Posts Tagged werewolves

Nocturnal Interlude — The Pride Lives On

Nocturnal InterludeOne of the things I love about books with shape shifters in it is that once you get past their “origin” book, the subsequent books are simply awesome. Nocturnal Interlude, book 3 of the Nocturnal Lives series, tried to live up to the reputation. Granted, Amanda S. Green’s debut novel in the series, Nocturnal Origins was rock-solid (and previously reviewed here at SBR). But the subsequent books are almost always better.

Detective Mackenzie Santos (our heroine, and all-around bad-ass… oh, and enforcer) has just returned back from vacation when she is suddenly taken into custody by the FBI. Denied a phone call or any way to contact anyone, she is whisked away and placed in a windowless room and guarded by two annoyed FBI agents. Mackenzie, needless to say, is pissed off by the treatment. No sooner has she arrived, however, when she is pulled from their clutches by her cousin, Marine Captain Mateo Santos (we met him in Nocturnal Serenade, book 2 of the series, previously reviewed here). She is immediately moved into protective custody as she receives horrifying news: her police partner, Pat (who is also Mackenzie’s pride leader’s girlfriend/mate), has gone missing and Internal Affairs at the Dallas PD has informed everyone to not tell her for reasons unknown.

Now, to be fair and honest, this part of the book nearly threw me out of the story (indeed, I spent the rest of the book asking “What?” It became sort of a running joke between myself and the other secondary characters). Mateo informs Mackenzie that, in order to have her be able to work outside the Dallas PD jurisdiction to discover what was going on with Pat and others of their kind who have gone missing, she is going to be reactivated to her Marine Reserve officer status and work with him as part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Nothing, and I do mean nothing, in the books leading up to this point even remotely suggested that Mackenzie was a Marine. Nothing in her casual comments, nothing in her behavior or attitude ever hinted at the possibility. I about threw a fit (indeed, I went to the author and asked her was was going on) because that was something that appeared to have been pulled from her ass. Even my math couldn’t figure out how she found time to be a Marine reservist while in the Police Academy and nobody knowing about it. Even now, I can’t figure it out. Four years of college, six years of reserve duty (even though she went straight from college to the academy. I recall this from the first or second book), and… argh. It still bothers me. Okay, back to the rest of the review.

Much to everyone’s surprise in her division at the police department, she shows up as Marine Captain Mackenzie Santos and they try to get a grasp on the fact that she just found out about her missing partner (and her being a Marine). There is some internal squabbling between Mackenzie and the detective from Internal Affairs who ordered her not to be told, to which Mackenzie stomps on his toes and just about threatens his career in front of their respective bosses.  Turf war averted (for now), Mackenzie gets the rest of the detectives on her team prepped for a renewed investigation into the disappearance of her partner, Pat.

There is a shadowy group of individuals out to hurt pures and weres, though their reason is obscure, their goal is to break them and kill them. Their motive was never really explored, but it’s creepy enough on its own. Still, a little more depth into the “why” part of their kidnapping and murders would have been welcome, as well as the reasoning why their financier and backer wanted them to specifically avoid Mackenzie Santos (and why the two men doing the kidnapping who were supposed to be so smart completely botched that one).

One of my favorite things about this series is the pretty strict adherence to proper police procedure while balancing the urban fantasy side of the shape shifters and their place in society (hidden in plain sight, but still). Unlike other well-known police procedural novels, this one actually doesn’t feature the “lone wolf, do what I want” detective and show the importance of working with others as a team. It is smart, well-paced novel that has its ups and downs, but plants some very interesting seeds for the remainder of the series. A pretty solid little book, I would have liked a little more “I AM SANTOS!” and a little less “frustrated and impotent heroine”, but other than that, a good enough addition to your library.

I’d give it a recommended read, though don’t blame me when you reach the end.

