Tuesday, 26 October 2010

review: Chloe Neill’s Some Girls Bite: A Chicagoland Vampires Novel

I’ve already blogged about prejudging the first title in Neill’s Urban Fantasy series, Some Girls Bite, because of the cover designer’s kid-gloves handling of potential readers and now I’ve gone a step further and actually read it.

As I’m currently trying to be influenced by marketing, I chose this particular title because imprint Gollancz’s page on publisher Orion’s website has placed Neill as their author of the month, possibly due to the third title in the series coming out in PB and eBook (Gollancz release the formats simultaneously) this month. Cunning. Although the ‘read more’ option could lead you to something a little more exciting than a slightly muddled list of her books and a two line bio. Neill has also written for Gollancz’s blog for her Gollancz YA genre fiction, and it would have been great to see her comments aimed at her adult readers too. Maybe even a few pictures, a couple of cautionary symbols, but you can’t have everything.

On to the book itself. This is very much your standard opening novel to a series. It tackles the usual issues with introducing the world, the lead and other main characters, the politics and the rules and restrictions on magic (always key with SFF, we like those rules) well enough. It also wends a plot through there too: Merit is a post-grad student who is attacked on campus by a vampire, only to be saved by another. She’s hurtled into a world of supernatural creatures against her will, one that’s filled with vampire politics between the Houses, as they argue over whether they should ‘go public’ and truly reveal themselves to the wider-world even more than they already have. She’s helped by her best friend and housemate, Mallory, who is discovering her own powers of witchcraft as Merit is finding her vampire feet. Merit has to decide whether she wants to join Cadogan House, whose Master, Ethan Sullivan, was the one who changed her, or go ‘rogue’ and not submit her will to Sullivan, who is now her sworn enemy because of what he did. If only he wasn’t so damn sexy... There’s also the mystery to solve of who tried to kill her in the first place and who is continuing to kill young women, putting all of the vampire Houses in a very unflattering public spotlight and risking war between the humans and the vampires.

It all sounds good, but really the plot is a subplot, a thin vein running through the novel whose lifeblood is the narrative about Merit discovering her abilities and trying not to do anything overtly sexual to her maker, Sullivan. Merit is your standard kick-ass heroine, and she’s well written, with the first-person narrative easy and enjoyable to read. She’s witty and strong-willed and everything you could hope for. But because the standard sexual tension between Merit and the brooding male lead is awarded so much page time, although fine, you are left longing for something meatier in the plot itself. There is a lot of set up and there are slapdash character introductions to get through, and it’s clear that Neill wants to introduce us to a world that is full of potential, which she has definitely done. Perhaps because of this, the plot suffers and doesn’t have enough detail in it to really get going, or conclude in a surprising or satisfying manner. Some Girls Bite is ultimately well-written, but some bits feel rushed or overlooked – such as her friend Mallory’s powers and her volatile relationship – and some characters are forced on you as a whole, instead of introduced in increments. But again, this is all paving the way for the rest of the series, and really it just needs to hit its stride. This title just feels like it took a few too many steps back to get a good run-up.

To sum: likeable lead – obviously important – and intriguing love-triangle set up, and lots of room to manoeuvre with the sheer volume of supernaturals tantalisingly alluded to in this volume. If the plot in the next one in the series, Friday Night Bites, takes precedence then this series could be something good.

As a side note, in America Neill is published by NAL trade, part of Penguin USA – an imprint I’ve just found out about this moment, shamefully (what, Roc/Tor isn’t the be all and end all? But they publish Jim Butcher!). They’ve gone for the more adult approach with their covers. Still noticeably Urban Fantasy with a photo of the kick-ass heroine (apparently this is now a trade term) against a suitably urban back-drop, but come the fourth in the series – Twice Bitten - they’ve taken full advantage of the lead’s trademark outfit – black, shiny leather. Her bottom gleams off the page to the extent where I wonder whether they should have taken a leaf from Gollancz’s book and shown their awareness of their racy subject matter - shiny bottom: TICK.


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