch of other things that stop being important if one knows one literally has all the time in the universe. Time enough to have been there and done that for every possible thing one could be or do. It gets boring.

In Break Out, Rico may be a bit bored, but the people who have gone through the Trakis immortality treatment are getting really, really bored. And jaded. Just as the immortal demon, Malpheas has gotten bored and jaded with his already extremely long life.

So the romance in this story is wrapped around Malpheas experiencing the old curse of “may you live in interesting times.” As an immortal demon with all his powers, he can make whatever and whoever he wants happen. Nothing is interesting. With his powers locked away, he’s just human. A big, strong, and very sexy human, but human nonetheless. Everything is frustrating. Everything is weird. Everything is fascinating. His times are suddenly very interesting indeed in a way that he hasn’t experienced for a very long time. For Malpheas, the curse has become a blessing.

And the biggest part of the blessing is Hope Featherstone. Not just because she’s nice and she’s pretty, but because she’s real and so are all her emotions. She may want the big, sexy beast, but she doesn’t actually like him all that much. She also finds him surprisingly resistible, and that’s something Mal has never experienced in his life. He has to become a better person to have a chance with her.

That he discovers that she’s not nearly as good as she appears makes them perfect for each other. Now they just have to survive the mess that both their secrets have gotten them into. And get themselves as far away as possible from the brave new world being established – because it’s already every bit as FUBAR’d as the old world they left behind.

Because of the situation on Trakis Four at the end of this book, this feels like the end of the Dark Desires Origins series. But it may not actually be the end. It was great fun to go back to the beginning, to see how the situation we saw in Break Out came to be, with paranormal beings from Earth flying spaceships in a far-flung corner of the galaxy. I never expected to read about vampires in space but I’m certainly glad I did.

This was a fitting sendoff for the whole thing, as not only do we see how things got to be the way they were, but the ending puts a fair amount of focus back on the character most of us fell for at the beginning, vampire and captain Rico Sanchez. It’s been an exciting ride from beginning to end, and I’m glad I took the trip.

If the author ever chooses to return to this universe I’ll be right there.

Review: The Route of Ice and Salt by Jose Luis Zarate

Review: The Route of Ice and Salt by Jose Luis ZarateThe Route of Ice and Salt by José Luis Zárate, David Bowles
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: Gothic, horror, vampires
Pages: 196
Published by Innsmouth Free Press on January 19, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A reimagining of Dracula’s voyage to England, filled with Gothic imagery and queer desire.
It’s an ordinary assignment, nothing more. The cargo? Fifty boxes filled with Transylvanian soil. The route? From Varna to Whitby. The Demeter has made many trips like this. The captain has handled dozens of crews.
He dreams familiar dreams: to taste the salt on the skin of his men, to run his hands across their chests. He longs for the warmth of a lover he cannot have, fantasizes about flesh and frenzied embraces. All this he’s done before, it’s routine, a constant, like the tides.
Yet there’s something different, something wrong. There are odd nightmares, unsettling omens and fear. For there is something in the air, something in the night, someone stalking the ship.
The cult vampire novella by Mexican author José Luis Zárate is available for the first time in English. Translated by David Bowles and with an accompanying essay by noted horror author Poppy Z. Brite, it reveals an unknown corner of Latin American literature.

My Review:

Everyone thinks they know the story of Dracula – and we all do. Sorta/kinda. Not necessarily because we’ve read the original but because we’ve seen one or more variations of it. The Count’s story is part of the cultural zeitgeist. We ALL know who he is.

(If you haven’t read the original, it’s available in ebook free from your local public library AND from a host of online retailers including Amazon. If you want to get the flavor of the story there’s also an excellent full-cast recording by L.A. Theatreworks that I highly recommend – especially for Halloween.)

But one of the things that gets lost in adaptations of the original work is that Dracula is an epistolary novel. It’s a story told in documents – not just letters but also newspaper accounts, diary entries and, as expanded upon in The Route of Ice and Salt, the terse entries in the captain’s log of the ship that brought Dracula’s crates of Transylvanian soil to Britain. And, unbeknownst to the captain and crew of the Demeter, Count Dracula himself.

Not that the captain doesn’t eventually find out about the vampire – just before he dies.

However, The Route of Ice and Salt is not a retelling of the original Dracula story. Rather, it’s an illumination and expansion of a dark and hidden place in that more famous tale. In the original, we read the terse prose of the captain’s official log. We learn that when the ship reached its destination, the crew was missing, presumed dead. And the unnamed captain was discovered lashed to the wheel of his doomed ship with a rosary clutched in his cold, dead hands.

This is his story.

Escape Rating A-: Dracula may be the entry point for this story for many readers, but the Count isn’t exactly THE point of the story. The Route of Ice and Salt is cult classic of Mexican fantasy, first published in 1998 by a small comic book publisher that didn’t survive its attempt to jump from comic books to prose. This is the first translation of the work into English, and it’s a creeping fever dream of a story that picks up on themes that were subtext in Dracula – and other early vampire stories – and moves them from subtext to explicit text.

The still-unnamed captain of the Demeter is gay, horny and has very explicit thoughts and feelings about his crew that he keeps to himself in the dark of the night but never indulges. For reasons that have explicitly to do with keeping discipline aboard the ship, maintaining the chain of command and the acknowledgement that his crew can’t really give consent because he’s their master while they’re aboard.

And that, if they report him to the ship’s owners when the Demeter is back home, he’ll not just be fired – he’ll be prosecuted, imprisoned and quite possibly killed. Just as his first lover was – something that he is still blaming himself for years if not decades later.

That blame brings up a second theme, the question of what, and who is truly the monster in this or any other monster tale. The captain sees himself as a monster, both for his own part in his lover’s death and for the desires that his society and his church consider monstrous.

It’s only at the end that he comes to the liberating realization, in the face of a literal bloodsucking fiend who has murdered his crew, that he is not a monster at all – no matter what anyone else might say.

