Finally, the thirteen volume story arc that comprises a single year in Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampires series comes to an end and, quite clearly, the primary point of the book is to do that: end a series. It could have done it a lot worse; but, maybe, it could have done it a bit better.
For a while, Neill distracts from any new plot we might be in for with a long aside. That's understandable, because her long-term fans, who, at the end of the day, pay her salary, surely demanded it. Of course, it's the wedding, the long anticipated wedding of Ethan Sullivan, the four-hundred-year-old vampire who's Master of Cadogan House, and his Sentinel, Merit. This is a gimme to the fans, as smooth as everything else Neill writes, but, from the perspective of the big picture, it's mostly a necessary section that needs to be taken care of before we can move onto new business.
And, as a male fan of the series who never bought into Sullivan being a big romantic lead, a literally to-die-for partner, I shocked myself by enjoying a bachelorette party and a wedding. Five courses of chocolate tasting from Mallory? Hardly rivetting stuff, but I enjoyed it. An evening at Temple Bar with a hunk in jeans and boots and with a copy of Byron's poems? Not what I came to this series for, but I enjoyed it. A wedding in a library is more like it, but again, I've been dreading the whole wedding thing for half a dozen books, but I enjoyed it.
And, right afterwards, we get down to business. Mallory has felt a malaise, some inexplicable feeling that something is wrong. At the wedding, Gabriel feels it too. What it is we don't know yet, but we got a hint in between the party and the wedding in the form of Winston Stiles, a crazy vampire who's hearing voices and waiting out in Ethan's office at Cadogan to attack the next person to show up, which naturally turns out to be Merit.
He's almost zombielike and so is the mob that's outside the library waiting for Merit and her guests to leave. They're all hearing voices too and crying in pain because of it. So, while we've made it past the bachelorette party and the wedding, we won't have to go to Paris for the honeymoon because Merit and Ethan and the rest of the gang have to solve Chicago's problem, as always.
What follows is partly good stuff. The villain is expected, but the mayor's a bit closer to being on Cadogan's side, given what went down last time out in book twelve, so things can progress a little easier. Chicago's used to the weirdness that comes with supernaturals in the city nowadays, so when it starts snowing at seventy degrees and Merit's having to rescue a ship that finds itself stuck in a suddenly frozen river, it almost takes it in stride.
Partly it's just what's expected. The standard expectations for final books in long-running series include the closing of the long-running series arc and the return of many supporting characters from way back when. This one does a little of both, but not as much of either as I thought there would be. What we mostly settle for is a strong scene with Claudia, Queen of the Fairies, and a major step forward for the Red Guard.
After all, the longest running story arc, that goes all the way back to Merit being made a vampire, got taken care of recently. Even though there's a long list of other supporting characters whom I thought would show up here for a swansong or a cameo, most of them didn't.
That surprised me, because Neill is great at juggling a focused story arc in each novel plus a broader story arc that runs over multiple books. I'd have expected her to leave more to be wrapped up here than she did. In fact, I'd have called some of the developments on the personal front beginnings to new story arc that presumably aren't going to go anywhere now that this series is done.
For instance, Merit's brother Robert doesn't even show up for her wedding and her dad, with whom she's now on better terms, given his support over the last couple of books, leaves conspicuously early. What is that all about? We may never know. Sure, a sequel trilogy, the Heirs of Chicagoland, kicks in after this book, but I'm struggling to see what that might be about, let alone how unresolved aspects of this series might move forward into it.
What Neill does do here is ramp up to the boss for level thirteen. I'll leave the details of that for you to discover, but it's a combination of exactly who we expect and some clever lateral thinking that works pretty well. I liked a lot about how this went. The finalé is appropriately cinematic and suitably grand for the wrap-up for a thirteen book series.
Unfortunately, it wasn't my favourite aspect of the book and I have a firm feeling that I'm supposed to leave it either thrilled because of the ending or in bliss about the wedding. Really, I left it geeked out over a fictitious manuscript that was written in an unknown language and only deciphered through the use of magic. It's the Danzig Manuscript and it should be one step in the process of resolving the problems in this book. It ended up as a strong abiding thrill for me, and not only because of a hinted similarity to the mysterious Voynich Manuscript.
And so I'm done at last. I liked this series, but it did get fluffier as it ran on. I liked Merit, for the most part. She's a little clichéd in some areas but she has her fair share of originality and she's relentlessly kick-ass. I didn't like Ethan much to begin with and he didn't grow on me much more as it all ran on. The supporting characters were similarly mixed for me; I liked some of them a lot and felt some of the others didn't progress much. The plots did the same: some were deep and immersive; others skimpier and more of an afterthought. In other words, it's a mixed bag of a series, making this book a mixed bag of a final volume.
Next up for me is the first in the sequel trilogy (or perhaps a series) called the Heirs of Chicagoland. Books one and two are out, though the third isn't due until next year. As much as it seemed that Neill might have been just as eager as many of her readers for the series to wrap up properly, she rolled right on into the sequels, even as she was writing the unrelated Devil's Isle series as she did so. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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