Author: Karen Chance
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
Stand alone or series: First in the Cassandra Palmer series
Summary: (from Amazon.com)
Like any sensible girl, Cassie tries to avoid vampires. But when the bloodsucking Mafioso she escaped three years ago finds Cassie again with revenge in mind, she’s forced to turn to the vampire Senate for protection.
The undead senators won’t help her for nothing, and Cassie finds herself working with one of their most powerful members, a dangerously seductive master vampire- and the price he demands may be more than Cassie is willing to pay.
Thea: I am a confessed Urban Fantasy fan. I like sassy heroines, and I like the obsessive compulsive nature of these books—once I find a series I like, I will marathon read that baby til the end. True, a lot of the heroines start to sound the same, some universes aren’t as distinct as others—or worse off, characters suffer from Anita Blake syndrome and lack any depth beyond a smart mouth and pissed off attitude. Not cool.
I’m happy to say that Cassie Palmer does not fall into that latter category—and actually stands out as an urban fantasy heroine. She’s neither a shape shifter, nor a badass deadeye with a gun. Physically, she’s your typical girl, not adept at street fighting or martial arts. What Cassie’s advantage is, however, is her gift (curse?) of clairvoyance, and her unique upbringing in a Vampire court. Cassie is smart without being overbearing and strong without being snarly or abrasive. She knows that her weapon is wile, and running away when she can’t win a fight.
I have to say this is a good start to a new series. I liked this alternate urban universe created by Ms. Chance, her own spin on vampire/supernatural creature lore, and her writing style has a nice flavor to it. I wasn’t a fan of certain aspects of the book (the heavy sex stuff at the end seemed completely out of place for me, regardless of it being hot), but overall I was pleased with it, and will definitely be picking up the next books in the series.
Ana: I am new to Urban Fantasy having read but a handful of novels. My favourite so far was Sunshine by Robin McKinley and I couldn’t help but to compare it with Touch the Dark – it seemed rather appropriate since the overall feel of the book was similar – a first person narrative of a young woman who finds herself right in the middle of something larger than her little self until she finds out that she has a much bigger role to play than expected. As with Sunshine we are catapulted in this world and we find out about it as we go along but if the former made me intrigued and fascinated with the story, the latter was just confusing.
On the plot
Ms. Chance sure packs a whole lot into a smaller package. The story follows our heroine, Cassandra Palmer, who is a 20-some-year-old orphan. The book opens with Cassie on the run—she receives a cryptic message on her computer, an obituary for herself that states she will die that evening. Cassie has been in hiding for years now, after pinning her ‘guardian’, a Mafioso Vampire named Tony, with a bunch of racketeering charges. When she sees the message on her computer, Cassie doesn’t even skip a beat—she immediately trucks outta there to gather her few possessions (including a .357 magnum which she isn’t really adept with), and makes off to say goodbye and warn her current roommate, Tomas. Unfortunately, Cassie doesn’t move fast enough, and is cornered by five vampire assassins at the nightclub where she used to work.
It is here that we get a blast of what Cassie’s strengths really are.
While Tomas starts fighting off vampires—surprise! He’s one too—Cassie tries to take out another with her gun. Which proves disastrous. Luckily, she has a pentagram ward tattooed on her back (strong, old magic) that protects her from harm when someone comes in direct contact with it. And then the ghosts come in.
As a clairvoyant, Cassie also has the ability to see and converse with ghosts. Neither humans nor vampires (nor mages nor the fey for that matter) can do this, so while it provides some comic relief (Cassie appears a bit touched in the head by talking to herself, in the eyes of other characters), it also provides her with an invaluable tool to amass allies. Cassandra, with the help of ghostly lookout Portia (who is a whiny spirit of a southern belle) is able to round up help from spirits of Civil War soldiers–and uses their help to destroy another of the vampire assassins. One of the most regular presenses in Cassandra’s life is a ghost named Billy, who she is tied to through a necklace she picked up at a pawn shop (he “haunts” the necklace), and they share a sort of symbiotic relationship–Cassie gives Billy freedom to travel with her (via necklace) and gives him free energy, while he serves as a lookout for her (since no one else can see the spirits, Billy is an ideal spy).
With the foiled assassination attempt, Cassandra is taken under the wing of the Vampire Senate–who of course don’t give aid for free. Turns out, Cassandra’s birthright and her power as a clairvoyant is anything but ordinary, and she finds herself in the midst of a power struggle involving a dual faction of vampires, light and dark mages, heck even witches and the fey too.
