1st in a series challenge 2010


I aimed for 20 books in the 1st in a series challenge 2010 and I’ve now completed it!

I enjoyed all of the books here, and ended up reading more in quite a few series.

1, Ilona Andrews: Magic Bites
2, Kirsten Imani Kasai: Ice Song
3, Amanda Cross: In the Last Analysis
4, Lisa Shearin: Magic Lost, Trouble Found
5, Ian Rankin: Knots and Crosses
6, Mike Shepard: Kris Longknife: Mutineer
7, Martha Grimes: The Man with a Load of Mischief
8, Elizabeth Bear: Dust
9, Alexander McCall Smith: No 1 Ladies’ detective agency
10, Laura Anne Gilman: Staying Dead
11, Carrie Vaughn: Kitty and the Midnight Hour
12, Marjorie M. Liu: Iron Hunt
13, Rowena Cory Daniells: The King’s Bastard
14, Lori Devoti: Amazon Ink
15, Stacia Kane: Unholy Ghosts
16, Jocelynn Drake: Nightwalker
17, Dana Stabenow: A Cold Day for Murder
18, Zoë Sharp: Killer Instinct
19, L. A. Banks: Minion
20, Barbara Hambly: Immortal Blood

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Published in US under the name Those Who Hunt the Night

The first in the horror/fantasy series about former spy James Asher.

Page count: 306
Publication year: 1988
Format: Print
Publisher: Unwin paperbacks

James Asher is a former British spy. He used to travel around the world searching information and killing people for the betterment of UK. Finally, he was disgusted with his work and retired from the Service. Now he’s Philology don in Oxford and married to his youthful love Lydia.

It’s 1907 and Asher has lived a quiet life for seven years. One night he comes home and finds his household, including his wife, sleeping unnaturally. The cause is a vampire. Don Simon Ysidro wants Asher to work for him and if he doesn’t the vampire is going to kill his wife. Asher has no choice but to agree but he decides that he’s going to secretly gather information that will help him kill the vampire.

Ysidro tells Asher that there are several vampires in London and someone is killing them. So far, four vampires have been exposed to sunlight in their own, safe hiding places. However, Ysidro is very reluctant to tell Asher much about the killed vampires which is very frustrating to Asher. Slowly, he managed to find out more about the vampires, their habits, and even their physiology and powers. Unfortunately, Ysidro is the only vampire who wants Asher to investigate the case. The others, including the Master Vampire of London, would rather kill him. And of course, it’s quite possible that even if Asher manages to find the killer, the vampires aren’t going allow him to live with what he knows about them.

Asher is a very interesting character. He’s a scholar of linguistics and folk tales so he notes the speech patterns and accents of people around him. At the same time, he uses his skills as a spy and does his best find out everything he can about the vampires. One of his best assets in this is his wife Lydia. I loved the fact that the first thing he did was to tell her what is going on and she promptly becomes the main researcher.

He’s main goal, of course, is to keep Lydia safe but he starts to feel sort of comradely towards Ysidro. At the same time, he notices how unhuman all the vampires are: their stillness, paleness, how even Ysidro constantly thinks about what he should and should not tell to Asher. In the end, Asher can’t know if he can trust Ysidro.

Lydia is the second point-of-view character although she only gets a few, short POV scenes. Even though at the start of the story she seems like a victim or a plot device, she turns out to be a more interesting character. She’s a research doctor and once she realizes that vampires are real, she starts to research them from a medical point-of-view. She’s meticulous and determined which isn’t really a surprise because she had to battle her own father in order to get into Oxford university and become a doctor. I really liked how Asher and Lydia just matter-of-factly trusted each other to be cool and smart.

Now these are vampires I really enjoy reading about! They are monsters who feed on humans so that they can continue to live. Ysidro explains that they also need to kill humans or their minds become slow and dull, and they will become so careless that people will find them and kill them. Also, the blood must be fresh so it can be stored. They can also affect the minds of humans and control humans so that killing them isn’t a problem.

