Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: Fade Out by Rachel Caine, Book 7 of the Morganville Vampires

After the last few books, life in Morganville has just come out of a series of disaster. The war with Bishop is finally over, with the ancient vampire destroyed. The illness that was slowly killing the vampires of Morganville has finally been cured – it looks like the town has been saved and can begin to return to normal – reinforced and made more just by the concessions Claire wrung from Amelie for the rights of humans within the town.

But things are not stable. The new laxer rules have led to some humans prowling in gangs, carrying the weapons they are legally allowed to carry

Similarly, groups of vampires are frustrated by the “domesticated” way that Amelie makes them live, working through the blood banks and the people they protect rather than hunting and are seeking to either change the system or leave Morganville entirely.

These revolts couldn’t happen at a worse time as Amelie is consumed by grief from the loss of Sam. She’s unable – or unwilling – to put down the revolts and even Oliver is questioning her ability to rule.

Against that we have the problems of reality TV coming to Morganville – and Ada, the vampire computer that maintains the town, its portals and its veil of secrecy is becoming increasingly more erratic and dangerous – threatening not only Myrnin and Claire but also the future of Morganville.

The book makes me think almost that one story was planned and then the author changed her mind after a few chapters and decided to write another. I think we’re supposed to be having the found work of how Morganville is now unstable with vampires and humans rising up against Amelie’s control and this is supposed to be foundation for a new meta arc after the end of the Bishop storyline. But I don’t think it went especially smoothly, we spend a lot of the beginning of the book worrying about vampire opponents of Amelie, whether Oliver will stand against her, whether there is going to be an anti-vampire human uprising – then we suddenly leap over to the cameras.

There’s not much smooth transition there and the two plots are tied together clumsily in a way that, I think, is supposed to suggest that one leads into the other.

Similarly there’s the plot line with Ada and the implications of that, what it means for Claire and Myrnin and what it means for the town as a whole – Ada is vital for the continuing functioning of the town and enforcement of its rules and status after all. Again, there’s a vague sense of tying it into the previous 2 plot lines but no real connections so much as a jump from plot to plot.

I think what frustrates me more is that any of these three could have been interesting plot lines in their own right – political unrest after the war with bishop could be interesting to pursue and tax the Scoobies decisions on where they stand and why. There could be a continuation of the question of whether to support vampires at all, even exploration of Amelie’s claim that vampires are dying out and humans control the rest of the world so don’t they need a space? This could have been an interesting plot – and I really hope it’s explored in future books because it wasn’t here.

Similarly with Ada – what are the consequences for Morganville without Ada, what does it mean, what did Ada do, can Morganville exist without it? This needs exploring a great deal more than we saw.

Even the reality TV show, its implications and the considerations of national media et al could have done with extra exploration. Instead we had the previous two ideas developing and then this plot line kind of slapped on top. It didn’t flow for me.

Despite that, all 3 plotlines were more interesting than the Bishop storyline for me, primarily because Claire is involved (albeit convolutedly) in these stories and not just a clumsy, awkward observer to action that is, primarily, happening behind the scenes. I got a much larger sense of being involved in the plot this time, of Claire at least somewhat fitting into the story and us seeing the full extent of the action unfold rather than being an outsider, only seeing half of the story and any scenes where Claire was involved being somewhat shoe-horned into the proceedings.

I really dislike how Claire hated Kim from the very first moment they met. I think her dislike of Kim is supposed to be vindicated by how deceptive Kim turned out to be – but it didn’t come off that way. Claire hated Kim because Kim was friends with Eve – it felt like and looked like pure highschool, childish jealousy. And when she started obsessing over the fact Kim and Shane having hooked up once in the past it just made Claire even more unlikeable and childish. She continually harps on about how much she hates Kim, bounces from person to person desperate to find people who share her dislike and is even happy to find Oliver – a frequent enemy – also dislikes her. It’s petty, it’s infantile and after a series of books where life and death were on the line it grates on the senses.

I don’t think it helps that Kim turns out to be something of a villain because that wasn’t WHY Claire hated her. Besides, it also serves to give the protagonist abilities that don’t make sense – like instinctively hating the bad guy even though there’s no indication that said bad guy is actually bad.

Other than hating Kim on sight, Claire is blessedly lacking most of the bad decisions that so characterises her – but at the same time she’s still very much dragged by events and doesn’t spend a lot of time making decisions beyond insisting that she be part of things (like following the vampire Michael to the old deserted factory in the middle of the night). In general I don’t like Claire, she follows other people around, including the plot, she insists on being involved where I don’t see why she should be – or why she would want to be – she is treated as vitally important by the whole town when there’s no indication why she should be and she’s supposed to be a genius, literally a genius, but hardly ever acts it.

These books remain very homogenous, I don’t believe there was any inclusion in this book at all. As for women, the only one I really like and is done well is Eve – independent, hurting but enduring and living her life on her terms as best she can. Claire is a poster child for spunkiness, Amelie is supposed to be in control but we’re only told that we never see it and Monica is a walking Mean Girl stereotype taken to ridiculous extremes. Even Ada is petty, malicious and jealous. Or she’s mentally ill, which is another unfortunate trope – the murderous mentally ill enemy. Which already follows on book after book of Myrnin the terrifying and dangerous mentally ill vampire.

All in all I think this is somewhat of a turning point for the series. We’ve left the Bishop wars and have, in some ways, returned to the original plot line of vampires vs humans and how do they coexist in this town. Only this time the characters have more invested, more involvement and the question is a deeper, richer question than it was when vampires were merely a threat to be staked and removed. I can’t say I really enjoyed this book, but it is a precursor for more, I hope, a new, richer plot line to come.