The unstable state of Morganville has spawned a considerable number of plots in the aftermath of the last few battles; some of them far reaching and sinister and some as simple as grab to make money. The instability leaves Claire and her friends with a lot of difficult choices. When an acquaintance is involved in dubious activities, do you report them and risk the vampire authority’s disproportionate response? Do you ignore him and hope that he isn’t doing something that could jeopardise the whole system – or provoke and even greater backlash? Or do you get involved and risk being pulled in yourself?
And then Shane is pulled into such a scheme himself - a strange fighting tournament – a chance for him to express his skills and talents, a chance for him to hone them. But it’s also a chance for the deeply repressed sides of him to come to the fore, his deep seated hatred of vampires that he tries to keep buried is encouraged to flourish in the ring – but how much is it changing him? And what are the ultimate goals of his manipulators?
As if it weren’t thorny enough, Bishop, Amelie’s creator, the ancient and lethal vampire has broken free again – and any of the plots could be his doing to reclaim ascendency.
This book did several things right that previous books had annoyed me about. Firstly, Claire was involved in the plot from early on and throughout the book; in the past I’ve been annoyed by the fact that the protagonist seemed almost ancillary to the proceedings, almost a spectator. Secondly, Claire and her crew handled things alone – but they did so for good reason, they weren’t just charging off like a loose cannon because they wanted to or for random reason. They were involved and they had to try and handle this as alone as they could because they understand the ruthless, scorched earth policy the vampires habitually employ and know Shane will get caught up in it. I also like that, when it did come down to it, Claire did seek help, did realise things were beyond her and did stand up for what she wanted and needed without coming off as a petulant child or someone poking the bear (which she has managed extremely well in the past). She both sought the help she needed, worked with the powers that be and wrung out the concessions she deserved in a sensible and reasonable fashion
In fact, all through this book, Claire’s actions have been relatively sensible and realistic. Certainly not always correct – but always believable and always real – and I can believe she is as smart as she’s supposed to be.
I’m not entirely sold on Shane’s POV – to the best of my memory it’s the first time we’ve stepped outside of Claire’s head. It came with a lot of info-dumping and the same style of long winded monologues that so dominate people’s mental processes in this series. Yet I think it was essential to truly explain this book, what was happening to Shane and how he has grown as a character. From the outside this wouldn’t have worked, Shane would have looked nonsensical and Claire would have looked like a doormat. Or the juice he was drinking would have looked like some kind of mind control elixir. Only in his head can we see the effect of his upbringing, his helplessness, what he has suffered, the abuse of his father, his ongoing fear and hatred of vampires and how the juice affected all of them. Together it made Shane a much more complex character – and a character we could still, on some level, identify with even as he goes off the rails
This book did have scenes that could be seen as superfluous – and, again, that has been a problem with the book series in the past. But in this case I think they genuinely did serve a purpose – like the fencing scene showing off more of the factional differences in Morganville and the differences between Oliver and Amelie even while they both make common cause despite their differences. I think it was, perhaps, a slow and drawn out way to make those points, but the scenes did have a point and did develop the complexities that rules this town. I really like the sense of how dangerously balanced the town is – with the different philosophies of ruling and the battle between human independence and vampire predatory instinct all overlaid with a sense of not provoking any one of several factions (human hunters, Amelie, Oliver, the old Bishop loyalists, human authorities) too far without the whole thing collapsing.
I can’t say I’m the greatest fan still. The writing style is too enamoured of its very long winded internal monologues. Nearly everything that happens has to be agonised over by Claire over and over again at great length that I do tend to find boring. I still think Monica and her cronies are almost cartoonish in their ridiculous extremity and, at this stage in the series, I’m not sure they even come close to adding anything to the overall plot.
There are also elements of the world building that I don’t think I can fit into the canon sensibly. I can’t imagine, in a place as control dominated as Morganville, that a building as big and public as the gym would be built without any kind of CCTV. I have trouble believing that the psychic Miranda would be wandering around quite randomly on her own – and known as a psychic by a fair few people – without Amelie or Oliver or Myrnin checking it out, verifying its truth and then seizing her as a valuable asset. I’m not entirely sure why Amelia and Oliver, knowing what was going on, would wait as long as they did to act. Nor am I entirely sure what the point of her was.
Unfortunately, the inclusion remains extremely lacking. We have very few poc, passing names mainly and none of them main characters – and we have no GBLT people. Claire and Eve are proactive – and do the rescuing – which is nice to see but the guys do have a habit of being protective towards them. And while I’m glad that Shane sees Claire as an equal, I’m decidedly less so that she is the exception. I also didn’t like Glory – the supernaturally attractive and compelling female seductress is overdone.
One thing I loved was Claire’s decision about MIT – because of how she made it. Ultimately, she didn’t decide because of her parents or her boyfriend or her friends or the vampires or anyone else. She decided based on what she could learn. She made the decision for herself, and I was worried before then.
On the whole this is difficult for me. I can’t say I was a big fan of the books – and, honestly, I can’t say I’ve ever been more than a lukewarm fan of the series. But this book is considerably better than the ones before – and considerably better than I expected. This, in turn, makes it hard to be objective on the review – because part of me wants to rate it highly simply because I picked up a book that greatly exceeded my expectations; but those expectations weren’t exactly high to begin with.