Review: “The Hunger” By Whitley Strieber (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for another 1980s horror novel. So, I thought that it was finally time to read the copy of Whitley Strieber’s 1980 novel “The Hunger” that I found by accident whilst searching through one of my book piles for another novel several weeks earlier. If I remember rightly, this was a novel that I originally found in a charity shop in Aberystwyth sometime during late 2009/early 2010.

So, let’s take a look at “The Hunger”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1985 Corgi (UK) paperback edition of “The Hunger” that I read.

The novel begins at 3am in Long Island, with a man called John Blaylock breaking into a house in order to murder a teenager called Kaye. He has planned the crime meticulously and he carries it out with ruthless efficiency. But, after the dastardly deed is done, he bites his victim’s neck and we learn that John is a vampire.

Not only that, he lives in a nice suburban house with a much older vampire called Miriam and her young human protege Alice. Although they have to keep their vampiric nature secret from both Alice and the world, Miriam and John live a relatively happy life together – filled with classical music, beautiful gardens and passionate romance.

However, after John returns from his latest killing, Miriam senses that something is wrong with him. Like all of the previous people she has turned into vampires, John has finally started to age at an accelerated rate. Soon, his vampiric hunger will overwhelm him and turn him into little more than a beast. Still, she has read about a scientist called Sarah Roberts who has been conducting promising research into treatments that could prevent ageing. So, Miriam decides to seek her out…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a lot creepier than I expected. Yes, it has some flaws, but if you want a vampire story that will actually frighten you, then this one is worth reading.

Seriously, I cannot praise this novel’s horror elements highly enough 🙂 It contains a wonderfully disturbing mixture of psychological horror, character-based horror, medical/scientific horror, gory horror, body horror, tragic horror, sexual horror, paranormal horror, claustrophobic horror, suspenseful horror, cruel horror, slasher movie-style horror and criminal horror too.

This is the kind of novel that won’t shock you that often, but will instead leave you in a decidedly unsettled mood after you’ve read it (kind of a bit like playing “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines).

The main source of the novel’s horror is probably the exquisitely disturbing main character, Miriam. She’s an extremely evil character, but the novel shows us enough of her tragic backstory (through some really atmospheric historical flashback scenes) and profound feelings of loneliness to actually make the reader feel sorry for her – only to then recoil with disgust when they realise what a monster they have been sympathising with.

The novel’s portrayal of vampirism is fairly inventive too. In essence, vampires are initially presented as serial killers and, later, as some kind of “Mimic“-like predatory species. They quite literally suck the life out of people, leaving their victims little more than shrivelled husks. They can also sire new vampires, who end up turning into frenzied, decaying monsters after 200-1000 years. They can walk in daylight and aren’t affected by garlic or crosses. Their only weaknesses are that they involuntarily fall asleep for six hours a day (with vivid nightmares) and need to bite someone once a week.

As the title suggests, this is a novel about hunger. In addition to the vampires’ hunger for blood, this novel is also about hunger for companionship, for food, for pleasure etc.. In essence, it is a novel about how hedonism is an integral part of humanity. And, in the tradition of 1980s horror novels, this isn’t really a novel for the prudish either.

In terms of the characters, there’s a lot of characterisation in this novel. Good horror relies on characterisation and this novel doesn’t disappoint. Although some of the characters may seem a little bit stylised, stereotypical and/or cheesy, there’s often enough characterisation here to make you care about them. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, Miriam is one of the creepiest vampire characters I’ve seen in a while.

In terms of the writing, it is both brilliant and terrible at the same time. The novel’s third-person narration uses a rather descriptive, formal and/or melodramatic style which can seem incredibly corny at times but, when you get used to it, really helps to add a lot of atmosphere and depth to the story. Yes, this makes the story a bit slow-paced but, once you get used to the writing style, then it really helps to breathe life into the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit strange. At 249 pages in length, it initially seemed like the kind of gloriously short novel that used to be standard in the good old days. However, thanks to the writing style, this novel is a lot more slow-paced than you might expect. Still, the fact that it uses a thriller-style structure and the fact that the level of suspense increases throughout the story means that the later parts of the novel were compelling enough to binge-read 🙂

In terms of how this thirty-nine year old novel has aged, it’s a bit complicated. The story itself is still compelling and the horror is, if anything, even more creepy than it probably was in the early 1980s. However, the writing style is a bit old-fashioned, there are some dated and/or stereotypical depictions of LGBT characters and the science/technology elements of the book will also seem fairly dated too.

All in all, even though this isn’t always a perfect novel, it is still an incredibly compelling, atmospheric and creepy vampire novel. Seriously, I’m genuinely shocked that a vampire novel can be this scary. If you want an inventive version of a familiar genre, then this book is well worth reading.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would maybe get a four.

