Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: Biting Cold by Chloe Neill, Book 6 of the Chicagoland Vampires

 Merit and the newly resurrected Ethan are on a road trip to desperately find the Malefacium, a book of all of magic’s evil that has been sealed away for millennia. Mallory, Merit’s best friend and a sorceress, has been driven to her limit by her addiction to dark magic and is determined to bring down the barriers of good and evil – no matter the cost and no matter who it hurts.

But Mallory isn’t the only one interested in the book. Tate, the former Mayor of Chicago, drug dealer, murderer and supernatural being of unknown origin is also after the book for his own purposes. When they find it, the story is just beginning, because a whole new force is unleashed on the world. Tate’s nature is revealed, and it’s worse than any of them expected.

Finding out how to stop him seems an almost impossible task as they dig through the records of history, consulting magic, fae and gnomes in an attempt to bring him to heel.

To add to the drama, Cadogan house faces ongoing investigation from both the Greenwich Prisidium and the Mayor of Chicago. And, after Ethan’s resurrection, there’s ongoing magical problems that may threaten his relationship with Mallory.

This series continues to have the wonderful, wide, rich world I love. The different supernatural creatures, all with their own unique twists that set them apart from other Urban Fantasy really adds to make this a unique series.

I like the characters, they’re very human now they’ve finally grown up. And Merit’s relationship with Lindsey and the other guards and friendly vampires is great fun – and shows a mundane side to the protagonist’s life that most urban fantasy’s miss. Most protagonists are either fighting, worrying or having sex, it’s rare to see them sitting around having a pizza night. And I do love Merit’s love of food, it’s a nice human quality to her, even though I generally don’t like vampires eating.

The story itself is decently paced with few flat down time moments. It twists quite abruptly from what I expected with the epic fight for the Malefacium being over almost instantly, but leading to a new, much more epic conflict that also fills in a lot of the gaps from before.

The investigation that follows is an actual investigation, lots of questions, lots of research, following of careful clues and lots of hitting the books. It makes sense, it’s logical and it adds a lot of richness to the world. All in all there was a lot of very good elements to this book.

I think the main problem I have with this book is I kept asking “why?” And I kept asking this because the motivation of so much of the action just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me and seems to have been added for the sake of just creating conflict.

Like Ethan and Merit having their little relationship drama. Now, Ethan has, because of Mallory, a sudden, extreme headache. Like many people in pain, he grabs someone close to him and, also like many people in pain, he grabs too hard and hurts her until she tells him to loosen his grip. He apologises and… that should have been it. Consider the relationship Ethan and Merit have: Ethan literally reached across the grave to try and contact Merit, Ethan died for Merit and Merit has been horrendously grieving his death. This is passion on a grand scale and finally they are reunited… and he decides to cool it because he grabbed her arm too hard? He decided, not her, he decided that suddenly he’s too dangerous for her to be around.

No, I call shenanigans, I call convoluted conflict insertion for the sake of it. One doesn’t literally transcend death itself to be reunited with one’s true love and then think “oops, better call it a day.”

Seth is another character that doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not going to spoil, but considering what he is and considering what Dominic is, it makes no sense at all for him to be the corrupt, murdering, drug dealing mayor of the city he was not too many books ago. It just doesn’t fit and makes it feel like this book and Seth’s identity and nature weren’t planned when those books were written.

I also don’t get the motives of just about every authority in the world. I don’t see why the Greenwich Presidium would go to this much effort to drive out Cadogan House. I can understand corruption – but I can’t understand corruption without gain or incompetence without reason. The same goes for the Order, the level of indifference the Order has towards black magic, the Maleficum and Tate is ridiculous – how and why can they be so utterly blasé?

I also didn’t understand the big show down and why they had to choose 1 fighter to face off against the big bad (Merit, of course). Personally, I’d have called every vampire from every House I could, as many shapeshifters as I could call and a full passel of mages and dogpiled the guy.

This, combined with there being several storylines that aren’t that connected (the relationship, Mallory’s rehab, Tate, the Greenwich Prisidium) , as well as some touched on but not developed (the ongoing hostility of the mayor, other supernaturals revealing themselves).

I also think there was a lack of presenting the big bad as a big bad. Considering what he was and what he was capable of – destroying whole cities – his spree of evil and mayhem was… lacking. It sounds bloodthirsty, but I think he needed to rack up the casualties and the destruction to be taken more seriously as a threat, especially after the last book where the very sky burned and the lake turned black.

Inclusion-wise, this series continues to trip up badly. This is Chicago, but the Chicago of this book is virtually devoid of POC (Malik is the only named POC I can think of), GBLT people or any other minority. Yet Merit freely appropriates the language of oppression, referring to prejudice against vampires as “racism” and the 101 times she mentions supernatural creatures “coming out”.

And I don’t like that the faerie queen, the queen of the fae, an ancient being of vast power and wisdom and knowledge – but what motivates her? Her heart being broken and a woman scorned?

It wasn’t a bad book, by any stretch. But it was a disappointment to me because I have expected a lot better from this series. It was decently paced, the investigation followed along interesting and logical lines. The characters continued to be the same as we had seen before and the world building was advanced with some long held questions finally answered (though I would like to see the magic system expanded more, because at the moment Mallory waves her fingers and stuff happens). I enjoyed the questions that were answered and the path they followed to trying to find the answer about what happened and why. I wasn’t bored and I didn’t find it painful or boring to read.

But it had holes and, in places, I think it lacked development as well as being distracted. It had every potential of being a great book, as it was it was a decent book – but it could have been better. I am hopeful for the next book,  though with Tate finally put behind them, the drama of city hall, the Greenwich Prisidium et al can finally be addressed from a wonderful new angle.