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Thursday, May 30, 2013


Author:  M. L. Brennan
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)      
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2-3; Humor2-3 
Publisher and Titles:  Roc
          Generation V (5/2013)
          Iron Night (1/2014)
          Tainted Blood (11/2014) 
          Dark Ascension (8/2015) 

This post was revised and updated on 8/4/15 to include a review of Dark Ascension, the fourth novel in the series. The post begins with an overview of the series world-building followed by my reviews of the four novels in chronological (reading) order. 

     Although the lead character is a vampire, this series does not portray vamps in the traditional manner. Click HERE to read a terrific guest column by Brennan on the Michael J. Martinez blog, in which she explains the differences between her vampires and the traditional ones. (Hint: Her vamps are not immortal, and they definitely don't sparkle.) Brennan's inventive mythology is one of the strongest elements in the series. 

     In most vampire novels/series, the vamps are frequently thousands of years old and can create their progeny through a simple blood exchange. The ancient vampires in those series invariably (and inexplicably) fall deeply in love with 20-something human women, which, to me, has always been highly improbable and slightly boring. In this series, though, vamps are created through a complex and creepy process that is based on the reproductive behavior of ticks and involves feeding from a host. (Click HERE for more information on tick reproduction.) The series also turns its back on the immortal-vampire/young-female romance trope. These vampires are not immortal, although they do live longer than humans. They come into their powers slowly and harbor no positive feelings towards humans—not even cute and sassy 21st-century females.  

     The young hero of the series is Fortitude (Fort) Scott, a 26-year-old with a useless college degree, a minimum-wage job in a greasy coffee shop, a deadbeat roommate, and a cheating girlfriend (who actually sleeps with said roommate). As the series opens, Fort is much more human than vampire, and he is happy about that, although he realizes that as he ages he will gradually become more and more like his cold-hearted, human-hating (almost sociopathic) brother, sister, and mother. Here, he muses about his future: "I don't even have fangs at all, just the human incisors that are basically vampire baby teeth. But [my mother's] fangs are fixed in place...and are the size and sharpness for ripping and tearing....The knowledge that at some point I'll start the transition that will make me a full vampire like my siblings and Mother makes me dread every birthday and routinely check my teeth in the mirror. Because popular vampire lore is wrong in another key aspect: vampires do age and we aren't immortal. Each of us will eventually succumb and die of old age..." (p. 39)

     Fort has a strong moral streak, but rarely acts on it. As the series begins, Fort habitually backs away from confrontation, allowing his roommate to fall months behind on the rent, submitting to his girlfriend's cheating ways, acquiescing to his mother's various commands, and, in general, living his life as a wimpy doormat. As book 1 proceeds, though, Fort develops a backbone and begins to stand up for what he believes to be right, even though his actions put his life in danger and go against his family's wishes.

     Here are brief biographies of Fort's mother and siblings:

> Mom: Madeline, born in 1387; first vampire in the New World (aka America); controls northeastern U.S. and much of Eastern Canada; She and her family live in a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island.
Sister: Prudence, born in 1775; works in finance; hates Fort with a passion, mostly because he is so "human" (She slaughtered Fort's human foster parents in front of nine-year-old Fort after they learned that he was a vampire.)
> Brother: Chivalry, born in 1864; a stereotypically handsome, suave, impeccably dressed vampire; has brotherly feelings for Fort and usually supports him against Prudence; practices serial monogamy, but is a true romantic.
     Click HERE to go to a web page where M.L. Brennan analyzes his characters' motives and actions in response to readers' questions.

                       NOVEL 1:  Generation V                       
     Fort has never met a vampire outside of his immediate family, so when he is ordered by his mother to come to dinner to meet a visitor to her territory, he sees this as an opportunity to find out how his family compares to other vampires. As it turns out, Luca, a Eurotrash pedophile, is much, much worsemore sociopathic than Fort's cold and callous sister. After Fort tries, but fails, to save the life of Luca's teenage "pet," Luca moves on to other young girls. Fort is determined to save the young victims, even though Madeline has offered hospitality to Luca and has made it clear that Luca is free to do as he wishes while he is in her territory.