But those aren’t reasons to read The Route of Ice and Salt. As much as it has to say in its own subtext, it’s the way that it says it that are the reasons to read the story.

This thing is creepy as hell. If you like horror of the creeping, crawling, looming variety, if you enjoy that sensation of drowning horror as you read deeper into something that you know is going to keep you up half the night, this is an excellent story of that type. I finished at 2 am and I honestly should have waited until morning because it left me seriously creeped out.

The language of the story is beautiful. At times it’s lush and poetic, and then it turns sharp as a knife – or a tooth. I suspect it’s even more lyrical in the original Spanish but the translation is quite lovely. In that aspect it reminds me of Nothing but Blackened Teeth although their language and vernaculars are literally at least a century apart. But still, that same sense of sinking into a pool of beautiful words – only to have the story almost literally jerk you down into its depths of nightmarish horror.

If you’re looking for a truly creepy Halloween read, take The Route of Ice and Salt.

Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady HendrixThe Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: horror, vampires
Pages: 404
Published by Quirk Books on April 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Fried Green Tomatoes and "Steel Magnolias" meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the '90s about a women's book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.
Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia's life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they're more likely to discuss the FBI's recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.
But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club's meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he's a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she--and her book club--are the only people standing between the monster they've invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.

My Review:

This was exactly what I was expecting when picking up horror. But the friends who recommended it to me mentioned the words “laughing” and “humor” in relation to this book, and I just didn’t get any of either.

What I did get read like a really odd twist on the first book in the Sookie Stackhouse series – and I know that sounds insane. But really, we have a tight-knit Southern community where an unattached but charismatic man turns up, moves in, can’t manage sunlight and has been around a LOT longer than anyone thinks. Admittedly, when James Harris moves into this neighborhood, he makes Bill the Vampire seem like a big, ole pussycat. Because Bill doesn’t come to Bon Temps to prey on the locals, while James Harris has that plan in mind from the very beginning – and he’s ruthless in carrying it out.

But the story isn’t the monster’s story. Instead, it’s the story of the group of suburban women who band together, first to read true crime and murder mysteries, and then to deal with the unreal but absolutely true crime that has invaded their very own little town.

The portrayal of the women’s friendships, through all their ups and downs, was the real highlight of the story. But the way that they not only turn on each other, but turn on their own very selves, was a big part of the sadness. None of their husband’s are remotely worthy of them, as they prove over the course of the story.

They have all caged themselves, and it takes a monster, and a monster’s rampage, to finally get them to set themselves free. They’ve spent their lives cleaning up men’s messes, after all, and they are damn good at it. Which is a good thing, because this monster left one big damn mess.

Escape Rating C: Most readers seem to have loved this book. Certainly all the people who recommended it to me did. And I really did need to read it for reasons that I can’t get into. And I did finish and the ending was compelling. Getting to that point was less so, at least for this reader.

Part of the reason that I didn’t enjoy this book is that it reminded me of all the reasons I don’t normally read horror. It was gruesome and terrible things were happening and nobody wants to believe the book club members and no one wants to pay attention to what’s going wrong.

But it felt like all of the reasons that no one wanted to pay attention had to do with the women themselves. They were all small and narrow and put upon and put down and disregarded in their own lives. They didn’t pay attention to themselves or each other and no one else did either. They were dismissed at every turn, not just by society as a whole, but by their husbands and children. They didn’t believe each other and they didn’t believe in themselves.

Also, this is supposed to be a satire of suburban life in the 90s, but to me it felt flat. Probably because this just didn’t read like the 90s. During the 90s, I was in my late 30s, so relatively close in age to the members of the book club, but I was divorced, childfree and working. I worked in a female dominated profession, so ALL the women I knew worked. Many had stepped out when their kids were very young, but had returned to work at some point when their kids got a bit older, as the children of these women already had. It was difficult if not impossible to maintain a suburban life with multiple children without both spouses working. So for this reader their lives were small, sad and unrealistic and that colored my opinion of the whole book. Your experience of that time period may certainly vary, and your reaction may be entirely different. If this had been set in the 1960s or earlier I would have had a different reaction. I would have still felt the sadness and smallness, but it would have fit better into the times.

I did like, well, not the villain, you’re not supposed to like the villain, but that the monster didn’t exactly fit into any preconceived versions of monster. He’s referred to as a vampire, but it felt more in the sense that some people are emotional vampires sucking the life out of everyone around them. Not that he didn’t suck blood, but he also put it back. It’s complicated. But he didn’t just take blood, he took everything. He was a force of eternal hunger, always wanting more, always taking advantage, always leaving destruction in his wake. And we never do discover how he came to be. Or whether or not he actually came to end.

So that part was cool. But he also represented the way that the men in these women’s lives had also sucked them dry and left devastation in their wakes, and that leads me back to sad, and a bit disappointed. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

Review: Dead Man Stalking by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Dead Man Stalking by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayDead Man Stalking (Blood and Bone #1) by T.A. Moore
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy, vampires
Series: Blood and Bone #1
Pages: 266
Published by Dreamspinner Press LLC on September 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


A Blood and Bone Novel
Agent Luke Bennett proved that humans could rise just as high in the ranks as their vampire colleagues—until a kidnapper held him captive for a year and turned him without his consent.

Now he’s Took: a reluctant monster afraid to bite anyone, broke, and about to be discharged from his elite BITERs unit.

When an old colleague suggests he consult on a BITERs case, Took has little to lose. The case is open and shut… but nothing is ever that easy. As he digs deeper, he discovers a lot more than one cold case is at stake, and if he wants to solve this one, he’ll need the help of the BITERs team. Even if that brings his old commander, Madoc, back into his life.

My Review:

Dead Man Stalking was a terrific reminder of what makes urban fantasy one of my go-to genres, especially when I’m in a reading slump and need to be knocked out of it! Because this one really knocked me out of my slump – and knocked one out of the park into the bargain.

As with the best of the genre, this is a story that turns some of the usually accepted paradigms around, as it makes heroes out of groups that are normally villains – and vice versa. It’s also, as so much of urban fantasy is, a detective story, where our “cops” have to investigate a series of crimes and figure out who, or what “dunnit.”

