As smooth as always, I had some trouble with 'House Rules', the seventh in the 'Chicagoland Vampires' series by Chloe Neill, though only one concern seems to have a particular likelihood of recurring as the series progresses. That's the realisation here that everything is so busy in this world. Intellectually, I'd known that each book pretty much rolls into the next, but I hadn't grasped the truth of that, which is that Merit has been a vampire for only eight months at this point, yet we've already read a lifetime of experiences for her. Will the entire thirteen book series take up a mere year of her immortal life?
As always, Chloe Neill moves us right into a new single book story just as she continues to evolve broader story arcs.
This time out, the micro story ties to the mandatory registration of vampires decreed by the new mayor of Chicago, Diane Kowalczyk, who is, of course, being manouevered by McKetrick, noted anti-vampire militia. In particular, a couple of rogue vampires, or those who choose not to belong to a house, did the legal thing and promptly vanished for their trouble. Noah, the leader of the rogues in Chicago asks for Cadogan's help in finding them, a search that quickly turns into an investigation into their murders.
There are two macro stories that have been building for a while and have come to a head in this book. The most obvious one is that Cadogan has now committed to opting out of the Greenwich Presidium that governs all houses, so has to do everything it can to get out cleanly and intact. The GP are ridiculously awful governors, so we're totally on Cadogan's side but know that there will be some pretty major challenges. The more secret one is Merit finally agreeing to take the plunge and become a full member of the Red Guard, something which seems to be highly appropriate for the times.
So far, so good. I'm on board with all that. Screw the GP and their antiquated shenanigans. Figure out the mystery du jour. And do what you can to ensure the safety of all vampires. That sounds like a good installment in a series that's been pretty solid throughout. Even the little progressions are fine, like the fact that Paige, the witch who lost her archives in Nebraska during the prior book, is now dating Cadogan's librarian so is on hand to help, or that Ethan, Merit's boss and love interest, has upgraded to a Bentley but then gives it up to help alleviate financial concerns.
The problems creep in slowly but become more overt by the end of the book. The mystery at the heart of the novel is not much of a mystery this time out. Over the last few novels, there have been a bunch of suspects who could potentially be the bad guy of the day, but here there's nobody at all until we realise who it is and wait for Merit to catch up. The shenanigans pulled by the GP are not classy or clever or even appropriate; they're like five year olds bickering at each other.
Sometimes Merit is even a big part of those problems. For instance, she joins the Red Guard at last, which is an inherently secret organisation. She doesn't even know who else is a member until she goes through her induction, but after five minutes and one minor romantic crisis, she spills the beans to Ethan, the head of one of Chicago's vampire houses. That's as ridiculous as the fact that the Red Guard, on discovering this, don't promptly kick her out for breaking a core vow. It doesn't help that Ethan promptly gets as pouty as a teenager and uses Lacey Sheridan to piss her off in return.
Even the solutions are problematic, though some of the overly convenient debts that are generated in the process ought to prove interesting in future volumes in the series. And hey, that in itself is a pretty major problem. A book whose best bits are the ones that set up the next one has surely failed in its first job, which is to tell a story. Helping the series along is needed too but only once the core tasks have been taken care of.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this. It's hard not to enjoy Chloe Neill's prose because she carries us along with her flow effortlessly. These are quick reads because we don't want to put them down. I just hope we can move forward without the 'Chicagoland Vampires' series turning into a teenage soap opera, even when some of its key players are hundreds of years old.
Next up: another book published in 2013, 'Biting Bad', which is the most clumsy title thus far, something that I hope isn't reflected inside its pages. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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