This book has a plot like a Jack Russell Terrier on crack jellybeans. Bounce bounce bounce! It zooms from event to event, gory bloody scene to battle to a shower at home to more action. ZOOM! BOUNCE! It's kind of manic.
But it also has guffaw-moments of silly, goofy humor. The silly humor of the prose fits the story in a way that made me laugh hard at some scenes. It might give you whiplash, the way moments of drama are deflated with sarcasm, since it moves the tone of the story back and forth from Moment of Loss and Sadness to Moment of Wait, That Was Kinda Funny.
Also, before I move on to the plot summary, take a close look at the cover: notice her fingers are tapered into claws? That's kinda cool – and fits the story, both in the sense that Celia has claws, and that her claws are easy to overlook.
Celia Wird and her sisters live in Tahoe, and try to stay on the outer edge of any politics amid all paranormal folks around them – and there are many. The story opens with Celia, Shayna, Taran and Emme being searched for weapons as they're hauled into Vampire Supreme Court on charges of having killed a vampire without just cause. Vampires in this world are not predatory, and only specific diseases or infections make them lose their cool and go after human blood like beasts. The vampires are very proud of their control, and very insular, so the fact that Celia and one of her sisters attacked and killed a vampire with their powers is a very big deal, and they're fearful of what might happen to them based on what they thought was a justifiable act. One, they might be killed as punishment for their actions, and two, now pretty much the entire vampire community around Tahoe knows about the four of them, and their abilities.
Once they get through Vampire Supreme Court (and seriously, wouldn't that be the best tv show EVER? A mix of courtroom/legal drama and vampire politics? It'd be True Blood, Judge Judy, and Law & Order in the blender of insanity! Hey, Hollywood, call me, I have ideas) (Anyway) the adventure starts and does not stop until the end. I mean, this book moves fast.
Once the sisters are cleared of the charges against them, Misha, the vampire master who brought charges in the first place (the vampire killed was from his family) asks Celia for help (I know: chutzpah!). There is a bloodlust infection spreading among the vampires, and he's had to kill several of his own because once infected, there is no cure, and the infected vampire will go crazy with hunger and be unable to control him- or herself.
ETA: Forgot a sentence! (Sorry, y'all. A LOT happens in this book.) After the sisters are cleared and back home, Celia runs into a supremely hot were-dude she's very drawn to, but hasn't seen before. First they jog past each other on the lakeshore, and then they run into each other, and then there's more mayhem and he and his posse show up, all of which serves to bring their respective orbits closer to one another so that they can actually talk to one another. Celia learns his name is Aric and he's an alpha of a were group – and in this world, weres are responsible for essentially policing and enforcing the rules. When some of Aric's pack think Celia's responsible for some gory, horrible mayhem, she kicks all their asses, and nearly throws down with Aric, too. They are pretty evenly matched and end up fighting alongside or against one another a few different times in the story. Aric is very drawn to Celia, and she thinks he's totally dreamy though she struggles to trust him (or anyone, really). Theirs is, however, not a relationship that is easily established or easily resolved. Aric hates Misha, Misha hates Aric, both are drawn to Celia, her sisters end up on one side or another of the long-term animosity between both groups – it's not an easy courtship, especially because Aric isn't sure what to make of Celia. She can fight but he's supposed to protect her – except that she doesn't necessarily want to be protected considering she can throw down and whoop ass as well as he can.
Speaking of her abilities, Celia and crew have very specific powers that the other paranormal folks in town have never heard of. There's one scene where one of the Vampire Justices is trying to classify them, and he can't because they don't fit any known definition. For example, Celia can shift into a Tigress, partially or completely, and it's her choice how much of her body shifts. Weres shift entirely from one being to another, and can't turn one arm or claws or some teeth just to look a little scary. Celia can also shift her body into molecules- and force that shift onto other adversaries.
There are other powers Celia realizes she has, though it doesn't make her too much of a Mary Sue because she gets hurt badly (though she's healed by her sister, who is something of a Mary Sue-ish character), and her sisters and the rest of the paranormals don't think she's rainbows and sunshine and perfection. Her sisters also have different powers, such transmutation of objects into weapons, telekinesis, and wielding power, light and electricity. There's no clear explanation of how their powers came to be so different and why, and I suppose in future books the characters might investigate why they are the way they are — but they also might not. Celia, Taran, Shayna and Emme have a very pragmatic acceptance of what they are, and do the best that they can to take care of each other. Their goal isn't ultimate world power so much as it is surviving.
In most respects I liked the whiplash mania of the plot. My only problem was when Celia saw victims and professed to feeling sorry for them, and then forgot about them moments later. I felt like I was being asked to care about some ancillary victims of the vampire infection, and then move on very quickly from that quick shot of empathy. I disliked that the ancillary victims were often women, and sometimes prostitutes — and that by focusing on them for a brief scene then moving on to blood, guts, and zaniness, they became disposable devices. Here is a Big Moment of Drama and Empathy! Ok, that's it, toss them in the trunk of a car never to be seen again, moving on to Big Fight Scene! With some Funny Sauce!
On one hand, I don't like romance with a lot of entrails. There were some entrails in this book like whoa and intestines. On the other, the lightness of the tone, the fact that it wasn't an angst-o-rama with intestines, made the scenes of gore and mayhem easier for me to bear. Things get gross and crispy-fried at times, but there is a very real sense of pragmatic humor: Celia and her sisters seem to have long-ago adopted an attitude of “Yes, this is insane and sometimes awful, but if we don't laugh about it we'll go completely bonkers.” The manic, almost zany pace, and the wry and at times sarcastic humor of Celia's narration contrasted mightily with the severity of the injuries and fights they all endure, but in a way that made the violence tolerable for me (I typically do not like entrails with my romance, or any of my entertainment, really). But there were times when it seemed Celia and the story backed away from really communicating how much some of the action hurt, physically or emotionally, and instead of pursuing the importance of some of the events, the default repeated sequence prevailed and there was insert: silly or sarcastic humor.
