Chicagoland Vampires Book 2
Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
Friday Night Bites is an entrant in the emerging urban fantasy meets chick lit genre. There are quite a few books around right now that fit that genre, and they generally feature independent, sassy heroines who are looking for the right guy, and often a fair bit of humor along the way. Unfortunately, while Friday Night Bites definitely aspires to that, it offers a doormat heroine, little humor, a weak plot, and limp worldbuilding. It manages to be mildly entertaining while you’re reading it, but there’s no depth here and it’s not memorable.
The novel is the second in the Chicagoland Vampires series. I have not read the first in the series, but the basic set up seems to be that in the first novel, a series of murders committed by a vampire led to vampire society coming out of the closet, so to speak, and humans discovering not only that vampires exist but they have a fairly well regulated society.
Merit was made a vampire in the first novel, without her consent, which is apparently unusual. She was “made” by Ethan Sullivan, master of Cadogan House. Now a vampire, she has been appointed Sentinel for the House, despite the fact she was an English lit student, and has no fighting ability. As Friday Night Bites opens, she is leaving her flat to move into Cadogan House, one of the major power bases of vampires in Chicago. At her master’s request, she will quickly become caught up in an investigation to find out who, exactly, is trying to start a war between vampires and humans. And naturally this is complicated by Merit’s attraction to Ethan – not only is he a very old, experienced vampire, he’s also technically her boss.
There were two big weaknesses to this novel: one was the sense of familiarity, as though I’d read it all before somewhere; and the second was the lack of effort that seemed to have gone into the worldbuilding.
The sense of familiarity arose because – well – a number of things in the novel weren’t all that original. The vampires have gone public with their existence, but the shifters haven’t, for example – just as in the early Sookie Stackhouse novels. I wouldn’t say that Neill has consciously copied anything here; it’s more that there’s just nothing very original to distract you from the similarities to other fantasy series.
As for the lack of effort – to be blunt, some aspects of this novel were lame, and there was no explanation offered. I don’t know if one was offered in the first novel – which I haven’t read – but it certainly wasn’t here. For example: these vampires breathe. They have a heartbeat, and a pulse, which races when they’re excited. They sweat, and smell, and can overexert themselves. They eat regular food, indeed, appear to need to, given the references to the fast vampire metabolism. Basically, apart from the fact they need to drink blood every second day and they’re immortal, these vampires are people. It feels lazy, as though Neill hasn’t bothered to work out what vampires might really be like. It’s easier for her to talk about someone’s pulse pounding when they’re nervous than to try to come up with the way a vampire might really feel, so she gives her vampires a pulse.
I also found it rather difficult to empathise with the heroine, who frankly comes across as a bit of a doormat. Merit was made a vampire without her consent, a thing that isn’t supposed to happen. And her new “master” promptly demands she gives up her academic career – her life’s ambitions – and become a sword wielding soldier despite her lack of aptitude or interest. And she just goes along with it. Apparently in the first novel she was ordered to go out with a particular vampire; so she does. Her “master” wants her to step back into the society lifestyle she loathes – so she does. It is not clear to me why she just goes along with this. There are unaligned vampires, and indeed other Houses in Chicago and elsewhere, so it’s not like she has to belong to Cadogan House.
It just doesn’t work for me. Why would I care about Merit when she essentially just does what she’s told, albeit sometimes with a bit of bitching first? None of the characters really sparked much interest from me. The world they live in didn’t seem real. Merit was a doormat, and the banter with her best friend was too strained to seem real. None of the characters really leapt off the page; even the supposedly intriguing master vampire was rather bland.
Friday Night Bites isn’t a bad book. It’s just a very ordinary book that doesn’t stand out very much. Those who read a lot of fantasy will likely sniff at the poor worldbuilding. Those who read a lot of chick lit will likely sniff at the lack of sass in Merit. And both are likely to forget it pretty quickly. Friday Night Bites is entertaining enough while you’re reading it, but there’s nothing distinctive or memorable about it. It’s not very original, it’s not very funny, the characters aren’t very interesting, the plot isn’t very strong. It’s just mildly diverting.