     The plot follows Fort and his new bodyguard, Suzume (Suze) Hollis, as they attempt to track down Luca and save the two girls he has kidnapped. Suze is a kitsune, a Japanese fox trickster with an enormous ego, a relaxed moral code, and some serious fighting skills. As Suze explains to Fort, "I'm not some were-critter. I'm not a woman who can turn into a fox when she feels like it. I'm a fox who can become a woman." (p. 185) Although Suze's arrival in Fort's life adds some spice, her over-the-top sarcasm and overconfident self-absorption can become quite annoying and abrasive, both to Fort and to the reader.

     As they begin to close in on Luca, Suze eventually reverts to her self-serving trickster ways, and Fort realizes that he is on his own. Can he supplement his puny powers enough to take down the centuries-old Luca? Will Suze change her mind and come to his rescue? What will Mom's reaction be when she discovers what Fort has done? Most of the answers to these questions are predictable. After all, Fort is the series hero, and Suze is (at this point, anyway), his possible/probable love interest. But the action is still compelling, and the story moves along at a rapid, page-turning pace.

     In a side story thread, Fort's human friend, Matt McMahon, has been investigating the deaths of Fort's human foster parents for the past 17 years. Fort knows that he has to walk a fine line between truth and lies with Matt because he knows that if Matt gets close to the truth of their deaths, Madeline will have Matt killed. Unfortunately, Fort is not a good liar, and Matt can read him like a book. Events in this book cause Matt to become suspicious that Fort has not been entirely forthcoming about his parents' deaths, and Matt is not going to let the subject drop.

     Based on book 1, this is a solid urban fantasy series with a particularly creative mythology and a likable hero. I love the fact that these vampires are so different from the usual stereotype. Although I'm not enamored with Suzume, I'm hoping that she will calm down a bit in the next book(s) and become more of a trusted friend for Fort, because he really needs a dependable ally. Click HERE and then click on the blue "Start Reading" icon to read an excerpt from Generation V.

     Just one historical note: When the author has Suze explain her family's WWII history (pp. 121-122), she puts some historic events in the wrong order. The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima (August 6, 1945), and the second was dropped three days later (August 9, 1945) on Nagasaki. Unfortunately, Suze flips the two bombing dates, making Nagasaki come first. Where was the fact checker? This obvious error should have been picked up in the editing process. Click HERE for more information on these controversial bombings. 

                       NOVEL 2:  Iron Night                       

     Here is the publisher's succinct summary of this series: "He's a slacker vampire. She's a shapeshifting fox kitsune. They fight crime." Yes, that's the bare bones, but what's so great about this series is the inventive, engaging manner in which the author fleshes out those bones. In this second episode, Fort has a new roommatea really nice guy who is, unfortunately, murdered gruesomely in the first chapter. That murder kicks off a fast-moving, intricately devised plot in which Fort and his sexy sidekick, Suzume (Suze) Hollis, team up with a half-blood elf and a human ex-cop to track down the killer. Even Prudence, Fort's sociopathic sister, comes along to assist.

     As the story plays out, we watch Fort struggle through his shifts as a waiter at an upscale restaurant, driving his rusted-out Ford Fiesta and trying to live a "normal" life even though his vampire transition has accelerated since the beginning of the first novel. Fort has been subjected to daily workouts by his brother, Chivalry, so that he can begin to take over some of the family's enforcement duties. He now has excellent night vision, rapid healing, better fighting skills, enhanced speed and strength, and a continuing determination never to become a stone cold killer like his siblings. At one point, Fort is forced to pack up and leave his apartment, so he quickly packs a bag that contains "the basics of livingthree days' worth of clothing, deodorant, and my Firefly DVDs." (p. 212) In those few words, Brennan packs a world of insight into Fort's character. 

     Near the end of book 1, Fort's friendship with his old friend, Matt McMahon, ended on a bad note, but in this book, Matt turns up again, still investigating the long-ago murder of Fort's parents. Fort is desperate for Matt to walk away from the case because if Matt learns the truth about the existence of vampires and other supernaturals, Fort's mother will have him killed. Part of the suspense in this book is that Matt gets involved in the roommate's murder, and there is nothing Fort can do to stop him.