Of course, things are not as they seem, and not just because the cops in this case are vampires – not that they call themselves that.

Instead, we have a case that the investigators are positive is all sewn up, and a profiler who no longer trusts his own judgment poking his nose into that case and discovering that either the investigators missed something or that he’s further off the rails than he thought.

Took, formerly Luke, Bennett used to be the best profiler in the agency, until he was betrayed by someone he trusted, held captive for over a year, and changed from one of the few successful humans in the agency into shaky vampire who believes he’s lost his nerve.

Which doesn’t stop him from investigating that supposedly open-and-shut case, and doesn’t stop his former boss – and would-be lover – from racing across the country to get his ass out of the fire yet again.

And again.

Leading both of them deep into a case that gets darker and nastier the deeper they get into it. And exposes more of the fault lines in the trust between them as they dig under the surface of what they feel for each other.

Escape Rating A-: This was an absolute blast – a terrific way to spend a lazy afternoon, lost in a fascinating world, following a deadly investigation and a romance that shifts from cold to hot in the blink of an eye. And the whole world catches fire.

I didn’t even mind the cat on my chest holding me in place. He was doing me a favor, after all, providing an excuse for my reading binge.

One of the things I loved about this one was the way that history had worked in this alternative to our own. The way that the vampires (and werewolves) had always existed, and how that changed history, felt reminiscent of some of my favorites in the genre, like Sookie, and Pentonville, the Black Dagger Brotherhood and surprisingly, The Others.

Several of those series wrap around the idea that vamps have always not just walked among us, but run things either covertly or overtly. Also that vampire politics and vampire grudges are both epic and eternal.

And from The Others, that concept that “original recipe” humans are really hard-headed about their own superiority, in spite of repeated evidence to the contrary.

There’s a sense in Dead Man Stalking that we’ve been dropped into the middle of a case – only because we have – and into the midst of a fully realized world. I kept wanting a bit more background on who the players in the shadows are, and how things got to be the way they are. Although the introduction of the historical figure Elizabeth Bathory certainly added weight and depth and horror to that shadowy history. It’s something I’d love to see more of in future entries in the series.

I keep referring to Dead Man Stalking as urban fantasy, even though sometimes it gets referred to as paranormal romance. Yes, there is a romance, but it doesn’t feel like the center of the story. The case felt like the backbone of this one, at least to me. Your mileage may vary.

Whatever you think is the heart of this one, whether it’s an actual romantic heart or the kind that gets cut out by one’s enemies, Dead Man Stalking is compelling and absorbing and I can’t wait for the next book in the Blood and Bone series. This is a world I want to explore more deeply, and in the company of these characters.

A Few Words from our author, T.A. Moore!

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new urban fantasy Dead Man Stalking. This is the first book in the Blood and Bone series and I am thrilled to put it out there into the world. I was meant to be writing an entirely different book, but then Took and Madoc took up residence in my head and I had to give in and let them have their say.

I had a blast creating this world and these characters, and I hope you enjoy them too. I’ve included a chapter of a prequel short story that you can follow through the blog tour. 

Chapter Eight

“Henry stayed out of the field,” Kit said harshly to Madoc. “And he, at least, had magic to fall back on.”

The door to Nina’s house opened and the coroner’s assistants carried her out, wrapped in black plastic and padlocked down with silver to the stretcher. Just in case. Silver would kill a vampire, but something would occasionally move into what was left. It might mimic who they’d been before–whatever it could piece together from the brain tissue left–but it was generally agreed the revenants were other.

Luke rinsed his mouth and spat green and pink froth into a bowl. The wintergreen didn’t mask the taste of blood so much as mix with it, sharp and potent like salt on minted lamb. He rubbed his jaw and pressed on the tender points around his jaw. It was jarred, but not dislocated.

“If he had a year to prepare, he could bring a dragon to tinkle on them,” Luke said. “Maybe.”

 It was unfair. Slightly. By repute Henry had been a dangerous man, but sorcery was high investment for small returns. It was why the scholomance existed despite sorcerers being as community minded as a spoiled house cat. Five sorcerers could bundle their spells and flood a city to execute a man they’d arranged to be stranded there with a woman he couldn’t resist. It would still take a year.

“You could have been killed,” Kit said. He grabbed the back of Luke’s head and shoved him around to look at his reflection in the mirror. The shadows of fresh bruises bloomed grey and red over Luke’s jaw and cheek. “Are you really so arrogant you can’t see that.”

Enough,” Madoc said icily. “Go and make sure Nina’s consort doesn’t do anything foolish.”

“I need to speak to him,” Luke said as he scrambled up off the tailgate of the ambulance. “Before he goes to the hospital.”

Madoc put a hand on his shoulder and pinned him in place. “He doesn’t want to see you right now.”

Probably not, Luke supposed, but… “It’s important.”

“Give him time to grieve,” Madoc said. “Kit? Go.”

He waited until Kit grumbled and stalked off. Then he put his thumb under Madoc’s jaw and turned his head around to study the bruise. “You’ll ache tomorrow.”

“I ache now,” Luke said. He swallowed and moved away from the too-careful touch. “I know how the killer is.”

“Dead, surely,” Madoc said as he glanced after Nina. “She choose her own punishment.”

“It wasn’t her,” Luke said. Habit made him check his holster and he hissed in annoyance as his fingers found empty leather and nylon. The local cops had taken his gun when they got there. It wasn’t how they did it, but it generally wasn’t a good idea to argue with anxious, trigger happy police officers alarmed that you’d blown off someone’s entire head. Madoc reached around and pulled a gun out of the back of his jeans. He offered it up on the palm of his hand. “She was just…”

Scared. Angry. Threatened.

Luke took the gun. He checked it over briskly, made sure it was loaded and the safety was on, before it holstered it. 

“I made a mistake,” he said stiffly. The words felt like gravel in his throat. “I pushed when I should have pulled, and she caught me off guard. It shouldn’t have been necessary to kill her.”

