Saturday, November 12, 2011

At Graves End, by Jeaniene Frost, Book 3 in the Night Huntress series

Cat's world is heating up as she gets further and further away from her job as a vampire hunter. More and more vampires are recognising her as the Red Reaper and her reputation as a warrior and killer is beginning to precede her. And she'll need every bit of her skills as war comes to her door.

It's a war that attacks her mother and her mortal friends. She's forced into hiding, constantly seeking both safety for her loved ones as well as the identity of the vampire that is attacking her and Bones – and setting off a full scale war between their bloodlines.

And in this war we have Mancheres, Bone's grandsire, who has entered an alliance with Bones so their vampire lines can fight together against the massive threat against them – but Mancheres is hesitating and he is not telling everything.

Meanwhile, Cat's old team is going through changes as Bones meets his promise to turn one of them into a vampire. She laos has to deal with the large number of vampires and ghouls Bones and Mancheres have summoned to help them fight the war – and hope dearly that it will be enough.

This is an epic fight for survival, with two vast forces clashing with no mercy or quarter given.

The plot is exciting and very well written I found. There was definitely an element of being under siege and a strong sense of it being an epic conflict. In some ways the book felt much longer than it was – or the conflict felt like it spanned several books – not because of length but simply because the sense of the size of the conflict was so great that it was hard to place it in one book only. It made the story feel longer and grander.

In some ways there's not a lot to write about in terms of the plot because it is very focused. Patra is a huge and massive threat, she is threatening Cat and Bones, they must defend themselves against this threat and counter attack or they will be destroyed. There's not a lot of distraction from that plot line. That doesn't mean things don't happen – they most certainly do. We have bombings and fleeing across the country, ambushes and counter ambushes, losses and griefs, victories and defeats. We have zombie hordes and ancient magic, hurried evacuations and rapid assaults.

A lot happens. An awful lot – but it's all very much confined within the plot itself, within the focus of the war. To me this is very refreshing to read. I do not like a book that sets up a major, epic confrontation and then spends most of its time utterly distracted from it – it drains the epic. If something is this big and this grand and this dangerous and this threatening then you expect it to consume most of the main character's attentions.

Most of the characters who are actual characters (being a war, there are a lot of side-characters and bit parts as people are called in to fight) and I like quite a lot. Vlad is funny with hidden depths as is Ian. Mencheres is a deep, subtle and conflicted character, Annette has developed a lot from being the unreasonable, childish love rival and even her mother is beginning to amuse me immensely. I do think the three (original) humans she had as her inner circle are sorely in need of more development considering they've been such long term characters – I barely know who they are still

I like what Cat has grown into,. She's strong and independent, and while she will assert her independence in no uncertain terms and reject Bones telling her what to do fiercely, she will also be sensible, is willing to say “what you said is sense, I'll do it – but next time you better ask not tell” and she doesn't start fights for the sake of proving her independence. I do think her hostility towards Mencheres and her impatience are excessive – but then she's not perfect which in turn makes her more real

Cat and Bones' relationship remains intense and a little cheesey and overdone at times, but against the epic backdrop of the epic storyline it's just more epic. With so much high drama you can't have a quiet little restrained love affair. If you're going to paint in such bold colours, you can't have part of the canvass be a drab water colour.

I do find Tate to be frustrating. His ongoing unrequited love of Cat is irritating – and, frankly, the idea that if he's just pushy enough or enough of an arsehole then he may begin to crack Cat's resistance is making him an increasingly unpleasant character.

I was worried that the ending was anti-climactic. In fact, I spent a long time umming and aahhing about it. After the epic feel of the boo, the ending did feel kind of short and quick with its resolve. And yes, it was short and wrapped up quickly and easily. But, on reflection, it wasn't too easy. It was short, but, to me, the ease wasn't so much an anti-climax as it was an emphasis of just how powerful Mencheres is and why vampires are forbidden to use magic.

On thing I am curious about is exactly where these books are going and I wonder if the author had a plan. In the first book, it was about Cat finding who she was and meeting Bones. The second book was Cat as part of the organisation that hunts vampires. This book has her up to her neck in vampire politics and actively considering changing her job. In some ways I like it because it shows Cat growing and becoming more involved in the supernatural world, but in other ways I feel that the series isn't settling, like it's jumping around trying to decide what it wants to be.

We have several characters of colour, and some of them do play a fairly substantial role. There's some exoticism with all of the Egyptian references but on the whole they're a range of characters both good and bad without too many tropes showing themselves.

All in all, this series just gets better and better - and I'm literally excited about the next book