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Midnight Marked
Chicagoland Vampires #12
by Chloe Neill
NAL, $15.00, 384pp
Published: March 2016

I've mentioned before in my reviews of earlier volumes in the 'Chicagoland Vampires' series that it's hard not to enjoy them. Neill's writing is very smooth and it draws us in. However, the longer the series ran, the harder it is not to realise how fluffy the whole thing is and just how much goes down during Merit's first year as a vampire.

Well, finally she reaches that milestone. She's been a vampire for an entire year and she's lived to tell about it. That warrants a trip to Wrigley Field for a rare night-time game of her beloved Cubs. They're early so there's time for Saul's Pizza at Temple Bar, even a game of pool, and, oh, a corpse. This one is a shifter, murdered by a vampire and with mysterious symbols written in the vicinity. Mallory feels the death and the game is afoot.

It's fair to say that some of us don't want to read a 'Chicagoland Vampires' novel in which nothing happens (I'd say none of us but some diehard fans are apparently totally up for that, as long as Ethan takes his shirt off), but it does beggar belief just how much goes down in Chicago with a specific set of Cadogan vampires. By extension, nothing goes down anywhere else, even though vamps have been around for a very long time and they're all over the world. I realise that some story arcs run longer than individual novels, but this one year could have been ten or twenty or forty, given that vampires don't age.

Oddly, while my confidence in the series decreased considerably as it ran on, some of the better books have come late on. This has many of the same flaws as any entry, but it's a strong one otherwise that I found myself enjoying a little less cynically than usual.

Bringing species together for one murder is a good decision of Neill's, if I can use species for all of these. Vampires and shifters are different groups of supernatural creatures with their own cultures and attributes. Sorcerers kind of count as a third, even though they're otherwise human. We don't know too much about sorcerer culture and we haven't met too many sorcerers, so we find Mallory contributing plenty for a change, even though her role ends up rather overtly Hollywood. Paige has been underused of late and this gives her welcome opportunities too.

We even get a new worthy character, Annabelle Shaw, who's pregnant when they find her in a cemetery, a necromancer about to raise a corpse for a question. She's exactly what I want in this series and I would hope that she becomes a regular character, except that there's only one more book after this one, an ongoing sequel trilogy notwithstanding. She's sassy, but in a very different way to so many of the characters we know.

Merit and Ethan meet Annabelle because they're actually following a trail of clues. The murder strains relationships between the vampires and shifters of Chicago, which is fair enough, if a little petty; but we fight through it in this instance and Merit and Ethan find themselves out at the remote house of Caleb Franklin, former member of Gabriel's pack who left and moved out close to Belle River, known locally as Hellriver.

There, they find the key to a safety deposit box and, out back, Annabelle and the two discoveries help move them on another step and another and, wow, it's good to have an actual mystery and an actual investigation. Sure, the pair of them get up to plenty in the soap opera that is their life as they do so, but it's generally an interesting and worthy journey before it goes all Hollywood during the overblown finalé, at which point the grand reveals aren't remotely surprising.

I won't run through the synopsis, except to underline that it's worthier than usual, but I will give a shout out to the vampire-run nightclub known as La Douleur, or Pain. It's a niche affair, to say the least, but it's a neat new little detail in a universe where there have been surprisingly few such neat new little details since the early novels.

There are new little details in the relationship between Merit and Ethan but I got tired of that relationship a few books ago. Merit's a decent character and a slightly unusual one for this genre, given that she was made a vampire against her will and has fought against reality for a while. She's more of a conventional character than her most obvious comparisons in series by other hands; but she's still unusual enough to be worthy. Ethan, however, has been a broody transplant from a romance novel all along and, while he apparently makes a lot of female readers buckle at the knees, I've never found him more than a cardboard cutout of a love interest.

And they don't have long to go. Chloe Neill had surely known for a while that she was done with this series and was looking for ways to wrap it all up. The new little details for Merit and Ethan are things that really ought to happen before there are no books for them to happen in. The die-hard fans will have oohed and ahhed but I was just happy that it was finally done and we can move on to actual story.

All of which means that this is one of the better late entries in the series, which is a positive sign for what's still to come, but it was written from a standpoint where there isn't going to be much left to come. In turn, that leaves us in the odd situation where we're at once happy that we're getting back on track but aware that the track is ending. I'll miss the series when it's over but it's fair to say that it probably ran a little too long. ~~ Hal C F Astell

For more titles in this series click here
For more titles by Chloe Neill click here

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