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Review: “Vampire State Of Mind” By Jane Lovering (Novel)

Well, it has been quite a while since I last read an urban fantasy novel. And, after being given a copy of Jane Lovering’s 2012 novel “Vampire State Of Mind” by a family member who saw the mention of Hobnobs, parallel universes, vampires, Aberystwyth etc… in the first few pages and thought that I might enjoy it, I thought that I’d check it out.

So, let’s take a look at “Vampire State Of Mind”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2012 Choc Lit (UK) paperback edition of “Vampire State Of Mind” that I read.

The novel begins with a brief “Wikipedia article” that outlines the series’ backstory. In short, a gateway between Earth and a parallel universe (containing vampires, zombies, werewolves etc..) opened in Aberystwyth in 1910. This led to quite a few years of strife, which ended when a peace treaty was signed in 1988. These days, humans and otherworlders live in relative peace, with the treaty being enforced by authorities for both groups.

In the city of York, Jessica Grant works for an under-funded department of the local council as a liason between humanity and the otherworlders. She is one of 5% of the population who can sense otherworlders and, as such, her job is mostly to give presentations at local schools and respond to otherworld-related incidents. Which is why she ends up in the city centre at night trying to tranquilise a slightly pathetic vampire called Daim who has strayed outside of a designated vampire area.

However, after she tranquilises Daim, a demonic symbiote called Tez emerges from his chest and reveals that he led Daim to this part of the city so that he could deliver an urgent warning to Jessica. Unfortunately, the warning is a fairly cryptic one and Jessica is more puzzled than frightened by it. However, after a number of incidents, it quickly becomes clear that something is out to get Jessica…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly compelling urban fantasy thriller and, even though I prefer vampire novels with vampire protagonists, this novel is a fairly decent vampire novel too.

In addition to a fairly good narrative voice, this novel also contains a good mixture of thrills, comedy, drama, romance, mystery and supernatural fantasy too.

In terms of the novel’s fantasy elements, they’re quite well-developed. The story has enough mythos and backstory to make the events feel natural, whilst also avoiding bogging the reader down with reams of lore. Although there are a number of paranormal creatures in the novel (eg: ghouls, wights, zombies, werewolves etc..) and some scenes involving magic, the story mostly focuses on vampires.

In the novel, vampires are vampires because they live in a symbiotic relationships with demonic creatures who feed on their hormones, endorphins etc… They mostly drink synthetic blood (but prefer the real stuff), they aren’t harmed by sunlight and they are all stunningly handsome in a gothic kind of way. However, the life of a vampire also has certain psychological effects – which I won’t spoil, but they really help to add an extra level of drama to the story.

Whilst this novel doesn’t really contain that much in the way of horror, this is made up for by the inclusion of several thrillingly suspenseful scenes that have a really good balance between action and comedy. Likewise, the novel also contains a couple of dramatic plot twists and other such things that help to keep the story compelling too. Still, this novel is more of a thriller than a horror novel.

The novel’s romantic elements are really good too. Initially, these aren’t focused on too much and then they gradually build as the story progresses, which prevents them from feeling cheesy or contrived. There’s a good mixture of unrequited love, compelling drama and passion too. Likewise, since this is a vampire novel, there are also a few wonderfully sensual moments too 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. Jessica is a mostly likeable and fairly realistic protagonist, who has a fairly cynical sense of humour and is something of a reluctant hero (rather than the usual heavily-armed badasses found in the urban fantasy genre). The leaders of the city’s vampires, Sil and Zan, initially come across as rather stylised hedonistic ultra-handsome goth/geek characters, but gain a lot more depth as the story progresses. The novel’s main villain is also suitably dramatic and mysterious too. Plus, some of the background characters get a decent amount of characterisation too.

In terms of the writing, it’s also really good. Although the narration randomly switches between first and third-person perspective occasionally, this doesn’t get too confusing or annoying.

The first-person segments of the novel are written in a fairly informal way that not only helps to keep the story going at a reasonable pace, but also allows for a lot of characterisation and some humour too. The first-person narration is also a little bit like a more understated (and less eccentric/ punk) version of the excellent narration in Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this story is really good. At an efficient 288 pages in length, the story never really feels too long. Likewise, there’s a good mixture of fast-paced and moderately-paced scenes too. Plus, the story’s mixture of multiple genres (eg: romance, comedy, thriller, urban fantasy etc..) also ensures that there’s always something to hold the reader’s attention too.

All in all, this is a good urban fantasy novel. It’s good mixture of a slightly light-hearted thriller, a drama, a mystery and a romance. Whilst it didn’t quite have the edge or level of gothic-ness as my favourite series of vampire novels (Jocelynn Drake’s awesome “Dark Days” series) does, it’s still a compelling and well-written vampire novel. Plus, it’s always cool to see an urban fantasy novel set in Britain for a change.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.

