Tag: Charlaine Harris

Urban Fantasy Vampires

Ever since discovering the work of Anne Rice when I was about fifteen, I’ve been more or less obsessed with vampires, which tend to rise and fall in the trends of speculative fiction literature in a somewhat cyclical fashion. They’ve been having a bit of a quiescence since the hype of Twilight settled down, but I’ve recently been craving a return to this obsession that never dies. I’m impatiently awaiting the publication of Vampires Never Get Old next week, a short story anthology that brings together authors like Zoraida Córdova, Dhonielle Clayton, and Julie Murphy with fresh takes on an old favourite. While I was waiting, I decided to revisit some classics from the vampire urban fantasy oeuvre, and see how they held up. (Fellow UNBC alum: Yes, these were all on the syllabus from Dr. Stan Beeler’s English 486 Literature of the Fantastic course!)

Blood Price

Cover image for Blood Price by Tanya HuffOriginally published in 1991, Blood Price by Canadian SFF writer Tanya Huff is probably the oldest book I’ve read that could classed as urban fantasy. Vicki Nelson has recently retired from the Toronto police force at the ripe old age of 31, due to her rapidly deteriorating vision caused by retinitis pigmentosa. A former rising star within the department, Vicki still feels like she has a lot to prove, and she’s set up shop as a private investigator. In Blood Price, she is hired by a wealthy college student to investigate the murder of her boyfriend. As the killings continue, the local press begins speculating about vampires, as all the victims have been drained of blood. While she tries to keep an open mind, what Vicki never expected was to run into a real vampire who is trying to solve the murders himself, before the press draws too much attention to the potential existence of his kind. Part of the great fun of this series in the vampire himself, Henry Fitzroy, who is the bastard son of King Henry VIII. In 1990s Toronto, he is making a living as a romance novelist, penning historical bodice rippers under the nom de plume Elizabeth Fitzroy.

This was a fun reread that has held up in many respects, but aged markedly in others. The human villain of this installment is an angry young, white, male college student who feels he hasn’t received everything to which he is entitled, something that still rings so true as to almost be too on the nose. When this novel was published, the École Polytechnique massacre of 1989 would have been a still fresh event, and not much has changed since. A lot of the plot turns on answering machines, and people waiting for phone calls, something I didn’t notice when I first read this book in 2008 with a flip phone in my purse, but which is glaringly obvious in 2020 with everyone glued to their smartphones. I’m also less interested in police protagonists, and cringed really hard when Vicki’s former partner, Mike, made a joke about police brutality.

Guilty Pleasures

Cover image for Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. HamiltonPublished in 1993, this still ongoing series is often cited among the influences of urban fantasy writers, though my 2002 paperback edition describes it as “a heady mix of romance and horror,” and the cover blurbs are mostly from mystery rather than SFF writers. Guilty Pleasures introduces Anita Blake, zombie raiser and vampire hunter. Although her primary job is raising the dead, Anita sidelines in killing rogue vampires, and in this first installment of what is now a 27 book series, she is hired to investigate the murders of four vampires. Pressured into undertaking the investigation against her better judgement, Anita finds herself pulled into vampire politics, squaring off against the terrifying Master of the City of St. Louis, and upending the balance of power in a way that will inevitably bind her to the supernatural world, and to the handsome and alluring vampire Jean-Claude.

Urban fantasy is split into those series in which the supernatural world is secret and those in which it is openly acknowledged—sometimes with a transition in which the supernatural world is unveiled. This series begins two years after vampires become legally recognized in the United States, and one thing I find interesting about this book is the world-building that explores the consequences of such a ruling. Vampires can use their abilities for commerce—as we see at the vampire strip club Guilty Pleasures—or to found their own religions, as with the Church of Eternal Life, a vampire church being a truly fascinating concept in a world Laurell K. Hamilton also chooses to have holy objects repel her vampires. This series has transformed and reincarnated itself several times over the nearly thirty years it has been running, and I haven’t read a new installment in over a decade, but it was nevertheless illuminating to revisit. Even if the plot also heavily figured answering machines. Go figure.

