Posts Tagged Ash Krafton

Ash Krafton’s “Blood Rush” — Good Characters, Convoluted Plot

Ash Krafton’s BLOOD RUSH is the second tale in her Demimonde series, the first being the excellent BLEEDING HEARTS (reviewed here).   Sophie Galen, an advice columnist, is now in a better financial position due to her readership climbing astronomically due to becoming the Sophia (an empath and problem solver) of the Demivampire (DV for short), but is not happy as her DV lover, Marek Thurzo, nearly killed her at the end of BLEEDING HEARTS.  The DV are a race of beings somewhere between humans and the soulless Vampire and have some characteristics of both races; their main drawback as a race is that sooner or later, a DV is going to become a full-fledged Vampire and the enemy of his own people.  And such was nearly the case with Marek, as he came much closer than he’d have liked to “evolving” into a Vampire, which would’ve made him kill Sophie and everything else he knew and loved due to suddenly lacking his soul.

At the start of BLOOD RUSH, we’re told that Marek has left Sophie for good, no reason given.  Because this wasn’t Sophie’s decision — and most especially because Marek is the only person left alive who’s close to her, as her best friend Jared, a Catholic priest, was killed in BLEEDING HEARTS as a way to get to Sophie and put Marek in danger — she feels terrible about it.  She is lonely, she keeps having to move as werewolves have been stalking her, and she really doesn’t know what to do.  Even being the Sophia to the DV isn’t what it’s cracked up to be; while it’s a highly influential position, it’s also a great deal of work.  And because Sophie herself is not safe, most of her work has been done through her advice column rather than in person.

Then, out of the blue, Marek’s brother Rodrian (called “Rode”) calls Sophie up.  Rode’s daughter, Shiloh (“Shy”), is ill.  (Yes, the DV have illnesses, though not many.)  Rode wants Sophie to come live with him in his palatial estate in order to keep an eye on Shy.

But of course there’s more going on.  First, Rode has been attracted to Sophie from the start, but didn’t want to act.  (“Thank goodness,” I muttered.)  Second, Rode feels guilty that Sophie’s been put in danger, and wants to help her.  Third, Marek — yes, he’s still around — has feelings for Sophie and wants Sophie protected, even if for whatever reason he refuses to come around.

At this point, another complication enters the picture in Sophia-trainer Eirene (pronounced the same as “Irene,” which is important to the plot in a way I’d rather not explain as it’ll blow the ending out of the water).  Eirene has heard of Sophie and believes Sophie hasn’t been adequately trained, which is true as Sophie really wasn’t trained at all.  Eirene wants Sophie to learn how to guard herself and not be taken over all the time by the needs of the DV — who, as I said in the previous review, don’t have any empaths and don’t realize how strong their needs are.  Eirene starts Sophie on a rigorous training schedule, teaching Sophie how to build mental walls (usually called shields in fantasy literature), advising her to “get tough” with the DV and overall to value herself more.  All good things, for sure.

But Eirene isn’t the easiest person to deal with.  She’s abrupt, rude, cold, likes to see Sophie in the evening after Sophie’s put in a hard day at work, and overall seems extremely self-centered.  In some ways, Sophia-trainer Eirene does not seem anything like Sophie herself, yet Sophie cannot put her finger on it.

At this point, a young werewolf, Tanner, enters the picture.  Tanner, unlike the previous werewolves Sophie’s known, only wants to do good.  He’s not a member of any formal Pack and the only person he’d ever bonded to who knew he was a were is dead.  Tanner pledges to protect Sophie and quickly becomes her friend — her platonic friend, something I greatly appreciated.

But Eirene doesn’t like Weres, and counsels Sophie to get rid of him, as Eirene figures the only good Were is a dead Were.

Around this time, Rode decided he should declare his interest in Sophie despite the fact his own brother, Marek, is still alive, still a DV and is still interested in Sophie despite staying away for reasons of his own.  This was a very difficult plot point for me to deal with for several reasons.  First, it’s almost impossible to understand the appeal of Rode from Sophie’s perspective.  Marek is also wealthy, yes, and long-lived, but has many of the same historical interests and enjoys many of the same things, whereas Rode seems much more shallow and far more interested in high finance than the practical Sophie.  Second, Rode is Marek’s own brother.  Third, the only reason Sophie seems to go for Rode is because Rode knows who she is — the Sophia of the American DV — and is in close proximity.  And fourth, Rode is still Marek’s brother.

I wouldn’t have a problem with this nascent romance if Marek was either dead or had turned into a soulless Vampire.  But Marek hasn’t.  Instead, Marek is still, slightly, in the picture.  He’s done something wrong in keeping Sophie out of the loop as to why (for a reason you need to read; I refuse to spoil it), and has marked her so almost no one in the DV community is going to go anywhere near her, while “regular people” who aren’t Weres or DV have no common frame of reference.

So while I understand why Sophie is really upset with Marek, and sympathize with her, I still don’t get why she’d ever want to even think about being with Rode.  It just doesn’t make sense on any level, especially if Sophie really is concerned about Marek turning into a Vampire any time soon as any relationship Sophie has will turn Rode into an even bigger target than he already is.