The vampires are helpless during the day because they are unconscious. In a bit of a twist, silver burns them. Asher didn’t try crucifixes so I don’t know if they would be effective. However, Asher researches vampire stories and points out that vampires appear in folk tales before Christianity.

Some of the vampires kill poor people off the streets while others want to “play with their food” and become close to their victims first. The killed vampires are the latter variety, and Asher and Lydia research their habits. They are mostly women vampires who lure rich men and get money off them before killing them. This is a chilling reminder that these vampires don’t think like humans and don’t have human emotions anymore.

The plot centers around two mysteries: who is the killer of vampires and what the vampires are in this world. Ysidro makes an off-hand comment that fairies aren’t real so apparently there aren’t other supernatural creatures about. There’s a lot of tension in the plot but not a lot of violence. Still, the plot moves at a brisk pace.

The first in the Vampire Huntress Legend series.


Page count: 286
Publication year: 2003
Format: Print
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Some of the reviews on the book and on Banks’ site compare Minion to Buffy and Fangoria magazine writes: “MINION is arguably superior to the Buffy franchise…while Banks relies on an established vampire-slayer mythos for part of her story, she is also wildly creative and invents a totally new and refreshing milieu. Its social hierarchy and politics are fascinating, and the author’s reinterpretation of the seven levels of hell is brilliant.

As a Buffy fan I couldn’t resist this, of course. Is Minion funnier than Buffy? Does it feature a more sympathetic circle of friends? More interesting villains or secondary characters?

Well, the answer is mostly “no, it’s different”. For example, Minion doesn’t have much humor. Everything is deadly and serious all the time. The main character Damali does hunt with six other characters and they all seem to be close friends, but they are all adults so there’s no “growing up together” aspect. And it’s hardly fair to compare seven years worth of characters to one book.

Damali Richards was born to a preacher and his wife in New Orleans. Unfortunately, shortly after her birth, a vampire seduced and killed her father. Her mother didn’t understand the situation and tried to out them. Instead, she is killed. Fifteen years later Damali is in the foster care system and singing her heart out in clubs. Marlene is a Guardian whose job was supposed to be to keep Damali safe. Marlene failed in her job which she regrets bitterly and has been looking for Damali ever since. Now she has finally found Damali.

The main story starts near Damali’s twenty first birthday. She knows that she’s one in the ancient line of vampire hunters called Neteru and her closest friends are Guardians whose job is to watch her back. Damali and her Guardians are in the same band, and their record company is called the Warriors of the Light. All Damali wants to do is sing but her duty is to be the Neteru and fight the creatures of the dark: vampires, demons, and even evil humans.

The team is already in a bad place: some of the less experienced members have been killed recently. The latest one was Dee Dee who was turned into a vampire. Then a group of strange vampires attacks them, and Damali is convinced that something extraordinary is happening. She is also nearing the day when her powers manifest fully, so her enemies are trying to either kill her or seduce her to their side.

First off, the book doesn’t end just in a cliffhanger, it just ends without any resolution. I felt like it was a longer story cut in two, or more, parts.

Unfortunately, the book starts with a bout of homophobia when the preacher’s wife notices her husband and the vampire. There are no non-straight characters in the book. Even the vampires are strictly straight; a male master vampire uses a seductive voice and posture for women and an authoritative for men. There’s also a virgin/whore dichotomy going on. Damali is the main good gal and she’s a virgin. Marlene preaches that everyone needs to be pure. The bad guys and gals have lots and lots of sex, and use seduction.

Most of the cast here is non-white which was a very interesting change of pace. They use a bit of slang but I didn’t find it hard to follow.

Damali is pretty standard reluctant heroine: she would like to live a normal life and sometimes she escapes her Guardians to hang out with her normal friends. Yet, at the same time she doesn’t have much nostalgia to her own previous and apparently poor life, and she doesn’t want to get pregnant and get trapped with a man and a poor job, as some of her friends seem to have done. She’s also frustrated with how much the Guardians protect her. When her powers increase, this frustrates her even more. She had a boyfriend of sorts before Marlene found her. Carlos is now a drug dealer and owns some clubs. She has sexual fantasies about him while intellectually knowing that they can’t be together.

