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Saturday, September 24, 2011


Author: Rachel Vincent
Plot Type: Soul Mate Romance (SMR) in an urban setting
Ratings: Violence--4-5; Sensuality--4; Humor--2
Publisher and Titles: MIRA
     Blood Bound (7/2011)
      Shadow Bound (6/2012)
      Oath Bound (5/2013) (FINAL)

     This post was revised and updated on 6/10/13 to include a review of the third (and probably FINAL) book in the series, Oath Bound. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of books 1 and 2:

             BOOK 3:  Oath Bound             
     The action begins when Serenity (Sera) Brandt shows up at the Tower estate to ask a favor. It turns out that Sera is Jake Tower's bastard daughterone he never knew he had. At this point, Julia (Jake's evil sister) has taken over the leadership of the Tower syndicate, and she's not at all happy to see Sera. In the meantime, Julia's thugs have kidnapped poor Kenley Daniels—who was just freed from her long-term imprisonment after Jake's death. Kenley's brother and sister (Kris and Kori) are trying to rescue her, and Kris breaks into Julia's office just as Sera is in the middle of her confrontation with Julia and Gwen (Jake's widow). When Julia's thugs pull out their guns, Kris grabs up Sera and escapes with her through the shadows, taking her to his family's hideout house out in the middle of nowhere.

     Sera grew up in an extremely sheltered atmosphere and has absolutely no knowledge of the ruthless violence that ruled her biological father's life. She was raised by her mother and step-father—the only father she ever knew. Just three months ago, her parents and her sister were murdered in a home invasion, and Sera wants revenge. That's the favor she asks from Julia: the death of her family's killer. Now, she's been kidnapped by a sexy guy who Travels through the shadows, and he's taken her to a house with no exits—all of the doors and windows are screwed shut. Of course, Kris and his friends don't need doors because so many of them are Travelers, but Sera knows nothing about Kris and his associates (all of the lead characters from the previous two books), and she's terrified that they will kill her when they find out that she is Jake's daughter.

     The story follows the group's efforts to rescue Kenley and to track down the killer of Sera's family. Both Kris and Sera feel a mutual attraction right from the beginning, but there is so much distrust and so many secrets standing between them that it takes a very long time for that attraction to burst into flame, if you know what I mean (and I think you do). Unfortunately, this relationship takes many, many more unhappy twists and turns than one would hope, making it difficult to understand how the tiny flame of their attraction keeps burning. The two spend most of their time arguing and misunderstanding one another, and there is really no trace of romantic undercurrent throughout most of the book. Some of the Kris' friends and family seem to see the mutual attraction, but the reader (at least, this reader) doesn't see much evidence to support that.

     The action part of the plot is suitably dark and violent. Julia is just as cold-hearted and brutal as her brother ever was, and she plays some Machiavellian games with Kris and his crew. Once again, Binding is an important part of the story line as Sera realizes that as Jake's true heir, all of his Bindings now go to her. At first, she wants to free everyone, but eventually she has to consider what happens to people who have been Bound for decades and then are suddenly freed. Who protects them from other syndicates? Where do they go? Sera is really the only true innocent we have seen in this series, and she makes a lot of mistakes as she learns the real truth about life and death in the big city under the shadow of the crime families. 

     Although this book is billed as the final installment, the author definitely leaves the door open for further adventures. Jake Tower may be dead, but there is still another crime family in town
the one run by Ruben Cavazosand Ruben still has Cam and Olive Bound to him. So...maybe some day Vincent will finish the story, but in the meantime, this trilogy has plenty to capture your interest: an inventive mythology, well-developed characters, and compelling plots.

    Don't you love it when a great new series hits the market? I have been awaiting Rachel Vincent's new series with great anticipation because her SHIFTERS/WERECATS Series is one of my all-time favorites. This new series is going to be just as great if it stays on the level of its first book, which is absolutely fantastic.

     Here's the opening paragraph of Blood Bound: "Only two-thirty in the morning, and I already had blood on my hands. The most messed-up part of that? It was the hour that bothered me." How's that for dark and gritty?

     On her blog, the author explains her inspiration for the world-building: "What if a person's word really was his or her bond? What if, once given, a promise could never be taken back? Would you be more careful what you way?...If the spoken word carries that much power, how much more would the written word carry? What about words written (or sealed in) blood? What about words written (and sealed in) flesh? Tattoos and graffiti take on a whloe new meaning, huh?"

