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Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Author:  Kristen Painter
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher and Titles:  Orbit
      Blood Rights (10/2011)
      Flesh and Blood (11/2011)
      Bad Blood (12/2011)   
      Out for Blood (10/2012)       
     Last Blood (7/2013) FINAL 

     This post was revised and updated on 9/27/13 to include a review of  Last Blood, the fifth and FINAL book in this series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first four books:  

            BOOK 5:  Last Blood                
     Once again, separate subplots develop and play out throughout this book with all of them merging in the final, climactic scene that resolves everyone's problems. Here are the main story lines     

Chrysabelle and Mal: At the end of the previous book, all of Mal's love for Chrysabelle was sucked out of him, so now he has reverted to his bestial self and spends his time plotting to kill Chrysabelle, whom he views as prey. Here, one character describes Mal's condition: "Mal's love for [Chrysabelle] was stolen by a fae. Now he is like he was before. A beast. A creature controlled only by his desire to feed." (p. 169) Poor Chrysabelle has to deal with her pregnancy alone, keeping it a secret from everyone in fear that someone will try to take the baby from her or even prevent its birth. Chrysabelle is determined to get Mal's love back, whatever the cost. Meanwhile, Tatiana learns of the split between Mal and Chrysabelle and attempts to use it to her own advantage. 

Doc, the varcolai (shifter) and Fi, the ghost: In his new position as alpha of the local shifter pack, Doc must contend with accusations that someone in his pack put silver in the arena sand during the battle in which Fi killed Heaven, the evil wife Doc inherited from the previous pack leader. Heaven's brother, Remo, is making the accusations, and he has some dark reasons for his actions. This story line follows Pete Vernadetto, the police chief, as he investigates the murder. 

The Vampire Baby: Both Tatiana and Lola Diaz-White, the mayor of Paradise City, are still trying to retrieve the half vampire/half human baby who is the progeny of the Preacher and Lola's late daughter. As the story opens, the baby (know as both Lilith and Mariela) has been carried off by the vampire ancients, who pumped her full of their powerful blood with disastrous consequences. As Tatiana soon discovers, Lilith is now a grown woman who out-powers the ancients (and scares them to death), but has the emotional stability of a "terrible two-year-old"that is to say, she is a petulant tantrum-throwing terror who won't take no for an answer and strikes down anyone who tries to rein her in.

Tatiana:  When the Ancients make Lililth Tatiana's responsibility, she has to figure out a way to stop her "daughter" from killing her in a blind rage. As part of her plan, Tatiana wants to reunite with Mal and become the leader of the vampires .And one more thingshe wants Chrysabelle dead, dead, dead!

Lola Diaz-White: Now that the mayor is a vampire, she wants to bring the supernaturals into play in the government and security of Paradise City. As she tries to consolidate her power before announcing to the public that she is a vampire, she trusts the wrong people and opens herself to all sorts of danger and intrigue. 

Creek: Creek, the half-Seminole Kubai Mata (KM) agent, wants to quit the KM, but the only way to do that is to pay off his bond or win a fight against a basilisk who can turn him to stone if he looks into her eyes even for a second. Creek spends most of the book inadvertently assisting the good guys in the other story threads by providing security support and a few clues. 

     This book really doesn't get going until the half-way point, when the various story lines begin to mesh, and the action really heats up. The story line with the weakest resolution is the one in which Chrysabelle retrieves Mal's love for her. It goes so quickly and smoothly that there's no real drama or suspense. The resolution of the Lilith and Tatiana story line goes biblically woo-wooto the point that I was just shaking my head in disbelief. Having said that, I have to admit that the story lines for Creek and for Fi-Doc were full of dramatic surprises. Needless to say, by the end Chrysabelle and Mal get their HEA, and life is safe and peaceful for the rest of the good guys.

