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Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Author:  Jeanne C. Stein 
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher and Titles:  Ace 
     1      The Becoming (11/2006)
     2      Blood Drive (6/2007)
     3      The Watcher (11/2007)
     4      Legacy (8/2008)
     5      Retribution (8/2009)
     5.5  "Elizabeth and Anna's Big Adventure" (story in A Girl's Guide to Guns and Monsters, 2/2010) 
     6       Chosen (8/2010)
     6.2   "Superman" (story in Chicks Kick Butt, 6/2011)
     6.4   "Blood Debt" (story in Hexed, 6/2011) 
     7      Crossroads (8/2011) 
     8      Haunted (8/2012)
     9      Blood Bond (FINAL NOVEL) (8/2013)
    9.5  "Anna and the Vampire Prince" (novella, 1/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 1/29/16 to include a review of "Anna and the Vampire Prince," a novella that takes place immediately following Blood Bond. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building, brief summaries of novels 1-6, and full reviews of novels 7, 8, and 9.

                    NOVELLA 9.5:  "Anna and the Vampire Prince"                    
     The story begins just three weeks after the death of Anna's mother. Frey and John-John have left the south of France and returned to Arizona so that the boy can go back to school, while Anna remains at the vineyard with her father and her niece, Trish. Just as Anna is considering going back to the U.S. herself, she finds herself involved in not one, but two, different situationsboth very dangerous.

     The first involves the serial kidnappings of young schoolgirls, one of whom is Trish's best friend. In each case, the girls' parents pay huge ransoms, but the kidnappers kill the girls anyway. Anna is determined that Trisha's friend will not die, so she enlists the help of Vlad (yes...that Vlad), the famous (or infamous) vampire prince she met and befriended in Blood Bond. In a reference to current world events, the local native-born French citizens blame Muslim immigrants for the crimes. 

     After the kidnapping mystery is solved, Vlad asks for Anna's help with a problem of his own involving some of the villainous insurgents who played major roles in Blood Bond. They still want to take over the human world and have decided that they want Vlad out of the way.

     Stein has always been a good story-teller, and here she shows off her skills once again. Both story lines are surprisingly well developed for a novella that is only 62 pages long. The only quibble I have is with the sudden change in Vlad's behavior towards Anna very late in the story (and I won't say more because it would be a spoiler). His actions came out of nowhere, but I can imagine that Stein plans to extend that story thread in novels or novellas set much further along in Anna's future. If you are a fan of the series, you'll enjoy this novella. It's nice to be back in Anna Strong's world. Click HERE to go to this novella's page where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of "Anna and the Vampire Prince" is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the author. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

     In this excerpt from a 2008 interview, Stein explains what makes her protagonist, Anna Strong, different from other vampires: "I think what sets [Anna] apart the most is her desire to cling to her humanity. She has a human business partner, she has a family, and her ties to the human community are very strong. I tweaked the mythos a little bit and put her in a circumstance where she didn’t have to become a predator." In the same interview, Stein describes her vampire mythology for the series: "My vampires walk in sunlight because they’ve adapted to it but they still need to consume human blood. I didn’t want to go with synthetic or animal blood because the ick factor is so horrible so I had to give her [Anna] a way to sustain herself that did not turn her into a predator." Finally (same interview), she discusses the duality of her ANNA STRONG plots: " all of my books there’s usually a human threat, a human mystery and then the supernatural mystery. The idea of trying to distinguish who the real monsters in the world are is kind of what I’ve tried to do in these books. Often Anna’s greatest challenge in the books is trying to distinguish good from evil."

     In Anna's world, humans are unaware of the existence of vampires, even though vamps hold a number of respected positions (e.g., deputy mayor). Supporting characters include Anna's partner, David, a former NFL player; Williams, an ancient vampire who is the San Diego police chief; Daniel Frey, a shape-shifting panther who befriends Anna; and Culebra, a shape-shifting rattlesnake who runs a Mexican hideaway for humans and vampires living on the dark side of the law.

     Anna usually has a boyfriend or a sexual partner, but he doesn't often last long. Then, she's on to the next romantic entanglement, always searching for true love in a very human way. In the early books, sexual scenes occur, but few graphic details are included. In the later books, things heat up a bit moreexcept for Crossroads, and Haunted, which contain little or no sex. 