Dead Until Dark

Cover image for Dead Until Dark by Charlaine HarrisBetter known for its 2008 television adaptation True Blood, Dead Until Dark was originally published in 2001. Set in rural northern Louisiana, it follows the adventures of Sookie Stackhouse, the psychic waitress. Like the Anita Blake series, these books take place about two years after vampires have “come out of the coffin,” and the book opens with Sookie meeting her first vampire, Bill Compton, who has returned Bon Temps to reclaim his family’s property there now that vampires have been legally recognized. Regarded as somewhat crazy by her neighbours, who don’t really want to believe in her psychic abilities, Sookie has faced a lot of social rejection before Bill rolls into town, but she is surprised to find that—unlike humans—she can’t hear vampire thoughts. She quickly falls into a romance with Bill, but this attachment is complicated by local suspicions about the newcomer, a series of murders of young women known to have associated with vampires, and the fact the vampires would very much like to put Sookie’s psychic talents to their own uses.

Urban fantasies commonly feature working class protagonists, but Sookie is notable for her pride in her job as a waitress, and her defensiveness about anyone who tries to put her down for being low class or air-headed because of her lack of education or her choice of employment. Much of the action centers on her interactions with patrons at Merlotte’s, the local watering hole. Dead Until Dark has one of the most rural settings of any urban fantasy series I’ve read, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms, but Harris turns small town life to good effect, even as she pulls in wider vampire politics with Sookie becoming enmeshed in the supernatural community. The big cringe here might be when Sookie’s grandmother invites Bill over to talk to her about the Civil War, and she seems fascinated and delighted when he is able to tell her that her husband’s family owned two slaves. And yes, in case you were wondering, there were several plot points featuring answering machines. So let that be a lesson to you writers out there; vampires may never get old, but the technology you include in your stories will!

Have you got favourite vampire reading recommendations? Hit me in the comments!

More Vampire Reads:

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Midnight Crossroad

Cover image for Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris by Charlaine Harris

ISBN 9780425263150

“The really inquisitive ones always go to Midnight Pawn. It’s an old building, the oldest building in town. In fact, it was there before the town grew up around it, before there were two roads to intersect.”

Midnight, Texas is a tiny, one stop light town at the crossroads of the Davy Highway and Witch Light Road. Everyone in Midnight has a secret and a past, from Bobo, the owner of a slightly unusual pawnshop that’s open at night, to Fiji, the only witch for miles around, to Manfred, the internet and telephone psychic who has just moved to town. Everyone is friendly to the newcomer, but there seems to be some sort of unspoken code amongst the Midnighters, who are tight knit but ask no personal questions. When Bobo’s girlfriend, Audrey, turns up dead after everyone thought she’d left him, the town finds itself at the center of a murder investigation that threatens to stir up the reclusive residents’ secrets.

Midnight Crossroad gets off to a slow start, introducing the town of Midnight and its unusual residents. Charlaine Harris still seems to be finding her feet juggling multiple third person perspectives. It is about a third of the way into the book before the mystery is really afoot, and things pick up a bit from there. Harris ties this story into her larger universe, populating Midnight with familiar faces, including Bobo Winthrop the Lily Bard mysteries, Arthur Smith from the Aurora Teagarden books, and Manfred Bernardo from the Harper Connelly series. Harper Connelly herself was reportedly going to play a role in Midnight Crossroad but didn’t make it into the final draft. Speaking at University Bookstore Seattle on May 8, Harris seemed surprised that this tidbit was public knowledge, but admitted that Harper was going to help move along the detection aspect of the story before she was cut for taking over too much of the book. Harris also shared that a character from the Sookie Stackhouse books will be appearing in volume two.

Midnight Crossroad was a solid mystery, but the setting didn’t have a chance to live up to its potential in this volume even though a lot of attention was lavished on it. Although the idea for the Midnight books started with the unusual pawn shop—the original title was Midnight Pawn, but  Harris’s southern drawl made pawn sounded a little too much like “Midnight Porn” to her British publisher—the more unusual customers and artifacts in the pawn shop don’t play any significant role. Nor, to my disappointment, was crossroad the site of any devilish dealings. Despite the many supernatural residents of Midnight, the events of this book are decidedly mundane. However, Harris has set a lot of promising groundwork, with a diverse and mysterious cast of characters and her signature southern setting. Book two in the planned trilogy—which may go on longer if Harris feels she has more to tell—is due out this time next year.

___

Cover image for Bitter Pill by Stacey KadeYou might also like Bitter Pill by Stacey Kade.

Vacation Reads

While I was away on holidays, I needed a little bit of light reading to unwind at the end of a hard day’s sightseeing. That being the case, I decided to get caught up on the latest volumes in a few of my favourite urban fantasy series.