     Set in South Florida in 2067, this is a dark series with a complex mythology that includes vampires, shifters, and demonic forces, as well as an inventive new species called the comarré (female) or comar (male). In this series, supernaturals are called othernaturals. The girl on the cover is one of the comarré, who are all platinum blonds with pearl-white skin and golden signum—tattoos that purify their blood. Comarré always dress in white, and with their white skin and hair and their golden glow, they remind the night-walking vampires of a forbidden life in the sun. Here's Mal being attracted to Chrysabelle's comarré-ness in Blood Rights:

     "He lifted a strand of her hair and held it to his nose, closing his eyes on the inhale. His lips parted enough to give her a glimpse of fangs. 'Everything about you reminds me of the sun. The way you small, the color of your hair, the glow that surrounds you, the warmth of your skin...'
     It's the gold, she wanted to say, and that is our purpose..." (pp. 193-194)   

     Comarré and vampires maintain a symbiotic relationship in which the comarré produces an extremely rich blood that gives extra power to the the comarré's patron—the vampire who owns his or her blood rights. In return, the vampire produces saliva that, when ingested during the biting process, increases the comarré's strength. Comarré must have their blood drained on a regular basis, or they go a bit crazy in a "Drink-my-blood-right-now!" kind of way. Living like pampered geishas, the comarré enjoy luxurious surroundings and are responsible only for occasional blood-letting sessions. The comarré, however are guarding a huge secret. Unknown to anyone outside their insular group, the comarré are trained assassins, able to fight skillfully with a variety of swords and daggers. How this important fact could be unknown to the vampires beats me, because the comarré live in the homes of their vampire patrons, but that's the way it works in this world. Click HERE to go to the author's HOUSE OF COMARRÉ web site. Click HERE to read an interview with Kristen Painter about this series.

          BOOK 1:  Blood Rights         
     The first book begins when Chrysabelle, the comarré heroine of the series, attempts to run away from her long-time patron to seek a life of freedom, but gets blamed for his murder instead. Chrysabelle's Aunt Maris (a former comarré) reaches out among her contacts for help and sends Chrysabelle to the vampire Malkolm (Mal), who is anathema—outcast from vampire society for as long as he can remember. Here's a condensed version of Mal's tragic history: Mal is twice cursed, first by accidentally killing his sire during his turning. That curse condemned him to kill every single human he drank from. The second curse came at the hands of the vampire nobility, who threw Mal into a dungeon without food, where he rotted away for decades. Fifty years ago, when Fiona, a college student, stumbled into Mal's dungeon, he drained her dry, thus kicking in the second curse, which wrote the names of every person he has ever killed on his body and unleashed their voices in his head, almost driving him to madness. Fiona's spirit also bonded to him, as would the spirit of anyone he killed from that point on. When Mal realized the dimensions of his curses, he vowed never to drink from a living person ever again, and he has stood by his vow ever since. This, of course, means that he must subsist on animal blood or stale human blood, neither of which can keep up his strength. Mal lives on a rusted-out ship in the harbor of Paradise City with the spiritual Fiona (Fi) and Doc, a cursed varcolai (shifter) who used to be a leopard but now can only shift into a house cat. Mal saved Doc's life by rescuing him when he was in cat form, and now Doc lives on the ship and has fallen for Fi, and vice versa. So...this is the threesome that Chrysabelle meets when she finally locates Mal. Needless to say, no one is happy to see her, and she's not too crazy about them either.