Reviewed by Jason

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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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Ryk Spoor’s “Digital Knight” — A Fun Take on Things that go Bump in the Night

Digital KnightRyk Spoor’s DIGITAL KNIGHT is a fun, fast read about things that go bump in the night.  DIGITAL KNIGHT features Jason Wood, a present-day computer information specialist who is so good at what he does that the FBI and local police departments often come to him for help.  Jason’s love interest is the New Age mystic Sylvia “Sylvie” Stake, who has real psychic powers that Jason knows exist but feels uncomfortable about; that Sylvie does her best to live up to the “fluffy bunny” stereotype of New Age practitioners as a form of camouflage only adds to his confusion.

But Jason’s adventures are only beginning; along the way, he learns that vampires are real and that at least one, Verne Domingo, is honorable.  Jason also learns that werewolves are much more horrible than any book or movie has ever portrayed them, and that both vampires and werewolves have an unusual tie to the Earth that Jason (or the reader) would have never expected.

Jason’s computer information business is extremely high-tech stuff, and Jason himself is very good at putting small bits of information together.  This is perhaps why, when Verne Domingo reveals he’s not what he seems to be, that Jason is able to accept this; the other reason, of course, is that Sylvie has psychic abilities of her own and she knows Domingo is telling the truth.  The trust here between Jason and Verne can happen only because Sylvie is what she is.  That helps to leaven all the adventures these three have, separately and together, and gives the book its emotional center.

This is a very fun and fast read, but what makes it so interesting is the fact that no matter how outré a person may seem, he or she still wants the same basic things: loyalty, love, and friendship.   That Verne (a vampire) encourages Jason to accept his feelings regarding Sylvie was an amusing touch, considering how long-lived he is and how easily he sees right through Jason.  Sylvie herself was a delight, because she seems to enjoy confounding Jason, then enlightening him about certain matters, then once again confounding him.  Jason, too, is well worth rooting for, because no matter what predicament he’s in, he always treats Sylvie with the utmost respect no matter how confused he is as to whether or not this is a friendship, a romance or, as the reader grasps from the start but Jason doesn’t, both.

The structure here is that of linked short stories, which makes perfect sense as this was originally a self-published novel by Spoor that was adapted and expanded once Jim Baen took an interest at Baen Books.  This is the best possible structure for such a book, though, because we get to see Jason change over time due to what life throws at him.  And the human elements that are present — Jason and Sylvie’s relationship, the ancient Verne Domingo who’s done and seen it all, the horrible Virigar (leader of the werewolves, who hates Domingo and thus hates Jason and Sylvie, too, as they are Domingo’s friends) — nicely balance all the supernatural stuff that could’ve easily outweighed the story, but doesn’t.

As for minuses?  Well, there’s a lot of violence here, as you might expect with an urban fantasy about detective work, werewolves and vampires.  There’s also a great deal of what I like to call “fandom lore,” as Spoor is a huge science fiction and fantasy geek (as you’d expect) and makes many references to the authors he’s read and the movies he’s watched to gain any knowledge about how to deal with werewolves and vampires.  To me, these were very minor issues, as I can’t see how the story would’ve been able to be told half as well without the violence or the SF/F “name-dropping,” and did not distract from the story much if at all.

I really enjoyed my recent re-read of DIGITAL KNIGHT, and believe you will, too.  Best of all, the link provided is to the Baen Free Library, where you can download this book for free.  (Baen does this as a form of advertisement, figuring that if you like the author’s free book or books, you’ll enjoy reading the same author’s latest and pay for it next time.)

This is a fine debut novel that does just about everything right, that has some original takes on tropes that in other hands could be old and tired, and has a nifty romance that’s appropriate for all ages.  Best of all, it’s a fun and fast read that doesn’t insult your intelligence.

So what are you waiting for?  Go download the book at the Free Library right away.  (And if you’re interested in one of Spoor’s more recent offerings, please read my review of GRAND CENTRAL ARENA.)

Grade: A-

— reviewed by Barb

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