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Biting Cold
Chicagoland Vampires #6
by Chloe Neill
NAL, $7.99, 352pp
Published: August 2012

There ended up being thirteen books in Chloe Neill's 'Chicagoland Vampires' series, so after this one I'm halfway. It doesn't feel like that right now, because everything's still expanding. Core characters continue to grow and supporting characters finally reveal secrets. We meet some new characters I hope will continue on in the series. And our core location readies for still more change. Maybe with the next book, the middle of the series, things will peak and start to focus on an ending.

As always, if you think you might like this series but haven't read it yet, pick up book one and dive in. It's worth it. But don't keep reading this, as I can't even begin to start talking about this one without throwing in some serious spoilers. You're gone? Cool. I'll begin.

The previous volume, ‘Drink Deep’, shook a whole lot of things up. After all, at the end of book four, ‘Hard Bitten’, we were all shocked to witness Ethan Sullivan staked to death. He was the head of the Cadogan House of vampires in Chicago, homebase for this series. He was also the love interest for our heroine, Merit, who stands Sentinel for Cadogan and easily the second most important character in the series. Talk about a huge shift!

So of course that resonated through 'Drink Deep'. Everyone was getting used to Ethan being dead, which took their attention away from Mallory, Merit's former roommate and now powerful sorcerer taking her exams to join the Order (the Union of Amalgamated Sorcerers and Spellcasters), who goes bad big time and threatens the city in an attempt to bring, well, balance to the force. I know we all know how poorly that tends to end up.

'Drink Deep' ended with more shocks but also resolution. Wow, it was Mallory all along, but she's stopped and caught. Ethan is back from the dead, having been conjured up by Mallory to be her familiar in a process that just didn't complete. We begin 'Biting Cold' with a big fat undo button to all that nice resolution. Mallory's escaped and wants the Maleficium back. Seth Tate, the former mayor of Chicago and an unknown sort of supernatural being, has also escaped and wants the Maleficium for his own purposes. And, having got used to Ethan being dead and gone, everyone has to start coming to terms with him being alive and back. Yes, Chloe Neill is hurled is right back into things.

The good news is that the Maleficium is no longer in Chicago; it's now being guarded by a witch in an old missile silo in Nebraska, so that's immediately the destination for everyone. Mallory's on her way. Tate's on his way. Ethan and Merit are on their way. And, as you might imagine, all hell breaks loose when they all get there, right down to our introduction to gnomes through an army of them joining in the fight. What's more, as the Nebraska part of this novel reaches its peak, Tate literally splits in twain. Now there are two of him to deal with and we still don't know what he actually is (or they are).

Six books in and I'm really starting to settle down with this series. Neill has grown considerably as a writer, having written not only these half dozen 'Chicagoland Vampires' volumes but also a whole trilogy called 'Dark Elite'. Her writing here is smooth and confident and she's well aware of how much to grow her characters and how much would be too much. The action is strong and the characters are able to live up to it, if that isn't a bad word to use in this situation where quite a few of them are not alive, even if the one who was dead isn't any more.

What surprised me this time out is how anti-authority the series has gotten. It was always kind of there, with the lead character a grad student turned into a vampire against her will and only manipulated further from there by quite the array of authority figures. However, there were good people in positions of power too, something that's pretty much changed entirely by this point.

Ethan and Malik may have kicked out the pain-in-the-ass receiver imposed on Cadogan by the Greenwich Presidium, but now the entire house may be expelled from the vampire world by an out-of-touch governing body. The old mayor was bad, but the new one is a lot worse, with anti-vampire militia behind her. And the Order that governs the sorcerers seems to be utterly inept and more than willing to not bother cleaning up the messes they've arguably caused. A growing subplot involves Merit now working for the Red Guard, a secret group of vampires working to protect the Houses against themselves.

In other words, we're polarising between what are now rebels (Cadogan House, the Red Guard, Chuck Merit's disbanded taskforce) and the organisations that have power over them. I'm intrigued to see how this polarisation is going to play out in future books. It should play well alongside another polarisation that is the human population at large and the various supernatural creatures who have either outed themselves or been outed by others. I don't think it's a spoiler to comment that the nymphs, sirens and trolls choose in this book to add themselves to the list that already includes vampires and werewolves.

In other words, both the world that we know through reading these books and the world that the fictional public is gradually discovering within them are being shaken up and, as I'm sure we all know, shaking up worlds means drama. I won't spoil how the events in this book resolve, but I will say that they mostly do so, so that we're back on pause awaiting how Chloe Neill plans to shake everything up again in book seven. I leave this one with ideas about a future path but no surety as to whether I'm right or not. Let's find out in May when I review 'House Rules'. ~~ Hal C F Astell

For more titles in this series click here
For more titles by Chloe Neill click here

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