     Chrysabelle and Mac spend a great deal of time just getting used to each other's worlds. Then they and their friends go off on a mission to rescue Aunt Maris, who has been kidnapped by the villainess, Tatiana, a powerful ancient vampire who is in league with the Castus Sanguis—fallen angels with demonic qualities and enormous power. The story is written in the third person, and it mostly jumps back and forth among three points of view: from Chrysabelle to Mal to Tatiania and back again. We also get a few scenes from Maris's point of view. The angst levels are high for just about every character throughout the story. Mal, in particular, is forced to relive some horrific scenes from his past. The book is weakened by its many one-note scenes with the evil Tatiana, as she does one awful thing after another to innocents and not-so-innocents alike. Here is a typical Tatiana moment in which she makes sure that her servant won't tell any secrets: "With a rabid growl, her human features disappeared as her facial bones shifted and her fangs descended fully. She sank them into her servant's throat, his cries filling her ears like chamber music, his blood disappearing down her gullet along with the secret of the missing ring." (p. 5) 

And here she is again, making life miserable for a hotel manager, who begins the conversation: 
      "Is there anything we can do or provide to help you settle in? Anything at all?" 
    Sycophant. She smiled back, perfectly willing to test his mettle. "Female twins. No blonds. Not older than twenty-five, and still virgins." She glanced at her diamond and platinum Cartier. "Say...half an hour? I'd hate to spend my first night in Paris without a proper French meal."  (p. 78)

     Chrysabelle is supposed to be 115 years old, but she comes across as a relatively immature 20-something, with lots of whining, sullenness, and general bad behavior. The idea that she is so skilled with all of her many weapons doesn't make much sense. Her comarré life is described as having been very soft and luxurious—the best of everything. Her weapons training occurred during her pre-patron days, when she was very young. Now, that training is a century behind her, but she still has impossibly great skills—hard to believe. The relationship between Chrysabelle and Mal is believable, with both having very different pasts with lots of secrets. For me, this book had a number of first-book weaknesses, but I'll stick with the series for now because of its inventive worldview. One last thing about the futuristic setting: Even though the series is set in 2067, there are no major updates in life styles or technology. Maris does use an iBot wheelchair, but no specifics are given as to its design.

          BOOK 2:  Flesh and Blood         
     As the second book opens, the othernatural world is dealing with the fact that the ancient covenant between humans and othernaturals is now broken. Othernaturals are showing themselves to humans, and the situation isn't looking good. Each of the main and supporting characters is coping in his or her own way. Tatiana is plotting to kill Chrysabelle and steal the ring of sorrows so that she can rule the world. In the meantime, Chrysabelle and Mal are still on the outs after the climactic battle with Tatiana at the end of book 1, which resulted in the death of Chrysabelle's mother, Maris. Chrysabelle is angry that Mal hasn't been in touch and that he refuses to drink her blood, while Mal is mad because Chrysabelle hasn't contacted him and hasn't made any effort to help him get rid of his curse, per their agreement in book 1. A third plot line involves Doc and Fiona, who has become a shade who must reenact her death every single day, which is breaking Doc's heart.  

    As Chrysabelle and Mal try to get back on a friendly level, a new character threatens to come between them: Creek, who is a member of a mysterious organization called the Kubai Mata (KM). Here is Creek as he muses about the KM: "...he would do whatever the KM wanted and not worry that the KM were part Free-mason, part Templar, part Cosa Nostra, only more dangerous and in charge of some crazy power....The KM might make the Illuminati look like the Boy Scouts, but othernaturals and the humans who served them were the only ones who had anything to worry about." (p. 80) Creek has been sent to Paradise City to retrieve the ring of sorrows from Chrysabelle, but instead, he finds himself falling in love with her, to Mal's consternation. 

     As the story proceeds, Mal and Creek each strive for Chrysabelle's romantic attentions, but neither one gets more than a passionate kiss or two. Tatiana is still just as evil and psychotic as ever, killing her lovers and immediately replacing them, while trying and failing to capture Chrysabelle and the ring. Doc crosses a few scary lines in his efforts to bring Fiona back to her ghostly, semi-amorphous form, and he'll have to deal with some serious consequences for his actions. As Chrysabelle reads her mother's journals, she learns new information about her family and about the power of her signumWhen Chrysabelle finally decides to help Mal get rid of his curse, things don't go at all well, and Chrysabelle must bear the brunt of their misadventure. In this book, we learn who/why/how Doc was cursed and are introduced to the witches who were involved. The plot line winds all of these story threads around each other until they merge in a climactic scene at the end of the book.