The manic storytelling didn't work at all well for the romance. To be fair, this is mostly urban fantasy, and the romance is very secondary to the plot of “what's wrong with the vampires” and “how do we get out of this alive.” I appreciated that Celia didn't have an obvious love triangle, though it's hinted at in the cover copy. She wants Aric, and she really likes him, despite the smooth moves from Misha, the local vampire master (who says “My darling” that I often misread as “ma petite”) who is some grade-A over-the-top crazy sauce. At one point, he sets up a candle-and-moonlight gourmet dinner with an orchestra on her front lawn, to hell what the neighbors think. Then Aric joins them so Celia tries to keep the peace while they insult each other out of habit and mutual dislike. Like I said: zany. Vampires are dying from a mysterious infection! There's turf wars and people being killed! Have I shown you my woodwinds?
The conflicts that pop up between Celia and Aric are based either on misunderstanding, other characters telling Celia things she shouldn't necessarily believe, or simple circumstances that would be solved if they'd stand still and TALK to each other for five minutes. For a very smart, very clever and very quick person, Celia does some dipshit bonehead things when characters she shouldn't have any reason to believe tell her things she doesn't want to hear. Cue the moping! Cue the angst! Cue not returning his calls and text! Then, lather, rinse, repeat, next chapter, with some battles against infected vampires and more in between. Beyond being annoyed with one another, their relationship doesn't have any real conflict, or any real teeth. There's a tepid swipe at a triangle between Celia, Misha and Aric, but it's pretty clear (thankfully) that Celia isn't torn between the two of them as much as she's unsure of her status with Aric but very sure she doesn't want to be with Misha. The romance, such as it is, isn't the best part of the story (the best part would be Celia & Co.'s commentary on pretty much everything).
Celia insists that she and her sisters get involved in matters for which they don't have any responsibility, saying that their gifts, and the fact that humans are now involved in the problem, mean they can and should help and stop whatever it is from spreading. There isn't much explanation beyond “We can do this, so we should do this” that reveals the larger motivations behind Celia and her sisters' insistence on driving off into the woods in stolen vehicles to chase after gory, drippy bad guys. But every time, even if I didn't understand why they were doing something, I was enjoying the crap out of the fact that they were, because riding along with them is a good time.
The ancillary characters are lovely. I so enjoyed Celia's relationships with her sisters, who are each distinct and different and unique in their powers and their presence in Celia's life. I liked that they had quirky friends and tried to stay on the outside of the major groups of paranormals that live around them in Lake Tahoe, itself a source of considerable power for all involved. And I really liked that she had problems like getting to work and long exhausting hours (she and her sister are nurses, I think both in obstetrics) and crazy annoying hair and a nosy neighbor. Celia's sisters pair off so easily with other weres that Celia's romance troubles seem bizarre in comparison to how little tension there is with three different weres romancing her sisters. But Celia's sisters take care of her (especially when she brushes against an animal, which results in an unfortunate and hilarious side-effect of Celia's power) and she takes care of them without exception. They drive each other nuts and they bicker, but they have each other's backs every time.
As I said, the story touches lightly on the drama before moving into humor – but also touches lightly on scenes that would genuinely matter to me as a reader, as Celia witnesses some very sad stuff. But because the very sad is glanced at as well, the depth of the sadness was easier for me to take, though it also made the humor a bit jarring at times, and lowered the level of my engagement of the story. I wasn't reading about the vampires and the weres and the whole show because I cared deeply for them, or had empathy for their cause or their predicament or because I was invested in their decisions with them. I was reading because I figured out pretty quickly that I wouldn't get squicked or depressed by the drama and because the mayhem would be funny. There are some moments that are campy and so crazysauce that I had to keep reading to find out what would happen next, but that pace kept me from feeling the “Oh, shit, no, too many dead people” regret that makes me put a book down and not pick it up again. There's a LOT that happens but I never had a problem picking the book back up and WHOOSH being absorbed into the story.
And there is some seriously silly, irreverent funny, y'all. To the point where Hubby asked, “What are you reading?” For example (this is after a huge battle with some infected vampires):
Shayna fished around in her bra. She paused when she gripped something in one of the cups, and paled to the color of chalk when she pulled out some poor sap's finger. She rolled down the window, tossed the digit, tossed some cookies, and slumped back in her seat. A flock of crows wasted no time fighting over their incredible find.
I laughed so hard at that paragraph, even after I re-read it twice.
It's a series, so the Big Bad in this book is dispatched at the end, but the larger relationships at work come to a pretty good resting place before the next book begins. The copy I have had a sample of the next book, and it seems Celia and her sisters will keep on finding wacky things going bad and getting involved – with sarcasm. I hope future books will develop the setting more, for one thing. This book is a lot of action and dialogue. I know they're next to Lake Tahoe, but I couldn't tell you what that looked like.
Grading this book is difficult because even though I recognize the flaws – shallow engagement of emotions, weak romantic development, fast moving plot without much explanation of the actual motivations or reasons behind things – I enjoyed the hell out of reading it. My inner 12 year old guffawed constantly. I was really happy to read it and had a grand time every time I picked it up. It's difficult to assign a grade when my enjoyment outweighs my awareness of narrative flaws, but there was lots of enjoyment. Lots. So this book gets a B-, with great likelihood that I'll seek out book 2 when it is published – a very rare thing for me.