The goal I set for myself this year is to read at least one novel every month I’m not writing. Since I finished Magic Strikes last month, I couldn’t count it. So yesterday I finished reading Midnight’s Daughter, a novel by Karen Chance about a dhampir with family ties to Dracula. Since the series I’m working on stars a dhampir who is related to Dracula, I felt I should give it a chance (no pun intended).
The back description reads that dhampirs often have short and violent lives, yet Dorina Basarab has somehow survived for centuries. Now her father has come back into her life, asking for help to deal with her uncle Dracula, who has escaped from prison. She’s supposed to put him back with the help of a vampire named Louise-Cesare, despite vampires and dhampirs being natural enemies. On paper, that concept sounded kind of amazing, and it seems to have a fair share of fans. For the most part it’s not a bad book. It does a decent job with developing some of the side-characters, including Dorina’s other uncle. However, I didn’t like it.
The writing style usually works, but there are times when there’s either an awkward sentence or a few too many adverbs thrown around. Also during the action scene, most of the sentences are still longer, and that’s a weakness. In order to give an action scene a more kinetic feel, it should mostly use smaller sentences than everything else. It’s written in first person perspective and the point of view is often used well. The perspective character is quick to anger and on several occasions she blacks out in a fit of blood rage, only to snap back to her senses to see the carnage she caused. That said, she’s a bit too nasty to some of the other characters, rendering her unlikeable in a few scenes.
The earlier action sequences are kind of fun, but the later action scenes all have a similar problem. The perspective character doesn’t really add much to the fights. She spends most of the third act too injured to really do much, and the rest of the time she’s fighting people who would be well out of her league on a good day. She keeps being rescued by a few different men, most notably her vampire partner. Even in the climax Dracula is killed by a minor character, and the other villain falls to his death in a burning building after a floor collapses. It just feels … anti-climactic. It doesn’t help that the out of the last six chapters, four of them are almost straight action, and stuffing too much action in one place can be exhausting for a reader. It’s made worse because the remaining chapters are little more than plot exposition, adding to reader fatigue.
But my biggest problem with the book is that it doesn’t really feel like a vampire book, even though that’s all the back description talks about. The vampires don’t act like vampires. While they have superstrength, superspeed and minor psychic abilities, they are never shown drinking blood. Some of them are even shown eating food. Even the main character, a dhampir, never drinks blood except for maybe a taste … used as foreplay. She’s also never shown as much stronger than anyone, and most of her kills are either with specialized weapons or by using stealth. Besides blacking out from fits of rage on occasion, the main character mostly feels like a human; a human who needs big, hunky men to keep saving her life.
After she was injured in a second act fight, she’s still not shown drinking blood. I kept telling her in my mind, “drink blood to recover from your blood loss”, but it never happened. Instead, she spends a few chapters lying in bed or struggling to walk, dizzy from the aforementioned blood loss.
I doubt Karen Chance actually looks down on Bram Stoker’s original classic, but there’s a line early in the book where Dorina’s narration calls Stoker a hack writer. It feels kind of disrespectful when the “vampires” don’t feel like vampires, and as the book went on, it increased my personal distaste for it.
With the other creatures thrown in, like trolls, fey and mages, this feels even less like a vampire book. I’m not saying having these kinds of creatures in a book is a bad thing, but when the back description only speaks of vampires, it’s misleading. This isn’t a thriller or horror story like the back kind of promised, but it’s a straight up Urban Fantasy book. It would have been nice to know that going in.
Midnight’s Daughter’s lack of vampire-like behaviors also gave me a greater appreciation for Dhampir by Barb & J.C. Hendee that I read a few months back. At least these characters feel like vampires. They drank blood, and while they tried to avoid killing people in the process, they didn’t always succeed. The main character didn’t know that she was a dhampir, and the slow reveal of her origin was a bit irritating considering it was in the title, but it still worked. After she’s nearly killed in a major fight, she’s fed some of her best friend’s blood and it quickly helps her recover. The action is also spread out enough that it’s not fatiguing, and she doesn’t need a hunk to save her while dueling her vampire opponents. That’s how you write a vampire book.
And now it’s time to discuss the relationship between Dorina and Louise-Cesare. They have a romantic sub-plot that kind of comes out of no-where. They spend the first half of the book bickering and arguing, they have a few physical fights, and it seems the only reason he doesn’t kill her is because his master (her father) doesn’t want him to. Then she suddenly shows romantic interest in him, and in their next scene they fool around. I’m not buying it. I realize that Urban Fantasy books almost always have a romance plot, and I can actually enjoy them when they’re well done, but this one doesn’t work. I’m not buying them hating each other one scene and questioning each other’s motives, only to suddenly fall in love in the next scene.
Compare that to the relationship between Kate Daniels and Curran in the Kate Daniels Magic series. At first, they seem to hate each other. There are several times when Curran seems to want to kill her. They drive each other crazy at least once in each book with their seemingly clashing personalities and different ways of handling problems. But after they’re forced to work together to defeat “the red stalker”, they find that they don’t hate each other as much as they thought. After a while, Curran starts showing an interest in her, and she in turn starts pining for him through her denial. They also have physical fights, but they come across as more playful than anything else, testing their abilities against each other. They have a similar sense of humour, one that helps ease their hostility. By the end of book 3, the sexual tension between them has reached critical mass. That relationship I can buy, because it develops over time and several books.
I wouldn’t really recommend Midnight’s Daughter. It’s not really going to affect my writing in any way. There are a few things that work about it, but the perspective character got on my nerves, and the lack of vampire-like behavior is a turn-off for a book that’s supposed to be about vampires.
I don’t know whether Chance’s other material is good or not. She’s decently popular so she must be doing something right, but then again, popularity doesn’t mean quality. Maybe this genre just isn’t for me, and Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series is an exception. But at the same time, fantasy in a modern setting does sound appealing. So I’m not going to say this book is bad, but it seems bad to me and I won’t be reading more from Chance.