     I think that the problem I have with this series (so far, anyhow) is all of the characters are so self-serving. Some may do a few good deeds, but each one has his or her own personal agenda, and not one of them is totally trustworthy. For example, the two romantic leads both declare their undying love for Chrysabelle, but Mal is at the point that he doesn't care if he lives or dies, and Creek is still trying to get the ring of sorrows away from ChrysabelleChrysabelle continues to behave more like a spoiled young girl than a 150-year old woman. Besides the fact that she can't handle the men in her life, she makes idiotic decisions, like walking off alone in a very bad part of town with blood dripping out of various wounds (p. 68). She has to know from long experience that she's going to attract hordes of fringe vampires, which, unsurprisingly, she does. Here's hoping that she begins to show some wisdom in the next book.

          BOOK 3: Bad Blood           
    As book 3 begins, Chrysabelle is recovering from having her signum stripped away during the climax of the previous book, and she has allowed neither Creek nor Malkolm to visit her. Eventually, she forgives Creek and Mal for coming after her through the portal and for infusing her with Mal’s blood to save her life, but all three of them are a bit worried about the possible long-term effects that blood will have on her. As usual, there are several story threads woven through the plot. The main story line follows Chrysabelle and Mac as they team up with Mortalis to retrieve the ring of sorrows and to have Chrysabelle’s signum reapplied. This involves a side trip to New Orleans, where they have a few adventures with various Fae. Another thread follows the ghost girl, Fiona, and her lover, the leopard varcolai Doc, as Doc deals with the compulsion spell put on him by the witch, Aliza, after he walked through her witch smoke in the previous book. The witch wants the ring, and she also wants a mysterious half-vampire child that Doc first saw in the final pages of book 2.

     A third plot line centers on Lola Diaz-White, the mayor of Paradise City, whose only child is a fake comarré who turns up murdered in an alley. The mayor is just beginning to realize that powerful othernaturals are running amok in her city, and she enlists the aid of Creek and Doc to help her control the growing bloodlust—particularly during Samhain. Here is Chrysabelle explaining the situation to the mayor: “There was a covenant in place that kept a level of peace between humans and othernaturals. Humans weren’t able to sense the othernaturals that lived among them, and after a while, humans forgot the othernaturals had ever been real. They became fairy tales and nightmares and fantasies. In that way, the othernaturals were protected from being hunted and killed by the mortals whose world they inhabited. It became an unwritten rule among most othernaturals that humans were to be left alone in all aspects. For almost a thousand years, this covenant held fast….[But] the covenant was broken…about a month ago.” (p. 132)

     Here, Creek explains to the mayor how the Kubai Mata can help the city beat back the violent othernaturals in Paradise City: “The KM is an ancient organization designed to be activated at times like this. Our main goal is to protect and preserve human civilization against othernatural intrusion…..I’m human. I’m just…enhanced. And totally here to help you.” (p. 309)

     A fourth story line follows the antics of the power-mad Tatiana as she tries to capture Chrysabelle and Mac, using vampires under her control to attempt the task. Both Tatiana and Aliza have several interactions with one of the Ancients, who also wants both the ring of sorrows and the vampire child. The plot is, obviously, extremely dense with subplots, emotional and physical trauma, and actions and reactions from just about every character.

     At this point, the series is much stronger than is was back in book 1. All of the characters are better developed, and most have their own back stories and motivations. Chrysabelle is not so whiny and sullen this time around. Instead, she seems to have matured a great deal and is now driven to get her signum back so that she can go through the portal and discover her long-lost brother’s name and whereabouts. (We already have a hint as to who he is.) Mal loves Chrysabelle deeply and plans to do everything he can to assist her, while trying desperately not to give in to his voices and drink her dry. Doc must deal with the witch’s curse, and then with the after effects of that curse. Tatiana has to adjust to a major change in her family life while still maintaining her power base. Creek must strive for a balance between his KM constraints and the friendships he has made with Chrysabelle and her crew. If you plan to start reading this series, you should definitely begin with book 1 so that you can keep up with the history from book to book.

