Jeaniene Frost

Night Huntress series

Orion

ISBN: 978-0-575-09377-5

Publisher: Orion

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Halfway to the Grave is the first in the Night Huntress series, a thoroughly good opener that will have most readers coming back for more. Three more books in the series are listed on the title page; it’s not clear if these are written yet or simply planned, but either way it was nice to see there’s at least three more volumes to look forward to.

Many readers will think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer while reading the first chapter or two. Fortunately it soon becomes clear that this is a superficial resemblance; Halfway to the Grave is a very original and enjoyable novel. It stars Catherine Crawfield, a 22 year old who’s also half vampire. One of the early delights of the novel is that Frost provides a very simple and very credible explanation for how a vampire could sire a child. This kind of attention to background resonates through the novel and helps to make it a story you can lose yourself in completely – you don’t get jarred by inconsistencies or things that don’t quite make sense.

Catherine – also known as Cat – is less than thrilled about her heritage. Her father date-raped her mother, and she’s been raised with an intense hatred of vampires. As soon as she was capable of it, she started hunting and killing vampires. Like Buffy, she has an advantage – a cute young thing doesn’t look like she’d be much of a threat. But half vampire means halfway to some of their attributes; she’s stronger and faster than human, and takes physical punishment better. As the novel opens, she makes a mistake, taking on the vampire Bones. He bests her, but instead of drinking her blood he forces her into a partnership. He’s a bounty hunter, tracking down other vampires for cash. He promises to help her find her father (the vampire she’d REALLY like to kill), and in return she can keep up her kill score by trapping the specific vampires he wants dead. Bitterly resentful of being forced into this deal, Cat nevertheless appreciates the extra training Bones provides. And after a while she begins to think not all vampires are all bad – or is that just a physical attraction to Bones clouding her perceptions?

It’s hard for Cat to concentrate. She and Bones have stirred up a hornet’s nest by going after Hennessey, a particularly nasty vampire with some particularly nasty habits. Suddenly they’re the hunted as much as the hunters, and surviving each day is a challenge.

The romance between Bones and Cat is a strong element in the novel, but not so much that it overwhelms the overarching story of Cat’s search for her father, or the shorter story arc of their battle with Hennessey. There is one very explicit sex scene; other than that, while acknowledging the physical, Frost focuses primarily on the emotional lives of her characters. I’m not much of a fan of thinly disguised romances that use speculative fiction tropes as mere props; this isn’t the case here. Halfway to the Grave is a fantasy novel that happens to have a romantic aspect to the plot and character development. It’s a strong and convincing aspect of the plot but not the sole reason the novel exists.

Both Cat and Bones are strong and credible characters, vital as they carry much of the story. However, other characters are equally realistic. Although it’s Cat and Bones you’ll empathise with most and probably find of greatest interest, each character seems to have genuine life even if they’re only a small part of this story.

Frost leaves this book at a point that means the series could go in a really interesting direction, one that would put the characters and story in a very different place. If she does this, then the Night Huntress series is likely to be one that could have a long shelf life, and maybe even more than the (apparently) anticipated four books. Halfway to the Grave is good enough that the majority of readers will likely be looking for the next volume to find out what happens, even though Frost hasn’t utilised the cheap device of a cliffhanger. She’s just left her characters in an intriguing place.

I enjoyed this novel a lot, and recommend it highly. It’ll be enjoyed by fantasy fans who like a credible back story with some depth, a convincing plot, strong characters and solid action. The romance softens the action just slightly and helps to humanise the characters and the story. Halfway to the Grave will leave you wanting more.