review: destined for an early grave

Destined for an Early Grave by Jeaniene Frost (2009)

Destined for an Early Grave is the fourth book in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series featuring Cat and Bones as the protagonists.  I’m going to do my best not to spoil too much of what happens in this book, but if you haven’t read the first three books in this series, beware.  I strongly recommend reading the books in this series in order; if urban fantasy is one of your preferred genres, then start with the first book in this series, Halfway to the Grave.  Everyone else, read on.

To begin, a lot happens in this book.  I’m going to try to avoid revealing too much because I really don’t want to ruin it for you if you haven’t read the book.  Frost does an excellent job of building the tension throughout the book until it reaches its moment of crisis and the action heads into the final showdown.  Oh, and there are really two moments of crisis–one for the plot that is the continuing love story between Cat and Bones, and the other for action/suspense plot that involves Cat and her new enemy, Gregor, the novel’s antagonist.  Frost’s ability to manage both plot lines, get me invested in both and keep me caring about both, is refreshing because I find that the more I read and try to review here on my blog, the more books I find that can barely manage one plot, much less multiples.  I say this because if you are looking for books that are well-written, this series has a lot to offer and I have not yet been disappointed by one of Frost’s books.

Destined for an Early Grave pushes the world-building Frost has been developing in a new direction, making sure that it doesn’t stagnate or get boring.  It’s one of the things that makes it important to read the books in order (more on that later).  At the end of the previous book in this series, At Grave’s End, Cat has quit her job with the secret department within Homeland Security that is headed by her uncle, Don.  There’s a sense that Cat and Bones’ relationship is moving into a new phase, and Cat herself is starting a new chapter in her life.  The change means that the framework of the last two books–with Cat commanding a team of secret government operatives to save innocent lives from vampire predators–has given way to the Cat becoming more entrenched in Bones’ world, the world of vampires and the rules and customs of vampire society.  The change of framework works, especially in the way that it allows the vampire characters that have been introduced in earlier books to be further developed.  We get more information about Spade, Mencheres, and Vlad, and no doubt this is done as a way of setting up those characters for to be featured in their own stories (and I’ll admit right now that I read the first two books in the Night Prince series featuring Vlad before starting the Night Huntress.  That was a mistake in that I think readers will better enjoy the Night Prince series if you’ve read the Night Huntress/Night Huntress World books first.).  While Cat understands the rules and ways of the human world and protecting humans, it becomes clear as the story unfolds that Cat has been straddling the two worlds, not fully in one and not fully in the other.  By the end of the novel, she is firmly in the vampire world, and having to learn the rules of that society is a painful process that impacts many of her relationships.  The change in the framework was needed in order for the series and the characters to continue to grow and evolve and gives a new momentum to what I’m sure will follow in the next books in the series.

One of the things I really enjoy about the way Frost’s structures the love plot is that she finds ways to continue to build tension and conflict between Cat and Bones without it feeling forced or manipulative or conventional.  While it’s clear at the end of book three that they are solidly a couple, they still have things in their relationship to figure out.  Evolving their relationship so that they are an “us” by the end of the novel is something that drives the love plot and “the path to true love never runs smooth” convention is at work here but it’s done in a way that only makes me care about the characters even more, and it also functions to further develop Cat and Bones as characters.  They both have to give and compromise and recognize the other’s flaws and accept them.  Although the story is told completely through Cat’s first person perspective, Frost does a really good job in delivering Bones’ emotions and thoughts through the dialogue.  I am not as close to him as a reader as I am to Cat because of the narrative structure, but he’s not distant either.  I get a deep sense of his struggles right along with Cat’s so that it doesn’t just feel like Cat’s story and Cat’s journey.  In my opinion, so much of what makes a series success is the characters and character development.  Cat and Bones are not the same characters they were at the start of the series, and I expect they will continue to develop and grow.  Thus far, Frost hasn’t caused them to do anything that feels out of character for either of them, and the more I read, the more I want to read and see what happens to them next.

Like I said above, I would definitely recommend reading these books in order, particularly if you are interested in reading the books that feature Vlad (Once Burned, Twice Tempted, Bound By Flames, Into the Fire).  He is definitely a supporting character in this book, but Frost does a lot of work in terms of developing his character.  I can remember Cat and Bones making appearances in the first two books of the Night Prince series and I would have appreciated those appearances more if I’d read in chronological order in terms of publication.  Take the recommendation for whatever it’s worth.

