Flesh and Blood
by Kristen Painter
(Orbit, $7.99, R for violence)  ISBN 978-0-316-08476-5
****
If you like your urban fantasies dark, gritty, suspenseful, and sexy but not sexed-up, Kristen Painter's new series, House of Comarre, is perfect for you.  The second novel, Flesh and Blood, proves that Blood Rights wasn't a fluke: Painter has found her niche.

Still reeling from the death of Maris, a woman she just recently discovered was her biological mother, Chrysabelle LaPointe has been avoiding contact with the world at large and specifically the anathema vampire who owns her blood rights, Malkolm.  A recently retired comarre, Chrysabelle is trying to adapt to life in the mortal alternate-reality world of 2067 Florida while clinging desperately to many of the traditions drilled into her during her 115 years as blood slave to a noble vampire. 

Much of what Chrysabelle learned in secret during those years was how to fight vampires, which is coming in handy now that she's in possession of a sacred ring that has the power to raise an army of the dead — a ring which Mal's crazy ex-wife, Tatiana, is desperate to get her pampered claws on, and is in league with the father of all demons to accomplish the mission.  In the meantime, Chrysabelle still owes Mal a debt for helping with the effort to save Maris.  Her task is to question the Aurelian, the Comarre source of knowledge, about how to remove Mal's curse.  Not surprisingly, they find the fickle Aurelian in a bad mood, and, though Chrysabelle is allowed her questions, the asking and the answers are more dangerous than she could have imagined.

Now, there are a lot of "in the meantimes" throughout the House of Comarre series, which is one of just a few failings.  Readers will find themselves very invested in the original two main characters, Mal and Chrysabelle, and a mystical hitman, Creek, who enters into the storyline in Flesh and Blood; the viewpoints of the other characters are at times off-putting and a bit confusing.  Tatiana's point of view is interesting at times as well, but she shows up fairly consistently, interrupting when Mal's in trouble or Chrysabelle's having a change of heart. 

There are a LOT of characters in this series, who are not necessarily re-introduced, so do not read Flesh and Blood first.  There is also the usual range of fantasy verbiage, but Painter has graciously provided a glossary.  It's impossible not to appreciate her imagination; each character, numbers be damned, is so very strongly their own person, though I can see Mal becoming Chrysabelle's tame kitten, which is not something I'll like.  The chemistry is fantastic, and the almost-requisite love triangle presents itself in this volume of the series, though it's never acted upon: in fact, Mal, Chrysabelle, and Creek go out of their way to keep physical contact to a minimum, so don't look for your guilty erotic pleasures here.

Flesh and Blood won't be for everyone.  It's futuristic, for one thing, and pretty tame sexually.  Though an urban fantasy, it is set in a largely traditional pattern with kingdoms of sorts and politics a-plenty, as well as the necessary rebels and outcasts to bring down the man.  Whether or not Flesh and Blood appeals to a huge audience, however, does not affect what it is, and that is a spectacular addition to and hopefully a model for urban fantasy.

--Sarrah Knight


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