Written by Rachel Caine

First Published in USA in 2006 by Roxanne Longstreet Conrad

Published in UK in 2008 by Allison & Busby Limited

Character

Crow character_001Claire Danvers is an ordinary girl done right. For a start, she isn’t an ordinary girl. She’s a smart girl who got the best grades to get away from her bullies, only for her overprotective parents to unwittingly throw her in the path of an even worse bully. Claire starts off as a victim, unable to fight back in any meaningful way, and a bit of a crybaby but, really, who can blame her in such a situation? She is completely isolated and running for her life from one of the worst bullies you can imagine. However, she slowly becomes stronger and more resourceful as she is given a motive beyond personal survival and the confidence to proactively seek methods of protection for her and her friends from the ruling vampires of the town. She’s by no means a kick-ass action hero by the end and she’s still a little immature and insecure but that feels natural. Change doesn’t occur overnight. There are many more books in the series and she’s got plenty of time to develop. For now, I’m happy with how far she’s come.

One of those friends that give Claire a reason to become stronger is Eve, a Morganville native and the friendliest, sanest girl in town despite appearances. She’s learnt to be strong and self-sufficient in such a hostile environment and manages to get Claire out of a lot of trouble both by giving important information and getting her away from leery vampires. Despite her strength, however, she is allowed a few emotional moments and her POV summing-up of the book (which I’m still not entirely convinced is necessary) shows her slowly changing outlook and bright cheery attitude despite the circumstances.

One more (human) female character to mention: Monica. Oh my God, I would not want to be this bully’s victim. She has a massively overinflated view of herself and anyone who makes her look a fool will be a target for constant and violent persecution. She is a constant and real threat to Claire throughout the book, almost as frightening as the vampires. However, as the book goes on, she starts to become a bit one-dimensional as she seems much too fixated on bullying people and we never get to see another side of her. What’s more interesting is her cronies: Gina and Jennifer. The former seems as bad as Monica but the latter shows some signs of reluctance. From that, we can all assume that she’s only obeying Monica to escape persecution herself, as is common in bullying cases, and it’s nice to see some individual differences in cronies. Monica, however, needs more development despite being a genuinely scary presence.

Now for the boys: Shane and Michael. It’s easy to see them as foils for each other. Both have tragic pasts that involve death and personal injury from vampires. Shane is the action man and is willing to throw himself into a terrible deal with a cruel vampire to save Claire from further harm. He has lost family members to vampires and will not stand seeing more people get hurt. Yet, by the end of the book, he shows a more cunning side to avoid letting the vampires win. Nice to see different sides of a character. Michael, on the other hand, is a thinking man but only out of necessity. His status as a ghost means he benefits people more by being rational and reasonable. He is polite and charming but only to a point. He can only talk people out of so much and, when negotiations fail, there’s little he can do and it’s hard not to feel for him when the sun rises and he becomes a useless spectator.

Now for the three main vampire characters (and this contains spoilers so skip ahead to Research if you haven’t read the book yet). The first and only female vampire in the book is Amelie, the oldest and nicest vampire on the block. She is a powerful presence and ally to Claire but, like many people in Morganville, will not go out of her way to help her unless she can benefit from the arrangement. She’s not a saint nor is she a villain but a rare complex female vampire. The male characters, on the other hand, are much less interesting. The first named vampire we meet is Brandon, the youngest vampire on the block with a very nasty streak. We meet him preying on college students without Protection and he continues to be a threatening but underdeveloped predatory presence. The second major male vampire (last chance to scroll down and avoid spoilers) is Oliver, who shows himself as much more cunning as he fools Eve, Claire and the reader into believing he is a harmless aging hippy with great powers of diplomacy with the vampires. We learn soon, however, that his position is owing to the fact that he is a vampire and, once this is revealed, he wastes no time in resorting to violence to get his way. If anything, he becomes less interesting when his true nature is known which is an interesting inversion of the norm. Normally, it’s the female vampires that are one-dimensional.

Overall, most characters are interesting and gain some development over the book. The characters who are supposed to be scary are genuinely threatening and there’s still plenty of room for improvement in later books.

8 out of 10 drops

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Research

Crow character research_001I’m not sure the author put as much effort into researching the vampire genre. It’s clear she knows all the cliches and applies them with her own little twist but she doesn’t show any knowledge of vampire literature or any mythology beyond the cliches. Neither does she offer any scientific or mythological explanation for vampires.

She does show some scientific knowledge throughout, however, by giving the correct chemical formula for sulphuric acid. By the way, another name for it is ‘oil of vitriol’ so it’s somewhat appropriate as a bully’s weapon. She also teaches us that liquid nitrogen can break a lock (I’m not going to use this knowledge, honest), though Claire would have needed a lot more force to shatter it after freezing. It can also cause frostbite and cryogenic burns if used as a weapon and it’s interesting to note that vampires get the same injuries from it.

Regarding the system of blood donation in Morganville, red blood cells last about 42 days but lose their capacity to carry oxygen-rich cells (their main job) in half that time. So, making the citizens give blood every 2 weeks would be feasible, assuming there’s enough to go around. Unfortunately, most health authorities advise waiting 8-16 weeks between blood donations so giving blood every two weeks is certainly not healthy. Then again, it’s not entirely in the vampires’ interest to have a healthy, strong population of humans.

It’s clear that the author is very familiar with science but not so much with vampire mythology.

7 out of 10 drops

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 Originality

Crow character originality_001Vampires exerting control over a human populous is nothing new but this feels more like a mafia type of control rather than a monarchy. The vampires seem to exert control and surveillance over the whole town, right down to the phone-lines and broadband. They own Morganville and nearly everyone knows it. It’s a very original and terrifying concept that’s established nice and early in the book, avoiding the trap of dragging out the dramatic irony.

