Menolly and Nerissa confirm their relationship in this book, growing closer than ever before despite the changes stalking Nerissa’s live – and despite the pressures pushing in on Menolly, including her vampire “daughter” requiring more of her attention.
There’s a vampire serial killer stalking women which in turn flares up human hatred against vampires. There’s also a vampire election coming up and the eldest child of the Blood Wyne, the oldest vampire, the vampire queen, is in the city and is determined to set what the results of that election will be.
He also has designs on Menolly herself.
I am torn a little here on the story. On the one hand I have the same problem I’ve had with these books since the very first – there’s a huge world here, a huge number of characters and all of them seem to have their own storylines that WILL get space in the main book (rather than spin off series of their own). Similarly, the main characters aren’t just focused on the main storyline – other things happen to divide their attention, like Delilah and the Autumn Lord and Chase or Camille and her father and the Moon Mother.
This book focuses on a main character, Menolly, but the story is a departure from the focus on Shadow Wing and the impending invasion. Instead we focus on vampire politics, a serial killer and developing the world building of the vampires with a side order of relationship issues and the Wayfarer bar. Morio, Camille, Vanzir, Smoky, Chase and the Demon underground all have their own storylines developed as well. And pretty much none of it relates to Shadow Wing or the war.
And this is where the being torn comes in. Part of me wants to complain about the distraction, and certainly I do question whether it’s necessary for us to have Chase and his new abilities taking up space or Smoky having his issue with his father. I’m not sure they add anything to the story except be more clutter underfoot.
But part of me also acknowledges that the reason why all the characters of this series are as strong, as fully fleshed and as identifiable as they are is the effort the author puts in to making sure that every character has a life of their own – which, by necessity, means they have stories of their own (but do we have to see them all?) And part of the reason why the world is so rich and compelling and complete is because it has all of these elements that do intrude into their lives rather than there just being one thing happening. It does make the world real – after all, how often can we focus on one issue in our lives and the rest of the world go away? Why should Menolly, a vampire, be able to focus on the war with Shadow-wing and completely ignore the vampire world? Why should Smoky be able to act without dragon politics ever imposing on his life? This really lets the world building tell itself – we could have Menolly drily tell us the risks vampires face of losing themselves – or we can see the a vampire face that very same, tragic fate. There’s a lot of excellent world building about politics, about vampires and about basic characterisation that is expanded through experience rather than info-dump
It also helps that the pacing issues that have plagues the series have been really cut. The action is much crisper, there’s much less “preparation time” before each fight, the scenes move more smoothly, there’s much less need to talk about unnecessary detail like which car people are driving and why, or spend pages on people’s clothes or food or gardening and everyone recapping each other is taken as read rather than having to be spelled out every time. The story moves now, making distractions a whole lot more tolerable – and making this book one that maintained tension, action and flow throughout. It’s really encouraging to me that each book is getting better at this – and that this book had a good, exciting story with multiple elements, expanded world building and parallel storylines and handled them all with excellent balance between speed, description and exposition.
Ok, there are still some things that could have moved faster and there are storylines I think are unnecessary (Chase, Smoky, Morio/Menolly, even the Demon Underground), but it’s a vast improvement and the series continues to head upwards.
I keep worrying about Menolly’s depiction as a bisexual woman - I’m always tense, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for her to declare it over with Nerissa and then focus on men, waiting for her to find a man who is her real, really true love to take Nerissa’s place, waiting for Nerissa to become second, third or even be completely banished from Menolly’s affections while she focuses on men.