“But you did,” Madoc said.

Luke gave him a puzzled look. “At that point it was necessary.”

“Why not here?” Madoc asked. “Jamie got over-possessive, thought a midnight snack meant a commitment and pressured her. She’d lived here for a long time. Anakim that entrenched can react extremely to any threat to their nest.”

“I got that,” Luke said. He rubbed his jaw. “But what about the others?”

“Senescence,” Madoc said. Vampire senility. “Maybe she didn’t have a reason.”

Luke shook his head. “No one kills without a reason,” he said. “We might not think it is a good reason, but it’s still a reason to them.”

Madoc looked exasperated. “So you came out, executed the daughter of the Tsar’s favourite, and it was all for nothing?”

“No,” Luke said. “Nina was involved, she just didn’t know how. When can I talk to Darren?”

“Tomorrow.”

Luke made a sound of protest in his throat.

“Fine, when he’s ready,” Madoc conceded. “Let him grieve first.”

Luke shrugged an apology. “That might be too late,” he said. “I need to talk to him now.”

Not that he’d be able to if Madoc decided to stop him. He waited and, after a second, Madoc shook his head and stepped aside. Luke jogged over to where Darren, coffee all over his trousers, sat under Kit’s awkward sympathy. When Darren saw Luke he snarled and tried to lurch to his feet. Kit pushed him back down and gave Luke an exasperated look.

“Jamie,” Luke said. “Tomas, Bray, Loretta”

“What about them?” Darren asked bitterly. “Are you going to shoot them too?”

Luke bit the ‘someone beat us to it’ off the tip of his tongue. “They were all mules, right?”

Colour pinched Darren’s cheeks. “UnKissable,” he said bitterly. “Resistant. Mules are animals.”

“You all met at a support group right?” Luke said. He barely waited for Darren’s resentful noise before he pressed on. “And someone there introduced you to Nina right,, you and Jamie both?”

It took a moment for Darren to answer. When he did, he sounded wary. “We don’t talk about who we meet there.”

Of course not. Being a mule was somewhere between being a saint and being a leper. The Pentecostals saw them as souls too pure to be condemned in life, the rogues saw them as nothing but cattle, and the Anakim pitied them. Any of the above was an awkward place to live. So first names only, and if you had the means you’d attend a support group away from where you lived.

“So yes.”

Darren glared at him but, after a quick wary glance at Kit, reluctantly nodded.

“Who introduced you?” 

“Why do you care?”

Luke changed direction. “You were her favourite, the consort. She gave you somewhere to live, she let you drink her blood, she let you love her.” 

Most mules found out what they were when they tried to court the Kiss, and it didn’t take. It usually ended badly. The Anakim didn’t care to love anything that would die centuries before they did. Darren took a shaky breath as the grief pinched him again.

“But she liked variety, so then Jamie came along. Nina gave him money to keep himself nice, to come and see her. More money. More visits. Until you and Jamie fought over her. He wanted to take your place?”

“I didn’t kill him,” Darren protested. He stiffened under Kit’s hand as his voice pitched up an octave from nerves. “Jamie was…After he left Nina told me she loved me, that she’d not replace me!”

Except she would have. Eventually. She’d been willing to kill for Darren today, but one day he’d have been too old to be beautiful, then too old to be fun. She might keep him, a fond friend and ex-loved, but someone new would be in her bed. Even if she’d stayed with him when he was old, he’d die and she’d need to find a new mule to love.

“What if she had?” Luke pressed. “What if Nina had gotten tired of you, replaced you with someone younger and prettier. Would you still have loved her?”

“Of course!”

“Would you be willing to do anything to get her back?”

They both knew the answer. Darren stared at Luke for a second as the idea dawned on him. Then he shut down as he clenched his jaw and looked away.

“Fuck you.”

“Who introduced you?” Luke pushed.

“You killed her!” Darren spat furiously. He lurched up out and tried to grab Luke’s shirt, but Kit dragged him back. “I hope you’re next to get strung up.”

“More likely to be you,” Luke said. “The old wether. Like Jamie was the rutting stag and Loretta was the fish.”

Grief crumpled Darren’s face like a tissue. “I don’t care,” he said. “I can’t do this again.”

Shit. Luke grimaced as he tried to think how to drag the truth out of Darren. Before he could change tactics, Madoc put a hand on his shoulder.

“Wait,” he said. He moved Luke out of the way and crouched down in front of Darren. He smiled at him, a disarmingly pleasant expression. “Darren, right. Darren Voight-Kares.”

Darren fired a bleak look of triumph at Luke, as if that changed anything.

“Yes.”

Madoc put a hand on Darren’s voice and dropped his voice slightly, a hint of his old accent furred over the words. 

“You’ll be the executor of her estate, there’ll be a lot of things to sort out. We’ll help you with that, if you want,” Madoc said. He nodded and Darren nodded with him. Then Madoc grimaced. “If we can. Until we find this killer, there’s not a lot of time we can give up.”

Luke shifted his weight uncomfortably. He wasn’t sure he didn’t agree with Madoc’s plan, or was just uncomfortable at seeing that charm turned elsewhere. Kit gestured him to silence.

“I..need help,” Darren admitted. “Her family. The Russians.”

His hands knotted anxiously in his lap, twisted painfully together.

“What was his name?” Madoc asked, his voice suddenly hard and thick with something that caught in the back of Luke’s throat. “The man that introduced you. Tell us.”

“Mark,” Darren said obediently. Then he stalled. “I don’t know anymore than that. Just Mark.”

Luke shifted again and glanced askance at Madoc. After a glance at Darren’s face, Madoc gave Luke a nod of approval to rejoin the conversation.

“He’d been a soldier, right?” Luke said. That fit his profile. Someone who was willing to kill, but who balked at the hot gore of butchery. “That’s where he found out what he was?”

There was a pause and then Darren nodded. “He was wounded, lost half his stomach. One of the medic Anakim tried to turn him, save his life, but it didn’t work. They thought he’d die, but he survived. Discharged. Came home. Nina helped him put his life back together, set him up in a job.”