Marlene is perhaps the most complex character in the book. She’s a seer and the team researcher (I couldn’t help but to compare her to Giles) but we don’t actually see her researching; she just tells the results. She also keeps secrets from Damali and the whole team which is a plot element I really don’t like. She keeps waiting for Damali to be mature enough to handle the secrets. However, as part of the team she goes out and fights so it’s possible she could die before she wants to spill the beans.

Marlene berates herself for letting Damali go to the foster care system and not finding her sooner. At the same time, she blames Damali for taking so many years off Marlene’s own life because she had to first look for Damali and then protect her. She’s fiercely protective of Damali and tries to do her best. One of her fellow Guardians is her partner.

All of the Guardians have special powers of their own; Marlene is a seer and two of the others are sniffers who track the dark creatures by scent.

Damali and Marlene are the only women in the seven person group. Unfortunately, most of the others remain quite faceless, such as J.L. who is only mentioned every now and then. Jose is the Guardian whose lover Dee Dee was made into a vampire and he’s most defined by his grief and sickness that the vampires inflict on him. (Granted, that is a reversal of a traditionally female role.) Shabazz is Marlene’s partner but argues with her quite a lot.

Rider is the only white man in the group. He’s briefly the point-of-view character and we get to know him a bit. Carlos is another character who had some depth to him. He’s ambitious and impatient, and something of a misogynist who only uses women for his own pleasure.

The most obvious difference to the Buffy world is religion: all of these people are very religious and Marlene tries to keep them from swearing and being “pure in thought and deed”.

The fights are fast paced but there were some slower parts, too, mostly around Damali when she was having sexual fantasies or hanging out with her friends. Even though the story starts with a fight between Damali’s team and the group of vampire/demons, and they later talk about how weird the vamps were, nobody researchers it further.

The background was interesting. The Neteru was created as a weapon against the dark creatures by the twelve tribes. I think this refers to the twelve Jewish tribes? Yet, majority of the Guardians in the book are if not Catholic, at least traditionally Christian. I wonder if the change is explained in the later books. After all, these are very religious people who use not just their personal faiths but things like holy water and blessed earth to literally fight vampires. However, there’s a passing mention that there are a lot more Guardians in the world and they come from all races and religions.

I also liked the reason why the group is a band: music, and other arts, can reach people across all barriers. Unfortunately, this idea wasn’t explored more and there were no scenes of the group performing.

The main point-of-view character is Damali but there are others, too: mostly Marlene and Carlos. There are smaller glimpses of the bad guys, too. Unfortunately, in a couple of scenes the POV shifts in the middle of a scene and from one paragraph to the next. There’s also a few “as you know, Bob” discussions for the benefit of the reader.

The end of the book focused heavily of Carlos whom I unfortunately didn’t care for at all.

All in all, this was quite a different take on a vampire slayer than Buffy.

This is the first in the Charlie Fox mystery series. The first books in the series are out of print and difficult to get but they are being reprinted this year.

Charlie Fox is a women’s self-defense instructor in Lancaster. One of her friends owns a women’s shelter and Charlie helps out there, as well. She used to be in the British Army but was “asked to leave” after a traumatic experience which also drove a wedge between her upper-middle class parents and herself. They aren’t really on speaking terms anymore. She lives in a former gym and drives a motorcycle instead of a car. She’s used to relying only on herself and doesn’t let her guard down easily.

Charlie doesn’t usually go to clubs but when her good friend Clare wants to go to newly opened New Adelphi Club, she invites Charlie to go with her. At the club, a woman attacks Clare and Charlie is forced to fight her off. The club’s handsome owner is impressed enough to offer Charlie a part-time job in the club’s all male security staff and Charlie accepts even tough many of the security guys aren’t thrilled about it. However, the next day the woman who attacked Clare is found brutally raped and murdered. Someone is also lurking near the women’s shelter and something fishy is going on at the club.