     Also involved in the case is lovely Lilah, a half-blood elf who works in a New Age shop. As Fort, Suze, Lilah, and Matt gather clues and question persons (and supernaturals) of interest, they begin to make connections between several seemingly unrelated events. They also discover the identity of the monstrous killera dangerously manipulative supernatural creature who is strong enough to overpower them all. That's when Fort's mother assigns Prudence to assist Fort. It's Mom's way of determining just how much of a vampire Fort really is and how well he can handle himself in a situation that requires investigation, negotiation, andultimatelydeadly force. 

     The story involves all sorts of intrigue within the elven world, which adds another layer to the world-building. These elves call themselves the Neighbors "because it was one of the politer terms used back in Ireland for the older race." (p. 133) The elves in this 21st century world are mostly half-bloods, but there are still a handful of full-bloods in charge: the Ad-Hene (aka Themselves). The Ad-Hene are determined to strengthen their race by increasing the number of 3/4-bloods and full-bloods being born. They want to purify the elven population, and they are willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve their goals.

     The first book of this series (Generation V) was on my "Best of 2013" urban fantasy list, and I'm sure that Iron Night will make my list for 2014. Brennan is a excellent story teller who has the ability to weave her character development seamlessly through the various story lines. She makes us understand Fort's desperate need to maintain his humanity in the face of his growing vampirism. We recognize why Suze pushes Fort toward Lilah, even though we can see her pain, especially when she tells him a melancholy parable about the origin of her race. We watch Madeline (Fort's mother) fading away, but still holding on to her authority and still working hard to mold Fort into a vampire who will become the connection between the vampire and human worlds. This is a terrific book (and series), with an inventive mythology, wonderful characters, compelling action, and sophisticated plotting. I highly recommend it. Click HERE to go to this novel's page where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art.

                       NOVEL 3:  Tainted Blood                       
     Fortitude (Fort) Scott has begun his transition into becoming a full vampire. His reflexes, night vision, and sense of smell have sharpened, and his strength has increased. On the down side, he is always hungry, and his vegetarian meals just aren't cutting it any more. When Fort happens to smell an open container of blood, "my nose practically began twitching as my salivary glands went into overdrive, as if I'd suddenly walked past the open door of a KFC (the greatest ongoing threat to my vegetarianism)." Fort's relationship with his partner, Suzume (Suze) Hollis, seems to be stable, but she still hasn't agreed to be his exclusive girlfriend, although her affectionate teasing (for example, sticking googly eyes all over his apartmenteven on his toothbrush and on the ceiling over his bed) is making him hopeful.

     Back home at Mom's mansion, Fort's brother, Chivalry, is grieving over the death of his wife—his 19th wife—but is soon back in the romance market, looking for a replacement. Meanwhile, Chivalry isn't feeding, so he doesn't have the strength to carry out his enforcement duties. Fort's sister, Prudence, can't help out either, because Madeline (Mom) keeps breaking Prudence's leg in continuous punishment for her deadly shenanigans in book 2. That leaves Fort to handle all of the various problems that occur daily in Madeline's realm. Mostly, these problems have proved to be minor and easily settled, but when Matias Kivela, the head of the bear clan, is viciously murdered, Fort finds himself in a situation that could easily escalate into an inter-species war. The plot has a number of twists and turns, and it takes Fort a long time to finally figure out the identity of the culprit. The bears suspect that the elves are behind the murder, but when Fort investigates that allegation, he is shocked to learn about the horrific punishment that his mother levied on the Ad-Hene (the elves) for their actions in book 2, a punishment that was administered by Chivalry and which guaranteed that the elves could not possibly have murdered Matias. Soon, Fort and Suze are convinced that the murder was an inside job carried out by one of the bears, but the bears aren't about to cooperate with Fort in incriminating one of their own. They view Fort as Madeline's weakest child, and they want Prudence or Chivalry to come in and kill the elves.

