Chloe Neill's 'Chicagoland Vampires' series reaches book eight, which is now officially the second half, as it wrapped up at thirteen, and it's as smooth and conversational as ever. The author is almost unsurpassed at conjuring up prose that's as smooth as a baby's backside. She's also insanely good at one of the skills that most writers fail miserably at, namely summarising what's happened up to this point so that new readers are up to speed quickly, while not boring the crap out of old readers who read the first seven books and so know damn well what happened in them.
All that said, I had some more problems with this one, though one is such an odd problem that I'm still trying to figure out if it's really a big deal or whether I should actually praise the author for having the balls to go there at last. I'll get to that one later. First, the real problems that aren't up for much discussion.
Most obviously, Neill doesn't seem to be sure where she wants to go next. In each book thus far, there's been a story that will begin and end in that one and a story that's only gradually unfolding over the series. Unfortunately, at this point, the big decisions about the latter are done and the former is a bit of a stretch. That means that this feels like little more than a pause so that Neill can move some characters around on her imaginary chessboard so they can be in the right places in the next few books.
The series story lately has been about a very troubled relationship between Cadogan House, one of the three houses of vampires in Chicago and the one to which our heroine, Merit, belongs, and the Greenwich Presidium, which is the top level organisation governing vampiredom, where the high muckety mucks do their high muckety muck things. Put simply, it's failed and Cadogan has left the fold. The GP isn't happy about that, so it's now banished Cadogan House, an act that formally marks them as enemies. Sigh.
I'm sure I'm not the only reader to be pretty bored with the shenanigans of the GP. Neill can suggest at a need for alliances and compromises and secret contacts and all that jazz, but the bottom line is that she's painted the GP as such obsolete idiots that every reader of this series surely wants Neill to start out the next volume with the news that the latest Van Helsing took them all down and they're gone. The end. Go home, it's over. Instead, she's just having them do more stupid damn stuff and it's old already.
And, with that half of the plot abidingly forgettable, the new story for the eighth book is just mysterious anti-vamp rioting. That had calmed down some but it's apparently back and it's more vicious. Some anti-vamp organisation starts out by creating a riot that leads to a fire at the local company that distributes blood to vamps. Cut off their supply lines, right? While, it's a less imaginative storyline generally, it could still have promise in a world where other species are starting to come out of the metaphysical closet too, surely leading we humans to panic a bit.
Unfortunately, it really doesn't go anywhere and here's where I'll raise the problem that might not be a problem. Without spoiling anything at all, I'll just say that there's a big mystery here, because nobody knows who's behind these riots, and that mystery gets solved by the end of the novel. I'm sure you weren't expecting anything different.
What's new is that Merit and Ethan and Jonah and all the rest of the leading characters in this series have precious little to do with any of it. They do try but they don't solve it. It is solved, but around them not by them. And that feels really odd. Maybe it's realistic and ballsy given how much Merit has done already in the five minutes she's been a vampire. Let someone else solve something for a change! But it still feels odd.
Now, that's not to say that those leading characters don't do anything here, except prod around and wait for a clue to show up. In previous books, there have been multiple suspects for the mystery of the week and Merit et al have to figure out whodunit while we do the same. Here, we don't even get suspect one until 130 pages in and that's a really slim one.
They do plenty but most of it is to demonstrate that they're good people and they'll continue to be good people whatever the world throws at them. And it isn't just the riots, where Grey House is severely attacked. It's what they do in the aftermath, given that they're no longer under the aegis of the GP and so officially shouldn't be offering help to their fellow Chicago vamps. I won't delve deep here but I appreciated everything done and what it means in the grand scheme of things.
All that said, and it's plenty, I know, I still enjoyed this. Chloe Neill is a tale teller like few authors and it's very difficult not to enjoy the heck out of a tale she's telling, even if it's a weak one.
However, the best bits for me here aren't the ones she probably expected me, random reader, to focus on. One is that Ethan points out that he's 394 years old. At a dinner party with Merit's family. That's priceless. It also makes us pause for a moment and figure out that, at a rate of ten books every year of Chicagoland Vampires time, we'll get to celebrate his 400th in book forty or so. The other is a typo, of all things. Ethan's talking to Merit via the useful telepathic connection they have. "Be grateful for your immorality," he tells her. Ha. That's a fabulous lost "t" and I found myself hoping that it wasn't a typo at all, just a hint towards book nine. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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