Review: “Bloodlist” By P. N. Elrod (Novel)

Well, it has been far too long since I last read a vampire novel. And, after a bit of searching online, I happened to notice the cover of a rather cool-looking vampire-themed “film noir”-style novel by P. N. Elrod . However, it was the seventh in a series.

So, after some thought, I decided to start at the beginning of the series and – to my delight – a second-hand omnibus of the first three P.N.Elrod’s “Vampire Files” stories was also going fairly cheap. So, I thought that I’d take a look at the first novel in the series, “Bloodlist” (1990).

So, let’s take a look at “Bloodlist”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2003 Ace Books (US) paperback omnibus that contained the copy of “Bloodlist” (1990) that I read.

The novel begins in Chicago, in the summer of 1936. Former reporter Jack Fleming is having a bad night. After waking up near a lake with no memory of the past few days, he suddenly finds that he’s being chased by a car. After taking a glancing blow from the car, the driver gets out and shoots him in the back. However, to Jack’s surprise, the gunshot doesn’t really hurt and isn’t even vaguely fatal.

After giving the gunman the scare of his life, Jack takes his car and decides to look into why he can’t remember the past few days. And, more importantly, why he’s still alive too. But, after feeling a hunger for blood, the answer to that question seems pretty obvious…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is amazing 🙂 Not only is it a really cool vampire novel, but it’s also a fairly gripping “film noir”-style thriller novel too, with a decent helping of comedy, quirkiness, atmosphere and personality too 🙂 And it’s from the 1990s too 🙂 Seriously, it is awesome 🙂

Interestingly though, although this novel is sort of a detective novel, it’s actually more of a streamlined thriller than many of the classic hardboiled novels it takes inspiration from. It’s kind of like a mixture between a less gritty/ less old-fashioned version of Mickey Spillane’s “I, The Jury” with a few hints of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories. In other words, if you’re expecting the kind of messy, puzzling, complex plot that you’d find in hardboiled classics like Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” or Raymond Chandler’s “The High Window“, then you’re going to be disappointed.

Still, this streamlined plot works really well – since it makes the story a lot more gripping and readable (and a bit “cinematic” too). Interestingly though, although the novel certainly has a rather cool “film noir” atmosphere to it, it also contains traces of something a bit older and more quirkier.

This is mostly thanks to the inclusion of a British actor, private detective and master of disguse called Escott, who helps to lend the story a little bit more of an eccentric Victorian-style “Sherlock Holmes” atmosphere 🙂 Plus, although this novel wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve (with references to things like Black Mask and old Dracula movies), it is very much it’s own unique thing 🙂

Although this is more of a horror-themed novel than an actual horror novel, the novel’s depiction of vampirism is fairly interesting. In addition to the usual thing about vampires being allergic to sunlight, this novel does some rather interesting things – such as giving Jack the ability to turn invisible and walk through walls. This allows for some truly brilliant (and occasionally hilarious) set pieces, but also has a few clever limitations which help the story to remain suspenseful too. Jack is also able to remain a fairly sympathetic character since he mostly drinks animal blood and, on the one occasion he bites another person, doesn’t kill them.

In terms of the characters, this novel is pretty good. Although many of the characters are fairly stylised “film noir” characters (eg: the evil gangster, the nightclub singer with a heart of gold, the hardboiled detective etc..) they all have a lot of personality. Likewise, the story includes a few characters you probably wouldn’t find in traditional 1930s-50s hardboiled stories too, which helps keep things interesting too.

Interestingly, whilst Jack is still very much a hardboiled detective, he’s probably slightly more of a likeable and friendly character than the classic hardboiled detectives of the 1930s-50s (eg: Mike Hammer, Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade). Likewise, he contains just the right amount of moral ambiguity to make him an interesting character, whilst also ensuring that he doesn’t become too unsympathetic either.

The best character-based part of this novel is probably the friendship between Jack and Escott, which is the source of lots of dramatic moments, amusing lines of dialogue and other such things. Seriously, although the characters in this novel are a little bit stylised, this is part of the fun of this novel.

In terms of the writing, Elrod’s first-person narration is really good 🙂 It is matter-of-fact enough to make the story moderately fast-paced, whilst also still allowing the story to have a reasonably authentic “film noir”-style tone too. Likewise, the first-person narration also helps to give Jack a lot of extra characterisation too. Seriously, this novel is wonderfully readable.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really great. The omnibus edition of “Bloodlist” I read was a gloriously efficient 159 pages long. But, even accounting for the smaller print and larger page size in the omnibus, this novel is still a wonderfully streamlined and efficient story. Likewise, the story’s pacing is fairly good too, with the story never really slowing down or losing momentum. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced thriller, this novel moves along at a reasonable pace.