     Anna is a typical UF heroine, with her sarcastic sniping, angst-filled interior monologues, and rough-and-ready approach to her problems. She doesn't carry as many weapons as Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, but she was definitely created in Anita's image. Bad guys include the villainous Revengers, (vampire hunters who also work as highway patrol officers); a rogue vampire who poses as Anna's friend; a Latino mobster who threatens Anna's boyfriend; and a powerful black-arts witch. In The Watcher alone, she goes up against a dark witch, a Mexican drug lord, and a psychotic hit man. In the later books, Williams, now the former police chief, and his wife become Anna's enemies.

     Some characters come and go randomly throughout the series, appearing as major characters for awhile and then either going to the background or disappearing completely. All of the action in the first seven books takes place during the one-year period following initial Anna's vampire attack (in book 1)

     Click HERE for brief summaries of each of the ANNA STRONG novels. Stein and Samantha Sommersby write together under the pseudonym
 S. J. Harper.

                         SUMMARIES OF NOVELS 1 - 6                         

   >>NOVEL 1: The Beginning: Thirty-year-old Anna Strong is on the job as a bounty hunter in San Diego when she is attacked on the street one night and wakes up as a vampire. Anna hates her vampiric state and spends the entire series trying to maintain her humanity while all of her otherworldly friends and acquaintances urge her to make peace with her new "monstrous" self and turn her back on her human family and friends. Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

   >>NOVEL 2: Drive: Ann must save her niece, Trish, from a monstera human monsterwhile battling her own monstrous vampire nature. Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

   >>NOVEL 3: The Watcher: Anna becomes an enforcer (aka a Watcher) who keeps supernatural criminals under control, but she's still fighting her own violent side. Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon. 

   >>NOVEL 4: Legacy: Anna has to fight for her rights against her sire's widow, who happens to be a predatory werewolf. (Legacy won the 2008 RT Book Reviews Award for Urban Fantasy Protagonist.) Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon

   >>NOVEL 5: Retribution: Anna is trying to track down a deadly witch when her shaky relationship with ex-police chief Warren Williams deteriorates to a dangerous point. Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon. 

   >>NOVEL 6: Chosen: The situation with ex-chief Warren Williams boils over while Anna is learning just what being "The Chosen" will mean for her future life. If you've been following this series, you know that from the beginning, people have been telling Anna that she is the "One" or the "Chosen One," and that no one will tell her what that means. As you can probably guess from the title of this book, all of Anna's questions are now be answered. Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon

                         REVIEW OF NOVEL 7:  Crossroads                        
     As this book opens, Anna gets a message from her ex-boyfriend, Max (a DEA agent), asking for her assistance. Anna is not inclined to do anything to help Mac because she's still angry and hurt that he dumped her as soon as he found out that she was a vampire and then turned right around and became a vampire blood donor (aka, a host). But Anna has always been a soft touch, so she gives in and helps Max track down a bloodthirsty female vampire who is pretending to guide illegals across the border and then draining them dry and leaving their bodies in the desert. 

     The villainous vampire turns out to have connections with Chael, the Middle Eastern vampire leader who is trying to depose Anna from her Chosen position so that he can take over. Chael tries to sweet talk Anna by telling her about a Navajo shaman in Arizona who has the power to give Anna the one thing she desires above all else: to become mortal once again. Anna convinces Daniel Frey to accompany her to Arizona to find the shaman. Frey's young son lives there, so he's willing to go along and try to smooth Anna's way with the Navajo Council. The Navajo hate and fear vampires because they believe that when a person dies, the good part of him or her is gone and only the bad part remains on earth. After a person's death, the Navajo never speak that person's name again. (Click HERE for more information about Navajo burial customs.) To many of the Navajo, Anna is a monstrosity that should be destroyed. Soon after Anna and Frey arrive in Arizona, terrible things begin happening, including a fatal car crash and a skinwalker attack.