The book starts slowly introducing us to Charlie and her friends. The pace doesn’t really pick up until near the end.

Right at the start Sharp shows us effectively how ordinary Charlie looks when compared to her beautiful friend Clare which is a great because most heroines tend to be stunningly beautiful themselves. Charlie is struggling with her past; even though she has managed to get a new life she still thinks about the event and it has changed her attitude towards other people. She doesn’t trust anyone and is wary all the time.

The treatment of violence is very realistic. Charlie doesn’t recover quickly from fights but has painful bruises for days. She’s scared during fights and after them, and when she sees dead bodies. Often, heroes and heroines aren’t fazed by such things at all. Some of the fight scenes are pretty gory. She also worries about not hurting other people physically, even when she’s fighting them which is very admirable although not really practical, as she muses later.

I also thought that the treatment of motorcycles was realistic, too, with such details as there’s not much room for groceries, so Charlie has to plan carefully what she’s going to buy.

As you might expect in a book where a women’s shelter is one of the places where the main character goes frequently, the book covers especially violence against women. The battered wives and girlfriends are seen only briefly, though, and they are part of the matter-of-fact everyday life. Unfortunately, I noticed a victim blaming attitude. When talking about the first murdered girl, Charlie says that “she was too stupid to take a taxi”. So, apparently it’s her fault, then? What’s next? Have you considered not being a woman, so you aren’t such a tempting target? Unfortunately, the attitude of the police in the book isn’t much better.

I have to say that I was pretty surprised by the cover which has a blurry woman’s face when they could have gotten much prettier and more appropriate image for it. Such as a woman on a motorcycle or leaning against a motorcycle or something. Now it’s very static and unappealing at least to me.

The first book in the Kate Shugak-mystery series.

Kate Shugak lives with her huge dog Mutt in a cabin in one of the Alaska National Parks near Anchorage. In fact, she was born there and she’s a Native Alaskan, an Aleut. Her parents died when she was young and she was raised by her first cousin through marriage, Abel Int-Hout. She ended up working for the Anchorage D. A.’s office and was one of the best investigators until one suspect, a child-molester, cut her throat. Her vocal cords were damaged and she still has the scar. Her voice is raspy and whispery. She has vivid nightmares about it.

Kate’s former boss and lover, Jack Morgan, brings her a new case: a new Park ranger disappeared six weeks ago. The ranger’s father is a Congressman who sent out the FBI who sent an investigator after the ranger. That investigator happens to be a man Kate trained and was occasional lovers with, and he also disappeared two weeks ago. Reluctantly, Kate agrees to look into it. Pretty much all of the people she interviews are her family or longtime acquaintances; her grandmother Ekatarina who is the tribal matriarch and is doing her best to prevent young people from leaving the Park, her foster father Abel, her cousins Xenia and Martin, the local bartender Bernie, and of course Jack Morgan, who accompanies her. They find out that quite a few people didn’t like the ranger’s plans for the Park.

The story focuses on the people and the setting even though the plot is rather chilling and well-made as well. The people in the park are divided; the older generation wants to preserve their way of life and the younger ones want to be part of the modern world. Kate is an example of this divide. She was able to get an education and move away from the Park, and the family resents her for that. She feels like an outcast from both worlds and chooses to live alone and apart from others. Yet, she gets along with her foster-father and Bernie. There’s also Bobby, who is the local weatherman and is bound to a wheelchair.

Many of the characters have quirky and entertaining personalities. The Alaskan environment is also an added character; the book is set around New Year, and the snow and the cold has to be taken into consideration every time they go out.

Highly entertaining and exciting.

The first in the UF series Dark Days. I’m tempted to call this book “the nice vampires vs. bloodthirsty elves”. The ending isn’t a cliffhanger but it’s left very much open so it seems to be a long story over several books.