As for how this twenty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Seriously, this could pretty much be a modern novel. Whether it is the slightly more critical attitude towards the setting (similar to what you’d expect in a modern historical novel) or the fact that the novel’s writing style is also retro enough to be atmospheric whilst still being modern enough to still be easily readable today, this novel has aged really well.

All in all, this novel is really awesome 🙂 It’s a hardboiled “film noir” detective story about vampires that was written in the 1990s. You don’t get much better than this 🙂 It’s a streamlined, gripping novel that contains a really great blend of atmosphere, thrills and humour.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Minion (Special Edition)” By L. A. Banks (Novel)

A while before writing this review, I was in the mood for some vampire fiction (what can I say? I’ve been looking for something as awesome as Jocelynn Drake’s “Dark Days” novels ever since I finished reading them). And, after looking online, I discovered an author I hadn’t heard of before called L. A. Banks. So, I decided to order a second-hand copy of the first novel in her “Vampire Huntress” series – a novel from 2003/4 called “Minion”.

However, I should probably point out that this novel seems to be the first part of a continuous series and it isn’t a self-contained novel. I was forewarned about this by a few reviews I saw, but don’t go into this novel expecting a full story. Likewise, the edition of “Minion” that I read is a “special edition” version, which apparently contains some extra scenes that aren’t in older editions of the novel.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Minion”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2004 St. Martin’s Paperbacks (US) special edition paperback of “Minion” that I read.

The novel begins in New Orleans in the 1980s, when the wife of a preacher believes that her husband is having an affair with a mysterious handsome man that he’s met. Filled with jealousy, she ends up consulting a local magician for some kind of spell in order to exact revenge. However, this spell doesn’t exactly work as intended….

Flash forward to the mid-late 1990s and two people called Marlene and Shabazz are in a nightclub, searching for someone called Damali. When the band appears on stage, Marlene realises that the teenage lead singer is none other than Damali. After the concert, Marlene approaches Damali and offers to sign her to her record label – which is, of course, a cover for a group of vampire hunters. Since, although she doesn’t know it, Damali is the Neteru- some kind of mythical chosen one.

A few years later, in 2003, Damali is twenty and she is a well-trained member of the vampire hunting team. The team have travelled to Philadelphia to fight some vampires, but they find themselves in an alleyway where everything is mysteriously silent. Something is wrong. Of course, it doesn’t take long before the vampires attack. However, these vampires are different. They’re more powerful, more ferocious and are nothing like anything Damali has ever seen before….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, during it’s best moments, it’s kind of like a cooler and more badass version of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer“. Yes, it isn’t a self-contained story and it certainly has a few flaws but, when this story is at it’s best, it’s kind of like watching a really cool late 1990s/early 2000s urban fantasy TV show 🙂 Plus, it’s one of the few novels about vampire hunters that I’ve read which still manage to include a lot of the edginess of a good vampire novel 🙂

Interestingly, this novel is more of a thriller/drama novel than a horror novel. Sure, there are a few moments of gruesome horror, a suspenseful atmosphere and some fairly cool moments of paranormal horror too. But, for the most part, this is more of an urban fantasy drama novel with a few sizzlingly sensual moments and some well-placed action scenes. Surprisingly, this works really well.

In addition to some detective/crime thriller elements, a lot of the story also focuses on the lives of the vampire hunters, their plans, their conflicts and Damali grappling with her fate as a Neteru (which is presented as something of a second adolescence).

Although this novel is one of those stories where the main characters argue with each other quite a bit, this actually works quite well thanks to the general atmosphere of the story and the way that the characters are written. In other words, the conflicts between the characters emerge from their different perspectives, personalities and worldviews rather than just being there for the sake of drama. Likewise, the Los Angeles setting of most of the story is reminiscent of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, whilst also allowing for a lot more atmosphere and grittiness too.

Even though the story could have done with more action scenes, this is compensated for via a reasonably compelling plot and a suspenseful atmosphere in many scenes. Likewise, many of the story’s more action-packed moments are pretty cool too – with the highlights including a fight involving a three-sided sword and a rather cool chase scene that not only includes some beautiful descriptions of Chinatown, but also includes some fairly suspenseful combat scenes too.

Plus, even though this story contains a clear “good vs. evil” conflict, it is thankfully a little bit more sophisticated than this. In other words, most of the “good” characters aren’t joyless, self-righteous bores and some of the story’s villains are a little bit more ambiguous too.

Even the novel’s most puritanical character, Marlene, is given enough characterisation for her more self-righteous moments to make sense in the context of the story. Best of all, Damali is actually a fairly realistic twentysomething main character who (unlike many thriller novel protagonists) actually wants to enjoy life – much to Marlene’s prim consternation.