The vampires are the cliche sexy evil beings but they are much more predatory than the bog standard and any attraction wears off quickly. Despite their powers of fascination, it’s established that bites are definitely not sexual but are psychologically damaging to humans and (though it’s never explained why) more harmful to men that women. There are also hints of differing opinions among vampires and rival factions warring for dominance over the town. Always nice when vampires aren’t too similar to each other. My most hated cliche, the memory wiping spell, is present but this book puts a new spin on it by making it a memory wiping field that takes effect once a person is far away enough and is designed to help vampires track down fleeing humans, as it is hard to flee from something you can’t remember.

Speaking of cliches, the vampires in Morganville seem to have the full roster of weaknesses: sunlight, holy water, garlic, being uninvited into a home, etc. However, the author throws some doubt on it by suggesting that some vampires may only be pretending to be weakened by these things in order to avoid humans taking advantage of their real weak points. Even if these are their weaknesses, it’s established that they wear off with time and may even be psychosomatic rather than genuine. Like American Vampire, the method of making vampires is kept deliberately secret but, in this case, it’s much more central to the plot. Like The Rest Falls Away, the McGuffin of the story is a book but, at least, it’s a more functional and less cartoonishly evil book this time.

Despite the original setting and semi-original vampires, there are still a few very annoying cliches. The most prominent of which is the ‘adults-are-useless’ cliche or, more specifically, ‘parents-are-useless’. Claire’s parents trample on her efforts to get away from bullies, have well-meaning but wildly inaccurate worries, deport themselves in a way that makes Claire unwilling to confide in them and exist simply to cause Claire more problems on top of the ones she already has. The second most annoying cliche is Claire becoming romantically attracted to both the main male characters. Because, of course, when a female character is trapped in a hostile town full of bloodthirsty vampires, the question on everyone’s lips is who’s she going to end up with when the dust settles.

So, while it’s an original concept and most of the cliches have been given a new interpretation, the major cliches that are still there and much too prominent for my liking.

7 out of 10 drops

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World-Building

Crow world building_001For the very beginning, the author is very effective at showing how desperate Claire’s situation is. The bullying is very violent and the threat from vampires is very real and the feeling of constant menace and helplessness is persistent wherever Claire goes. She’s isolated in an isolated town with no one willing to go out of their way to help her, nicely showing how fearful everyone is of repercussions. It’s a very scary situation indeed and the feeling of being constantly on the run pervades through the narrative.

The major secret of the town is revealed good and early and the rules of Protection and staying safe are shown in well-paced stages, staying far away from info-dumps. The notion of Protection is established very early, as is the idea that children are given more Protection that expires on their eighteenth birthday, and going into Morganville without Protection can get you in very serious trouble, which Claire only just manages to stay out of it.

However, it isn’t just violence that dictates who is in control in Morganville. The vampires can be negotiated with if there’s something in it for them, whether it’s blood or information. There are safe places where treaties and bargains can take place and dominance in Morganville seems to be dominated not by who is the stronger but by who is the better diplomat. Of course, that doesn’t mean to suggest that vampires do not resort to violence and preying on unwary people out past curfew is quite tolerated, as are kidnapping college students who do the same. So long as the system continues to function, any violence seems to be permitted and the locals have learned long ago not to hinder them.

There also seems to be some other magic beyond those used by vampires. A character who is able to see into the future accurately is introduced, though it’s unclear as to whether that may be due to her vampire lover. The presence of ghosts is also made known early but as a result of vampire turning gone wrong rather than the normal process, though this isn’t explored in much depth

The world-building is very well-done here. There are still some gaps but enough to paint a scary, unequal world where vampires are totally in control and fight internal wars for dominance over the town.

8 out of 10 drops.

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Story

Crow story_001As I’ve said before, the world-building is very well paced and so is the story. With the exception of a small dragging part in the middle, danger is never too far away from Claire, whether it’s from Monica, Brandon or any other random vampires. Unlike in other books, the threat from bullies feels very real, as does everyone else’s reaction. The author strikes a good balancing act between showing and telling regarding vampires to give the right atmosphere of menace and helplessness. The word ‘immersive’ is often reserved for video games but, if it’s one thing the author can do brilliantly, it’s immersing the reader

The type of danger escalates in the right way and gives Claire plenty of opportunity to develop. She goes from simply trying to keep her head above water to proactively looking for ways to protect herself and her friends. She is a good and interesting narrator without lapsing into any annoying teenage angsting (I’m looking at you, Marked). I really enjoyed reading this book and would actually become annoyed when I had to stop. There is a McGuffin in the form of a book but this feels much better than The Rest Falls Away as there is a good scientific reason as to why vampires cannot find it themselves and science is applied somewhat accurately elsewhere.

The two big secrets (vampires and Michael’s ghostly nature) are revealed very early so we can get down to world building rather than resort to Claire developing sudden stupidity. When the big plot twist comes along, it does take you by surprise the climax feels adequately satisfying with Claire and the vampires trying to outmanoeuvre each other. I won’t spoil the ending as it’s worth reading through to get to but the cliffhanger ending feels rightly placed, as it also fills in a plothole. I have only two points of criticism: the summing-up in the form of Eve’s diary at the end and the romance subplot. Though the former offers a nice insight into her character, it still feels rather unnecessary. The latter, however, feels rather forced and misplaced in a book so packed with good stuff.

8 out of 10 drops.

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Overall

This is the kind of vampire book teenagers should be getting into. Realistic, developed characters, a richly detailed world, a range of scary and not scary vampires and plenty more to reveal in later books. It just needs to iron out a few cliches and it would be perfect.

38 drops = AB Positive

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