I’ll stop there with a plot summary, as there are a number of twists and turns at the end I refuse to spoil.  But suffice it to say that the plot, while convoluted, is mostly quite good.

Aside from the odd romance with Rode, everything else in BLOOD RUSH is fine.  The snappy dialogue I enjoyed so much in BLEEDING HEARTS is there and I still adore it.  I continue to believe in the DV, as they fit seamlessly into the “otherworld” mythos.  Sophie remains a winning character who I couldn’t help rooting for, even as she struggled to learn how to defend herself as a Sophia and dealt with all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

But the romance with Rode was very difficult for me to get past.  I actually put BLOOD RUSH down about a hundred pages from the end and let it sit for a month before finishing it up, fearing Krafton was going to do something stereotypical, causing me to throw my lovely ARC across the room.  Fortunately, Krafton did not do this and found a way to resolve that plot without further squickiness.

Bottom line: BLOOD RUSH is a worthy sequel to BLEEDING HEARTS.  It has a very odd romance with Rodrian I did not care for, but overall was a good read that made sense in the mythos Krafton created.  I am still looking forward to book three, coming sometimes during the spring of 2014.

Grade: B.

— reviewed by Barb

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Ash Krafton’s “Bleeding Hearts” — Meet the Demi-Vamps. You’ll Like Them.

Ash Krafton’s BLEEDING HEARTS (Book One of the Demimonde) is about Sophie Galen, a human advice columnist, and Marek Thurzo, a Demi-Vampire.  Sophie meets Marek at the local museum, where they bond over the Egyptian exhibit; Sophie takes to Marek right away even though he’s dark, dangerous, and brooding.  (Or perhaps because he is all those things; it depends on Sophie’s mood.)

But Sophie isn’t your average human being, as she has the gift of empathy.  Perhaps this is why she guesses that Marek isn’t exactly what he seems, though it doesn’t stop her from getting to know him.  Of course, it does take Marek a while to admit to Sophie what he is (a Demi-Vampire, or “D-V” for short; the D-V have souls, are long-lived, and have to drink blood for sustenance.  But they also can eat regular food, at least some of the time.), and as you’d expect, Sophie is floored.  But she quickly adjusts because she knows Marek is telling the truth; he is a D-V, but he wants to get to know her better. 

By this point, Sophie likes Marek way too much to give him up just because he’s not human.  But as Marek isn’t an empath — none of the D-V are — he has the same emotional worries as a fully human male, which helps to balance the romance nicely. 

During the course of BLEEDING HEARTS, Marek punctures many myths about the other paranormal species (for example, it is not pleasant to have a vampire or even a D-V drink your blood, and the D-V absolutely, positively will not drink from anyone they care about as they view it to be unutterably wrong).  He also does his best to encourage Sophie to believe in herself — not just her gift, which will be of enormous benefit to the D-V if she can learn how to use it effectively, but in her complete self.   (Which is yet another reason to want to root for the guy.)

Sophie’s gift of empathy is essential to the plotline, because the D-V need someone with Sophie’s talents to help them.  They are desperate to avoid “evolving” into full Vampire (no -s in Krafton’s vision; “vampire” works for both singular and plural), because the regular Vampire are nasty, brutal thugs without any vestige of a soul.  (The D-V believe the Vampire to be eternally damned.)  Someone like Sophie may be able to keep them from this terrible “evolution,” as she can both feel their pain and project her own caring back due to her gift as an empath.  And so long as the D-V can still feel and/or still care, their souls remain intact.

Of course, Sophie’s gift is quite rare.  It, and she, must be protected at all costs.  But Sophie doesn’t truly understand this, which makes for some harrowing complications toward the end of BLEEDING HEARTS (to avoid spoilers, I’ll stop there with regards to a plot summary).

BLEEDING HEARTS has much to recommend it.  There’s a good woman who makes wisecracks in her spare time (Sophie), a brooding leading man who’s on the edge of eternal damnation (Marek), and a truly nasty villain (Still-heart the Vampire).  There’s a believable romance between Sophie and the much-older Marek.  There’s excellent atmosphere.  And there’s a good backstory that fits the D-V into the more common mythos of vampire and werewolf without a hitch.

But perhaps the best reason to read BLEEDING HEARTS is because of how well Krafton depicts Sophie’s various struggles.  Even though Sophie is past thirty, it’s obvious that there’s a lot about herself that Sophie simply doesn’t know.   Sophie’s “coming of age” adds an enormous amount of emotional depth and feeling to what could’ve easily become a clichéd and/or stilted narrative, but thankfully didn’t.

Bottom line: BLEEDING HEARTS, despite its superficial similarities to both Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, has something to offer that isn’t done very often — humor mixed with emotional depth and heart.  If you have a fondness for urban fantasy in general, vampires in particular, or anything in between, BLEEDING HEARTS will fill the bill.

Grade: A-minus

— reviewed by Barb

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