Cover image for Cold Days by Jim ButcherCold Days (9780451464408)

The last novel in the Dresden Files, Ghost Story, was an interesting lull in Harry’s story line, as he found himself trapped between worlds following his self-planned assassination/suicide at the end of Changes. Harry’s return to life means a follow up on a plot point that has been a long time coming; if he isn’t dead, then he is bound to fulfill his promise to serve Mab as the Winter Knight. Although the ostensible purpose of the Winter Knight is to kill mortals that Mab cannot touch, Mab instead demands that Harry kill an immortal, and provides a powerful incentive to do it. With an impossible task set before him, Harry will need every ally and resource at his disposal, but will his friends be able to trust him now that he is the Winter Knight? And does he really want to involve them in faerie business? This novel gives the strong sense that Jim Butcher is opening a new chapter in the Dresden Files universe. Newly immersed in the politics and intrigues of the faerie courts, Harry finds that there may be more to the balance between Earth and the NeverNever than he ever suspected.

Categories: Urban Fantasy, Mystery

 

Cover image for Frost Burned by Patricia BriggsFrost Burned (9780441020010)

Out Christmas shopping with her step-daughter, Jesse, Mercy gets into a fender bender, and is alarmed when she finds that she has a mysterious voicemail from Bran, and that she cannot reach any of the pack by phone. All of the Columbia Basin werewolves have simply disappeared, and the pack bonds tell Mercy this isn’t a game. Only Ben has managed to escape the kidnappers, who are still after him, and Mercy and Jesse, to boot. Those who preferred Mercy before she and Adam got together will be happy to see her flying solo once more, though the plot relies heavily on their mating bond. Those who enjoy the Columbia Basin Pack will miss their presence. The trade off for the separation is that Patricia Briggs gives us two chapters from Adam’s point of view in a series that has always been from Mercy’s perspective. However, the absence of the pack did make room for some of the other secondary characters to shine, particularly Kyle. The book gets off to a slow start, but makes up for it with a rapid fire conclusion.

Categories:  Urban Fantasy, Mystery

 

Cover image for Dead Ever After by Charlaine HarrisDead Ever After (9781937007881)

Things aren’t going well for Sookie with the men in her life. Sam has been cold and distant since she used the cluviel dor to raise him from the dead, and Eric is furious that Sookie used it to save Sam rather than extricate him from his dilemma with Freyda, Queen of Oklahoma. With Sam keeping his distance, Sookie is left to run Merlotte’s alone, so it is she who has the unenviable task of refusing her old friend Arlene a job when she is granted an early release from prison. Then things go pear-shaped, and Sookie is accused of murder in an all-too-neat frame up job.  Although this is the final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, much is left open, as if the story will continue on beyond the pages of the books. Charlaine Harris answers a lot of the important questions, but fans who dislike open-ended conclusions will definitely be left wanting. And of course, there have been rage-filled reactions to Harris’ decision about how to conclude the romantic storyline. I assiduously avoided all those spoilers, so imagine my surprise when Sookie ended up with the guy I thought she was going to be with all along.

Categories:  Urban Fantasy, Mystery

 

Cover image for The Cuckoos Calling by Robert GalbraithThe Cuckoo’s Calling (9781408703991)

News about the true identity of Robert Galbraith broke while I was in England, and when I found out J.K. Rowling had written a detective novel, I knew I was going to have to read it, even as I sympathized with her desire for anonymity. Down-on-his-luck detective Cormoran Strike is living in the office which he is on the verge of losing when a new case and new secretary land in his lap, all on the same day. A barely remembered childhood acquaintance shows up on Strike’s doorstep, asking him to investigate the supposed suicide of his sister, international super model Lula Landry. The new secretary, Robin, has always secretly dreamed of being a PI, and her knowledge of celebrity gossip turns into a surprisingly useful resource as she and Strike delve into the world of fame and fashion that Landry inhabited. In addition to being a bang-up detective novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling is an introspective look at our fascination with celebrities, and the rabid power of the British paparazzi. While the ending will probably not come as a terrible surprise, what Rowling has written here is classic hard-boiled detective fiction, and I will definitely be looking forward to the next Cormoran Strike novel.

Categories: Mystery

Your regularly scheduled, full-length book reviews will resume on Thursday, beginning with If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan. Thanks for sticking around!