Mira is a 600-year-old vampire. She’s called Fire Starter because she has the “natural” (I’m tempted to say mutant) power to create and control fire. She had this power before she was made into a vampire and it’s only grown through out the years. Many other vampires fear her.

She’s one of the oldest vampires in the US and the Keeper of the city of Savannah. A Keeper’s responsibility is to keep the secrets of vampires and other supernatural races from humans. Traditionally, vampires and werewolves are hostile to each other but Mira has managed to settle cordial relations between them in Savannah.

The Butcher is a very effective vampire hunter and he’s come to Savannah. Mira decides to confront him and learns something surprising: the Butcher is looking for her because they have a common enemy. The naturi were defeated five hundred years ago but not before they had killed countless humans and tortured Mira for two weeks. And now they’re back. Mira agrees to work with the hunter, at least until she knows everything he does.

Three Ancient and powerful vampires defeated the naturi five hundred years ago at Machu Picchu. One of them is dead now but the others live and Mira, and the vampire hunter whose real name is Danaus, set out to find them and tell them that the naturi are back. Then she hopes to return to her life in Savannah. One of them lives in Egypt and another in London. One of them is Mira’s ex-lover and protector and the other is her maker. She doesn’t look forward to meeting either of them again.

Unlike the vast majority of the other UF books I’ve read, this story doesn’t happen just in US. In fact, the characters travel quite a lot; from Savannah to Aswan in Egypt and on to London. I really liked that. Also, there are twelve important sites mentioned in the book and the characters are likely to travel to them in the future books. Only two of them are in US. The next book is likely to start in Venice, one of my favorite cities.

The naturi are an interesting case. They are the real truth (in this fictional world) behind the legends of elves and fairies. Apparently, they harvest human organs in order to do magic so they are very intent on killing humans. They have five clans: light, animal, water, earth, and wind, and have powers according to their clans. Animal clan naturi can control animals and light clan naturi control fire so they can neutralize Mira’s powers. Their blood is also poisonous to vampires. For a while I thought Mira might be a half-breed naturi of light clan but there’s no evidence that naturi and humans can interbreed, and the naturi consider humans, and vampires, as vermin so it’s unlikely. Oh, and animal naturi can control werewolves. That’s the main reason vampires distrust the lycantropes.

The vampires in this book are more along the lines of classic vampires: they are unconscious during the day. I also assume that they can feed only on human blood. Even though they don’t have to kill a human when they feed, there was no suggestion that vampires could feed from animals. Also, they know spells and usually use them to mask their presence from humans. They have also telepathic powers. Mira uses them usually to search for humans and other vampires. However, the naturi are immune to the telepathic powers.

Mira is a very independent character. She doesn’t much care for lesser vampires. Instead she cares about keeping the peace and the secret in her own area. She has two human bodyguards, Michael and Gabriel, whom she calls her angels. Michael is also her occasional lover although she’s trying to keep him at a distance so that the human can have his own life. Often enough Mira comes across as a cold. She mostly cares about her own survival and manipulates everyone around her.

Danaus is another interesting case. He believes that all vampires are evil and he’s very efficient in his job as a hunter. However, he has quite a few secrets himself. He’s a member of an organization of humans who try their best to keep an eye out for the supernatural. However, they aren’t well informed. Danaus is very confident and the strong, silent type. Once he made up his mind that Mira is useful to keep around, he does his best to protect her. He’s very much a paladin-type who has now had to team up with the evil vampire for the good of world. I’m very much a sucker for this type of uncomfortable team-up and enjoyed it hugely. Mira does try to tell Danaus that vampires aren’t quite as evil as he thinks they are, after all, humans kill each other, too.

There isn’t a romance in the book. Mira is physically attracted to Danaus a few times but it’s understood that when the world is saved, it’s very likely they are going to try to kill each other.

The bad things: there was some repetitive writing. Mira’s mannerism of running her hands through her hair and threatening Danaus with death. Also, there was a lot of talk about how vampires enjoy torturing other, lesser vampires but that wasn’t really shown much.

