The MITSFS has seen a huge influx of vampire books recently. I don't
know whether something's changed in the publishing industry ("The kids
are all hot for bloodsuckers, Frank, go round up some goth
novelists!") or if they've always been there and our acquisition
policy changed, or if I just never noticed before. Whatever the case
may be, it seems like every third book on the new books shelf promises
supernatural romance. I dig that on occasion (see, for example, my
review of Moore's "Bloodsucking Fiends") but I did my time with
Laurell K. Hamilton and have no need to follow another Anita
Blake-type down the stairs to naughty Catholic monster-sex.
So, why, you might ask, did I pick up "Blood Bound" by Patricia
Briggs? I certainly didn't go looking for it, but I noticed it while
cataloging magazines, and when I flipped open and looked at the
pre-story matter, it turned out to be set in the Tri-Cities area of
Washington state. I've been there before a few times, and it's a
weird desert anomaly of a community that basically sprouted around the
Hanford nuclear facility. Something about that hooked me, and once I
started reading, Ms. Briggs set the hook well and kept it there.
The plot? Well, whatever. These books all have approximately the
same plot. Some sort of monster turns up and has to be dealt with.
Usually it's a hideous abomination, though sometimes it's just somebody
being really evil. If there is a hideous abomination, there's a good
chance that somebody else the main character knows/meets is actually
behind it. None of that matters. You get the obligatory rehash of
"what really works and what's just a myth" in this author's particular
world, and you get some tense moments of monster-hunting in the dark.
None of that matters, it's just the scaffolding for the book. What
matters when I read one of these stories is the world-building that
surrounds it. I think that's what killed my joy in Ms. Hamilton's
books: they started out interesting, and slowly decomposed into just
the plot and monster sex.
Ms. Briggs, on the other hand, does a good job and works with a
lighter touch. We learn a lot about the world as things evolve, and
the real tension in the book is not the inevitable monster hunt but
the exploration of the relationship between people and supernatural
beasties in her world. The real tension is things like whether Warren
the gay werewolf can keep himself at number three in the pack even
though he's more dominant than number two Darryl, and whether our
heroine can stay connected with the pack without being sucked into
their dominance hierarchy. Should she call her friend's father when
she knows he's dealing with old trauma, or respect his privacy? Can a
vampire's strategy of pragmatic good behavior let you be friends
despite his basically evil nature?
Almost all of the book happens here, in these sort of questions and in
the bits and pieces of ordinary life spiced with the supernatural, rather
than with the monster hunt. The book is also fanatical about sticking
with its narrator-only perspective, which I always appreciate. The
monster hunt continues apace, driving all the action, but it mostly
happens off-screen, and we see instead the tensions and fall-out from
In short, I liked it. From a genre that seems to be getting pretty
worn-out, this book saves itself with grace, pragmatism, and a light
touch. If you want grisly horror, look elsewhere: if you want realistic
moral dilemmas in an only-slightly-fantastic modern world, come on in.