The goal I set for myself this year is to read at least one novel every month I’m not writing. Seeing as how this is my month off, this month’s book has been read. Enter Dhampir, the first in Barb & J.C. Hendee’s The Noble Dead series.
The reason I picked this one is because the main character in the series I’m writing is a dhampir, and it’s about time I read a book about the vampires’ half-breed kin. While my opinion of the book will be explained, this isn’t really a review. These are my thoughts on the book as a writer.
For the most part, this is a good book. The main characters are likeable, they both have an intriguing and mysterious past, and their goals are clear. Their enemies are best described as anti-villains; they just want to live their immortal lives and are spooked when the protagonists move into town. Their paranoia sparks the book’s main conflict, making for an interesting duel existence between the two sides.
The main character, Magiere, never knew who her father was. For most of the book she’s not even aware that she’s a dhampir. Her partner, Leesil, is a half-elf thief/assassin who has a special elvish dog. After years of conning villages as “vampire hunters”, Magiere is tired of ripping people off and wants to settle down and run a tavern. They settle in the same town the three anti-villains have been hiding in for several years.
The villains are Rashed, Ratboy and Teesha. Rashed is a warrior vampire with a strong code of honour, but can be emotionally driven when pushed hard enough. Ratboy is dangerously close to going feral, but tries to control himself so that the others don’t drive him off as they did their former fourth member. The third is Teesha, who is the most elegant and probably the wisest of the three.
The book’s interpretation of vampire lore is fairly simple, and it works quite well for the story. While it never specifies exactly how much, vampires are stronger and faster than humans. They must be invited into someone else’s home before they can enter, but after being invited once, they can enter any time. They each gain some sort of mental power, and they can use their mental powers to entice people to invite them if need be. Trish can dig into a mortal’s emotions, while Rashed can control wild animals. Ratboy’s abilities aren’t as developed or explored, which matches his somewhat feral mindset. Garlic burns them to the touch, with garlic water being especially effective. While it’s difficult thanks to their rapid healing, they can be killed by conventional means if it drains them of all their blood. Feeding refreshes them immediately, and their healing accelerates faster while they drink.
Magiere can live completely off of food, and has done so for years. Her enhanced strength and her fangs only unleash when she’s angered or badly injured, and she usually goes feral herself when that happens. Vampires usually can’t have kids, but since the conversion takes a few days to complete, they can still conceive early in their undead life. At least in this book, Magiere’s father is never revealed.
While I enjoyed the book, there are some complaints. The first has to do with the cover. Not necessarily the picture, but the text. For a book titled Dhampir with the text above saying “half-human, half-vampire, perfect hunter”, they take a long time to officially reveal what Magiere is. Her true nature isn’t revealed until there are less than 100 pages left. This may be personal taste speaking, but it feels a bit pandering when most people reading this book would know of the dhampir myth. It also claims to be a mix of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lord of the Rings. I can’t comment on any of the sequels, but this is nothing like Lord of the Rings and has little in common with Buffy. It’s kind of false advertising. But my main complaints are of the writing style.
The book is written in third person view, frequently switching between perspectives. It spends plenty of time from Magiere and the half-elf’s points of view, and also plenty from the villains’ points of view. Occasionally, you’ll also see through the eyes of the minor characters. This is usually done well, and provides a deep look into the villain mindsets to make them more compelling. However, it’s often overdone during action scenes. The worst example is when Magiere, Leesil and a minor character raid the vampire hideout. It jumps into everyone’s perspective at least once, and often repeats the same moments several paragraphs later. It feels repetitive and drags the fight on, even if the different perspectives add dimension to the fight. Again, this could be personal taste, but I feel the perspective switches could have been tighter in places.
My main complaint with the writing is with the overuse of adverbs. Too often are words such as “half-heartedly”, “silently” and “stealthfully” are used when they’re unnecessary. Instead of “stealthfully”, if someone’s trying to be silent, use a word similar to sneak. If someone is apathetic, throw in a sigh or specify that they’re sort of not paying attention. I try to avoid adverbs in my writing as much as possible, and I almost never use one beside the word “said.” Besides the adverb overuse and the all too frequent perspective changes, there is the occasional redundant exposition and awkward sentencing. Being a first time published book I can understand these shortcomings (and I have my own shortcomings to improve on), but they’re worth noting.
Would I recommend this to vampire fans? I’ll give a cautionary yes. It’s not a horror novel; it’s more of a fantasy/thriller with a touch of character study. It’s easy to follow, and despite you seeing things from everyone’s perspective, there’s still a sense of mystery that pays off. That said, it’s not without noticeable flaws. Would I read any of its sequels? I might, but probably not any time soon. I’ve been enjoying the Kate Daniels series almost too much so far and have the third book waiting on my shelf. I also recently bought Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein for 50 cents, and I want to re-read the X-Wing books even though they’re officially non-canon now.
As a writer, this won’t affect my writing style in any way. It’s worth noting that, while different, this book’s interpretation of vampire lore isn’t too far from my own. One main difference being that in my series, dhampirs can eat food, but they still need to drink blood in order to get the body fluids they need, thus they all know what they are.
On a side note, I’m getting better at reading. Last February, it took me a full month to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula (admittedly it’s 160,000 words). In July, it took me a week to read Magic Bites (260 pages). It only took 3 days each for Dragon Whisperer (197 large pages) and the She Hulk Diaries (328 slightly big pages), and 4 days for Magic Burns (260 pages, and interrupted by an Ikea trip, two 9-hour shifts and volunteer duties). It only took me 2 days to finish this 379 page book. If I decide on my book’s fate early enough this month, I may just read another.