07 October 2009

Must Love Hellhounds

What do hellhounds and vampires have in common? Not much other than providing a muse for writers everywhere, including Charlaine Harris, Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, and Meljean Brook. But vampire afficionados should be prepared for the two-legged fanged fiends to take a backseat to the four-legged variety in Must Love Hellhounds.

The book is comprised of four novellas, all featuring--what else?--hellhounds. I have to admit, when Penguin sent me a review copy, I was particularly excited to have the chance to take a look at Charlaine Harris's latest. Too bad her contribution, "The Britlingens Go to Hell," was a huge disappointment. But since it (ironically) didn't include any vampires, there's no need to get into it here. Just don't go out and buy the book because her name's on the cover.

Spoilers Ahead

Things pick up a little with Nalini Singh's story, "Angels' Judgment: A Guild Hunter Novella." Set in a world where "angels" create and control vampires, hunters exist to keep the vamps in line when they don't fulfill their obligations to their masters. Uber hunter Sara is surprised to find herself suddenly teamed up with "The Slayer." (Yes, he's named after that Slayer, as a "joke." Ha ha. The joke's on Ms. Singh, however, because every time I read the name, my mind immediately jumped to Buffy and the Buffyverse. Not exactly an ideal situation when your readers slip out of your story and think of someone else's work instead.) Sara and The Slayer (aka Deacon) investigate the serial killings of five vampires, indulging in some sexy action along the way (note to author: "sanity fractured" is not a good euphemism for an orgasm). If you like fluffy paranormal romance novels, you'll enjoy this story. Just don't expect an airtight (or even mildly drafty) plot.

Fang Files: Humans who want to be "made" into vampires must serve the angels for 100 years. Vampires can be killed by decapitation or fire. Some vamps live the typical quiet life of most humans, but others give into their blood lust and revel in carnage. The older the vampire the less they exhibit their attributes (e.g., they would never show their fangs). The Vampire Protection Authority was set up to prevent cruelty and prejudice against vampires (they're basically the ACLU for vamps). Crossbow bolt to the heart leaves a vampire paralyzed and helpless.

Text Bite

Simon: Sara, Deacon's extremely dangerous. Be careful.
Sara: I'm pretty dangerous, too.

The next story, "Magic Mourns," by Ilona Andrews is by far the best of the bunch. Not only has she created a really cool and interesting framework for her world (Earth in the near future is subjected to random and unpredictable waves of magic that destroy man-made structures and prevent all tech from working), but she was the only author to actually incorporate a hellhound into the story in a natural and believable way (and also the only one to exhibit any knowledge of the hellhound myth's origins). The pacing was also the best in "Magic Mourns," making it feel like a proper (if short) novel and not rushed or weakly developed like the others. Vampires play only a minor role in this story about retrieving a stolen body (again with danger and romance along the way), and the ending is a little weak (although it's followed by an intriguing epilogue), but it hardly matters when the rest of it is so enjoyable. I'm going to have to get my hands on Ms. Andrews's other "magic" books ASAP.

Fang Files: Vampires are basically mindless animated corpses infected by the Immortuus pathogen, and driven only by the need for fresh blood. Their empty minds make them ideal vessels to be controlled by "Navigators" (necromancers). Vampires are all hairless and emaciated with yellow claws and fangs; they emit the foul smell of death (but not rot).

Text Bite

Andrea: A giant three-headed dog was bad news. A vampire was much, much worse.

Lastly, we come to "Blind Spot: A Guardian Novella," by Meljean Brook. This was my second-favourite story in Must Love Hellhounds, partly because the vampires (although again playing a minor role) were more along the lines of the kinds of vamps I enjoy, and partly because the heroine's love interest was actually interesting. He is endowed with the unique (as far as I am aware) characteristic of being able to see only through other people's eyes. It provided an unusual and engaging perspective to this story about chasing kidnappers and uncovering conspiracy. As with most of the stories, "Blind Spot" is a little too dominated by exposition. Some of the cheesy names are also distracting (the hellhound is named "Sir Pup"), as are some of the overly convenient solutions (the hound can carry anything with him, and it remains invisible until needed). But generally it's a solid and enjoyable story.

Fang Files: Most vampires can't rise during the day (Day Sleep), burst into flames in the sun, and can see their reflections, but our heroine's employer (and the hero's uncle) is the exception. Vampire blood heals human wounds, although not completely. Vampires appear human and (the ones in this story at least) live normal lives.

Text Bite

Maggie: Can you see through animals, Mr. Blake?
Geoff: No.
Maggie: Just through people?
Geoff: Yes. And no more 'Mr. Blake.' I am not your employer.
Maggie: Yes, sir.

My one recurring thought as I read Must Love Hellhounds was that they should have included something by Lori Devoti, seeing as how she's already created a fantastic hellhound mythology. Alas, she's with Harlequin, so that idea could never be more than wishful thinking. Okay, so Must Love Hellhounds is hardly fine literature--but who says it has to be? What it is, is an overall enjoyable bit of escapism in the paranormal genre. With vampires to boot. You really can't complain about that.

Must Love Hellhounds by Charlaine Harris, Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, and Meljean Brook. Published by Penguin (Berkley).

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