Also, I’m afraid that the naturi didn’t really live up to their dangerous reputation. They were very effective at the start of the story but less so as the story progressed. Perhaps this was to be expected because there were quite a few fight scenes and not many expendable secondary characters on Mira’s side.

All in all, I enjoyed this. I do like immortal characters and there were quite a few of those here. They even behaved like they were old.

First things first: the main character Chess Putnam is a drug addict and she has no intention of stopping. She had a horrible childhood: she doesn’t know who her parents are and she drifted from one bad foster family to another. She really wants to forget that time. She doesn’t trust anyone and pushes away anyone who tries to get close to her. Also, she has a very low opinion of herself. The Church saved her from that life and she serves it gladly.

Chess is a witch who works for the Church of Real Truth. When people claim that their house is haunted, Chess is one of the Debunkers who are sent to find out if the haunting is real or fake. If the ghost is real, Chess banishes it.

About a twenty years ago, ghosts rose and attacked living humans. The religions and authorities at the time couldn’t do anything. The Church of the Real Truth was the one who was able to banish the ghosts and protect the people. Now, the Church is the only authority and the only religion based on Facts and not Faith. The Church is pretty fascist; they want people to spy on their neighbors and even on their families for signs of crimes such as trying to contact the afterlife on their own. The Church also keeps a tight grip on what people can know about the past.

The book starts with Chess doing her job: banishing a ghost. However, because of her drug habit she almost blows it. Also, Debunkers are paid more when a possible haunting turns out to be fake so this time she didn’t earn a bonus which she really needs.

Then, her drug dealer Bump extorts her. She has to agree to banish some troublesome ghosts from an abandoned airport which Bump intents to open for his own business. He sends his enforcer, Terrible, to the airport with Chess. There Chess finds out that the ghosts are stronger than she thought so the job wouldn’t be simple after all. When she gets home, a sexy rival drug lord Lex kidnaps her. Lex doesn’t want the airport opened and tries to bribe Chess with free drugs to tell Bump that the ghosts are too strong for her. She doesn’t quite know what to do. To make matters worse, she is soon tangled into a plot against the Church itself.

The plot is fast and intense and excellently paced. Most of the characters are interesting, if not likable. Chess herself is quite a contradiction: on the one hand, she loves the Church but on the other, she betrays the Church’s ideals by being a drug user and being only barely able to do her job. Most of what she does is motivated by her desire to get more drugs.

The alternative reality drugs seem to work differently than real world ones. Here, Chess is able to better do her job when she’s high, which is most of the time. When she isn’t high, she starts to shake and can only focus on getting her next fix.

Terrible is a significant secondary character. He’s a big and ugly man and know how to threaten people. He’s also an expert in violence but he seems to use violence only as a tool and not really enjoy it. He opens up slowly during the story and turns out to have a variety of interests. Even though Chess at first is somewhat repulsed by him, she later starts to be attracted to him.

Lex is the other romantic interest. He seems to be more violent but he’s quite tender and even caring towards Chess. He flirts shamelessly and calls her Tulip because of one of her tattoos.

While many people were apparently disturbed by Chess’ drug habit, I was more disturbed by her love interests. Lets face it, drug dealers and their enforcers aren’t the nicest people ;). Then again Chess aren’t exactly nice herself either, and her past and present experiences are likely to make it difficult for her to maintain any close relationships.

Chess lives in a poor area called the Downside close to Bump’s place. This gives the story a bleak atmosphere combined with the themes of drug abuse and a fascist rulership.

Each chapter starts with a short quotation. Often they are from the Book of Truth but some of them are from other books such as Careers in the Church: A Guide for Teens. They are a good way to illuminate the world without infodumps. I really liked them.

I found the world to be fascinating. Even though all of the magic is centered on ghosts, there are still a variety of things it can do such as possessions and banishings. The magic rituals are also well described.

The first chapter is available at the author’s website and you can also download the first five chapters from there, too.

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