Monday, March 26, 2012

Review of Blood Drive by Jeanne C. Stein Book 2 of the Anna Strong Series

Blood Drive, begins a few months after the death of Avery, the vampire who attempted to kill Anna's partner and make her into something she is not in The Becoming. Anna is still very much determined to retain her human connections, despite the advice of Culebra.  She wants to hold onto her relationship with her boyfriend Max, her parents, and her partner David for as long as she possibly can. Anna knows that losing her will greatly hurt her parents, who have never gotten over the death of her older brother Steve.  Anna is very aware that the fact that she will not age, means at some point she has to put her connections behind her, and this will leave her parents to deal with losing another child. Already they are beginning to notice that Anna has lost about 20lbs and looks leaner and stronger. This haunts her but she continues to put one foot in front of the other.

She goes to Mexico to satisfy her urge to feed and absolutely refuses to deal with the fact that as Avery's heir she has responsibilities and realities that she needs to face.  When Steve's former girlfriend Patricia asks to meet with Anna, after being absent for 14 years from the Strongs life, Anna is not in the least bit interested.  When Carolyn arrives and Anna discovers that life has been hard for her, some of the jealousy that she held onto disappeared.  This woman is no longer the gorgeous co-ed whose body exudes sex, and instead she has gained a significant amount of weight and her face reflects the hard life that she has lived. Carolyn tells her that her 13 year old daughter Trish is missing, and though she has done her best to get her help, she fears that her daughter has killed someone.  Carolyn assumes that because of what Anna does for a living that she will have no problem finding her and keeping the police out of it.   Anna is resistant about getting involved, until Carolyn tells her that the child is actually her niece - a child fathered by her dead brother Steve. Carolyn offers some pictures of her daughter, and when they look, the Strongs immediately see the familial resemblance.

Carolyn  claims that she tired to get Mr. Frey a teacher at the school to help, but suspects that he is a pedophile and actually abused Trish instead of helping her. Carolyn goes on to suggest that they are both responsible for the death of another student. This greatly disturbs Mrs. Strong because she now has to deal with the fact that her granddaughter is in great trouble, and a trusted teacher at her school could be the responsible party.  Together Anna and her mother decide to investigate the case.

When they arrive at the school, Anna seeks out Mr. Frey, only to discover that he is not human.  He can enter her mind and communicate with her, but his mind is almost completely shut off to her.  It turns out that Frey is a shapeshifter with the ability to turn into a black panther.  He points out that she would know exactly what he is, if she had bothered to get involved with the supernatural community.  When Anna plies him for more information he doles out small amounts and sends her on her way.

When Anna shows up at Carolyn's apartment, she runs into a man from the small Mexican town where she gets her blood, and learns that Carolyn sleeps with him in order to get a discount on her rent.  Anna is suitably disgusted and tells Darryl Goodman that he needs to disappear and not return.  When she shows up at the apartment,  Carolyn is clearly surprised to see her and tries to bar the way in, but Anna forces herself through the door. Once inside, she is overwhelmed with the filth in the apartment.  Every single surface is covered in dirty dishes, and there are cigarette butts everywhere. When she checks Trish's room, it looks like it could be a part of a different apartment.  The room is impeccably neat and there are a series of locks on the door.  Anna leaves absolutely disgusted with Carolyn and feels that the apartment is no place for a child to live.

The case becomes even more complicated when Anna finally discovers Trish hiding in her burnt out home, and learns that her mother got her involved with child pornography.  Though Carolyn had only promised that Trish would have to do this one time, the acts kept escalating, until Trish realized that she had to get out.  She stole the computer, which has all of the evidence of her assaults, and believes that her life is in danger because of it.

I could tell you more, but to do so would ruin the mystery for you.  Obviously, child abuse and pornography are disgusting things, but I have a problem with the way in which this story was set up.  Carolyn made sure to point out the class differences between her and Anna and inferred that had she had access to this that her life would have been different.  In this I must say that she is right; however, this story ends up demonizing single mothers who are already a class that is constantly under attack socially.  Everything from the filthy apartment, to the child pornography, plays upon the worst stereotypes of single mothers.  There are plenty of women who are struggling to raise their children without support, who live in clean homes, and pay more than adequate attention to their children, but these women are not the women that get the media's attention - instead it is the women like Carolyn who are held up as the model.  Though Stein made of point of saying that Carolyn's financial situation got worse after her boyfriend left,  the fact that she forced her daughter into sex work, ended up turning Carolyn into a monster, instead of demonizing a system that attempts to force women into having children and then offers little to no support.

Blood Drive is completely without a GLBT character, though this time, Stein did decide to introduce a few characters of colour.  We learn that Max, her boyfriend, who is an undercover officer, is a Latino man.  There is also Felix the vampire cop, who functions more like an errand boy than anything else. He does what he is told by the vampire chief of police and we learn absolutely nothing about him.  Basically, the characters of colour exist for sex, and to take orders.  This hardly counts as good equal inclusion.

Anna continues to be a very strong willed person, though at times it feels like she acts too often on instinct.  It's Frey, the werepanther, who is forced to act to bring her back from the edge.  To some degree this is about Anna being naive about who she is, now that she has become a vampire -- but at the same time -- it really does fall into the model of our ever popular spunky agent.  Anna seems to spend more time chasing her tail, than actually investigating a mystery.   This is positively bizarre when we take into account that investigations is what she actually does for a living.

Stein's world is evolving and getting larger.  We learn from Fray that it includes, witches, psychics, ghosts, were animals, and even dragons.  I assume that as Anna gets more involved with the supernatural world that we will see her interact with these creatures in the future. This is a good thing, but it most certainly does not make up for the erasure of marginalized people.  It seems that Stein has fallen into the trap of adding diversity through creatures, rather than people.

Blood Drive is a short and easy read, but there is nothing original about it.  It relies on many of the same tropes that we have become accustomed to urban fantasy in its narrative to move the plot along.  Though Anna is a strong character, the need to have Fray control her instinctual actions detracts from that.  It is my hope that as she begins to accept who she is, that self control is something that she will learn.  Blood Drive does move the story along, but we don't seen enough growth in Anna to make it compelling and instead we see hints of what may happen in the future.  I can only hope that Stein will follow through on the promises she made in this sequel.