beccaelizabeth: my Watcher tattoo in blue, plus Be in red Buffy style font (Default)
[personal profile] beccaelizabeth
Huff is one of my favourite authors, and while she has got better since 1991 when the copyright page says this was written, this is still a good book, and a good intro to a great couple of series.

And I get into quite a bit of detail under the cut, so, plenty spoilers.

It's written third person omniscient, and hops point of view, sometimes for only a few paragraphs at a time. I mention this because urban fantasy private detective stories seem to have standardised on tight first person, and I figured out it threw me. But it uses it well.

The reader always knows more than the characters do, starting from page one, knowing we're reading a horror story with supernatural elements, but getting into plenty detail later. The killers' point of view turns up sometimes, so we know who is under threat, and that the list keeps growing. So, more suspense than horror or mystery.

But quite a bit of horror too. Level of gore got up to glistening guts, blood drinking is only tidy when it's sexy, and other times involved torn out body parts and spray. Torture is mentioned, and bits get burnt. So, pretty messy. Bad things happen to cats and dogs. And there's threats of sexual violence, answered with a knee to the balls.

The flashbacks also reminded me of later 90s TV like Highlander (and probably Forever Knight? wow it has been a long time since I watched that if I'm not sure.) They hop around the centuries Henry has lived, and you have to keep the timeline in your head. And they're a little more work to read, you have to be in the mood, because it's difficult for flashbacks to move the plot along, they might be there for exposition, character, or theme, and you have to figure out how they weave in.

... I was way tired last night and not really feeling it. Like I'm sure the back half of the book was as exciting as the front, mortal peril and all, but I was too tired and it took thinking I didn't do.

But the whole thing pulls together well, and I like the theme stuff.

The flashbacks give you a lot about Henry, about the whole prince of darkness and prince of men dichotomy of him, and things he's lived through that shape him just as much as his vampiric nature. Good stuff, intriguing, enough to understand this book and leave you wanting more from later ones.

A lot of these private detective stories are about walking a thin line between two fail modes, light and dark, law and chaos.

This one is about what makes a monster, and how not to be one. You start out thinking like vampire protagonist Henry does, that it's a vampire out of control, but from the start that's not a simple revenge mode trigger. He assumes its a child, someone who can't control themselves, abandoned with their hunger. He only gets mad at the hypothetical vampire that made and abandoned. So we get flashbacks to how you make a vampire, and it's the proper romance stuff where they choose someone to be with forever. And the proper tragic stuff where it doesn't work, forever is a long time to love anyone. So Henry is angry at a scenario most like being shagged on promises and then dumped.

Henry writes romance novels.

He's not the paranormal private detective, he's an author.

And there's parts of the book the world nearly doesn't get saved because he's trying to make deadline.

The scenes he's writing involve a woman protecting herself from a man who has implied she can pay him with sex. Sharp edges and violence in a relationship he's intending for a Happily Ever After. It gets meta when he wonders "Just how much of a shit did he want the captain to be? Should the hero's better nature overcome his wanton lust or did he even have a better nature? And how much of a hero would he be without one?"

So that's kind of what the romances in the book are about, and the whole what is a monster thing. The good guys look like a bad bet sometimes, given the fighting, but that makes them a better fit for Vicki.

Vicki 'Victory' Nelson is the private investigator who by the end of the book has both a cop and a vampire boyfriend. And as romantic choices they both have their down side. Detective Mike's fights with her are mostly shouting and some pushing, but it don't look good. For a while in the middle it looks like the romance arc will be dumping the guy who doesn't respect her for the slightly bitey guy who does. But cop and vampire both try and protect her, with mixed success. And vampire does actual physical damage, even though it was Vicki's idea, to feed him when he was injured. So what makes them the good choices?

A long way in to the book, after Vicki has taken up with Mike again and a lot of fade to black shagging has been implied to occur, she invites him over, knowing he's going to have had a terrible day. Because of investigating multiple messy murders, yes, but also because he's going to a party with his family, and he's going to have to act like that stuff doesn't touch him. So Vicki invites him over and starts a verbal fight, because she's his safety valve, just as he is hers. They both know how dark it can get, and they can let out their temper more or less harmlessly on each other, and then end up in bed. It's how they let off steam and cope with the job. So, to her, it isn't Mike's fights that are the problem, they're the solution to the dark they find themselves in. Not a monster. Waits to be invited.

Henry is the hot new guy who will also risk his life for her. But he starts out by knocking her out. The closer to realistic than usual depiction of repeated head injuries is a plot point. Vicki is very definitely a squishy mortal.

She's also the one who can cross two worlds, police and supernatural, partly because she's too physically restricted for either.

Vicki Nelson is disabled. She has a visual impairment that can only get worse, is nearsighted and cannot see without her glasses, lacks peripheral vision and is night blind. She can only work days, Henry can only works nights, it works out. Vicki is terrified she's going blind, and reacting to it in the most stubborn and angry way. She quit the police rather than try changing her role there, she keeps ignoring her visual limits and running right into danger, and a lot of what she does is motivated by pure Prove To Them All. But I felt the balance was good. She's adjusting, relearning, and she's in a better place by the end of the book than at the start. But she runs some truly dumb risks in between. Ones that embarrass even her when she cools down. So you believe it for the character, it's not an author problem, it's a human adjusting to their changing body. And she spends the whole book expecting and to some degree seeking physical confrontation, entirely confident she can still handle it when it happens... and it does not work out that way. The confrontations with the paranormal felt to me like realising your limits as a disabled person, because the world can and will kick your arse, and there's no amount of stubborn that will change that. Not that that ever stops Vicki from trying.

