Book 1 of the Skia Project series
by Chris Hepler, 2018
This vampire book is more science-fiction than horror and more action and scheming than science-fiction. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
With all the high tech spying and assassination, all circling around vampires, I am seriously reminded of Graeme Rodaughan’s Metaframe series. In the Skia Project series, with a cybernetic stimweb allowing a user to enhance and control their qi, or life energy, a small group of highly trained assassins goes out into the Night to hunt down and destroy vampires. In the Metaframe books, people and vampires are trained to “ramp” up, and harness their chi (same Chinese word, different spelling).
In both series, there’s also the same kind of high-tech, insider-only speechifying; plus the same kind of enforced dedication to The Team—at least until someone betrays that Team from the inside.
In “Civil Blood”, Hepler weaves a stimweb of stealth and deception, as our two heroes, a woman named Infinity DeStard and a man named Ranath, aka Dr. Roland Cawdor, scramble into action. Ranath is a biomancer, a vector-hunting specialist. He kills the 21st Century breed of vampire, called vectors or VIPEs. He employs futuristic but believable qi technology to track his prey, contact his allies, wipe memories, and kill.
Infinity is much the same thing, but with one difference: she’s been infected. She’s on her way to becoming the very thing she is paid to destroy.
So we are given a complicated cat-and-mouse game of lies and deception. Ranath and Infinity are both good at this.
And then there’s Morgan Lorenz, a lawyer. He’s also infected, but he wants to do something about it. He starts out posting videos of himself on social media, revealing the existence of vampires to the world. He then promises to find out who generated the clearly-generated virus and hold them accountable. He intends to sue the company that created the virus—the employers of Ranath and Infinity.
So Ranath and Infinity are sent to dispose of Lorenz. But Infinity has her own agenda. And the backstabbing will only get worse.
Not only are we given gunfights and explosions but there are fast-paced trial scenes, and the legal jargon is handled well. The story is fast-paced and full of action, as we might expect from a book about a secret assassination squad versus vampires. Less expected is a burgeoning romance but even this feels natural and unforced.
All the characters in “Civil Blood” are compelling, with relevant agendas. The book remembers to focus on its primary characters and that makes the betrayals more powerful—and believable. It makes you wonder who the good guy is and who’s the bad guy.