Saturday, April 26, 2014

Blood Torn review

    The third volume of the Blackthorn series, Blood Torn follows the adventures of werewolf leader Jask and newly-empowered serryn Sophia as their worlds get turned upside down. Sophia is a vampire hunter belonging to the vigilante Alliance group who gets captured by Jask's pack minutes after discovering her new abilities. Jask has a need for a serryn, otherwise he would have just killed her, but wants to "tame" her first. Sophia, of course, is having none of this.

    I've often wondered why the Blackthorn series resonates with me so much more so than the majority of Paranormal Romance. I've mentioned the series straddles the line between Urban Fantasy and Romance several times but it's more than this. This volume made it all finally "click" with me. Why do I like the Blackthorn series so much? It's because the book manages to embody an almost untouched variant of my favorite genre.

    In the nineties, a particularly specialized zeitgeist emerged in fiction. After Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire and White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade, there was a brief surge of fiction defined as Gothic Punk. Like cyberpunk, it was a conflict between the rich and powerful elite versus the poor downtrodden masses. Except, instead of cybernetics and computers leveling the playing field, it was supernatural powers. Elder vampires oppressed young ones while both oppressed the living. Werewolves fought against vampires while fighting each other.

    While I wouldn't call Blackthorn a Gothic Punk series, I will say it resurrects the best of that sub-genre and puts its own unique spin on it. Lindsay J. Pryor's world is filled with fantastically corrupt officials, both human and monster.

    Urban segregation is a daily part of life with the so-called Third Species forced to share their living space with the worst of humanity. The protagonists are those individuals who maintain a shred of idealism (Caitlin, Lelia, and now Sophia) or those who have to play by the world's corrupt rules (Kane, Caleb, and Jask).

    Blood Torn follows Sophia and Jask butting heads about the inequities of the world. Unlike the previous protagonists, who were largely apolitical, both of Blood Torn's heroes have strong opinions on the way things are run. Sophia blames the vampires for the sorry state of the Blackthorn district, ignoring the fact its humans are every bit as slimy as the worst of the undead. Jask, on the other hand, believes it is the people in power in the Midtown and Summerton district keeping the Third races oppressed.

    I'm quite fond of Sophia and think she's probably my favorite heroine of the series. A highly intelligent young woman, she's dead wrong about 90% of her opinions but you can see how she's reached her conclusions. She's a lot more equal in terms of power and will to her romantic foil than previous heroines (who were usually grossly outmatched). I also enjoyed Sophia's ill-advised attempts to play the role of the serryn seductress despite being relatively chaste.

    Jask Tao is a much more measured character than either Kane or Caleb. Whereas Kane was obsessed with revenge and Caleb with his (poor) place on the vampire totem pole, Jask has more sympathetic concerns. He's interested in protecting his pack first, second, and last. Having established a comfortable position in the Blackthorn district, he doesn't wield near the authority of Caleb or Kane but has enough to intervene on behalf of his fellows.

    Unfortunately, unlike vampirism, lycanthropy is a dread curse in this setting. Incredibly painful, it requires a regime of pills or herbal supplements to keep at bay and Jask's pack is running short this month. This vulnerability is something we haven't seen before in Ms. Pryor's series and provides a nice contrast. Watching him try to be the toughest dog on the block and dominate Sophia, only to fail miserably because she's the kind of person to break before she bends is a delight to read.

    New readers should be warned that Blood Torn is not just an episodic installment of the series. It is one which ties directly into the previous two volumes. I thus recommend readers pick up and read them before they try their hand at Blood Torn. This is doubly so because several plot threads introduced in earlier works come to a head. The ending of the book surprised me tremendously and promises drastic changes for the setting.

    Fans of Blood Shadows will be pleased to know we get a few scenes starring previous book heroine, Caitlin Parish. While she only has a small role to play, we get a sense of how her life has changed since the climax of the original volume in the series. I won't spoil her situation for readers but, as in all forms of punk, being good sucks. There's also some hints as to what is happening with Caleb and Lelia but neither makes an extended appearance. I expect for both of them to show up in Blood Deep.

    In conclusion, I find Blood Torn to be yet another excellent addition to the story. The increased focus on world-building as well as the settings politics intrigued me while the romance wasn't scrimped upon. I think of the three couples introduced in the series so far, Jask and Sophie are the most "realistic" (for what value said word has in a world of vampires, witches, and werewolves).

    While there were some elements I didn't much care for, including Jask's resolution to a long-standing personal problem, the rest of the book kept me entertained. I am eager for the next volume and hope it comes out soon. Expect a cliffhanger, readers!


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