Death's Mistress
by Karen Chance
(Onyx, $7.99, R) ISBN 978-0451412768
***
Five hundred years will teach a person a lot of things. In Dorina Basarab's case the two most important of those have been killing and surviving. She uses these abilities extensively, but being a dhampir comes with other advantages, such as considerably-better-than-human hearing, speed, and strength. Though her dhampir traits have allowed her to continue as a successful mercenary for many years, as the daughter of a long-ago servant woman and one of the higher members of the vampire Senate, Dory has also had to scrape by just to survive members of the two races from whence she came.

Traditionally, because of their vampire-like capabilities, vampires killed dhampirs upon birth. And, though there is little love lost between them, Dorina's father, Mircea, has seen to it that the vampires not touch her. In fact, she has recently become a contractual employee for the Senate. Another point of fact is that Mircea is no more inclined to give Dory the truth than he is anyone else, which leads to Ray, a really easy hit gone very wrong.

Dorina takes the job to help out her friend Claire, whose son is in imminent danger. When chasing Ray's head leads Dory to master vampire Louis-Cesare, with whom Dorina has a fairly screwy romantic relationship, she knows both her father and her lover are misleading her again. Being as Dorina is a take-no-crap, take-no-prisoners girl, she heads off with her uncle's car and a headless body to discover the truth and save her friend all on her own ... only to be hunted down by one of the Senate's best trackers who also happens to be a very ticked off Louis-Cesare.

The Claire/Mircea/Louis-Cesare connection will likely confuse readers who haven't read the first book in the series, Midnight's Daughter. I did do so, and it took me a few chapters to reconnect the dots. Periodically, Chance does remind readers that Dory is on this expedition essentially to save Claire's baby —which comes in handy, since the artifact that Dory initially takes off to find doesn't come back into play until around page 200. Even then, Dory can't manage to get her hands on it. For a paranormal, large chunks of Death's Mistress play out like a goofy whodunnit, which is a new angle for the author. It's not quite as confusing as the last Cassie Palmer novel was, but Dory's latest series of escapades takes some mental quickness.

The unfurling of Dorina and Louis-Cesare's relationship is actually quite fun; even after five hundred years, Dory is just as confused about men as any other woman. Naturally, the fact that their romance is forbidden does lend an extra bite, and that Louis-Cesare's long-term mistress is rescued after a century of imprisonment is the touch that keeps readers from knowing just how the cookie will crumble. Death's Mistress may not be the easiest read out there at the moment, and Dorina's unorthodox lovelife isn't any easier, but readers will enjoy the madcap romp and its occasional bouts of comedy. Fans of Chance will be glad to read of characters from the Cassie Palmer series making cameos, and powerful Senate member Mircea Basarab letting down his guard a little. Death's Mistress will likely never rank as one of the best in the series, but it's an excellent stepping stone to other stories involving these ever-evolving characters.

--Sarrah Knight


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