Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nightmaster (Nightsiders #2) by Susan Krinard

Trinity is a dhampire and an Aegis agent and she has a mission – to infiltrate the vampire city of Erebus and contact the Underground there. They’ve had communication that the vampires are building up to another war against the human Enclave and she has to find out more – and stop it if she can.

But the only way humans get into Erebus is as serfs – blood slaves owned by the vampire Bloodlords and Bloodmasters. But that could work in her favour – considering the addictive blood of the dhampire.

Ares is one of the oldest and most powerful Bloodmaster’s in the city, but also one of the least active. What he wants most out of life is to be left alone; but when he finds himself in a dual over Trinity, a new serf, he finds himself dragged into vampire politics far more than he would wish to – but it is past time for the city to change.

When this book started I cringed. Trinity is undercover and being literally sold as a slave to Ares, they see each other and… we get pages and pages and pages of overwhelming description of how hot they each find the other – before they know each other’s names, barely recognising their difference in status or their mission – it was hawt hawt hawt, breaking the habit of millennia because ZOMG SO HAWT.

I admit I checked how long the book was and seriously considered putting it down right there.

But I hung in there, waded through some more HAWT HAWT HAWT, and more dubious romance elements like him manhandling her – then expressing his regret for manhandling her but, of course, keeping on the table that she lives or dies at his whim so his regret means not a thing. And we have his current Favourite sex slave who

This book also tries really hard to make it all consensual but it doesn’t – cannot – really work. Ares is determined that he won’t have sex with Trinity until she wants him to (and even then he keeps saying no for Reasons, but largely because the plot wants to draw out this conflict extra extra long), even ignoring her when she begs him to have sex with her and drink her blood. But she’s a slave – she is property and at any moment he can either abuse her or pass her on to someone who will. We know she consents because we can read her mind – but he cannot. He cannot ever know if her enthusiastic consent is real or just feigned in an attempt to secure her own safety. You cannot have informed consent in these circumstances.

So, I wasn’t enthused. But as I read on things got rapidly better. Trinity didn’t instantly jump on Ares’s team and abandon her old loyalties because of her lust – because it was lust. She continued to push her plan to gain control over Ares by any means necessary, to work with the resistance and, ultimately, to continue to serve her people. Yes she lusts after Ares, yes she even comes to care for Ares (and, yes, it is fast but at least it does develop and there is a sense of time about it unlike in the previous book) but that doesn’t radically alter her priorities

Same with Ares, he doesn’t radically change his viewpoint because of Trinity. He slowly evolves – and he evolves from a position that wasn’t too far from it. He wants Trinity, he grows to love Trinity, but love for Trinity alone isn’t enough for him to turn his house upside down, burn all the things and utterly change his life.

Both of them do. Both of them radically change their lives, their opinions and their positions. They both betray the people they once were, Ares being forced well out of his preferred isolation and Trinity rethinking her mission and taking very drastic steps that will irrevocably change her life. They just don’t do it just for the love of a person they haven’t known that long. Sure love is a part, but Ares is faced with enemies who are actively plotting to bring him down, has things happening in his household, in his own family he never even imagined and one of his oldest friends is actively involved and up to their neck. He can’t not act – he has to do something and I even get the distinct impression that if the only thing pulling him into acting were Trinity’s love then he’d turn around and wave goodbye.

The same applies to Trinity – she doesn’t radically change her plan because of love, though love certainly has a part, she radically changes her plan because the situation changes. Her plan has terrible side effects she never imagined and has to adapt. Yes, love lets her go all in – but politics, necessity and the lives of the innocent are also major pressures.

I think I’ve skirted around the Spoilers here but they had to be mentioned because it changes the entire tone of the book. This isn’t like book 1 where we had a Romance that hijacked the plot and, to be honest, didn’t make the greatest amount of sense either. This is a book where the romance is part of the plot, but doesn’t drag it off to weird parts unknown, this is a book where the plot doesn’t rely on love to make the characters lose their ever loving mind, nor does it make them look shallow by deciding that love is more important than, well, everything but especially the continued existence of their societies. This is a story where love is but one of their motivations – a passionate, powerful and very involved motivation, certainly, but it’s not the sole driver and they don’t lose who they are as people, what they value and what’s important to them simply because they have fallen in love.

The world also continues its development excellently, including a growing sense that the treaty cannot continue – and that just trying to keep it alive is already forcing the humans to embrace ever more draconian and appalling actions to placate the vampires. It also opened up a lot more of vampire society, how it works (or doesn’t as the case may be), the flaws and especially the exploitable loopholes. There’s a lot of detail happening here and it all fit with the story which has radically changed and moved the world forwards. I’m actually looking forward to the next book not for the characters (I suspect they will change) but to see where the world goes from here, how the politics have altered things, how everything will have shifted.

On female characters we have Trinity – who is pretty much everything you could want her to be – especially since she doesn’t throw out her skills and mission because she’s looking for love. She’s in a helpless position but she uses it and she entered it deliberately as a spy. Unfortunately, while Trinity is pretty awesome barring some inability to hold her tongue, she does have a rival for Ares’s affections who is pretty clichéd – though not as Mean Girl as I’d expect. I’ve certainly seen worse. There are other capable women around – including Ares’s excellent, outspoken and crafty friend who is about as developed as anyone who isn’t these two main characters. And while this is an abuse situation that also includes a lot of vampires using their slaves for sex, women have not been presented as especially abused or singled out for victimhood.

In terms of POC, we have a few of the serfs mentioned in passing, but I don’t even think they have speaking lines. There are no GBLT people.

Like in the first book, Trinity being a dhampire is supposed to make her an outsider – and presumably be a stand in for minorities – but it’s still not developed. Worse, Ares has unusual coloured hair for a vampire which marks him as different and he’s mocked for it – it feels forced, like there had to be a reason to make him an outsider no matter how convoluted it was.

The first book left me vaguely intrigued but also very frustrated.  I loved the world but the romance was a nuisance. This book has me all in – it’s not flawless by any means, it has far too much erasure and there is, especially at the beginning a book, a ridiculous amount of drooling over each other’s sexiness. But once past that it’s an excellent, multileveled story in a complex world and with a whole lot of possibilities and a plot that has hooked me. I’m actually looking forward to the 3rd book.