“What job?”

Darren shrugged. “I don’t know. A security company or something? It doesn’t matter because he messed it up anyhow, lost everything. Nina had to step in again, get him a job as a security guard somewhere.”

The pieces slotted together. “Mark,” Luke said. He remembered the ginger security guard, wiry muscle under a fresh layer of indulgent flab. But still there. “Mark Clade?”

Darren made a helpless gesture. “I don’t know. I guess,” he said. “Nina called him last night about Jamie, told him that she didn’t need the support group anymore. She had me.”

And that meant Mark only had one thing left. So he wasn’t going to give that up.

__________

Last chapter of the story on my blog tomorrow! Www.tamoorewrites.com. All the blog tour posts will also be linked here: http://tamoorewrites.com/deadmanstalking/

Author Bio:TA Moore – 

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sectors before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

 

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Review: Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews

Review: Sweep of the Blade by Ilona AndrewsSweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles, #4) by Ilona Andrews
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction, space opera, urban fantasy, vampires
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #4
Pages: 314
Published by NYLA on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Maud Demille is a daughter of Innkeepers—a special group who provide ‘lodging’ to other-planetary visitors—so she knows that a simple life isn't in the cards. But even Maud could never have anticipated what Fate would throw at her.

Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her young daughter, Helen, were exiled with him for his treachery to the desolate, savage planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud—completely abandoned by his family—has spent over a year avenging his debts. Rescued by her sister Dina, she's sworn off all things vampire.

Except... In helping Dina save the world, she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr, one of the most powerful vampire houses. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined. Arland is not used to hearing the word ‘no;’ and try as she might, Maud can't just walk away from Arland. It doesn't help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire.

To sort it all out, she accepts his invitation to visit his home planet. House Krahr is extremely influential and Maud knows that a woman—a human, with a very questionable past—who's turned down a proposal from its most beloved son won't get a warm reception. Maybe she’s not sure about marrying Arland, but House Krahr isn’t going to decide for her. Maud Demille has never run from a fight, and House Krahr will soon discover that there's a lot more to Maud than they’re expecting.

My Review:

Vampires and politics. They go together like love and marriage. Complete with ALL the possibly messy endings. Along with the occasional happy ever after – as well as the rare but not unheard of “red wedding”.

This is also a book that manages to be both considerably different from the previous books in the Innkeeper Chronicles and follow directly from its immediate predecessor, the marvelous One Fell Sweep.

In this version of the universe, there is interstellar travel, and there are plenty of places and peoples in the very big galaxy, not all of whom are even humanoid. But Earth is not a participant in any of what’s “out there”. Because Earth sits on a very large and very rare nexus of space travel conduits, it has been declared a kind of intergalactic Switzerland – albeit one kept a bit in the space-faring dark ages.

Earth is off-limits to every species out there, and it’s an off-limit that’s enforced by everyone in return for safe passage through that nexus. Earth’s knowledge of the wider galaxy is confined to a group of people called innkeepers, who have complete control over the grounds of their inns. Inns that provide safe harbor, safe haven and safe rest-and-recuperation for any beings traveling through the nexus.

The story of the first three books has revolved around Dina Demille, daughter of two lost innkeepers, returning to Earth and taking control of the inn her parents left behind – and defending it from all comers, of which there have been entirely too many.

Dina’s adventures have been the heart of the first three books, and they are awesome. This is also a broad hint to start with the first book, Clean Sweep. This worldbuilding in this series is fascinating and grows with each new book in the series.

Sweep of the Blade is the story of Dina’s sister Maud. Formerly Lady Maud. Exiled and disowned ex-wife of one of the lesser ruling Vampiric Houses. There are vampire knights in this universe, but they are not much like our versions of vampires. On the other hand, the werewolves seem to be pretty much on the legendary nose.

I digress.

Maud survived a prison planet that spit her lying, deceitful, cheating husband out in little tiny pieces. And she, in her turn, avenged his death on every single one of his killers. Now she’s out, and safe, and home with her sister Dina.

But safe is not what Maud is built for. She could make a home with her sister, or become an innkeeper on her own. She could also, and more likely, become an enforcer for the innkeeper’s guild. Because Maud is a fighter – and she’s good at it.

However, Maud has a daughter, Helen, who is five years old and half-vampire by genetics, but all vampire in spirit. Earth, and the Innkeeper network, may be safe for Helen, but not what’s best for her. She’ll always be isolated and alone.

Maud’s other option is a tall, handsome hunk of vampire Marshall, who loves her, wants to marry her, and can provide Helen with a place where she can be who she is. Maud just has to accept.

But she can’t. She spent years as one vampire house’s trained human monkey, only to be discarded like trash for a crime her husband committed that she had no part of. She’s not willing to be anyone’s second class citizen ever again.

Arland offers her a place where she can fight to be first, for herself and for her daughter. She just has to survive every single thing, and every person, that his House can throw at her. Including a murderous attack by her potential mother-in-law and a pirate coup led by his House’s enemies.

And a very red wedding.

Escape Rating A+: This was a book that I gobbled up over dinner, and didn’t let go of until it was done. It starts with a bang, ends with a mic drop, and in the middle there’s the biggest and most delicious story of political skullduggery, underhanded betrayals, complex negotiations and epic romance.

This series is awesome from beginning to end, but this entry is a bit different. The previous stories have been set on Earth, with the ever expanding galaxy of characters making their way to Dina’s inn. While there have been some epic battles, the fighting has all been defensive, protecting Dina’s inn and her varied guests.

Maud goes away from Earth and she goes on the offensive – even if that is sometimes in the sense of the best defense being a good offense. She has a goal, and for the most part it’s the same goal she’s always had – to protect her daughter at all costs.