     The plot centers on Fort and Suze as they gather clues, interview suspects, and try to determine who would have the most to gain from Matias's death. As the investigation proceeds, Fort discovers that his mother is dying and that the supernaturals within her realm are all aware that someone new—one of Madeline's children—will soon be taking over. This situation is causing some to hope that Fort will be the new leader because he has shown some humanity in his dealings with Madeline's subjects. Throughout her reign, Madeline has been quite dictatorial and unrelenting in her rule over her territory and has made some powerful and vocal enemies. For example, she has prohibited witches from living in groups and has not allowed a new witch within her borders for more than 50 years. Witches tend to live in covens because they need to band together to work their magic, but Madeline refuses to make any changes in her rules. The sociopathic Prudence hates witches, so if she takes over, the witches don't stand a chance. The difference between Fort and the rest of his family is that Fort believes that the family is responsible for the welfare of their subjects, while the others believe that their subjects are there for the sole purpose of serving the family through their tithes and their unquestioning allegiance.

     Late in the book, Fort's vampire transition process makes a major jump, which results in several disturbing incidents. In one scene he is forced to get a feeding lesson from Prudence, making Fort wonder if he really wants to live if this is his future. "My sister…emerged with one of those tall, thick, 1980s Tupperware rectangles with the removable lid on top and the handy bunghole to pour with. My foster mother, Jill, had used exactly that type of Tupperware to make lemonade from concentrate when I was little, and I watched in a detached kind of horror as my sister unknowingly defiled a small piece of my childhood as she carefully poured the blood from her silver bowl into the Tupperware…" All through the series, Fort has tried to maintain his humanity even as his family encourages him to let his inner vampire loose. That constant push and pull is taking its toll on Fort, and the situation is getting worse and worse as his transition progresses. He thinks about how many people have died over the centuries as a result of his family's feeding habits and goes into a deep funk: "Would that be me? A hundred, fifty, thirty, ten years from now? One year from now?"

     As usual, there is plenty of wry humor scattered amongst the scenes of drama and violence. Although Suze is a somewhat stereotypical wise-cracking tough girl, she adds some spice to the dialogue. Fort, too, throws in some funny lines—for example, when he describes his adventures as a dog walker: "Jogging around the College Hill area of Providence…was far less soul-crushing than any retail job I'd ever held, and the dogs were always happy to see me, which made them a cut above most of my former coworkers…While there were the occasional moments of watching a dog urinate and pondering the usefulness of my Ivy League degree…I'd so far been very happy at how the job was working out." 

     I'm enjoying this series so far, and this book is another strong entry. Fortitude Scott is an interesting and complex character, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to him as his vampire instincts get stronger and his mother gets weaker and weaker. This series is best read in chronological order, even though Brennan provides a brief summary of previous events in the early chapters of each book.

Informational Note: in one scene late in the book, Fort stops at the Newport Creamery, where he picks up two Awful Awfuls—one for himself and one for Chivalry. Click HERE for a full description of an Awful Awful. 

     Click HERE to read an on-line interview about Tainted Blood that Brennan did  for SFFWorld. Click HERE to read an excerpt from this novel by going to its page and clicking on the cover art.

                     NOVEL 4:  Dark Ascension                       
     As the “wickedly clever” (Publishers Weekly) series continues, reluctant, slacker vampire Fortitude Scott learns that nothing is more important than family—or more deadly....

     After a lifetime of avoiding his family, Fort has discovered that working for them isn’t half bad—even if his mother, Madeline, is an ancient, terrifying, murderous vampire. His newfound career has given him a purpose and a paycheck and has even helped him get his partner, foxy kitsune Suzume, to agree to be his girlfriend. All in all, things are looking up.

     Only, just as Fort is getting comfortable managing a supernatural empire that stretches from New Jersey to Ontario, Madeline’s health starts failing, throwing Fort into the middle of an uncomfortable and dangerous battle for succession. His older sister, Prudence, is determined to take over the territory. But Fort isn’t the only one wary of her sociopathic tendencies, and allies, old and new, are turning to him to keep Prudence from gaining power.

     Now, as Fort fights against his impending transition into vampire adulthood, he must also battle to keep Prudence from destroying their mother’s kingdom—before she takes him down with it.

