The further Chloe Neill's 'Chicagoland Vampires' series runs, the more I get into it. It felt a little awkward on occasion in the first couple of books, as the author got her characters settled and her grounding ready to be built on, but the third book, 'Twice Bitten', left me wanting to roll right on to the next one and each succeeding book has managed the same feat.
Basically, this series is made up of linked supernatural cozies. Now that we have our grounding, we get a new mystery introduced each time out; an array of suspicious characters, both new and old, for us to consider as the guilty party behind everything; and progression within the series, not only within Cadogan House, at which our lead character, Merit, stands Sentinel. Neill is so smooth at what she does that this all flows so easily that we're finished before we know it and we still want to keep going.
We start with progression here, because book four, 'Hard Bitten' ended with a real shocker, the death of Ethan, Master of Cadogan House and Merit's sort of boyfriend. I have to say that I wasn't expecting that in the slightest as Ethan was the second most important character in the series, but the author clearly saw him and his relationship with Merit as distracting, so had him staked. He's still here, albeit in dream form, but Merit is a lot freer now.
After 'Hard Bitten', Chicago has changed. The old mayor, Seth Tate, has been locked up, carefully because he's some sort of supernatural creature, though nobody seems to know precisely what. The new mayor, Diane Kowalczyk, has her eye on the presidency, and she has McKetrick at her right hand, the militia leader with a hate on for vampires, so she's seriously thinking about an act to force registration of them. What's more, she's disbanded the supernatural taskforce that Merit's grandfather ran.
Cadogan has changed too, because there's now a receiver in charge, even with Malik now Master. He's Frank and he's been tasked by the Greenwich Presidium with bringing Cadogan and Chicago back to stability. Of course, he does much the opposite, with a succession of counterproductive directives that manage to alienate pretty much every vampire in town.
And there's something supernatural going on too. Lake Michigan has suddenly turned black and gone utterly static. The nymphs didn't do it but the media has a photo of one on a bridge looking rather like she did. This sort of odd phenomena only escalates, clearly worked by someone magically powerful for a reason entirely unknown but which Merit needs to figure out.
Talking of magic, there's also a new magician in town because Mallory is at the stage where she's doing the exams that will determine whether she'll be allowed to join the Union of Amalgamated Sorcerers and Spellcasters (usually referred to as the Order). He's Simon and he could well have hidden motives for being in Chicago too, because Neill needs a good roster of suspects.
So, if it isn't the nymphs and it isn't Lorelei, the siren who has dominion over Lake Michigan, who is behind the supernatural phenomena that seem to be sucking magic out of the city? Is it Tate, from prison? Is it the new mayor, as ambitious as they come? Is it Simon, Mallory's examiner? Is it Frank, the surely not as incompetent receiver that he seems? Or is it someone else who we haven't even considered yet? There are lots of candidates.
Everything works here, except perhaps the underwhelming reaction of the folk in Chicago to such outrageous supernatural occurrences in their town. Things like this ought to prompt more than just picketers outside Cadogan House. It could warrant torches and pitchforks, even riots in the street, but Neill is not willing to go that for, for reasons that we might learn soon in a future book.
Other than that, it's absolutely spot on all the way. The mystery is easily as mysterious as any in the series thus far and it's supernatural to boot. I appreciate the character development that Neill refuses to skimp on and also the development of the series too. While Merit is more and more comfortable as a vampire at Cadogan House, she's less and less comfortable in the wider world of vampires, which will surely shape her role in the books to come.
For instance, she's already working more and more with Jonah as the series runs on. He isn't just a member of Grey House but a member of the Red Guard tasked with recruiting her into its ranks; that's an secret organisation who takes on a self-imposed duty to protect the Houses against themselves, along with protecting them from the powers above them: the Greenwich Presidium, an organisation which hasn't once put itself in a good light in this series.
I can't praise Neill's prose enough. It's mainstream, nothing literary, but it's so smooth in definition and progression that it's hard to stop reading. Neill is incredibly good at incorporating brief synopses of where we're at into the prose that I can only compare her to Seanan McGuire on that front. While many members of the ensemble cast shift back and forth between minor and major parts, she's still keeping tabs on all of them and growing them a little at a time: a relationship here, a promotion there, a revelation over where it counts.
And, in keeping with the prior book, there's another shocker in store. I'm not going to spoil it, especially as I have no idea where it's going to lead us, but I'm eager to find out in the next book, which is the sixth, entitled 'Biting Cold'. I want to see what new mystery will show up to plague Chicago and I want to see how a few subplots are going to pan out. I'm keeping tabs on four of them in particular and a few more just because. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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