Plus, one of the characters (Carlos) is initially presented as a villainous drug baron, but he gains a bit more depth (and even some reader sympathy) as the story progresses. In other words, this novel contains a bit more nuance and humanity than “good vs. evil” vampire stories focusing on vampire hunters usually do. This really helps to add atmosphere to the story too 🙂

Still, this isn’t to say that the story doesn’t have some hilariously cheesy elements too. Whether it’s a rival music label who are quite literally run by demons and vampires (and, in true 1980s/90s moral panic fashion, promote goth music and drug-fuelled rock music) or a scene involving an alliance between crime gangs, this story can be a little bit silly. Likewise, one scene involving a vampiric council who reside in the depths of hell is straight out of a cheesy horror movie. Still, these elements help to add some cheesy, light-hearted fun to the story and provide a bit of balance to the grittier and more serious aspects of the story.

But, although this story is reasonably atmospheric and fairly cool, it isn’t without flaws. Most of these happen near the beginning and ending of the novel, which are literally the last places where a writer should make mistakes.

After the prologues, the novel begins with what should be a suspenseful and gripping action scene – but it is bogged down by the fact that this scene introduces quite a few characters very quickly, which can get confusing. Likewise, the climactic moments of the story are basically a long-winded exposition-filled data dump about the series’ backstory. Yes, this segment does also serve as a cliffhanger ending, but it’s a fairly boring way to include one.

In terms of the writing, Banks’ third-person narration is somewhat on the informal side of things, whilst also being reasonably descriptive too (and fairly “matter of fact” during more thrilling moments). Although it took me a little while to get used to Banks’ writing style (probably because I read a slightly more formal novel directly beforehand), it works reasonably well – with the informal elements also helping to reinforce the story’s atmosphere too.

As for length and pacing, this novel is an efficient 286 pages in length – however, this isn’t a self-contained story (so, it’s more like the first part of a longer novel). Likewise, as mentioned earlier, chapter one overloads the reader with characters and the cliffhanger ending is far too slow-paced. However, the pacing throughout the rest of the story is reasonably good.

All in all, whilst this novel isn’t without flaws, it is still fairly interesting. When it is at it’s best, this novel is as fun as watching a really cool TV show. The middle parts of this novel are dramatic, atmospheric and compelling. Yes, both the beginning and the ending are a bit weak – and the story isn’t even vaguely self-contained. But, these flaws aside, this novel still has some really good moments.

If I had to give “Minion” a rating out of five, it would just about get a four (even though, in some parts, it’s a solid four and a half and in other parts is more of a three and a half).

Review: “Some Girls Bite” By Chloe Neill (Novel)

Note: Due to various scheduling reasons, the next book review probably won’t appear here until the 2nd April.

Well, after reading Lilith Saintcrow’s “Working For The Devil“, I was still in the mood for urban fantasy fiction.

But, since I have a rule about reading multiple books by the same author directly after one another (after reading eight Clive Cussler novels in a row a few months ago taught me that variety is the spice of life), I decided to read a second-hand copy of Chloe Neill’s 2009 vampire novel “Some Girls Bite” that I’d ordered a few weeks earlier when I was going through a bit of a horror phase.

So, let’s take a look at “Some Girls Bite”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2010 Gollancz (UK) paperback edition of “Some Girls Bite” that I read.

The novel is set in a version of Chicago where the existence of vampires is public knowledge. The story begins when a university student called Merit is violently attacked by a vampire on campus. The vampire mortally wounds her and leaves her for dead, but she is rescued by another vampire who turns her in order to save her life.

So, Merit finds herself in the middle of the confusing world of vampires and vampire factions. Not only is she eager to find out who attacked her, but she also has her fair share of misgivings about being a vampire too. Plus, in accordance with tradition, she only has a week before she must swear fealty to her vampiric liege….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s like watching the pilot episode of a TV show. Yes, it’s well-written, the characters are good and the story is a little bit like a slightly more light-hearted version of “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (albeit without the theme of secrecy etc..). But, at the same time, it is more of a scene-setting introduction to a larger series than anything else. In other words, the story’s detective and horror elements are kind of a background detail.

So, if you’re expecting a horror novel or a detective thriller, you’re probably going to be slightly disappointed. If you’re expecting an action-thriller novel, you’ll also be disappointed. Even though the chart on the back cover describes this novel as “Action Packed“, there is very little in the way of action here – there are a couple of “friendly” martial arts sparring matches, a tense confrontation or two and a rather brief action sequence near the end, and that’s about it.