     If you are a regular reader of this series, you know that Fortitude (Fort) Scott's mother, Madeline, is in the final stage of her long, long life. In this book, both her progeny and her supernatural subjects must figure out how to deal with what comes next. Who will be in charge, and what changes will occur in how the supernatural groups in Madeline's territory are governed? Everyone is nervous, and that certainly includes Fort, who is facing imminent transition to his full vampiric state, which includes major physical changes and an increase in his familial responsibilities.

     Let's take a look at the romance first. If you have worried that the sexual tension would evaporate after Fort and Suzume (Suze) Hollis finally became lovers, this novel will be a big relief for you. Even though Fort and Suze are having regular overnights, you can bet that their relationship will never be consistently smooth, partly because of Fort's sweet naivety and partly because of Suze's kitsune nature. Remember, the kitsune are foxes who can change into humansNOT humans who can change into foxes. a fact that Fort keeps forgetting. Suze, with her sly, materialistic, trickster nature, is both delightful and annoying as she tends to put family issues before relationship issues and sometimes hurts Fort's feelings without even knowing it. Suze adds much of the humor to the story with her wisecracks and snarky attitude. Although Suze prods Fort towards maturity and a greater interest in his finances, she loves him for his straightforward manner and his caring ways. At one point, she tells him that she isn't trying to remake him, but that "I just don't want you to end up like a marshmallow Peep in the microwave of the world." She always has his back, even playing the role of his wingman when he heads out to feed from a human for the very first time and by supplying him with infant teething-pain gel (cherry-flavored) when his fangs start to come in. It's quite an interesting partnership.

     Although this entire series follows Fort's awkward (but also humorous and poignant) coming-of-age process, in this book he is forced to grow up very quickly. Not only must he now deal with his siblings, Prudence and Chivalry, on a daily basis, but he must be the face of the family in some precarious dealings with local supernatural groups, some of whom are in direct opposition to the Scott family and their policies. As Fort juggles work problems, relationship problems, and family problems, he is called on to handle several supernatural complications: a ceremonial occasion with the bears, a request for sanctuary from some succubi, a financial crisis with the ghouls, and an interspecies disagreement between the witches and the elves. In each case, Fort finds himself in either direct or indirect opposition to Prudence and Chivalry, andto his dismayhe finds out the hard way that Prudence has her own way of dealing with family disagreements.

     Fortitude Scott is a terrific protagonistan optimist in a pessimistic family; a soft heart in a cold-hearted (and cold-blooded) world; and a believer in liberty and justicenot just for his family, but for all of the supernaturals in the territory. As Fort finally begins to stand up for himself and his principles, his methods are always heartfelt and frequently quite touching. Fort and Suze make a great team, and I am looking forward to their future adventures. 

     Here's what Brennan has to say about Fort's coming of age in an interview she did for "Fort's coming of age actually bears the most similarity to Michael Corleone in The Godfather. Here's a character who is an idealist and a populist, but at the same time he's in a situation where morals and notions of justice start running up against real-world situations of realpolitik and expediency. At the core of this character is that old classic of a young adult to the ruling generation—'I'll never be like you.' Well, we saw what happened to the generation of hippies and flower childrenthey ended up on Wall Street and in all the positions of power, and became exactly what they'd once rejected. For me, writing these books has always been about a character who wants nothing to do with his family, and rejects everything about them, but finds both biology and circumstance forcing him closer and closer to those thingsand still fights it. It's the heart of the whole series." (Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read the entire interview.)

     Brennan gives us plenty of foreshadowing in this book. What kind of a vampire is Madeline's brother, who will no doubt be crossing the ocean for a visit to his American relatives? What dies it mean that Madeline altered Fort's upbringing so that he would be "different" from his siblings? How will Fort's tendency towards compromise play out in real-world terms" Will the "Peep in the microwave" metaphor come true? And what about the terrifying Prudence, who never even tries to keep her murderous brutality in check? 

     This is a terrific book in a great series, and I highly recommend itbut only after you have read the first three books, because you need to see how much Fort has changed from the person/vampire he was back in book one when he was attempting to deny his vampire nature and live an entirely human life. Click HERE to read an excerpt from this novel by going to its page and clicking on the cover art.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Dark Ascension is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own. 

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