She wants what’s best for Helen, and that means making a place for them among Arland’s ancient, respected and feared House. He is, in effect, a prince among his people, and if Maud is to stand at his side as his equal, she’ll have to earn that place. That’s the story here, of her earning that place – not by pretending to be a trained monkey, as she did in her first marriage – but by being her fighting self. And by letting Helen fight an appropriate number of her own battles.

It’s that fight that makes the story so much fun. There are maneuvers, there are counter-measures. There are wheels within wheels within wheels. The vampires respect strength, so that’s what Maud must project at all times – no matter how much she hurts or how wounded she is.

At the same time, she is underestimated at every turn, and has to walk a fine line between lowering her enemies’ guards and not letting them walk all over her. The way that she eventually earns her place is by combining her strengths, both as a warrior and as a human. And it’s glorious. And so is she.

I enjoyed this book so much because I really liked Maud and wanted her to succeed. She is both kickass and clever, and both of those characteristics were needed in order for her to defeat her enemies – as well as to earn her place in Arland’s House by defeating theirs!

Sweep of the Blade ends, thank goodness not with a cliffhanger, but with a truly thunderous mic drop that promises more story in this universe. I can’t wait.

Review: Illumination by Susannah Sandlin + Giveaway

Review: Illumination by Susannah Sandlin + GiveawayIllumination (Penton Legacy #5) Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Penton Legacy #5
Pages: 364
on July 4th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

He came to Penton seeking peace. Nik Dimitrou joined the Army to escape his family legacy, only to have his psychic abilities exploited as a weapon. Now, as a civilian, he turns to the bottle to veil the images that haunt his mind whenever he touches anyone—except vampires. With them, he has finally found a place. But as Penton moves into open warfare with the Vampire Tribunal, Nik finds himself a linchpin in the deepening conflict, not to mention a transformation in his own body more frightening than anything he’s faced.

She wanted to change the world. Shay Underwood watched her Peace Corps parents move from one third world country to another—until both died following an outbreak of fever. Driven to her own career in tropical medicine, Shay works to cure the disease that killed her parents—until a careless weekend outing draws her into a world far more dangerous than the diseases she studies: a vampire society engaged in human trafficking.

Two cities, two strangers, one world. With Penton rebellion leader Aidan Murphy making risky choices and chief vampire lieutenant Mirren Kincaid forced to take a leadership role for which he is unsuited, it will fall to two outsiders, Nik and Shay, to find a way for Penton—and themselves—to survive in this much-anticipated conclusion to the award-winning Penton Legacy series.

My Review:

Redemption by Susannah SandlinIn my review of the first book in this series, Redemption, I called this series “vampire toffee”. Once you sink your teeth into it, you can’t unstuck. And that was just as true in Illumination as it was in the previous books in the series. I’ve been waiting for THREE years to find out how the mess that we were introduced to in Redemption finally got resolved.

And now I know.

One of the things that seems to be a hallmark of most vampire fiction is vampire politics. It does make a certain amount of sense that people who live for centuries if not millennia would end up spending entirely too much time jockeying for power. And as the ultimate apex predators, vampires often end up in that quandary where power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And when that absolute power is challenged, any and all horrific means can be justified to serve their ends – those ends being to get back in power and eliminate all threats – even the threats that have the potential to save their lives.

The background to this series is one that has been used before, but with a twist. Vampires have always existed among us. They can ensnare people they need, feeding a vampire produces an addictive high, and they can wipe out inconvenient memories of those who have seen or heard to much. Or just kill them, as we are not really people to most of them, merely food.

However, the world has changed, and not in a good way – at least not for the vampires. I don’t mean technology, although that plays into it a bit. But in this near-future scenario, a worldwide pandemic was averted through the development of a preventive vaccine. As the pandemic was widespread (that’s what pandemic means, after all) most of the world’s population got inoculated against it. Something in the vaccine makes the blood of the vaccinated humans poisonous to vampires. It’s an unintended consequence the humans are completely unaware of.

But the vampires are starving. The population of unvaccinated humans is tiny.

The conflict that runs through the entire Penton Legacy series revolves around the best method for dealing with the vampire food shortage. The Vampire Tribunal, the, let’s call it the traditional viewpoint, wants to capture and enslave unvaccinated humans by any means necessary, and will kill anyone, human, vampire or shifter (yes, this world has shifters, too) who gets in their way.

The scheme they hatch in Illumination is possibly their most disgusting yet. They must be stopped.

The forces on the side of stopping them begin Illumination very much on the ropes after the horrific events that end Allegiance. Aiden Murphy, the leader of the Penton vampire scathe, has come up with a different way for vampires to survive. Instead of coercing, co-opting and controlling humans, Penton only accepts volunteers who are willing to live in cooperation with humans and shifters. It’s an alliance of equals, and the Tribunal sees it as a threat to their way of life.

Penton fights back with everything and everyone they have. They might just lose it all, but if they do, they’ll go down fighting every step of the way.

Escape Rating B: Before I talk about what I thought of Illumination, there are a few PSAs (public service announcements) that I need to get out of the way.

First, Illumination is the end of a story that begins in Redemption, continues through Absolution, Omega, Storm Force and Allegiance before it comes to its epic conclusion in Illumination. In order for the conflict between the vampire factions to make sense, for the created world to hold together, and for the reader to care about all the characters, it really is necessary to read the whole series in order.

Second, that really isn’t a problem because the whole thing is vampire romance crack. You’ll be hooked, and you’ll feel compelled to see what happens next.

Third, even though Storm Force was not labelled as part of the Penton series, it really is. It comes between Omega and Allegiance and begins the second arc of the Penton saga.

And now back to my review of the actual book in hand, Illumination.

Allegiance ended on a terrible cliffhanger. Not that book was terrible, because the books in this series have all been tons of fun, but terrible in the “things are always darkest just before they turn completely black” sense. It ends on a serious downer, the situation looks bleak, and the reader isn’t sure if the Pentonites can recover.

And that was back in 2014. It’s been a damn long time. It took me awhile to get back up to speed on what was and wasn’t happening, who it was happening with/to, and figure out what was what.

