Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth (AKA Vampires infused with awesome)

Zach Barrows is an ambitious young White House staffer whose career takes an unexpected turn when he's partnered with Nathaniel Cade, a secret agent sworn to protect the President. But Cade is no ordinary civil servant. Bound by a special blood oath, he is a vampire. Cade battles nightmares before they can break into the daylight world of the American dream, enemies far stranger-and far more dangerous-than civilians have ever imagined. 

I should probably start this review by making two comments:

1.     I swore up and down I was DONE with vampire fiction for a while. The genre feels burnt out and over saturated.
2.     Every now and then I like a good action-packed mass-market paperback thriller.

So, just as Will Hill’s DEPARTMENT 19 showed me (a few months back) I’m apparently NOT done with the vampire genre at all. It just so happens it takes an author who brings something new to the overused character trope to interest me.

Well Christopher Farnsworth, touché. Well-played sir.

The first in a series of books, BLOOD OATH is at once arresting in scope and execution, and also brings us back to the "vampire as monster" trope. Yes, the lead character (Nathaniel Cade) is an “I don’t drink human blood” type of vampire we often see that let’s us identify with him (Like Angel in Buffy). The difference here being that Farnsworth rather shrewdly has Cade deal with his non-human blood drinking like a recovering alcoholic. So instead of a “woe is me I don’t drink human blood” guy, we instead are shown a man who on a daily basis has to wrestle his addiction to the ground.

I was shown to this series by a fellow book fan who quoted me this passage (paraphrased):

“Why didn’t you put a spell on her or something?”
“What do you mean?”
“Aren’t vampires like sex gods or something?
“What gave you that idea?”
“Uh…late night movies I guess.”
“You’re food to us. Would you have sex with a cow?”

Sold. SO sold. Bloody sold in fact!

Cade exists in a hidden base underneath the Smithsonian Castle in D.C. called the Reliquary (think Hellboy’s base) that is filled with “trophies” of past instances and events from the Other Side that Cade has had to deal with in his 167 years of service to the U.S. Presidents. So within 25 pages there was mention of/or dealings with werewolves, Frankenstein, Mongolian Death Worms, Innsmouth and Cthulu, and various other awesome crazy things. It’s basically a box full of awesome that any SFF fan would be happy to open. Add to this the aspect of the action packed thriller and I think you’ll find you have a winner.

Zach is our young entry into Cade’s world as he is taught by his predecessor Griff(who is dying of inoperable Cancer)  how to deal with the undead creature. Cade is a no nonsense personality and it shows in pretty much everything he does. He is fairly unflappable when presented with otherworldly threats, and this boggles Zach’s mind as much as it would ours if we were presented by such an unbelievable situation. In fact, Zach pretty much acts exactly as I would if presented with said supernatural partner and all that entails. He makes nervous jokes, gets angry at not being told enough, wets himself and pushes Cade’s buttons to see how far he can go. I always like it when the protagonist does things how I would. That sort of thing always makes characters feel a little more grounded.

Sprinkled throughout the narrative are chapter openings as entries in a log-book about the years that Cade has been in service to the U.S. which give us fair insight into who he is and how he works. For example we learn that because he doesn’t consume human blood he is limited in what his vampiric skills are, or that he can’t get sick and that if he is wounded he will heal relatively quickly.  We also learn about earlier fights against other worldly beasties in the past and how Cade kept us safe. I enjoyed that those didn’t intrude on the story at all and are just footnotes of useable info. There were sections and chapters that dealt with the past, mainly one long chapter about how Cade came to be a vampire on a ship in 1867, and one about how President Andrew Johnson used a Voodoo priestess to bind Cade to his service. All are well placed and couldn’t have been done justice as chapter openings so I feel that they were integral to the overall narrative.

The action is explosive and just when I thought things couldn’t get crazier; Cade would throw a car into another car totaling it. The pace is as relentless as you’d expect in a thriller novel. You could probably do this book in one or two sittings easily.  Easy prose and exciting mysteries abound and will keep your eyes on the page for hours on end without you realizing it.

Probably my favourite thing is the staggering amount of different supernatural directions this series could go with each book. The objects/trophies in the reliquary alone make my geek history/fantasy alarm go off with nerdy extacy. Seriously the Fishhead in the glass case that says it was found in 1939, Innsmouth, Mass. made me grin like a fool!

Note to authors: Put Cthulu or other Lovecraftian minions into a book and automatically its street cred triples.

If you are looking for a vampire book that is different from the glut of YA vampire books about vampires and humans loving each other off, you can certainly look here.  It’s a good thing there are a few authors out there doing classic monsters in another way and making things interesting again. Farnsworth has created a fan in me and I fully intend to pick up the second book (already released) THE PRESIDENT’S VAMPIRE.

Looking for a book that punches Twilight in the face, and gives it a black eye while grinning from behind a blood-soaked (fanged) grin? This is the ticket! Right here. Pick it up and enjoy!

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