She gets her moments of awesome, but they're about the detective work. She figures out necessary things. Even in the worst circumstances.

There are bits that look like women in distress while men charge to their rescue. But they don't work out that simple. So it's all good.

Vicki gets involved in the case partly by witnessing the first murder, but too imperfectly to make a difference right then. Though with the way people who get a clear view react, that's a weird kind of protection. Seeing the details tends to be too much for mortal minds.

She gets hired to pursue it because the first victim's girlfriend Coreen is a true believer, and knows the cops are only looking for a human. The victim that screams and dies before the opening credits is a guy. It's his girlfriend who sets out on a revenge trip. And it's that vampire hunting revenge that leaves Vicki with her choice about being a monster.

Other characters hear vampires are real, and choose whether or not to accept the possibility. Police are too rigid, supernatural world knows it already but is too self interested to see all the angles, since even Henry is initially most worried at the consequences of breaking masquerade. He expects what later happens, suspicion and a man with a stake deciding to come in daytime. But he doesn't think it through. The random true believer on the street? They pick out a random victim. Because anyone they only see at night, that has to be a vampire, right?

Very wrong.

But not the only way to be wrong.

So Vicki could have got as far as realising Henry was a vampire, and then killed him. She has opportunities. But because she's a decent detective, she actually cares if he's the vampire that did these murders. And since he's not, she protects him. She even gets her informer, Tony, then a nineteen year old homeless sex worker, in to feed Henry when he needs more than she can give. She questions her judgement in doing so, but it leaves a connection that later proves vital. So helping the vampire works out well for everyone.

Henry doesn't kill to eat. He mostly seduces. A little light biting done regular and it's a good time for everyone. Vampirism, the make love not war approach. And he's inclusive in his choice of partners. Women or men, younger or older. I liked one part where he's out late at night hunting the killer, realises that's not going to happen that night, and then meets a guy he likes the look of and is like, okay, tonight going well. He's also, on the whole, careful and polite about it. He has a monster side, a hunter that can terrify anyone who sees it, the ability to cloud minds and the strength to force... but he only gets mad at himself when he's tempted to use all that. He keeps a civilised mask. And his partners come to him, willingly and often.

Could be a monster, isn't.

The actual bad guy of the book? An actual human with no excuses. Also no social skills and no patience.

He's an overachiever with a pocket protector. He doesn't understand why nobody respects his A grades, yet demonstrates no interest in the grades of others. He took a Comparative Religion class to pick up girls, with entire and unsurprising lack of success, since he doesn't bother to learn so much as their name before deciding a girl is for him.

Henry gets the names of his snacks, and remembers them centuries later.

But rather than actually learn to take an interest in human beings, the bad guy decides to go kill everyone who ever laughed at him.

And since he's in a religion class with the mind of a programmer, all can and no should, he does it by summoning demons.

Think we've met that guy before.

Which is what makes him creepy horror.

And he keeps making the worst choices right off the cliff, and nearly takes the world down with him. Until Vicki and Henry and Mike and Coreen working together find another way.

The TV show decided to keep Coreen, and it's a good choice that looks natural at the end of book one, except for her here being a student and youngest and the kind of person the others are trying to protect. In the book she's a one off client, but one with a useful set of knowledge and a determination to save herself that gets her in a bit more than it gets her out of.

Even the one offs aren't throwaway, everyone gets moments in danger and moments to save themselves and others.

I like it.

I was asked a couple days ago "Is it a book about vampires, a book about detectives, or a book About Heterosexuals?"

I think it's a book about recognising monsters, how not to be one, and the dangerous waters of trying not to date one.

The reader knows more than the characters, and the detective work chugs along until Vicki knows enough to recognise the answer when it's handed to her. Not Sherlock Holmes style, but not just surviving until you know who is hunting you either. Her friends and contacts shape the story, mostly by letting her at data only the police have, without stopping her doing things the police wouldn't do. But also just by knowing the community and being known. The ways she does and does not have backup and support are key.

Henry is not heterosexual, he's bi, so, there's a lot more variety of goings on in the fade to black than might otherwise be. Vicki is on some levels doing the choose between two guys, police and vampire, and we've seen that one before, or possibly since, given the 1991 copyright. But they're both actually interesting, and they both have significant flaws as partners, in the same specific areas of conflict and using people. As does Vicki.

It's kind of about vampires, in that it's about not being the monster, and needing people, and the ways choices can start from any side of the supernatural spectrum and still end up good or evil.

Everybody's hungry, for a lot of different things, and pursuing those needs can hurt others, or build connections that save them.

The supernatural stuff just enhances that basic truth, it doesn't predetermine anything. Good guy vampires just have to work harder at it, as do evil humans.

And the supernatural scale amplifier does one of my favourite things, it makes a metaphor of the scale of challenge faced by disabled people. Vicki Nelson is a disabled woman facing challenges bigger than anyone can handle alone, but by the end of the book she does handle them, her specific visual impairment and her supernatural situation both. And without miracle cures. She just finds a way to play to her strengths.

This review got very long and rambly and I could spend a lot more attention on a lot of different bits of it. I feel like calling this a first draft and doing actual essay with quotes and stuff.

But I also feel like reading the next book, so. Here's the rough version.

Date: 2017-08-07 03:05 pm (UTC)
baronjanus: (Joss - to read)
From: [personal profile] baronjanus
Wow, thank you for a very detailed review :)


beccaelizabeth: my Watcher tattoo in blue, plus Be in red Buffy style font (Default)

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