Also, because of the events in Allegiance, Illumination gets off to a slow start. The heroine is literally trapped, the hero is unconscious, and Aiden Murphy, the prime mover and shaker of everything Penton, has completely lost his grip. It takes the first third of the book for Aiden to begin to get back into fighting shape. Once he comes back to life, the book does too.

While Illumination does contain a romance, as all the books in this series do, the romance in this one takes a back seat to the resolution of the vampire civil war. And it needs to. Without a solution to the dwindling food source problem, there can’t be a lasting solution to much of anything. Nobody gets a happy ever after if there is no ever after.

As with the first book, Redemption, the romance in this entry has a bit of a Stockholm Syndrome problem. There’s an attempt to gloss it over because the hero and heroine were also high school sweethearts, but it’s still definitely there. It doesn’t keep the romance from working, but it’s a presence.

On my other hand, one of the great things about this entry in the series is the way that everyone works together, and that everyone’s skills are needed to win this fight. This is not a series where the alpha male vampires rescue and protect the weak human females. Everyone has a stake in this war, and everyone, vampire, human, shifter, male and female has skills that are required to win it.

And bringing the dinosaurs back to life, even temporarily, was just plain cool.

In the end, I really got a kick out of this series. I’m a bit sorry to see it end, but happy that all those poor people hanging from cliffs at the end of Allegiance finally got let off the hook. And while my trip to Penton is over, I have more books from this author to look forward to. Susannah Sandlin also writes as Suzanne Johnson, and she’s awesome under both names!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Susannah is giving away 2 $25 Amazon gift cards (or equivalent order from Book Depository for entrants outside the U.S.) to lucky participants on this tour

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Review: At Blade’s Edge by Lauren Dane

Review: At Blade’s Edge by Lauren DaneAt Blade's Edge by Lauren Dane
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Series: Goddess with a Blade #4
Pages: 177
Published by Carina Press on December 14th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Rowan Summerwaite is no ordinary woman. Raised at the knee of The First and honed into a weapon by the Hunter Corporation, she wields ancient knowledge from the Goddess Brigid…and is newly married to a powerful Vampire scion.Though she'd hoped the deadly events in Venice would end the threat to The Treaty she is sworn to protect, Rowan found evidence of a grander conspiracy to destroy the fragile peace that holds humans, Vampires and those with magic back from war. A war that would only hurt the weakest and destabilize the world as we know it.It's not so much that someone ordered her assassination that makes her angry—people try to kill her all the time—as it is the risks those she cares for, especially her new husband, now face. Clive Stewart has never tried to pen Rowan in or control her choices. He has his own fires to put out now that he's married to the most powerful non-Vampire in their world, and Rowan knows it's a challenge to support her the way she needs while not being too much or not enough.The organization that gave her a purpose, a home, roots and a path when she'd run from The Keep at seventeen has betrayed her. Now, instead of on a much-anticipated honeymoon, Rowan is in London gathering her allies and the evidence necessary to drive out the rot within Hunter Corp. and expose whoever is at the top.Rowan is a predator and this threat is prey. She'll burn it down and salt the earth afterward. On her terms.See how Rowan's fight began in Goddess with a Blade, available now!

My Review:

blade on the hunt by lauren daneWhen I reviewed Blade on the Hunt last year over at The Book Pushers with my friend E, one of the things that I said was that the action in Hunt probably would lead directly to Rowan’s need to straighten out the mess at Hunter Corporation, and with extreme prejudice against some of the leaders of that mess.

And that turned out to be a big chunk of the story in At Blade’s Edge. Rowan knows who the guilty parties are, but she still needs to discover just how deep the rot goes. And even worse, she needs to provide proof beyond a shadow of a doubt, because there are way too many paper-pushers at the Hunter Corp. motherhouse who think that political double-dealing is their most important product.

It isn’t. All members of Hunter Corp. have sworn to maintain the balance between the regular humans, the vampires, and the magic users. That balance requires that all three groups are equally strong, and maintain equal vigilance against those who would attempt to upset that knife-edge balance of power, whether they do it deliberately or simply as unwitting pawns.

Rowan Summerwaite may be a lot of things, but she is NEVER anyone’s pawn. Not her foster father’s, who is the head of the Vampire Nation, and not her new husband Clive Stewart, the appointed Scion of Vampire North America. And certainly not paper-pushing scumbags at Hunter Corp.

Because Rowan is the avatar of the Goddess Brigid, and is the official Liaison between the Vampire Nation and Hunter Corp. And because Rowan is a power in her own right, as Goddess, as Hunter, and as daughter of the Vampire Nation’s First.

But Hunter Corp took her in and trained her when she was young, scarred and scared, after her escape from her foster father’s Keep and his abusive power. That Hunter Corp has betrayed her and all Hunters in the field cuts deep. So she resolves to cut deep into Hunter Corp to exorcise the rot.

Only to discover that fixing Hunter Corporation isn’t nearly enough. Someone is targeting all the organizations that serve the balance, determined to undermine the world in order to strike at Rowan. And determined to strike at Rowan any way they can in order to keep her from destroying them first.

Escape Rating A-: The first 9/10ths of this book are a lot of fun. We see Rowan very much in her element, doing all sorts of sneaky things to get the goods on the baddies in Hunter Corp. We get to see her with all of her allies, and watch with glee as she hoists the self-centered evildoers very much on their own petards. At the same time, while fun, the action doesn’t move forward a lot. Rowan is cleaning up crap from the previous book and you need to have read that previous book for these events to generate much feeling. I love Rowan, so I was happy to read about her kicking ass, taking names and making lots of people feel even more uncomfortable than she is at points. But it seems like wrap up. Concealed within that wrap up is a gathering of the allies, the importance of which isn’t obvious until that last, crucial 1/10th of the story.

In the middle of her hunt for the evidence, Rowan is also forced to meet and greet her new in-laws. The game that her new mother-in-law plays on her is an absolute hoot. Rowan’s attitude towards pretentiousness and preciousness in general and her mother-in-law’s game playing in particular remind me a lot of Eve Dallas in J.D. Robb’s In Death series. Eve and Rowan both have the same inability to understand cliches and idioms. And they are both marvelous deadpan snarkers.