Thea: I really, REALLY like Cassie. As with most Urban Fantasy, or any story told from the first person POV, the hero(ine) can make or break the book. So much of the story depends on what Cass is feeling, as a clairvoyant, she needs to be in touch with herself lest she go nutso with all the curveballs her visions throw her. I adored how Cassandra was not ever going to be taken for a ride by any of the vampires–having grown up with them, she knows that anything they want, or any affections they show her stems from some ulterior motive. I especially loved that Cassandra had no smartmouth bitchy tendencies–like Mercy Thompson, Cassandra Palmer knows that she is low on the power totem pole, and needs to act accordingly.
So…with that said, there were some character aspects I was less than thrilled with. I really REALLY was not digging the whole ‘famous vampires’ thing. Cleopatra, Rasputin, Rafael, Jack the Ripper, etc etc etc are actually very powerful, ancient vampires. Maybe if it was just one or two, but given the all-star historical roster, I was heavy into eye-rolling territory with each new reveal. Baah! Not to say it was written badly, just that it felt kinda hokey. But…that’s just me. I’m certain other readers were very pleased with this historical quirk.
Famous vamps aside, I felt that all of the characters were pretty well developed (well, at least the ones you get to meet). The Big Bad Baddy Rasputin didn’t really have much screen time, but I am looking forward to seeing more of him in the next books. I enjoyed the interactions between Cassie and Billy, and her Vampire protectorate–Mircea, Louis-Cesar, Rafe and Tomas. Heck, even the driven, single-minded Pritkin was very well done.
Ana: WHO is Cassie? I have only but a faint idea. Plotwise the book was surprising but I felt that it was all plot, plot, plot at the expense of a more deep characterisation. Even though we were inside Carrie’s mind for the entire book , I still don’t know much about her, what moves her – I specially know very little about her feelings. I didn’t relate to her and that is one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy the book very much. I also lost my patience with her several times when other characters would bring to her attention that she was more than JUST a human and she would just ignore them. How many times can someone call you sibyl without making you wonder? Cassie? She would just say “the name is Cassie” Oh, please. Get a grip.
Thea: I liked the new spin on vampire lore Ms. Chance took here. Yes, we have our share of your run of the mill leather wearing sexy marble bodied vampires. But instead of everyone being beautiful, Cassandra explains that a vampire in death (undeath?) appears just as they did in life–for example, her former guardian Tony is a rotund, unattractive, badly dressed dude.
I also found the idea that vampires feed not only by sucking blood, but by entrancing with sight, touch, etc intriguing. At one point, when trying to explain to the obtuse Pritkin how vampires operate, Mircea makes the point that if vampires could only go around biting and sucking blood from victims at will, there really wouldn’t be that much food left.
I should also mention, there is some racy sexy stuff in this book–especially towards the end. Now I’m no prude, but it all felt kinda strange and out of place for me. And I’m also in general not extremely at home with play-by-play sex scenes (you know, the bread and butter of the romance novel), so…I wasn’t a huge fan. I think the entire sequence at the end was not really essential to the story, and I could have done without it. But again, that’s just me, and probably comes down to personal preference.
Thea: There is one particular part that had me in stitches. When Cassandra touches Louis-Cesar for the first time, she experiences a new kind of vision–where she is transported back in time, and inhabiting Louis-Cesar’s body. In a compromising situation.
She stroked me again, harder this time, and I watched with something close to horror as an anatomical part I’d never possessed grew even longer under her hand. A flood of familiar sensations came from that very unfamiliar equipment, along with thoughts I was absolutely sure weren’t mine.
Ana: Cassie’s visit to Dante, Tony’s Casino in Vegas was very entertaining. The description of the place was very creative with each floor representing one of the stages of Dante’s work. And her encounter with the Satyr? Priceless.
Recommendation and Rating
Thea: 7 Very Good. I enjoyed this book very much, despite a shaky start and my aversion to the famous vamps, and I am excited to read the next few books in this series!
Ana: 5. Meh. Take it or leave it. The lack of emotional content left me cold but that is just little old me. I will wait for Thea to test drive the other books and if she says they are awesome beyond anything else, then I might pick them up.
Reading Next: American Gods by Neil Gaiman