Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Generation V (American Vampire #1) by M.L. Brennan

Fortitude Scott has a degree in film studies and unable to find anything in line with his education, he works in a little coffee shop and struggles to pay his bills, though his family is enormously wealthy.  He avoids seeing them as often as possible because Fortitude is a vampire who at this early stage in his development, is far more human than vampire and his beliefs and concern for humanity does not mesh well with his vampire family.  This means not feeding from his mother as often as he should and being a vegetarian but if it will stave off the final change, it's a sacrifice Fortitude is more than willing to make.

Unfortunately, not being fully transitioned means that Fortitude is far more vulnerable than he even realises at first.  When Luca enters his mother's territory and makes clear that he has a penchant for abducting and abusing young girls, Fortitude's far too human nature will not allow him to look the other way.  His mother is forced to hire protection for him in the form of Suzume Hollis - a crafty Kitsune.  Suzume turns out to be so much more as she helps Fortitude explore a world of supernaturals that he spent his entire life trying to avoid after his sister Prudence killed his human parents.  To rescue a missing child, Fortitude must immerse himself in super natural culture and face the reality that no matter how human he appears, he is indeed a vampire.

When I picked up Generation V, what I expected was the typical angsting vampire story that we have been treated to, especially because of Fortitude's desire to remain human.  This has long been a common trope in urban fantasy when it comes to vampires and it makes very little sense. Brennan deals with this by showing the cruelty of vampire nature as an absolute negative.  None of the vampires in Fort's family cares that Luca is a murdering pedophile and that is reason enough for me as a reader to see the coldness of a vampire nature as something to avoid, rather than to aspire to.  Brennan has also made other changes to what we have become accustomed to as modern day vampire lore.  Rather than being immortal for instance, vampires are simply long lived.  They reproduce by creating Renfields and then breed them with each other to produce a child.  This causes vampire reproduction to be very slow and in Europe, they are actually in danger of becoming extinct. They also become more vulnerable to the sunlight as they age.   So as you can see, there are just enough changes in vampire lore to keep it interesting. 

Though Generation V has a rare male lead, the female characters are all extremely strong though different.  Madeleine is the matriarch of the family and she is aware of everything that goes on in her territory.  While she is cold, she lacks the psychotic nature of her daughter Prudence, who desperately wants her independence.  Prudence is cold, calculating and not even remotely human like.  There is also Bhumika,who is Chivalry's (Fort's older brothers) wife.  After allowing Chivalry to feed off of her for years she is dying slowly.  At first one feels pity for her until we realise that she is not naive or a dupe because she knew exactly what Chivalry was before she married him and went into it with her eyes open, though hopeful that the end result would be different. She counsels Fortitude and though frail of body, is clearly strong of mind. Then there is Suzume the kitsune.  Suzume is technically a yako and true to her trickster spirit. She is always one step ahead of Fort and she is smart and capable.  Suzume is also noy afraid to use her sexuality and good looks to get the things that she wants.  You can never tell if she is serious or playing a game, but the one thing that is certain, is that Suzume knows who she is and her capabilities.

If I have one complaint when it comes to gender, it's the treatment of Beth.  Beth is clearly polyamourous and yet it is treated like she is manipulative and trying to get one over on the men that she is involved with.  Beth made it very clear to Fort that she didn't want a monogamous relationship and because of this, as a reader, it is clear that Brennan meant for us to feel sorry for Fort.  For Fort, part of coming into his own, is severing his ties with Beth and this is seen as an act of his evolving growth.  For me, this part of the Generation V, walked the line and often veered into slut shaming.  Not everyone is built for monogamy and no one should be shamed for it.

One of the rare examinations in Generation V is class.  In the urban fantasy genre, we very rarely have a character who struggles financially and money is rarely brought up. Everything about Fortitude screams working class young man though his family seems willing to view it as a prediction of youth.  He buys things second hand, his car is practically held together with chewing gum and prayer.  When he takes Suzame out for dinner, he has her search for a cheaper place and even then, cannot afford to buy her a beer with the pizza. When he gets a stain on his pants, he cannot afford to just throw them out and instead talks about splurging on Oxyclean to make them presentable for an important family dinner. Though some of this is by choice because if Fort would choose to move home,  his expenses would have been paid completely by his mother. For Fort his desire to retain his  humanity there are no privations that he is unwilling to endure.

Unfortunately, like many books in the genre, Generation V is erased when it comes to GLBT characters.  While this is common, it is not excusable and given Brennan's great treatment of race and gender, it is really disappointing.  I hope that in future books Brennan will introduce a GLBT character.

I loved this book from start to finish and I cannot wait to read the second one in the series.  It was serious and yet funny.  I found myself engaged from the very first minute because Brennan manged in many ways to make vampires new again, which is a feat in a genre overloaded with them.  Generation V is well worth the time to read and so I heartily recommend getting a copy for yourself.