Bitchin' Blog Posts
Title: Once Burned
Author: Jeaniene Frost
Publication Info: Avon 2012
I haven't read vampire novels in a VERY long time. I have been vamped-out, were-d out, and thoroughly exhausted by all the plots that add paranormalness of various flavors. Aside from the occasional YA paranormal (such as this month's book club selection) I haven't read a paranormal romance in months, possibly.
I'm not sure why I made the exception for this one. I was designing the ad for it and the tagline, about a woman who can control electricity and a vampire who can control fire, caught my attention. We hosted a giveaway with a firepit, so I had press materials about the book in my inbox. Then I saw a few positive tweets about it, and then I read the sample, and boom - it was "leave me alone, it's electric vampire time." I was honestly very surprised - my paraxhaustion was pretty entrenched.
This book is the start of a new series by Jeaniene Frost. I really liked book 1 of the Vampire Huntress series, and I usually like Frost's heroines. The heroine in this case, Laila, was part of the reason I kept reading.
She tells the story in first person, and there's layers of dialogue that could have easily become annoying but instead were very entertaining. Laila touched a downed wire when she was 13, and was left with a scar from her ear to her wrist, an abundance of electrical energy in her body (which means she can't touch anybody without zapping them royally) and psychometry (which means that when she touches someone, she sees their worst sin, the thing they are most ashamed of, while also zapping them with a taser's worth of electrical charge).
That alone would make her seem the most specially special electric snowflake, but she's pretty miserable. Strong, smart aware of her limits, and thus miserable. She can't touch anyone without hurting or killing them, or reliving some fucked up memories that aren't her own. She's also estranged from her family for a host of reasons that are revealed during the course of the story.
She has, in fact, run off and joined the circus. In the circus, she does gymnastics and stunts with a dwarf named Marty, who has some special powers of his own, and her hiding-in-plain-sight strategy works very well because Marty can look out for her, she can make money enough to survive, and if anyone starts wondering what's up with that weird chick with the gloves on, the answer is either 'circus people!' or 'who cares -they've moved on to the next town anyway.'
The action begins when Laila is kidnapped by some nasty vampire dudes who grab her off her trampoline (seriously, bouncing along in the backyard, thinking you're safe, and vampires show up. Really, what is the world coming to?) because they want her to touch some stuff and do her brain painful magic to mess up some vampire named Vlad.
Vlad, once she does her psychic derring-do, can sense her presence and hear her thoughts, and though Laila isn't sure if the vampires she knows are better than the vampire she doesn't, she's pretty sure that the ones who kidnapped her are eager to harm or kill her, or harm and kill others while she's watching. So Vlad comes to help her, because his derring-do is more bad ass than most do-derring, and takes her away to his exceptionally awesome palatial estate in Romania.
The plot of the book focuses mainly on
1. Who's trying to kill Vlad
2. Who wants to use Laila as a tool to kill Vlad
3. How will Laila resist Vlad, as he's pretty sure the wants to enjoy their time together, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
Vlad sees Laila as a tool, but there's some unique twists in how they use one another. Vlad can touch Laila without pain, because his power to control fire means that he doesn't burn. So her electricity doesn't fry him too much, and what's impossible to endure for someone else is like a momentary pinch for him. Vlad needs Laila's abilities to find out who is after him, but since they're also trying to kidnap and possibly kill Laila, too, it's in her best interests to help him out. Plus he's hot and, be ye warned, Laila's loins react to Vlad quite a lot.
Vlad can also hear Laila's thoughts, so she has conversations aloud with him, but she also deals with him listening to her thoughts as she narrates the story. She can't read his mind, but he can listen to her thoughts like she's a walking talk-radio station. That's the layered dialogue I mentioned - it could have been really annoying, but I found it rather funny, especially when characters from Frost's other series show up and Bones gives Laila a hint on how to jam the transmission of her thoughts.
Laila, thankfully, was a narrator I really enjoyed, especially her sarcasm and sense of humor. This is a scene when the kidnapping vampires who violated the bouncing sanctity of her trampoline are forcing her to find Vlad using objects he's dealt with (that's putting it mildly) and she's talking to Vlad psychically without the four kidnapping vampires knowing it:
"Are they with you now?"
I couldn't see them at the moment, but I knew Jackal, Twitchy, Pervert, and Psycho were still clustered around me.
Yeah. They wouldn't leave me alone this time.
If I didn't know the others could hear me, I would've let out an audible scoff. Vlad could at least pretend to care that my neck was in danger of becoming a Capri Sun.
Later, Vlad says:
"You're still afraid of me," he stated. "Good."
"You get off on people being afraid of you?" Was he some sort of insecure undead killer? Great, then I could look forward to him scaring the shit out of me on a regular basis just to make himself feel better.
A few warnings: this book is rather violent. There are memories of Vlad doing fiery things to people, there are memories that Laila must face when she touches people, and there are things she's witnessed that are pretty gruesome. If violence isn't one of your favorite things, this may not make you happy, but even as squeamish as I am with the innocent getting harmed, I could tolerate it. If on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is "someone gets a paper cut" and 5 is "kids are eaten by the villain," this is probably a 2.5 - 3.
The violence and the battles within the story led to one of the weaker parts of the story as a whole. First, when Laila deals with her estranged family, the scenes are more awkward and less empathetic for the reader. I didn't have much reason why I should care about her dad and her sister, despite there being some emotional scenes between them. I was told how she felt rather than having seen any peeks of emotion earlier whenever her family might have been mentioned. There was no build or hint of emotion that she felt for them, so when they showed up and she had to deal with them, I didn't have enough empathy or understanding of their relationships or of Laila's true feelings about her family to understand the alleged impact of their encounters.
In addition, there was not enough grief. Laila's grief for characters she meets in the story and professes to care about is momentary. She doesn't maintain any real expression of loss - she just pushes it aside. She experiences horrible feelings unwillingly when she sees the secrets of the people she touches, but when there's actual difficult feelings of her own, she pushes them away and doesn't deal with them at all. It makes sense in context and I understood why, but since the story is being told from her point of view, it's less satisfying as well. I wanted to experience her genuine feelings of grief, loss, or despair, even for a few moments, because until then, she/the reader had only dealt with the horribleness of other people (who often end up dead so there's some moral payoff). I wanted her to have the balance of ownership of all the bad feelings that were her own as well as all the unexpected good feelings she was experiencing with Vlad.
Touch is a major theme in the book, both comforting and necessary touches, and the touch of violence and harm. When Vlad or Laila lay their hands on anyone, big huge terrible things can happen, but when they touch each other, they neutralize one another with intimacy that neither is particularly comfortable with.
The way in which Laila's narration reveals the plot, herself, her history, her abilities and her motivations is done in small pieces, step by step in an almost quick-breathed narration. That serves as a contrast to the fact that Laila's abilities mean she can see someone's present, their past, or their future in huge swaths of images that are confusing. Her own story the reader learns in pieces, and the plotting and pace made it difficult to stop turning pages.
The story does not have a neatly-tied up happy ever after ending, as it is the first book of the series. Enough of the Big Bad present in this novel is dealt with that there's momentary closure, and I presume the relationship between Vlad and Laila will continue to develop over the coming books, but the foundation is solid, and the characters are memorable. The strength of Laila's character and the mirroring of abilities and the way that the power of touch appeared in multiple meanings kept me reading despite my mental exhaustion of all things vampire. This might be one of the last vampire books I'll read, but it was certainly one I enjoyed very much.