Yes, this is a good novel, but it’s more of a character-based drama (with some romance and comedy elements) than anything else. Like with the classic computer game “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines”, this is more of a story about a new vampire adapting to life as a vampire and vampire politics. Although there are a few suspenseful moments, this isn’t so much a horror/thriller novel as it is a novel about friendships, loyalties, relationships, confusion etc…

Still, it works reasonably well as a drama novel. This is mostly because the premise is intriguing and the characters are all reasonably good too. The central focus of the story is the friendship between Merit and her best friend Mallory, who – unlike in a lot of thriller/horror stories – are actually friends. Sure, they trade sarcastic dialogue and snarky pop culture references occasionally, but they are actually best friends. Likewise, the story also adds a bit of spice with Merit’s somewhat fiery/antagonistic relationship with her vampiric liege Ethan, and a vague love triangle plot with another vampire called Morgan.

One major theme of this story is that of belonging, loyalty and family, with Merit being somewhat estranged from her snobbish, rich parents and getting along a lot better with Mallory, some of the vampires and her ex-cop grandfather. She’s also somewhat cynical about the vampiric traditions that she is expected to follow, and tries to walk a fine line between rebellion and obedience too.

Likewise, the “world” of the novel is pretty interesting too. It is set in a version of Chicago where vampires are public knowledge, and maintain a respectable and orderly system of traditions and “houses”. They also usually drink pre-packaged blood instead of biting people. They also face discrimination too. The story’s detective plot, which really doesn’t get enough focus, links into this since the presence of a vampire serial killer threatens to turn humanity against the vampires. Plus, of course, being an urban fantasy novel, there are also nymphs, shapeshifters, witches etc… too.

As for the writing in this novel, it’s pretty good and it is one of the main things that keeps the novel compelling. The story is narrated by Merit, which allows for lots of characterisation (since she’s a fairly ordinary twentysomething student, who is way out of her depth) in addition to lots of sarcastic humour and numerous pop culture references (which, for a ten-year old novel, still feel reasonably modern and fresh). The novel’s narrative style is reasonably informal and fast-paced, which helps to keep the story readable and interesting. Likewise, the chapter titles are wonderfully comedic too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 339 pages, it’s relatively concise by modern standards. Likewise, although there are long “everyday life” drama segments in between the few meagre moments of suspense, horror, detection and action, these segments are kept reasonably readable and compelling thanks to the strength of the narration and the characters.

All in all, although this novel was different to what I had expected, it was still reasonably enjoyable. The story’s narration, characters, premise and humour are reasonably good and they help to keep the story compelling.

However, not only is this an introduction to a longer series, but it also skimps on the horror, action-thriller and detective elements too. Even so, it’s a fun piece of light entertainment. But, if you want a more thrilling and horror-filled vampire story, then I’d probably recommend reading Jocelynn Drake’s “Nightwalker” or playing “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” instead.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Review: “Guilty Pleasures” By Laurell K. Hamilton (Novel)

Well, after reading Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall“, I wanted to read something shorter and more fast-paced. So, I thought that I’d check out Laurell K. Hamilton’s 1993 novel “Guilty Pleasures”. After all, it’s been a while since I last read a vampire thriller novel (I think that the last ones I read were Jocelynn Drake’s amazing “Dark Days” series, which I reviewed here, here, here, here, here, here and here ).

Surprisingly though, “Guilty Pleasures” isn’t actually the first Laurell K. Hamilton novel I’ve read – since I reviewed a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” novel by Hamilton back in 2013.

Anyway, I saw several of Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” novels in a charity shop in Petersfield last April but, for cost reasons, only ended up buying three of them. I’m not sure how many of them I’ll end up reviewing, since I’ve got a lot of other books on my “to read” pile, but I was eager to see what this series was actually like – since I’d always see these novels on the horror shelves of bookshops when I was younger.

So, let’s take a look at “Guilty Pleasures”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2009 Headline (UK) paperback edition of “Guilty Pleasures” that I read.

The story is set in St.Loius, Missouri. Anita Blake, a professional necromancer (or “animator”) and part-time executioner of criminal vampires, is sitting in her office when a friendly vampire called Willie walks in. He’s got a case for her. Someone has been killing vampires (without a lawful reason) and he’s been told to ask her to investigate the killings. Naturally, Anita doesn’t take the job.

But, later, Anita gets a phone call from someone called Monica who is helping out with Anita’s friend Catherine’s wedding. Monica asks Anita if she can be the designated driver for the bachelorette party. Reluctantly, Anita agrees. And, a few days later, she finds herself at a vampire-run nightclub called Guilty Pleasures.

During the festivities, Anita is paged by the police and makes a brief visit to a graveyard. Another vampire has been murdered. When Anita returns to the nightclub, it soon becomes obvious that she had been led there on purpose. Several vampires at the club tell Anita that the city’s head vampire wants her to investigate the killings, or Catherine will be in danger…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that although the first third or so of it is quite literally “so bad that it’s good”, the novel becomes more thrilling and creepy later on. The earlier parts of this novel are highly entertaining in a hilariously cheesy way (eg: were-rats, gruesome coffins, male strippers etc..) and they certainly put a grin on my face. However, as the story progressed, I found myself more gripped and, to my surprise, at least mildly creeped out.

