15 May 2011

Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth

Spoilers Ahead

I think most people would agree that it's not uncommon in genre fiction to find more than a few books that would pair well with a variety of wines (i.e., they're cheesy). So when I got my review copy of Blood Oath and saw it was about a secret service agent who also happened to be a vampire (the "president's vampire" no less) I was prepared to roll my eyes through all 190 pages. But that never happened. This book is good. As in 'I didn't want to put it down' good. Just when you think that nothing more can be done with vampires, along comes a book like Blood Oath that changes the entire paradigm.

Before I tell you what Blood Oath is about I think I should spare a few words about what it isn't. It is not about a vampire hero. Cade might save the day but only because he's forced to; if he had his way he'd be spending his nights preying on humans instead of helping them. It is not a romance. Cade will not be falling in love with a vulnerable yet strong human heroine; not only does Cade not feel human emotions but he's repulsed at the thought of sex with his prey. (And as for Cade and fellow vampire Tania, they might hook up but a loving relationship doesn't seem to be in the cards.) The book is also not about the troubled protagonist's redemption. There is no redemption for Cade (at least not in his own mind). Lastly, Blood Oath is nothing like what I was expecting.

It's about Nathaniel Cade, a young man turned vampire, discovered on a Civil War ship and bound by magic to forever follow the president's orders and protect the USA from attack, particularly from the various dark forces that would love nothing more than to bring the country down (as one president puts it, they're fighting a War on Horror). It's also about Zach Barrows, human White House staffer unwillingly thrust into the role of Cade's latest liaison to the president. Throw in a group of extremists working with an ex-Nazi sociopath (Cade's nemesis, Dr. Johann Konrad) to turn corpses into uber soldiers and a shadowy agency with its own agenda and you've got a hell of a compelling story.

After having been immersed in the Buffyverse, Forever Knight, Being Human, Moonlight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, and a metric tonne of paranormal romance-type books, Farnsworth's vampire is a refreshing change. Cade is intense, he's scary, he is not interested in anything human beyond what he's forced to get involved in. He doesn't want a relationship with a teenage girl (or an adult woman who could still be his great-great granddaughter). I particularly like that he believes in god just as strongly as he believes that god doesn't want him, and that he refuses to drink human blood even though he knows it makes him weaker and will ultimately destroy him. He's an interesting, complex character (and it suddenly occurs to me that he reminds me of Kai from Lexx, which as far as I'm concerned is a good thing).

I also really enjoyed the writing, other than the overly obvious wolf references at the beginning (it was already clear the writer was talking about werewolves--he didn't need to keep hitting us over the head with language like "alpha," "pawed it open," and "practically howling." Yeah, we get it). What I found especially interesting was the way the author made reference to past events in Cade's life as though this weren't the first book in the series. As long as Farnsworth doesn't get sick of the character, there's potential for an endless series of prequels and sequels. I'd better clear some shelf space. In addition the writing is clear, evocative, and not weighed down by sappiness or exposition (Farnsworth successfully utilizes a clever plot device to get around the latter issue). Occasionally the author's style verges a little too close to Maxim territory, as for example, when he describes sex between characters as "writhing like the sacrifice on an altar from some long-dead religion." Uh, yeah. But given some of the sexual descriptions you find in the average example of "women's fiction" I guess we really can't fault him.

With all the politics, espionage, testosterone-fuelled behaviour, and occasional stomach-churning violence it's pretty clear the book's intended audience is men (specifically the kind who read John le Carré and Tom Clancy). I have no patience for politics or testosterone overload and I don't read spy novels (oh yeah, and I'm female) but I still loved this book, which goes to show that target audiences are, at best, rough guidelines. I say if you're into vampires, like good writing, and aren't too sensitive about gore or violence you need to read Blood Oath. Like me, you'll wonder why you waited so long.

Fang Files

Appearance: Very pale human with long, needlelike fangs that are visible when mouth is open or smiling. Vampires don't breathe or sweat.

Strengths: Super speed, strength. Ability to climb walls and jump great heights. Enhanced sense of smell, hearing, and sight. Perfect memory. Quick healing as long as the vampire has fresh blood. Some vampires can change physical form.

Weaknesses: Direct sunlight. Fire. Not consuming human blood. Decapitation. Massive damage to the heart. Not getting a 12-hour coma-like period of rest every 7 days.

Mythology: For unknown reasons vampires have an aversion to Christian religious objects and feel pain when touching items such as crosses. Cade must follow all lawful orders of the president or his or her representatives and cannot hurt them. Animal blood is not as effective as human blood, leaving the vampire weaker and over time rendering them a decrepit living husk. There are a few hundred vampires worldwide with only two or three qualifying as "Vampire Kings"--the strongest of the strong. Vampire blood dripping into an open wound will turn a human into a vampire but the process doesn't always work--humans end up dead as often as they're turned.

Text Bites

Zach tried not to laugh. "A presidential vampire, huh? Is he a Democrat or a Republican?"

There is a reason humans are genetically programmed to fear the dark. Zach was looking at it.

Need more? Watch the trailer:

Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth. From Putnam.

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