Chloe Neill certainly got busy quickly with her 'Chicagoland Vampires', this being the tenth book in the series only six years in. One of the best things about this one is that it was completely obvious where she was going to take the series story arc from here and then she didn't. Most of these novels are fun to read, because of Neill's easy prose, but not particularly surprising. This one actually surprised me.
To be fair, it surprised me twice, but the other reason was merely that I'd bought it again by accident instead of picking up 'Dark Debt'. Idiot.
Some of the character choices in this one annoyed me enough to look through the Goodreads reviews to see what readers, especially female readers, had to say about it. Some didn't have a problem with Merit and Ethan this time out (but maybe all they cared about was how often they took their clothes off), while others shared some of my concerns (and also raised some more).
Put simply, I've never really got Ethan as a romantic lead. Sure, he's a hot vampire but so's pretty much everyone else in this series. That doesn't put him at the top of anyone's list. Sure, he's a capable leader, which is a key attribute especially in this book, and I can buy into how much he's trusted by his Cadogan vamps. That doesn't make him irresistible to women. Maybe I'm just not the right demographic to fall for his alternating capable and moody turns, but it would seem that some of the female readers of the series share my thinking.
For instance, we open with a vampire road race, of all things, which I still can't quite visualise. Merit would have won fairly, but she backs off at the end so that Ethan can win instead and his adoring fan club (he literally has a fan club) can cheer. If he was half the man we're supposed to think he is, there would have been no reason for Merit to do that. It reflects poorly on her and especially on him that she feels the need to stroke his ego.
As always, there's a novel arc and a series arc, though the latter is where I got surprised.
The novel arc is relatively underwhelming, mostly because Neill didn't seem to see it as remotely as important as the other things going on. Someone is murdering people and hinting at a magical connection by framing the scenes like tarot cards. And yeah, I know nobody figures out the tarot card thing quickly but it's totally obvious. The problem is that there's a suspect list of one and, when that suspect turns out to be the first victim, we shift to a suspect list of one with new knowledge. We don't need Sherlock Holmes for this case. Dr. Watson could have solved it.
The series arc is much more interesting because it features Ethan's run for leader of the Greenwich Presidium.
Now, I've been in two minds about this since it came up. From one side, the people who run the GP are complete idiots and none of them should be running anything; the sooner they're all got rid of the better. So why the heck not? It's not like Ethan could do a worse job! From the other side, what if he's elected head of the GP? What does that mean to the series? Is that why there are only three more books after this before we shift sideways into a sequel series, 'The Heirs of Chicagoland'? What would it mean for Ethan and Merit, or Cadogan or even Chicago? It didn't seem right, especially as I'm British and this would mean an American taking over something that the old world had taken care of up until now. In other words, I didn't like any outcome that I could see.
I won't spoil what happens except in one sense. What I immediately expected to be the new series arc that would take us through the last four books was not that in the slightest. Neill shifts it into high gear, mostly by giving it a higher priority than the novel arc, and wraps the whole thing up right here right now. That surprised me and I have to say that I appreciated the solution she came up with to my problems above, if not for the reasons she might think.
So, novel arc surprisingly poor but series arc turned other novel arc rather good, especially with the bizarre diversion that is Darius's unexpected trip to Chicago (and other places). This had every potential to be horrible (like the Harold Monmonth trip in 'Wild Things') but it turned out to be a surreal and very welcome shake-up that does what it needs to do and politely wanders off stage. I went from rolling my eyes to grinning widely in a pretty skimpy number of pages.
And talking of rolling my eyes and grinning widely, there's a fantastic part here that's set at Spring Con, a big pop culture event. Some of it is wrong, like how Merit can just walk in with her katana without even a peacebonding station getting in her face about it, but mostly it rings hilariously true. If Ethan has a fan club, then of course there's going to be a vendor at the local pop culture convention selling underwear with his face on it. Best of all is the scene where a Merit cosplayer tells the real Merit that she's not doing the job very well because she needs to channel her inner vampire sex warrior.
So there's good stuff here, even if there's some bad stuff too. I didn't buy into the testing done to determine validity of candidates for the GP role. I so didn't buy into that. It was pointless and convenient and a waste of time for all involved. Then again, that would also describe the GP, so maybe it's fair after all. Does Mallory having a little bit more substance again serve to counter that somewhat? Maybe. Does the fact that the Red Guard apparently has its own datacenter underneath the lighthouse counter the counter? Maybe.
Chloe Neill has entertained me throughout this series because she's so easy to read and so easy to get caught up in. But at the same time, it's clearer than ever ten books in that this is fluff. If this were a TV show, I'd binge it while doing the 'Washington Post' crossword and then move on to something else. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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