Reviewed: May 30, 2012
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Night Huntress, Book 5
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 357 Pages
Formats: Print, eBook
You'd think accidentally (and illegally) immolating the vampire who had manipulated you into a marriage you had forgotten while he's killing the vampire you love in a challenge bout adjudicated by vamp elders would warrant a little down time. If your name is Cat Crawford, though, also known as the Red Reaper, scourge of the vampire world, you'd be wrong. Life is never that simple for Cat and her true husband, Bones.
Hell, if it were, she wouldn't be such a...unique member of the fully undead. But no, Cat can't do anything the easy or normal way. That's why she's the only full vampire in existence who is still plagued with an occasional pulse, craves vampire blood instead of human, and has a tendency to pick up the skills and strengths of the vampires she feeds from. Talk about awkward!
Toss in a fundamentalist ghoul who considers Cat to be the undead version of the antichrist and who is gathering forces to put her down in as painful and ugly a way possible, a growing number of missing and murdered vampires, and an impending species war between vampires and ghouls that will decimate human and undead alike, and Cat's lucky she's got time to breath (if she still had to, anyway), let alone take a few days off.
If it weren't for Bones and the strength of his love for her, Cat would have waived the white flag long ago. Together, though, and with the help of friends and allies new and old, she may just make it out of this next debacle with her head still attached. Not everyone she loves may be so lucky.
It's been several years since I first read the fourth book in what once was one of my favorite series of all time. So much time passed, in fact, that before I started this book, I had to go back to the beginning to reacquaint myself with the series and characters. Unfortunately, Destined for an Early Grave was just as big a stumbling block for me on the reread as it was the first time around, when it tripped up my fanaticism for the series. I had a lot of problems with that book.
I'm happy to say that this time it didn't set me back so far that I couldn't finally plow ahead to this one. I would have missed out on a lot of good reading and the chance to once more become fond of characters who I adored above all others in the past.
This Side of the Grave is a witty, action-packed, emotionally vibrant tale. One of the most quip-laden of the series, I chuckled out loud in several places, and found myself slowly falling in love with Cat and Bones all over again. I've always wished for more series like this one, an extended urban fantasy series with a strong female lead in a steady, solid romantic relationship with her male co-star. I'm so very weary of the bed-bouncing, emotionally retarded, sex-starved profligates that have become so tragically ubiquitous in the genre.
It's a treat to be able to enjoy this one again.
That's not to say all things were perfect for me. The main plot of the book seemed to start fairly slow and, if I'm completely honest, wasn't really all that compelling to me. Especially compared to some of the ancillary threads that were very powerful and more interesting. I was concerned, too, with seeming inconsistencies in Cat's ability to absorb the skills and power of those from whom she feeds. I'm also a little troubled by the fact that I've started noticing a pattern or formula emerging in the books - maybe because I've now reread them all so close together.
Admittedly, it's an over-simplification, but it seems each book starts with one strong scene unrelated to the main plot, then Cat and Bones are made aware of a major threat to one or both of them. That leads them to meet with Mencheres, et al. to discuss said threat in great detail while Cat stays off the radar. After the first plan - which never works - is set in place, something crops up that puts either Cat's or Bones' life on the line, and it usually results in Cat getting the crucial piece of information she needs to triumph, but in such a way that she doesn't understand it. All efforts to stave off catastrophe fail, everyone throws themselves into battle, and that crucial bit of cryptic from earlier becomes clear in hindsight.
None of those issues, however, detract from the fact that Frost can still rip my heart out, can still make me laugh out loud, surprise me, and put me on the edge of my seat. She has, even after the previous book, drawn me back into the fold and wrapped me up in the lives and love of Cat and Bones and all their friends (Vlad in particular, who I've always loved with fierce intensity).
I also loved that Cat showed true maturity in this book. Gone is the half-cocked wild woman who would Lone Ranger her way into deep trouble and jump to all sorts of emotionally immature conclusions. Gone is the strictly black-and-white inflexibility and the stubborn pride. Cat has learned to thrive in the gray areas and embrace compromise. Even when it hurts. Her growth throughout this series, evidenced in this book, was impressive and heartening.
I think the series needed this book, actually. It seemed to complete a transition that started in the previous book. Cat's relationship with Bones seems so strong now, and it's my favorite thing about this series. Cat herself seems strong. Some of her alliances and friendships have shifted and realigned, and characters who have been a part of the series for a long time have changed roles a bit. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next, especially now that Cat has sort of become Cat 2.0.
Hell, maybe she'll even manage a real vacation with her husband. One that's not interrupted or blown up by some impending disaster or major threat. Then again...what fun would that be?
"Before we go, I gotta know: If mind-reading abilities are real, there's something else I wondered if fiction got right about vampires–"
"Ask me if I sparkle and I'll kill you where you stand."
"Sneaky, manipulating, merciless bloodsucker..."
A chuckle drifted up to me. "Pillow talk already? You'll have me hard before we're even back in our room."
"What the hell was that?" I gasped.
"Premature inflamulation," he replied. "Happens sometimes. Very embarassing, I don't like to talk about it."
I hadn't ever wondered why Mencheres hadn't tried to stop that attack with his power. Probably because I was too busy thinking, Holy shit, we're all gonna die!
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