Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nightshades by Melissa F. Olson

Things are not going well for the Bureau of Paranormal Investigations in Chicago.  Not only are young people being kidnapped by a Shade (read: Vampire), several agents have lost their lives trying to fight them.  The government has only been studying vampires for two years and so far they really aren't equipped to deal with them. Alex McKenna takes the job no one wants and becomes Special Agent in charge of the Chicago bureau. Now that he has the job, he has to figure out a new strategy for dealing with the Shades and this might just involve finding himself someone on the inside.

Nightshades is clearly a novella and meant to start off a new series.  I've never been a fan of beginning a series that way because I don't feel that novellas offer enough room for character or world building.  I'm sorry to say that Nightshades didn't buck the trend on this, though it was a fairly good attempt.

Nightshades is as much a police procedural as it is a a vampire story.  In the last ten years, vampire stories have been so widely produced and distributed, I for one have given up on the idea of anything new being added to this particular supernatural lore.  Olson does include a few differences from traditional vampire lore in that her vampires can go into the sun and are said to by symbiotic with humans because their saliva can heal.  Vampires do need human blood to survive but the feeding of a vampire benefits a human because it boosts the immune system. Granted, it's not the first time we've seen vampires heal but for me at least, it's the first time it was described as symbiotic and explained that the reason we are having so many problems with diseases is because the vampire population is too low to counteract it.

One of the things I like about Alex is that he fought for his new position to prove himself.  I like that Olson had him trying to escape his mother's legacy as the first head of the FBI.  That's a bit of a gender bender there.  None of this however stops Alex from pulling rank and hiding vital information from his team.  Alex reminded me of Picard and Kirk in the sense that he damn well should have stayed with the ship but then came up with a B.S. excuse to put himself in the line of danger. Like any good captain, it looks like he's going to get the girl at the end of the day.

Lindy is a 1000 year old vampire and she actually reads like one in many respects.  Lindy speaks multiple languages and constantly has to work to make sure that she keeps up with things like human slang.  She studies her coworkers to learn about how to be more human.  When she learns that her coworker has a cat for instance, Lindy adopts one.  She even goes as far as to stain tupperware and leave it in the office to give the impression that she consumes food. Lindy is both smart and capable.

In terms of inclusion, there really isn't any significant amount to speak of.  Noelle Liang is a star engineer for the Chicago FBI office and she's a lesbian.  When Alex has a tech question or task, this is Noelle is who he turns to.  Unfortunately, Noelle didn't really rise to a lever of a character because she didn't have a significant role in the story and beyond her race, sexuality and job, we know virtually nothing about her.  Because Nightshades is a novella, I'm very tempted to give Olson a pass on this because there wasn't really a lot of room for character development.

In terms of people of colour, aside of Noelle, there's also Stella and Diaz.  Stella is a hematologist and a captive of the head Shade.  Stella is being controlled against her will and lives her life in fear. We lean nothing about Stella except that she works for the King, that she's Black and is afraid.  Stella is a tool; she's not a character.  Then there's Diaz, whose attack began this story.  Diaz is a tough no nonsense man whom Giselle becomes fascinated with.  Diaz's main contribution is to be attacked and then glamoured into helping the Shades.

Finally, there's Giselle.  She functions as Hector's (read: the antagonists) weapon.  When Hector needs a job done which is violent, it's Giselle to the rescue. Giselle is blood thirsty and vicious and so of course, Olson had to have her called sociopath. Why can we not have someone be evil because they're a bad person? Why does an arsehole always have to have some kind of mental illness? In case you're wondering, yeah, it's hella ableist.

Olson offered just enough in the opening novella for me to consider picking up the series when she publishes another book.  I will state again however, that I wish that this hadn't been a novella because the characterisation and world building weren't nearly as advanced as they should be for a first entrée into a series.  It's hard to judge exactly where this might go and if the setting Olson has created is sustainable enough.  I'm really not pleased that Olson chose to end this novella on a cliffhanger; it's a cheap writes device to build up interest in the next book.  A story should be contained and have a firm beginning and ending because if it's good enough, people will read the next book.

Nightshades, being a novella is extremely short and easy to finish in an afternoon.  It's pretty fast paced but not necessarily laden with action scenes. I want to know the origin story of vampires which Olson didn't come close to explaining.  I want to see who these characters are because I feel as though I don't really know them. I'm not at all interested in the budding romance between Lindy and Alex and find that to be a distraction, though it is worth noting that when we normally see a vampire pairing, it's between a human woman and a male vampire and Olson does invert that.  As I said, I liked Nightshades enough to give the first book in this series when it's released a chance.