This third book in Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampires series seems like the first to feel settled. The first, ‘Some Girls Bite’, was very much an intro to the series, with the plot shoehorned in whenever there was opportunity. The second, ‘Friday Night Bites’, did much better with story but it was still busy with setup, given that Merit, our newly turned vampire heroine, still hadn't even moved into Cadogan House, to whom she now owes loyalty and for whom she now works.
This book, however, sees our heroine settled and ready for a story. Merit is still a recently turned vampire, because Chloe Neill clearly has no intention of ever giving her any free time to get used to the idea of being a vampire, let alone a Sentinel. Very little time has passed since the beginning of book one, though Merit has finally started to accept her fate, if that's the right word to use here, and get down to her incredibly long future.
As this book begins, she's finally living in Cadogan House, which she thinks she might even like, especially after being shown its library, but she still has much to figure out about life as a vampire. At least she resolves some of that here, while taking care of business as the House Sentinel on a new job that threatens to put her right in the middle of whatever trouble is coming.
And, with Mallory moved out to Wicker Park for intensive training on how to use her powers as a sorcerer, the focus is very much on Merit, with a little on her boss, Ethan Sullivan, a man she despises but still lusts after. With representatives of all four packs of shapeshifters converging on Chicago, he lends her out as muscle for the convocation that will determine whether the packs will stick around or hightail it back to home base in Alaska when the inevitable trouble between humans and out-of-the-closet vampires starts up again.
I enjoyed ‘Twice Bitten’ much more than the prior two books. The setup has been good all the way through and I've enjoyed the detail that Neill has gone into putting this series together. She wasn't the first, or even the second, to do the 'legal vampire' thing, but she brings something new to the table with the way she constructed her world. I like the House system and how it means that the paparazzi know exactly where they need to camp out to pose questions to a media-friendly young vampire with important family like Merit.
The plot conveniences of the last book are mostly gone, but they're replaced by plot progressions that, shall we say, are completely unsurprising. For instance, the shifter convocation is a good idea but we can't really doubt how it's going to end up. We can enjoy some of the details that unfold on the way to that decision but we can't be surprised by which way it goes. I did like how Merit endears herself to one pack though, because it's a good way to underline who she is when she isn't thinking about who she is.
The only real surprise here comes from how Neill takes Merit's relationship with Ethan. Half of it is completely obvious, of course, and we called it way back at the beginning of the first book, but the other half is neatly subverted so that we don't go down the road we expect, at least not yet or not fully or not something. We can still expect certain things later but it may be a lot later and I appreciated that. I also liked that the alternate options, as there are always options in urban fantasy series with kickass heroines, aren't quite as obvious as they usually tend to be.
The core of the story is pretty straightforward but there's a mystery there that's addressed well. Put simply, the initial prologue meeting of the four pack leaders doesn't go well. One leaves and the bar they're in is promptly shot up by apparent assassins. While there's a suspect list of one, he isn't anywhere to be found and we just know it's not going to be that simple. The intrigue gets more complex and escalates the difficulty of Merit's job as an already unwelcome vampire in the midst of four testosterone fueled packs in the midst of a core argument to their species.
The action is decent too, especially when things go down on a large scale, because you know they just have to. Merit's progressing with her training, finally making an important breakthrough that helps no end. There's a new revelation provided that will surely bear fruit in future books and it's an interesting one for the particular vampire mythos that Neill's building. Also, the ending to this book, as inevitable and unsurprising as it is, is handled well.
I really wanted to close this book, pick up book four and keep on reading. I couldn't, partly because I don't have a copy yet and partly because I'll be taking a break next month to review Neill's new ‘Devil's Isle’ novel. From the very beginning of this series, I started imagining not only what's going to happen next but where the rest of the books are going to take things. Right now, three books in, it's gone pretty close to what I expected but there are a few differences and some signs that it's going to make some departures in the next couple. I look forward to being surprised! ~~ Hal C F Astell
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