As much fun as that first 9/10ths of the book is, the book ends in a shocking cliffhanger. We find out that the rot in Hunter Corp is not the only thing that Rowan has to contend with, and that her enemies will commit any heinous act in their attempts to get her off balance and to make her back off. The ending of this story left me absolutely gasping with shock and horror. And scrambling to find evidence of when the next book will appear.

For a series that I at first wondered if there would actually be a series, Rowan Summerwaite has gotten deeper and darker with each entry, to the point where At Blade’s Edge ends in a moment of “things are always darkest before they turn completely black” moment. I want more NOW.

But it sets the stage for the next level of this conflict. Rowan and her allies will need to root out the evil in all three organizations; Hunter Corp, the Vampire Nation, and the Conclave of Magic Users, in order to have a chance at maintaining the balance of world order. This is the job that Rowan has been trained for all of her dangerous and bloody life. It’s time to fulfill her destiny. She is going to have to wade in the blood of her enemies, and not be able to stop to mourn those of her own who fall along the way.

It’s going to be an awesome and epic adventure. And now I am on pins and needles, desperately searching  (so far in vain) for the author’s announcement of the next book in the series.

goddess with a blade by lauren daneIf you love urban fantasy where the heroes and heroines have layers, the cohort of good bands together to fight the most excellent fight, and evil is darker than you first imagine, start this series now with Goddess With a Blade.

Review: Wicked Ever After by Delilah S. Dawson

Review: Wicked Ever After by Delilah S. DawsonWicked Ever After (Blud, #4) by Delilah S. Dawson
Formats available: ebook
Series: Blud #4
Pages: 177
Published by Pocket Star on October 5th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Delilah S. Dawson’s award-winning Blud series comes full circle as Tish and Criminy, stars of Wicked as They Come, embark on a sexy and harrowing final adventure in a world RT Book Reviews called “delightfully edgy with hidden charms.”
Ever since landing in the magical world of Sang and falling in love with dashing ringmaster Criminy Stain, Tish has been waiting for the axe to fall. Until her dying grandmother’s last breath on Earth, Tish can’t bring herself to give up her all-too human frailty and commit to life on Sang as a youthful, long-lived Bludman like her handsome husband. But when a peculiar twist of fate delivers Tish’s grandmother to Sang, an unexpected chain of events forces Tish and Criminy to embark on one last wild adventure. From old friends to new and into the lair of terrifying enemies, the couple’s love and longevity will be pushed to the brink by each harrowing encounter. Is blud thicker than blood, and can Tish and Crim find their wicked ever after?

Welcome back to Sang, the world of Criminy’s Clockwork Caravan. Sang is a beautiful and terrifying place that seems to be where some folks find themselves when they are lost in a coma or otherwise end up on the border between life and death.

Tish found herself there six years ago, brought by a spelled locket infused with the magic of Criminy Stain, master of the caravan. Tish’s life will never be the same, if she doesn’t use it all up moving between Criminy’s world and our own, where she cares for her dying grandmother.

wicked as they come goodreadsThe story of how Tish found herself in this mess is in Wicked as They Come (enthusiastically reviewed here). During the six years that Tish has been in and out of Sang, there have been other adventures, and some misadventures. Readers have met fantastic and fantastically strange people and beings in this alternate, slightly steampunk version of our world, where some people are “pinkies” like us, and some embody the best aspects of what we would call vampires. Bludmen and bludwomen are apex predators who live on blood of all types. They go where they please, when they please, and certainly don’t have to hide in the daytime.

They prey on humans, but don’t have to kill. The cute and deadly bludbunnies also prey on humans, but they swarm their prey to death. (The bludrats don’t seem all that different from rats here, but I’m not sure that says something good about the bludrats, or awful about regular rats.)

In all of the stories in the Blud series (The Mysterious Madam Morpho, The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance, Wicked as She Wants, The Damsel and the Daggerman, and Wicked After Midnight) no matter where the story takes us it always comes back to Criminy, Tish and the caravan.

In this final story in the series, everything comes full circle. The spell that Criminy used to bring Tish to Sang, the witch he bludded long ago, all their friends and all their enemies, take the stage one final time so that Tish can finally be who she was meant to be, and so that Criminy finally gets the whole of the wish he wished when he brought her to Sang.

And it’s marvelous.

Escape Rating A-: As much as I loved Wicked Ever After, this is not the story to introduce readers to Sang. If you love paranormal stories with either a steampunk or carniepunk flavor, start with Wicked as They Come. It is a marvelous introduction to this strange and deadly world, with deadly adventure and a beautiful love story into the bargain.

wicked after midnight by Delilah S dawsonIn Wicked Ever After, it seems as if every person whose lives have been touched by Tish and Criminy, especially by Criminy, enters the stage in order to take their final bows in this series. Casper and Ahna (Wicked as She Wants) are in Paris at Demi and Vale’s burlesque theater (Wicked After Midnight) to visit with friends and sample the delights of Paris, as they often do.

But it is Demi’s theater that becomes Tish and Criminy’s base of operation when they come to Paris to hunt down the witch who seems to have kidnapped Tish’s grandmother Ruby.

Neither Tish nor Ruby should be in any kind of danger. As a gift to the dying woman, Tish brought Ruby to Sang and Criminy turned her into a bludwoman, giving her a new life as a young predator. Tish finally allowed Criminy to blud her as well, after a near-fatal attack and in her need to chase after the grandmother who no longer needs rescue. Or even care.

As Tish hunts the witch and her grandmother, she grows into the bludwoman she has finally let herself become. The readers see her become the person she was always meant to be.

In the final confrontation, all the events of Tish’s life in Sang come full circle, even the things that happened to Criminy before she arrived. The resolution is surprising and cataclysmic. The change of Tish’s shaky happy for now into a fantastic happy ever after is wonderful and cathartic and a marvelous end to this terrific series.