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. Whilst the earlier parts of the novel include some hilariously silly creature horror, some suspenseful/threatening horror and some fairly standard gory horror, this is all there to lull you into a false sense of security.

As the story progresses, it gradually starts to introduce other types of horror too – these include criminal horror, paranormal horror, age-related horror, character-based horror, religious horror, psychological horror and sadistic/cruel horror. Seriously, this is a creepier novel than you might initially expect it to be. So, the story’s horror elements work really well 🙂

The novel’s thriller elements are also fairly good too. Whilst this story certainly contains it’s fair share of fights, the thriller elements of this story are often achieved through atmosphere, story and suspense in addition to dramatic action scenes. Like a good “modern” film noir, this is one of those suspenseful stories that is constantly infused with both the threat of and effects of violence. In addition to this, the detective-based plot of the story helps to keep things moving at a decent pace too. So, this is a reasonably gripping and fast-paced novel that you’ll probably want to read in a couple of 2-3 hour sessions.

The novel’s paranormal/fantasy elements are handled in a fairly interesting way too, with the novel set in a world where vampires actually have some political rights. Although this topic, and the moral ambiguity of Anita’s job, is explored in a few scenes – it seems to be slightly more of a background detail. The rest of the story’s paranormal/fantasy elements (eg: re-animating the dead etc..) are handled reasonably well too, with enough explained to make the events of the story seem logical and enough kept mysterious to keep the story creepy.

As for the novel’s characters, they’re reasonably well-written. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there’s still enough characterisation here to make you care about what happens to the characters. However, I had mixed feelings about the narrator/main character.

On the plus side, Anita is the kind of cynical, badass character you would expect to see in a story like this. She makes witty observations, has a few amusing quirks (such as a collection of stuffed penguins) and is both tough and intelligent too. And, on the whole, is a reasonably well-written character.

However, one part of this novel points out that crosses also require religious faith to be effective weapons against vampires. So, Anita is religious. Half of the fun of urban fantasy-style vampire fiction is vicariously experiencing the debauched, gothic, hedonistic and countercultural world of the vampire characters. Typically, this is achieved through the use of a vampire protagonist/narrator. So, telling the story from the perspective of a non-vampire protagonist who also lives a relatively puritanical life and tuts disapprovingly at various things etc… kind of ruins the fun a bit.

Still, some of this stuff is also satirised via the inclusion of a group of “mainstream” vampires (the “Church Of Eternal Life”) who also disapprove of the more debauched elements of vampirism – only for Anita to disapprove of them because, due to her religious beliefs, she’s creeped out by the fact that vampires have a non-Christian church.

In terms of the writing , Hamilton’s first-person narration is fairly well-written. In other words, this is a very readable thriller-style novel, with hints of old-school hardboiled/noir detective fiction too 🙂 Likewise, the first-person narration really helps to show the reader Anita’s personality and character too. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few witty observations etc..

As for length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. It never really gets particularly slow-paced or boring and, at 327 pages in length, the story never really gets bloated either. In other words, the pacing and length of this story are reasonably good.

As for how this twenty-six year old novel has aged, it has aged surprisingly well. Although there are a few obviously 1990s elements (eg: pagers, the phrase “peachy keen”, some of the fashions etc..), I often forgot that I was reading a novel from the 1990s whilst I was reading it. If you showed me a copy of this story without a publication date, I’d have probably guessed that it was from 2004-9, rather than 1993. So, yes, this novel is often somewhat ahead of it’s time.

All in all, this is an entertaining, creepy and gripping vampire thriller novel. Yes, as urban fantasy vampire stories go, I still prefer Jocelynn Drake’s “Dark Days” novels to this one. But, this novel is entertaining. It contains a good mixture of humourous/cheesy horror and genuinely creepy horror, the pacing is good and the story is certainly compelling. However, the choice of a non-vampire protagonist and the slightly judgmental tone of the story can drain some of the fun out of it.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Review: “Wait For Dusk” By Jocelynn Drake (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d review the fifth book in Jocelynn Drake’s excellent six-novel “Dark Days” series today (you can see my reviews of the previous four novels here, here, here and here). Although I plan to read at least one different novel before reading and reviewing the final book in the series, I’m definitely going to miss this series when it is finished.