Ultimately, I find this series to be highly satisfying and I always get what I came for and then some. I read them typically in one day and once I start I can’t stop.  I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, First Drop of Crimson, which features Spade, one of Bones’ best friends.  If you’re a reader who enjoys strong, well-developed characters, a well-crafted plot and subplots, and watching an imaginary world come to life, these books deliver in every way.  Definitely one of my recommended reads of 2016.

review: twice tempted

Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost (2013)

Twice Tempted is the second book in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Prince series.  These books need to be read in order, so start with the first book, Once Burned.  By way of a quick, spoiler-free introduction to this series, the female protagonist is Leila Dalton, a woman who was struck by lightning as a teenager and as a result, is capable of electrocuting people if she touches them and possessed of the ability to pick images from a person’s life, either by touching them or an object they have touched in the past.  The male protagonist, is Vlad the Impaler, but don’t think about calling him Dracula.  And yet, he is the man behind the legend; thus, one of the questions that drives the story is what would happen if Dracula fell in love? What kind of woman would he fall for and how would that complicate his life, as well as hers? This series, as well as Frost’s Night Huntress series, exist in the same urban fantasy/paranormal romance universe, and both are series I recommend picking up if this genre appeals to you.  If you read Once Burned but weren’t sure if you wanted to keep reading, give Twice Tempted a try.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The story picks up about four weeks after the end of Once Burned.  Leila is still living in Vlad’s home, and she is still devoid of her powers.  Vlad has become distant, and Leila worries that because she is has lost her powers, he has lost interest in her.  Events happen and she ends up leaving Vlad and returning to the States, planning to return to the carnival act she and Marty–a surrogate father that is also a vampire–and putting her past with Vlad behind her.  Of course, it’s not that easy.  Not long after she reunites with Marty, and explosion rocks the carnival location where she’s taken refuge and then sends her on the run.  As the story unfolds, Frost continues to build this part of her story-world, fleshing out the customs of the vampire society that Vlad dominates as well as populating that world with characters who prove themselves to be either antagonists and enemies or loyal friends and allies. Several characters from the first book return as well, including Leila’s father and her sister, Gretchen, Vlad’s second-in-command, Maximus, and Marty.  I read Halfway to the Grave, the first book in the Night Huntress series a couple of weeks ago, and it seems to me that Cat’s mother from that series and Gretchen, Leila’s sister, are in many ways the same character; and yet, although Gretchen is definitely a minor supporting character, by the end of Twice Tempted she does change into a character that I don’t completely dislike.  The other thing that this book does in building the story-world is steadily mount the obstacles to true love and happily ever after that Leila and Vlad must overcome.  Those obstacles come not only from their enemies but also their inner circle and each other.  Their struggle to be together in this second book has a genuine feel to it, it’s not rushed or trite,, and importantly, Leila doesn’t have to become a weak-willed, powerless character in order to successfully win the fight for the man she loves.  What I like about this book, as well as the first book in the Night Huntress series, is that it is not overtly, slavishly devoted to following the conventions of the romance genre, and therefore it’s predictable. I want to keep reading because I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.

The story is told from Leila’s first-person point-of-view, and honestly, it just works from every angle.  We can only know what she knows, and though I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love to know what is going on in Vlad’s mind, Frost is able to deftly write Leila’s first-person narrative in a way that you don’t feel completely distant or alienated from him, except during those times when that is actually how Leila feels.  Otherwise, Leila’s narrative gives us enough to feel like we know more and learn more about Vlad as the story progresses, and he’s not just a part of the fictional scenery, playing his role when needed and then going back to being a cardboard figure when he’s not.  While there’s no doubt that Leila has a specific arc for the development of her character, the same can be said for Vlad.  They both change and grow and that keeps the story dynamic and interesting, and it keeps me as a reader invested in the outcome of their relationship and the challenges they face. I want to see more of them, and once the book ends, I want more.

It’s interesting reading Twice Tempted in such close proximity to Halfway to the Grave.  There’s a part of my mind that wants me to decide which of the couples I like more, which of the worlds I prefer.  The Night Prince series is more firmly in the paranormal romance genre, while the Night Huntress series is more paranormal romantic suspense.  What I can say and what makes me happy is that neither couple is exactly the same, mere carbon copies of the other but rather distinct.  So far, the Night Prince series puts more emphasis on the love story while the Night Huntress series puts more emphasis upon the mystery.  That being said, choose the one that you’re in the mood for, but I would recommended giving both series a try.