         BOOK 4:  Out for Blood           
     Several separate subplots develop and play out throughout this book with three of them merging in the requisite showdown scene at the end. Here are the three main story lines

The Ring of Sorrow: In the previous book, Chrysabelle retrieved the ring and used its gold to have her signum (golden tattoos) redone. Now, she's having second thoughts because the gold from the ring is changing her in strange ways, one of which is that she keeps dying and coming back to life. Meanwhile, others are not aware that Chrysabelle has melted down the ring. They believe that she still has possession of it, and they're determined to take it from her. That grabby group includes Tatiana (the power-mad, blood-thirsty vampire) and the Kubai Mata (a mysterious organization that hunts down othernaturals and which has other secretive, nefarious purposes). 

The Vampire Baby: This baby is the progeny of the vampire who calls himself the Preacher and the late daughter of Lola Diaz-White, the mayor of Paradise City (who, by the way, acts like a total idiot in this book). As the book begins, the baby is in the custody of Tatiana and her consort, Octavian. Tatiana has unexpectedly developed protective motherly feelings as she imagines that her new daughter will help her gain more and more power in the vampire world. But Lola wants her granddaughter back, and she is willing to go to unimaginable lengths to do that. The Kubai Mata also wants the child for their own (unknown) reasons. Naturally, 
Chrysabelle and her crew get dragged into the baby-rescue situation.

Damian: Chrysabelle now believes that Damian, Tatiana's comar, is her long-lost brother. At the beginning of this book, he has escaped from Tatiana and is living on Mal's ship, but he is soon captured and returned to Tatiana's custody, so Chrysabelle and Mal must rescue him as well.

Two additional subplots alternate with the scenes of the three main story lines:

Doc, the varcolai (shifter) and Fi, the ghost: Doc is now the alpha of the local shifter pack, and things are not going well for him in his new position, primarily because he inherited a jealous, spiteful wife (ironically named Heaven) from the previous alpha (whom he killed in book 3). Fi is determined to get rid of the wife, and she does it in her typically stubborn and headstrong way, creating all sorts of mayhem in the process.

Creek: Creek, the half-Seminole Kubai Mata agent who was hot for Chrysabelle in the previous book, hooks up with Yahla, the beautiful Seminole raven spirit woman he rescued from a witch, but Yahla has her own ideas about how Creek should live his life, and she knows just how to get him to do exactly what she wants. 

     And then there is the romance between Chrysabelle and Mal: The two move further along in their romantic relationship as they try to figure out exactly what the long-term effects of Chrysabelle's new signum will be. Early in the story, Mal gets caught up in one of the mayor's wrong-headed schemes and discovers that he retains one of his vampiric powers that he thought was gone forever. Eventually, Chrysabelle and Mal declare their love for one another and go off to rescue Damian and the vampire baby, who are both in Tatiana's clutches. Near the end of the book, they finally get some bedroom time (but off-page, so no graphic details), and even talk about a future for themselves. But if you think that Chrysabelle and Mal get their HEA, you haven't read enough urban fantasy
because HEA never happens before the very last scene in the very last book. The next book is probably the last one, so we can look forward to Chrysabelle's final showdown with Tatiana and some kind of resolution for Chrysabelle and Mal.

     Although the characters are well developed and the story lines move along at a compelling pace, the resolutions of several of the conflicts are relatively predictable (particularly the story lines that involve Fi's challenge fight with Heaven and Octavian's trustworthiness). Still, I'm interesting in seeing how the author brings this series to a close, so I'm looking forward to the next book.

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