     As is usual in this series, the villainy in the plot has both human and supernatural roots. The identity of the villain seems obvious to Anna (and to the reader), but things (and people) are not always as they seem. As the plot resolves itself, Anna is forced to chooseonce and for allbetween vampirism and mortality. This is another great episode in the series, with an action-filled plot, well-developed characters, and a very cute little boy. I really love this series, but hate that the books are coming a year apart. Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                         REVIEW OF NOVEL 8:  Haunted                         
     In the penultimate book in the series, Anna's relationships with the men in her life are front and center. There's also an action plotthis one involving yet another Mexican drug lord and his minions. As the story begins, Anna's shape-shifting friend, Culebra, spills the sordid story of his past life as a drug cartel assassin. Anna reacts with anger and disappointment, berating him for being greedy and weaknothing like the man she always thought him to be. Days later, as she's on her way back to Culebra's place to apologize, she picks up an injured man in the desert who turns out to be Ramon, a friend from Culebra's past who begs their help in rescuing his wife and daughter. Ramon tells a sad story about murdering a bully who abused his son, which caused his drug-lord boss to send his thugs to kill Ramon and/or his family. Soon, the foursome heads out for a flight across the Mexican desert: Culebra, Ramon, Anna, and Max, who is Anna's ex-boyfriend as well as being a DEA agent and a good friend of Culebra's.

     In the meantime, Anna is dealing with all sorts of changes in her interpersonal relationships. Her family flies in from France to announce that they are selling the family home in San Diego and moving to France permanently. In the romantic part of her life, Anna believes that she has finally found true love in Stephen, a human reporter whose life she saved in a previous book. He knows that she is a vampire, but that doesn't seem to bother him a bit. Why then, Anna asks herself, does she take off on this mission without telling Stephen where she is going or that she is traveling with Max, the ex-boyfriend who turned against her when she became a vampire? Just to mix things up a bit more, Frey and his son, John-John, stop in for a visit just before Anna gets involved with Culebra and Ramon. Before Frey returns to his home on the Navajo reservation, he tells Anna his reason for coming to San Diego: "You...I came back for you." (p. 40) So...Anna is dealing with one old friend who isn't what he seems to be, another old friend who seems to love her, an ex-boyfriend who seems to hate her (but does he really?), and a new boyfriend she's lying to. Could her life get more complicated? Oh, yes, it could and it does. 

     The plot unwinds as Anna and her crew arrive at Ramon's hideaway, meet his family, and soon depart for the drug lord's remote lair. By this time, Anna has discovered some holes in Ramon's pitiful story. When they reach the drug lord's supposed hideaway, nothing works out the way it was supposed to, and they become involved in the rescue of young girls who are being kidnapped and sexually abused. Eventually, the requisite climactic shoot-out resolves events in a manner that brings salvation for the girls, but heartbreak for Anna. The ending ties up some story lines, but leaves others open to be resolved in the final book. Although the action plot, with its cruel drug thugs and pathetic abused girls, is a too-familiar retread, Anna's personal relationships and romantic crises take us into new and fragile territory. Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                         REVIEW OF NOVEL 9:  Blood Bond                         
     This plot is simpler and less violent than those in most of the previous books in the series. At the end of Haunted, Anna realized that she and Frey were meant to be mates, and in Blood Bond, she acts on that realization. The primary story line follows Anna and Frey as they declare undying love for one another and prepare for their life together, but Anna's life never goes smoothly, so several major complications soon arise.

     First and foremost, Anna's mother, Anita, is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, meaning that Anna, Frey, and Frey's young son, John-John, immediately hop on Anna's private plane to travel to the South of France, where Anna's parents and their (not-quite) granddaughter, Trish, live in a villa that Anna provided for them. Anna and Frey are deeply in love at this point, but the sadness of Anita's cancer is breaking Anna's heart. Will Anna offer her mother immortality? If so, will Anita accept?

     As the happy/sad couple prepares for their quickie wedding, who should turn up but Chael, Anna's old nemesis, who informs her that the European vampires don't view her as their Chosen One and have sworn fealty to another vampire, one who calls himself King Steffan. The stripped-down action plot follows Anna as she and Frey get involved in a European vampire insurrection and meet up with the most famous vampire in fictional history.

     Some reviewers have suggested that because of the absence of dramatic tension, the lack of sustained action, and the profusion of sex scenes (more than any other novel in the series), that this slender story could (and should) have been told in a chapter or two tacked on to Haunted, and I have to agree. The unnecessary and gratuitous cancer story thread could have been omitted. It adds nothing to the plot except for emphasizing Anna's final acceptance of her immortal status, but that struggle was already delineated in dramatic, angst-filled detail in Haunted. With its kissy-kissy focus on Anna and Frey's HEABlood Bond is actually more of an extended romance novella than an urban fantasy novel. Even so, fans of the series will want to read the book just to experience the wedding preparations and culminating ceremony. In the final analysis, Blood Bond exists primarily as an exclamation mark at the end of an otherwise terrific series. Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

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