by Steven A. Roman, 2011
I've read several things by Steve Roman in the past, both novels and comics. His "Blood Feud" is practically a novelization of a comic book, so here the reader can get the best of both worlds.
In the past, I've chided Roman—a little—about slow beginnings in some of his stories. There's a few slow parts in "Blood Feud", but they're necessary to get a feel for the characters and their relationships. But there's nothing slow at the beginning, where we get plenty of supernatural action and several important plot points and characters are established.
Still, the introduction of Sebastienne Mazarin in the current day could have been told by showing her in action, not expounding on a history lesson. But it's a small caveat in an otherwise very good adventure. And the action begins again in a few pages.
The main plot is reminiscent of the old Rowdy Roddy Piper movie "They Live" or the little kid in "The Sixth Sense", in which the hero (heroine here) suddenly gains the ability to detect the monsters who walk amongst us. Pandora Zwieback is thus given a Buffy-like quest to kill monsters and save the world.
Unlike Buffy, Pan has absolutely no super-powers, aside from her ability to see monsters for what they really are. In fact, she doubts her own sanity. Seriously, who wouldn't?
And when this occurs, there's a very real, very human, and very unexpected reaction from Pan. After she calls her mom and asks to pick her up, Pan becomes frightened of seeing her, even considering running away. Pan is afraid her mom too might be one of these monsters; and she knows that would be more than she could handle. If that happened, her sanity would truly snap and she would be left broken and completely alone.
Fortunately, Pan's mother turns out to be anything but a monster. But the scene shows us the level of writing, the level of human understanding and empathy of which Roman is capable.
A teenager who sees monsters and has no powers to fight them... That makes her more human than other comic book characters. And that's the appeal here.
But then the action shifts to Roman's other character, Sebastienne Marazin, who has four hundred years experience fighting monsters. There's a quick scene to establish her as a badass, Buffy-style slayer of all things dark and dangerous. Soon Pan and Sebastienne meet, along with Sebastienne's sidekick, the grinning Javier. Javier serves the same purpose as Shaggy from Scooby-Doo: nothing. Only Shaggy was funnier. Soon they're running through the tunnels of NYC looking for an escaped cryptid.
I do think Roman missed an opportunity for a dramatic confrontation between the two heroines. Instead of the talkfest that ensues, I would have had Sebastienne try to kill the cryptid and have Pan stand in her way, protecting it. Yes, the two DO have a discussion about it and Pan makes the wonderfully stinging comment, "Maybe you should find a new occupation." But the drama level and the pacing would be greatly improved in this scene if the two heroines had at least a brief moment of true antagonism.
Pan and Sebastienne team up just in time, as rival gangs of vampires are about to descend on the City and tear it to shreds, as they search for an ancient artifact that will give them power over all other supernatural creatures. And by coincidence, Pan's dad is the current owner of this artifact.
Roman has written on his blog that the first draft of this book presented the characters as unsympathetic jerks and losers. In correcting this, he's added a lot of feelgood moments. Lots and lots of feelgood moments. But his decision, and that of his editor, was correct. Pan and company need to be sympathetic otherwise the reader is left rooting for the bad guys. I know I've read books and seen movies that left me doing just that.
If the feelgood moments abound, rest assured they are not maudlin nor are they all that's going on. There are some great actions scenes along with the heart-warming stuff.
Be forewarned though; the adventure ends with a cliffhanger. While more appropriate for a comic book, of which Roman has much experience writing, it's not a common ending for a novel. After all, novels tend to have a beginning, a middle and an ENDING.
But no complaints here. "Blood Feud" is a fun frolic with likeable (and detestable) characters. The action is great and the story keeps moving. It's a great monster book for the young adult market.
As the author of a book about warring vampire clans myself, I was pleased to see that Roman's vampires are also broken into clans, here called houses. In fact, we sometimes employ the same clans!
In "Blood Feud" the demon Zaquiel is the father of all vampires whereas I employ Lilith for that role. Roman's Zaquiel implores his warring children to set aside their differences and work together. My Lilith is happy to sit back and watch her children slaughter each other. It's more fun. Besides, she was never really good at that motherhood thing.