     This urban world is as different from life on Faythe's Texas ranch as it could possibly be. In the BLOOD BOUND world, there are no shifters or vampires or demons. Instead, there are the Skilled—people who are born with special magical Skills. Here is a partial list of the Skills:

  > Binding: bind people to magical contracts that, if broken, result in pain or death
  > Tracking: locating a person or object through blood or full name
  > Traveling: moving instantly from one place to another using shadows
  > Seeing: forecasting future events
  > Jamming: preventing the use of Skills by others
  > Blinding: causing complete darkness; drawing the shadows to cover you
  Reading: discerning whether a person is lying or telling the truth
  > Bleeding: This Skill is mentioned, but not explained, so far.

     Although the Skills are not officially recognized by government agencies such as police departments or courts, the general public is aware of them and uses them behind the scenes. That has led to the growth of a black market in which mob leaders attempt to recruit and control as many of the Skilled as they can get. The two major mob leaders are Jake Tower and Ruben Cavazos.

     Most of the charters are bound to either Jake or Ruben. Here, one of Jake's people explains how it all works: "Jake Tower was the heart of the Tower syndicate. We—the initiates—were the lifeblood of the organization, but Tower was the pump that kept us flowing through the veins and arteries of this living machine. He pushed the buttons and pulled the strings, and we belonged to him, all of us, bound into service, sealed in flesh, by bloom and any name. We lived and died according to his will. And we obeyed because obedience was a physical mandante. Even when our minds resisted, our bodies complied, helpless in the face of a direct order." (Shadow Bound, p. 11.)

     One of the primary focuses of the series is on the ramifications of Binding: Why do people Bind themselves? How do they manipulate the Binding just to the point of breaking it? What are the consequences of breaking an oath? Also important in this world is blood, which can be used against a person in a number of horrifying ways."

             BOOK 1:  Blood Bound             
     The heroine of book 1 is Olivia (Liv) Warren, whose Skill is Tracking, particularly Blood Tracking. If Liv has a blood sample, she can track that person down even from hundreds of miles away. Liv's motto in life, which she has tattooed on the back of her neck, is Cedo nulli: Latin for "I yield to no one."

     As Blood Bound begins, Liv's current life doesn't conform to her motto because she is bound to the mob leader Ruben Cavazos, who is a powerful Binder. Although some of the Skilled bind themselves to the mob for money and power, Liv's motivation was much different. Cavazos put her in a position in which she was forced to bind herself to him in order to keep someone she loved from harm. (Sorry, I can't tell you more. That would spoil the story for you.) Cavazos is a cruel and vicious man—kind of like Tony Soprano, but with the added threat of magical Skills. Liv's primary job for Cavazos is to track down his young son, who was spirited away by his mother, who used to be Cavazos's mistress. Liv has been unsuccessfully trying to track the child for a year and a half, and she has just six more months before her contract ends. If she doesn't find the child by then, things will get much worse for her with Cavazos. The scenes between Liv and Cavazos are disturbing, with physical violence on both sides, but with Liv always getting the worst of it.

     Liv's love life has been terrible for the past six years, ever since she was forced to dump her long-time boyfriend, Cameron (Cam) Caballero. Cam is also a Tracker whose specialty is Name Tracking. If Cam has a person's full name, he can find them anywhere. We don't discover why Liv left Cam until deep into the book, but, trust me, it's a big payoff. 

     Cam is still deeply in love with Liv, and he'll do just about anything to win her back. Here, Cam muses about his attraction to Liv: "Over the past six years, living and working in this city had turned the funny, charismatic girl I'd loved with every cell of my body into a jaded, hard-edged loner I still couldn't look at without catching my breath....Olivia was a wire wound too tight, always about to snap, but she lived on excitement and thrived under pressure. Being with her was like holding a bomb in both hands, watching the numbers tick back toward zero. I knew she'd eventually explode, and this time it might kill me." (Blood Bound, pp. 81-82) The chemistry between Liv and Cam is sizzling, with just the right amount of sexual tension running through all of their scenes. Both Liv and Cam are keeping a lot of secrets from one another, and some of the revelations could be devastating to their future relationship.

