Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Gothic Love

Well crap on a cracker, I'm invested in another series - a paranormal one to boot. This is why being a book reviewer is a bad, bad thing. I could have stayed blissfully ignorant otherwise.

The Basics: Watchers In The Night by Jenna Black, book 1 in the Guardians of the Night series and the author's debut.

The Plot: Philadelphia police detective, turned private investigator, Carolyn Mathers has just seen a ghost. Three years ago, her fiance, Gray James, disappeared two days before their wedding. Poof! No Dear Carolyn note, no message relayed through a friend, the guy just vanished. Finally agreeing to a date, she leaves her apartment one evening and is almost mugged. Who should appear out of the shadows to rescue her? Her long lost fiance, Gray.

Gray vanished three years ago because on the night of his bachelor party he was turned into a vampire (talk about a hangover!). He walked out of Carolyn's life, but has been unable to let her go. As a fledgling vampire, he comes in contact with the Guardians. See, there are "good" vampires and "bad" vampires. Bad vampires become addicted to human blood and become indiscriminate killers. Good vampires, the Guardians, drink lamb's blood mixed with milk and protect humans from the bad vampires. Gray refuses to join their order, and given his past, they don't entirely trust him. When it appears he's "stalking" Carolyn, they trust him even less. Then a serial killer, who happens to be a vampire, begins preying on the city - raping women and draining them of their blood. Naturally Gray is prime suspect number one.

The Good: The atmosphere is very good here and Philadelphia is a nice locale. It is one of the oldest (and historic!) cities in the United States, so it makes for a nice gothic backdrop.

My main beef with vampire series of this ilk is that the author tends to focus all their energy on the hunky Alpha vampire and pairs him up with some mealy-mouthed, dish rag heroine who needs rescuing all the damn time. Hence, Wendy is burnt out on paranormals. Not so here. Even though she lacks the incredible strength, speed and immortality of a vampire, Carolyn is a good equal to Gray. She's smart, she's tough, she knows how to shoot a gun; one gets the impression that if she could move on from being dumped days before her wedding her life would be pretty sweet.

I also liked that even though the author is setting up a series about the Guardians, Gray is the ultimate outsider. He doesn't want to join the order, he just wants to be left alone, wallow and pine away for Carolyn. I know this doesn't sound appealing, but it works here.

The plot hums along nicely, with Black introducing quite a few secondary characters. What is pleasing here is that they don't just stand around, posturing and say, "I'm such a hunk, I'm getting my own story, which will be published in May 2007." They serve a purpose in this story, they help move the plot along, and they ultimately play a part in the conclusion. Speaking of, there is one here. I think romance authors tend to stumble in series when they fail to understand the fact that just because it's not a stand alone book doesn't mean it can't end. Give me resolution dammit! And Black does. Our serial killer is caught, although not before he does some damage. It's that damage that readers can expect to see in future installments.

The secondary characters are appealing - notably Jules (who can't stand Gray) a vampire from Quebec who likes to swear in French and Hannah, Carolyn's best friend who would love to castrate Gray. Black has said that Jules and Hannah are the couple in the next book which should be very interesting. Neither was entirely "likeable" in this story, and Hannah borders on abrasive. So lots of intriguing possibilities.

The Bad, Sort Of: These are things that didn't bother me, but might irritate some readers.

While this is a romance, it's not the main focus of the story. There's a lot going on here, and the plot is largely propelled by secondary characters and the serial killer plot. So there are moments where Gray and Carolyn aren't in the story. Like I said earlier, these secondary characters do move the story forward and they don't take up empty space, but readers who want the story to solely focus on the romantic couple aren't going to find that here.

This is a plot driven story, as opposed to character driven. The main issues here: is Gray a killer? Who is the serial killer? Will the Guardians be torn apart by internal squabbling? Will Carolyn and Gray hook up? Not a whole lot of time for angst. This is a very good thing for those of you sick of broody vampires. They brood here, but don't wallow.

The Bad, What Wendy Says: My main issue here was some of the dialogue. The characters spend a lot of time bickering. Mainly it's Gray telling Carolyn, "I'm not telling you shit because it's for your own good," when she wants answers to why he vanished three years ago. Also Jules and Gray really despise each other - so there's several pissing contests between the two. I do think the author's hand was forced by the plot to a certain extent, but after a while I wanted a semi-civil conversation to appear to spice things up. It does get better though once Carolyn knows the truth.

Also, while I found the plot interesting and I easily turned the pages, I wanted a smidge more character development. I think this story would have benefited from an extra 50 pages.

Most of the reviews I've read on this one so far call it "been there, done that" which I can sorta see - but given that the heroine wasn't wimpy (like too many paranormal romances for me to count), this one elevated itself considerably in my mind. But admittedly the whole "secret society of vampire hunters" thing has been done quite a bit.

Final Grade: Watchers In The Night worked for me because of good gothic atmosphere, the serial killer plot, and multiple characters that I found interesting. Personally, I think this is the perfect "airplane book" if you're traveling over the holidays. I waffled on the grade a bit, but ultimately I found it entertaining and I was never pissed off or bored so it's a B.

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