Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: The Turning by Jennifer Armintrout, Book 1 of the Blood Ties Series

Dr. Carrie Ames is a new doctor, overworked but driven, skilled and determined. Right until a John Doe arrives in her emergency room who simply shouldn’t be alive. He doesn’t last long but he shakes her to the core – enough for her to go check on his body in the morgue. Only to find that body healed, up, moving around and with great big fangs.

Convalescing from the attack takes weeks – but in those weeks she notices some major changes and is eventually faced with the impossible: she’s a vampire. Blood drinking, sunlight dodging, the whole thing. And Nathan, a member of the Voluntary Vampire Extinction Movement, is her best and only source for information on her new condition.

Unless she goes to her sire. Her brutal, abusive, violent sire who preys on children, slaughters humans and rapes any under his control. A sire who is desperate for a companion – and a sire she is bound to by blood.

Looking at the cover, I was very pleasantly surprised by a lot in this book. There was relatively little focus on sex, even relatively little on lust. There’s instant attraction but that’s not allowed to overwhelm everything else nor does it force two people into instant love and undying declarations of affection and love. It’s clear Nathan and Carrie are heading that way – but it’s not going to be quick, it’s not going to be easy, and no amount of super-horny fumblings are going to replace the misgivings both have about the other nor is it going to drop them on the happy-ever-after train.

In fact, I would say their interaction with each other is less “romantic” and more “exploratory”. There is definite physical attraction that builds into more – but the focus is far more on Carrie trying to live with her new state, trying to deal with the feelings of the sire bond and just trying to decide what to do with her life. And yes, part of it is deciding where Nathan fits in – is he a friend to trust? A love interest? A threat bringing ultimatums from the Voluntary Vampire Extinction Movement? Is he trying to control her? Manipulate her? Finding a ground-state for co-existence with Nathan as well as escaping her sire’s attentions feature much much higher than getting into Nathan’s pants.

The same applies on Nathan’s side – we have far more of his worry over what to do with Carrie, his trying to get her into the VVEM, his targeting of Cyrus, his past with his wife, whether Carrie is under Cyrus’s control – all of these take greater precedence than having sex with Carrie. Yes, he’s attracted to her, yes they’re heading that way but he even outright says he doesn’t love her and works more towards fitting her into her new existence and his life.

In short, we don’t cross eyes over a crowded room then take the express train to humpa-ville. We actually have a story.

And it’s a great story with a lot of unique elements. Sure, “good” vampires and “bad” vampires are things we’ve seen before – but a vampire society driven towards their own kind’s extinction? Making feeding on unwilling humans and creating new vampires a crime? These are novel concepts in a genre where already so much is clich├ęd and done a hundred times over – these elements make for an excellent addition to the genre and the two clashing sides make for some wonderful epic potential. Then we throw in witches to be a very nice wild card as well to really mix it up.

I also like Carrie coming to terms with her new life – and the life she leaves behind. Yes she doesn’t have a family life or friends she is abandoning, but her career, everything she’s worked for, her hopes and dreams are now near impossible to pursue. Her disgust over drinking blood, her sheer denial over what has happened to her – and the major problems that the sire bond brings her are all major issues of conflict above and beyond the romance.

There are 3 elements of the romance I’m not overly fond of. Firstly, I think Carrie loses her temper and has arguments with Nathan that I’m not entirely sure make sense. Like she’s angry at him for keeping secrets but the secrets he’s keeping are deeply personal and it’s not like she’s asked a lot of questions or even finished reading her Big Noobie Vampire Guide.  Secondly, she’s conscious of Nathan’s hotness at some of the silliest times – like on first meeting when someone is swinging an axe at her head. Now, I am a very much an appreciator of hot eye candy, but even I would take a break if someone is trying to decapitate me.

But thirdly is the cringe maker – the sire bond. Now, this could have been handled a lot worse than it was. Carrie never tries to say that Cyrus is any less than evil. When he is abusing children, she makes no excuses. Even when having to fight the incredible attraction and attachment the bond causes, she usually refers to it as the bond. And when he sleeps with her, she refers to it as abusive and frames it as abusive. Which is better than most – at least the abuse is labelled as abuse and if you’re going to have mystically tolerated abuse it’s one thing you need to include

Yet, she is sympathetic towards him. And she grieves for him and she is sad about his past, she wonders if he is made evil by the abuse he’s suffered, she doesn’t want him to die and she even wonders if she actually, truly loves him in addition to the bond. We start to get fuzzy on her will being coerced, on her gentle feelings to him being purely a product of supernatural coercion. I’d have been much happier if it was more feeling/thinking these things then angrily rejecting them as products of the bond

The minority inclusion in this book was far from ideal. We have Clarence, the Black butler serving a master he hates and then collaborating with the protagonist to serve them. POC as servants is an enduring element of the media.

We have a gay teenager – who is kicked out by his outraged parental figure when he is discovered having sex.  This leads him into the hands of Cyrus – a man willing to rape men, women and children. The gay teen is then abused, raped and tortured by Cyrus… but shortly afterwards he’s talking about Cyrus “not being so bad”  and acting friendly towards him – he doesn’t even have the sire bond Carrie has to give a woo-woo justification for this. To cap it off he dies, with the parental figure seeming more concerned with Carrie’s safety than in getting the gay teen any kind of help – or turning him into a vampire (yes, turning him would be against the rules… but so is saving Carrie, which he does anyway. It’s a stark comparison of the value of each life). We also had that father figure also raped by Cyrus as well - I have a horrible feeling this is meant to make us sympathetic to how he treated the gay teen. The treatment of this character makes me cringe, I’ve seen too many tragic, abused, raped, tortured, dead gay men.

I am left with an attempt to be as fair as possible with this book – and that’s hard. It’s hard because, having read the author’s online presence, I usually find myself nodding in agreement – or pumping a fist in the air and yelling “This! This! This!” so after reading this book I’m now torn between wanting to extend huge benefits of the doubt – and being rather disappointed. In the end, it falls to putting aside my positive preconceptions of the author and think of my opinion had I just picked the book up – a book that wasn’t bad as far as basic story goes, with some interesting, unique elements but also with some problematic issues I didn’t care for at all.