Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin
|Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Human female and good male vampire go up against powerful enemies in this wittily-narrated comic horror. The pairing allows for a better than expected and dramatic romp.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: October 2007|
In the world of this book there are good vampires and bad ones; those remaining evil retaining their killing blood-lust; and those who have successfully become a bit more human siding with us against them. Our favourite of those has to be Vayl, a three-hundred year old undead Romanian, now working with the CIA as an assassin. Also working with them and him is Jasmine, who provides the enjoyable first person narrative (more on that later).
After Vayl suddenly asks his bosses for the company of the errant, car-wrecking, risk-taking but successful Jasmine as a partner, they emerge six months down the line with the case detailed here. A plastic surgeon who runs a charity helping get disfigured children back to normality is a fraud - actually siphoning off the funds and his labour to help evil vamps integrate and disguise their criminality. But - wouldn't you know it - there is a lot more to the adventure than this simple mission statement can reveal.
The pair of partners are a mirror image of each other, in a way - the partly-humanised Vayl, and Jasmine who has powers of her own (she can smell the presence of other undead, and has the hardware and experience to be a real Helsinger - vampire-killer - that include night-vision contact lenses).
Early on in the story Jasmine collects a second human to the task - Cole, a private investigator who is also probing into the doctor's private secrets, but for other reasons. At first he is comic in his tongue-lolling fancying of her, but soon becomes integral to the story.
However, you have to hope for our heroes' sake they don't meet the mirror of Cole - an evil baddy that might be able to out-vamp Vayl... Oh well, that was a forlorn hope.
What is unusual in this book is that it shies away almost completely from explaining vampires - and we all know how their abilities and habits change according to whoever's lore we follow. Here, then, Vayl is given the added ability of being a Wraith - with lethal touch; and the talent of absorbing heat energy from a location, to project either cold or hypnotic control. While he hides from sunlight, he can eat and drink human food - and vampires can still bleed, interestingly.
Added to that is the fact that many people are in the know when it comes to the prevalence of vampires, werecreatures and other nasties, and the attitude of the whole book to how typical all this is remains quite refreshing. That is not to say the book surges ahead from a full-pelt beginning; perhaps I was still getting used to the first person narrative at the start, but to me there was too much schtick about 'my, I might actually be fancying this Vayl' and 'ooh, this mission seems nice and easy' for my taste.
Beyond that the narration is just right. Providing a noir lite story-telling, the voice of Jasmine brings to the fore all her hang-ups, all her doubts and worries, and all the many times her hyperactive imagination causes an inappropriate laugh. To us they're not inappropriate - they're frequent, enjoyable and a major factor in the success of the book.
There is still more worth mentioning - Jasmine does not have it all her own way medically, and many small sub-plots concerning her past and her present family life add more to the story than I had at first thought likely. I will say that there are too many threads to my liking, but that's an in-joke for those who read to the end. Also, I would like to know what becomes of the much-trumpeted ultra-sensitive hearing Vayl has - one pertinent mention at the start, after which nothing, when it could have come in handy.
The climactic quarter of the book is a minor let-down, being as it is a major fight scene that I guess is as good as we could expect but does not carry the flavour of the book as well as the rest. While the horror is not exactly spine-tingling both the comedy and genre routines are never completely abandoned anyway.
Having said that I liked the whole book a lot more than I though possible, and in a better mood I might have given it four and a half stars. I hope the publishers (who should be thanked for sending the Bookbag a copy to sample) have a success with it. And I hope this review carries as a recommendation to all comedy-horror-espionage-thriller fans - despite the most cringe-worthy titles, this and the two sequels that seem to be lined up should all be entertaining reads.
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