     Early in Blood Bound, Cam shows up at Liv's office with Anne, one of Liv's childhood friends. Anne and Liv, along with two of their friends, accidentally bound themselves to help one another back when they were teens, and Anne uses that binding to coerce Liv into tracking her husband's murderer. She also forces Liv to partner with Cam for the investigation. As the plot thickens, Anne's daughter is put in jeopardy, and Liv and Cam are caught in a confrontation between the Tower and Cavazos crime syndicates. Liv and Cam must try to get around the various oaths that bind them so that they can rescue the girl and begin to trust—and love—each other once again.  

     Blood Bound is told in the first person, switching back and forth in point of view (POV) from Liv to Cam. This is confusing the first time it happens (Chapter 3), but then you get used to it. Vincent handles the difficulties of first person narrative with the ease of a veteran. Shadow Bound will also feature a dual POV: Liv's childhood friend, Kori, and a new character named Ian. This time she plans to label the chapters with the name of the narrator, which should clarify the switches in POV.

     Vincent has created a terrifically inventive world in this series, a world in which seemingly simple oaths can change people's lives. All of the characters are well developed. Each one has a back story that creates empathy on the part of the reader. No one is all good or all bad—just as in real life. Liv and Cam have flaws. They have made wrong decisions in their lives, but they are basically good people. Even Cavazos and his crazed wife, who are awful human beings, are shown to have some good in them. The plot is intricate, and it plays out in a compelling manner. I have to say that I figured out the big plot point (can't tell you what it is though) about 3/4 of the way through, but that still didn't spoil the story for me. The ending is a bit of a cliff hanger, with Liv on the verge of making a decision that will change her life for many more years. I can't wait to read Shadow Bound.           

             BOOK 2:  Shadow Bound             
     The heroine of the story, Korinne (Kori) Daniels, is a Travellera shadow walker, which means that she can walk into a shadow in one place and emerge in shadows or darkness far from her starting point. As the story opens, Kori has been tortured and sexually abused for more than six weeks for her role in the battle that climaxed book 1. During that fight, both she and her boss, Jake Tower, were shot. Jake punished Kori by locking her up and leaving her at the mercy of his psychotic brother, Jonah. As part of that punishment, Jake commanded Kori, "Don't fight back." Since this was Jake's direct order, that made it part of Kori's binding and she had no choice but to accept Jonah's abuse without opposition. When Jake finally frees Kori, he assigns her as an escort and recruiter of Ian Holt, an extremely powerful blinder who can pull darkness even in the daytime to cover himself from view. Jake is determined to bind Ian to him and he tells Kori that she must do anything and everything that Ian asks her to do. If she doesn't convince Ian to sign the binding oath, Jake promises to torture her sister (Kenley) and then kill Kori. Kenley is an incredibly strong binder who acts as Jake's sealer: "A Binder like Kenley seals [an oath], with ink, blood or spoken promise. Or some combination of those. A verbal promise is the weakest. A blood binding is the strongest, whether sealed on paper, flesh, or any other surface." (p. 102)

     In the meantime, Ian has his own reasons for accepting Jake's invitation to visit the Tower empire. Ian's brother is dying from the effects of a broken binding that was sealed by Kori's sister. He had hoped that Kenley would be his escort and planned to kill her immediately (which will save his brother's life) and then escape, but when Kori shows up as his escort, all of his plans go out the window.

     The plot follows the couple as they fall in love, fight off attempts by Cavazos' agents to kidnap Ian, figure out a way to rescue Ian's brother, and strategize methods of getting rid of Jake. The action never stops and the angst never quits. Ian and Kori are well-developed, empathetic characters with mad fighting skills and nerves of steel. Both of them are placed in impossible situations, each with a sibling's life in his or her hands. In addition, Kori is living with the mental and emotional aftermath of her torture and Jake's threat of more to come. The couple's give-and-take sardonic dialogue is darkly humorous, and their romance is actually believable, even if it happens very quickly. Ian and Kori tell their story in alternating chapters using the first person point of view. In contrast to book 1, this book begins each chapter with the name of the character who is speaking, which greatly enhances the flow of the story.

     Once again, there are lots of supporting characters, so you have to pay attention. You must also keep tabs on every story thread, no matter how unimportant it may seem, because some of those threads are actually the very plot points that lead to the climax and resolution of this intricately devised novel. The lovers from book 1 show up a few times, sometimes as enemies and sometimes as friendsit's an interesting relationship. This is a solid, compelling story that leaves me hoping that book 3 will come along sooner rather than later. Click HERE to read the first two chapters.

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