Secrets in the Shadows
by Jenna Black
(Tor, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-0-765-35716-8
****
There are so many on-going series about brotherhoods of supernatural creatures (vampires, werewolves, shape shifters and so on) that it is sometimes hard to distinguish between them. What prevents Secrets in the Shadows from slipping into oblivion is its less-than-romantic look at dysfunctional vampire families and its fabulous, wise-mouthing heroine.

Black's series has all the recognizable and predictable parts: an urban underworld that exists parallel to our more familiar one; tortured alpha heroes with all kinds of supernatural skills; and of course a distinction between good vampires and bad ones. As their name implies, Killers treat humans like cattle. Guardians of the Night, on the other hand, limit themselves to a diet of lamb's blood. To protect humans from paranormal threats they have banded together under the authority of Eli, an extraordinarily powerful ancient vampire.

Now, one of the Guardians, Jules Gerard, wants to defy Eli's commands to get revenge from the man who turned him into a vampire. When he discovers that Ian is alive and killing in Baltimore, he ignores Eli's request and goes after him. He has no idea what he is in for: his quest could launch a complicated territorial war that would ultimately undermine Eli's authority and destroy the already fragile existence of the Guardians of the Night. To ensure that his interests are protected, Eli sends Drake, the only Killer in this band of brother, after him. Meanwhile, Holly, a private investigator well versed in the ways of vampires, agrees to follow Jules as a favor to a former colleague. Despite Jules's numerous attempts to foil her, she sticks very close to him and manages to prevent an all-out vampire war.

As already mentioned, Holly is one reason why I am elevating this book into near-keeper status. Her diminutive size never stops her from speaking her mind – even when faced with some of the biggest and meanest vampires in the business. Tough girls do get the blues and the jitters, and Holly is not one to ignore them. Her vulnerability and her insecurities are important aspects of her charm. They are also one reason why her romance with Jules is so moving. The only girl in a family of macho men, Holly feels obliged to always prove herself and to never surrender control. No wonder she balks at the idea of a relationship with an alpha-male vampire.

It takes a while for Jules to realize these complexities, and all the more so because he has his own, rather different issues to overcome. Black gives him an interesting backstory, one which sheds much light on his behavior. When Holly and Jules finally come to terms with themselves and each other, the results are not just heartwarming; they also feel very real.

 The relationship between Jules, Holly and the supporting characters are fairly intricate. With complicated allegiances and vampires who are as power-hungry as they are blood-thirsty, nothing, or almost nothing, is as black and white as it seems. A strictly linear plot is occasionally lost amidst these dynastic feuds, but Black's compensates for it with a gritty, atmospheric portrayal of an underworld where heroes have tragic flaws and villains occasionally try to do the right thing. Her efforts ensure a gripping read and set the stage for the next installment of the series. I will definitely look into it. If Shadows of the Soul (due out in September) is anything like this unusual combination of romantic tenderness and gruesome, gory detail, it is sure to be another winner.

 

--Mary Benn


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