Kristen Painter

House of Comarre, book 2

Orbit (2011)

ISBN: 978-1-84149-970-3

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Flesh and Blood is book two in the House of Comarre series; there are at least four books in the series. None appear to stand alone – they are written as instalments of a series and there isn’t a lot of recapping for people who haven’t read the earlier book (or books). They are well written and have considerable strengths, but it’s not really a series you can jump into part way through and fully enjoy.

I have not read book one, so was very much picking this up as I went along. It was reasonably easy to pick up the basic plot, but many of the motivations were a little murky to me, and there were past events that seemed critical to events in this novel but which were never fully explained here. In addition, there were some really important things about the relationships between characters that appeared to be very dependent on events in the first novel – referred to in passing here but again not clearly recapped.

Chrysabelle is a Comarre, one of a group of humans bred to provide blood to vampires. It’s not clearly spelt out, but I assume that this is part of the covenant which has allowed the supernatural world to exist side by side with humanity, with most humans entirely ignorant of it. It appears that Comarres and their relationships with vampires are governed by a complex set of traditions and rules. However, Chrysabelle appears to be somewhat isolated from the Comarre House in general, and it’s not particularly clear if she is, indeed, still technically a Comarre. (Not clear to me as a new reader, that is.)

Chrysabelle does still owe blood debt to Malkolm, a vampire who also seems to be an outcast. We are told he is cursed, but there is little explanation of how or why. Again, I had the impression this was explained in the first novel. As well as providing Malkolm with blood, Chrysabelle is pledged to find a way to remove his curse.

Naturally, gaining the necessary information isn’t going to be easy. The City they live in (Paradise City, the 2067 version of Miami) is falling apart as the covenant begins to break. Violent supernatural murders are taking place and the humans are finding it harder not to notice the supernatural. Vampire politics mean some very nasty vampires are up to some rather bad things in Paradise. A secret society  long thought mythical has re-emerged to help protect humanity from the supernatural. Oh, and a magical artifact called the Ring of Sorrows is missing. Chrysabelle has it, and a lot of other people want it and aren’t too fussy how they get it back.

The novel is actually rather easier to follow than that synopsis makes it sound. There are a lot of gaps if you haven’t read the first novel, but there’s enough action and strong enough characters that you’ll likely keep reading and not give up in despair.

The book is well written, with fast flowing action that seems well choreographed.  There’s a lot of fighting and running and sneaking around, and it’s written in an immediate style that most readers will find involving and convincing. The novel is set in 2067, a maneouvre that has allowed Painter to essentially use our world, but with small tweaks to suit her overall storyline and mythology – a few things have changed, for example, with the energy crisis. But it’s all largely familiar and doesn’t require a lot of effort to immerse yourself in it.

There’s a certain amount in the novel that most fantasy readers will find familiar; if you’re writing about vampires, then unless you’re really going out on a limb, certain aspects will be well worn for most readers. Frustratingly, the more original parts of the world seemed to have been described in the first novel and weren’t revisited here – for example, the purpose of the House of Comarre, and why their humans are so much more nutritious for vampires than everyday humans, was not explored here.

The characters were a strength of the novel, and probably the main thing that kept me reading given the plot was a bit murky in places without the underpinnings of the first volume.  Painter has developed quite an assortment of characters – including vampires, Comarres, humans, shifters, witches and ghosts – and shows talent for making each individual and interesting. I was interested in the characters rather than caring deeply about them, but that’s still enough to keep me coming back for another volume.

I can’t say that I strongly enjoyed this novel, but that is at least in part attributable to the blatant gaps left by not having read the first in the series. I suspect that readers of the first book are likely to enjoy this one; the characters are engaging and the action plentiful. It’s well written and appears to advance the overarching story quite a bit. The one particular negative for both new and continuing readers is that this volume has very little sense of completion – it starts part way through the story and then just stops again without really resolving anything. Not even a subplot to provide some partial closure! Readers intending to continue with the series may not be overly bothered, but I found it mildly frustrating.