Although “Wait For Dusk” begins a couple of minutes after the ending of the fourth novel, it tells a mostly self-contained story with enough recaps for newer readers. However, you’ll get a lot more out of this novel if you read the previous four books first.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Wait For Dusk”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.
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I read the 2010 EOS (US) paperback edition of this novel. However, I won’t include a scan of the book cover in this review, since it probably borders on being “Not Safe For Work”. Interestingly, this cover art is also a perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover too. Although the cover art …technically.. isn’t misleading (if anything, it’s a plot spoiler), it doesn’t really represent the overall tone of the majority of this horror/thriller story either. So, don’t judge this book by it’s cover.
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“Wait For Dusk” begins with Mira being threatened by a mysterious man who claims to be her long-lost father. Calling himself Nick, he claims to be the being behind numerous trickster gods (Loki, Anansi etc..) throughout human history. And he has plans for Mira. He’ll grant her a few extra powers, as long as she uses them to gain control of both Danaus and Jabari. If she doesn’t, he’ll turn her into an ordinary human. After giving her this ultimatum, he disappears.

When Danaus and Valerio find Mira, she downplays what has happened. After all, they have more pressing matters to attend to. Not only is Tristan badly-wounded and racked with guilt, but Mira has been ordered before the vampire coven in Venice in order to formally take her seat as an elder.

After going through the grisly formalities, the next session of the coven begins. Vampires from across the world lodge complaints about naturi attacks. After Mira angrily tells the vampires to take care of it themselves, Macaire suggests that an example should be made of the naturi and requests that Mira travels to Budapest. She agrees, but soon realises that she might be walking into a trap…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is… wow! Not only is it a gloriously macabre horror novel and an utterly gripping thriller novel, but it is also basically “Game Of Thrones, but with vampires” too 🙂 Albeit, in terms of the story rather than the setting (which, in this novel, is the modern world rather than a medieval-style fantasy world).

This novel is filled with so many clever political machinations and brilliantly witty dialogue exchanges that it makes the second novel in the series seem disappointingly shallow by comparison. And, as the cover art shows, there are also a few romantic/erotic elements too – but these are more of a background element most of the time.

Not only does this novel contain several different types of horror (suspenseful horror, paranormal horror, gothic horror, gory horror, moral horror etc..), but it also contains several different variations on the thriller genre too. In addition to some expertly-directed ultra-violent action thriller scenes, there’s also a lot of thrilling suspense, some emotional conflict between the protagonists and some very well-written political thriller elements too. Seriously, this is how you write a horror thriller novel 🙂

Plus, the horror and thriller elements dovetail very nicely too. For example, Nick’s ultimatum to Mira means that she feels that time is running out (thriller) whilst also feeling conflicted about using her new powers to force Danaus to kill more readily than he ordinarily would (horror). This then causes a lot of friction between Mira and Danaus, which only helps to add to the suspense. And this is just one small example, I haven’t even got onto the story’s intricate political plots and machinations. This novel is almost like a perfect symphony of horror, drama, thrills, suspense and intrigue.

The story’s romance elements are handled reasonably well too, with both Mira and Danaus forced to examine their relationship when it is put under strain. Of course, as the cover art so blatantly spoils, there’s also a scene that long-time fans of the series have been waiting for too. This scene is surprisingly well-written and it has the level of vivid intensity that you would expect from this series. I would say that it isn’t for the prudish but, if you’re reading this series, then you probably aren’t prudish anyway.

One of the major strengths of this novel is the dialogue. Although the narration is still the kind of gripping first-person perspective thriller novel narration that you would expect, the dialogue is absolutely exquisite. If you like formal dialogue where characters are being superficially polite to each other, whilst trying to sneak in veiled insults, threats, cruel pranks or witty jibes, then you’ll love this story 🙂 Seriously, the dialogue exchanges brought a cynical smile to my face on many occasions. Plus, of course, this is also excellently counterpointed with more “matter of fact” arguments between the characters too.

Earlier, I likened this novel to “Game Of Thrones” and the comparison is a really good one (aside from the fact that this novel is set in the 2010s, rather than the middle ages). Seriously, if you want to see machiavellian power struggles, gripping intrigue and cunning plots, then this novel is well worth reading 🙂 Not only that, this novel also perfectly captures the chillingly brutal attitude towards political power that makes “Game Of Thrones” so morbidly compelling too.

Another strength of this story is the settings. For most of the novel, Mira and her allies find themselves alone in the beautiful – but deadly – city of Budapest. They have to work out who is in charge and then find a way to gain power over the city. Although this is reminiscent of the Venice-based scenes in the second novel in the series (“Dayhunter”), it is handled even more expertly. You really get the sense that the characters are plunged into an unfamiliar and dangerous place that will require them to use all of their wits to survive.

All in all, this is the best novel in the series so far 🙂 It contains a perfect blend of horror, thrills, suspense, sophistication, intrigue and drama. As I said earlier, it is basically “Game Of Thrones”, but with vampires 🙂 Seriously, this novel really amazed me 🙂 But, don’t judge this book by the cover though.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a very solid five.