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Monday, May 17, 2010

'Blood Price' Blood series #1 by Tanya HUFF


From the BLURB:

It began with blood and death. And Vicki Nelson, PI was at the scene. The victim had been brutally, inhumanly opened up. Messy work. She'd had to cover the corpse with her coat. It had sort of made her feel involved. Now Vicki is caught up in the deadly pursuit of a mass murderer with an inhuman appetite for mayhem and destruction. And her advisor on the case is doing nothing to dampen her growing sense of foreboding. But then, with a being of unspeakable evil stalking the city, only Vicki Nelson would ally herself to Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate child of Henry VIII and a five-hundred-year-old vampire.

‘Blood Price’ is the first book in Huff’s ‘Blood’ series about Toronto Private Investigator, Vicki Nelson, and her vampire associate, Henry Fitzroy. The series concluded in 1997; finishing with 5 books, 1 omnibus of short stories, a trilogy spin-off series for one of the main protagonists and a Canadian TV series adaptation.

Tanya Huff paved the way for the Urban Fantasy genre by bringing vampires into modern day, and mixing them with crime fiction. Tanya Huff wrote ‘Blood Price’ back in 1991. Laurell K Hamilton’s first ‘Anita Blake’ book, ‘Guilty Pleasures’ didn’t come out until 1993 (guess that puts a stake in Ms. Hamilton’s blog rant earlier this year in which she called herself the founder of ‘Urban Fantasy’). Not even Jim Butcher’s ‘The Dresden Files’ came out until 2000. And Charlaine Harris’s first ‘Sookie Stackhouse: Southern Vampire’ book came out in 2001.

I heard about Tanya Huff via Charlaine Harris herself. Harris wrote a blog a while back when she did a re-read of Huff’s ‘Blood’ series, and Harris lauded her as one of the premiere Urban Fantasy authors.
At the height of my Urban Fantasy obsession, I bought Huff’s ‘Blood series’ dirt-cheap on ebay… and then promptly forget about them sitting on my shelf.

I thought it was high time I gave this series a read. I’ve been in a vampire-genre-stagnation of late. So I thought "what the hell?" - I’ll read one of the Urban Fantasy ‘classics’ to try and pull me out of my reading slump. I figured I’d read the first chapter, and if the book didn’t tickle my fancy I’d only paid AUD$2 for it, so what?

Surprisingly, one chapter had me addicted….

The book starts with a death on a subway platform.

What really grabbed my attention was female protagonist Vicki Nelson. Tanya Huff jam-packs the opening chapter with so much wonderful characterisation that it’s impossible not warm to Vicki from the get-go.
When we meet her she is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Coming home from a bad blind date on the Toronto subway, Vicki hears a blood-curdling scream and runs to the source… where she finds a decapitated young man. Vicki jumps train tracks and completely disregards her police training when she hears the terrified throes of a dying man.

First on the scene is Vicki’s ex-partner and ex bed-mate, detective Mike Celluci. Mike and Vicki had an eight-year police partnership, which included a four-year sexual relationship, which ended badly when Vicki retired from the police force.
We learn that Vicki was a homicide detective, and has been off the force for eight months. Vicki resents her retirement, but we discover that it was self-imposed – Vicki’s eyesight is failing and she left before being asked to leave. Vicki is suffering from Retinitis Pigmentosa – a degenerative eye disease. Vicki is in the early stages, which means she has night blindness and tunnel vision.

You couldn’t be a cop if you couldn’t see.
She’d made her bed. She’d lie in it.

All of this character history comes in quick succession, and Huff assuredly has readers rooting for Vicki. In just one scene Huff communicates that Vicki is brave, reckless where the safety of others are concerned… she puts others before herself, and will even sacrifice herself and the career she loves for the ‘greater good’. Her personal relationships take a backseat to her career, and even though she forced herself to give up the job she loved, she is a trooper and trying to carry on with her life the best she can.

Henry Fitzroy is an equally fascinating protagonist. Henry and Vicki meet when the media dub Toronto’s serial killer a ‘vampire’, because of the drained blood of the victims. Henry, the only (to his knowledge) vampire living in Toronto becomes concerned and takes it upon himself to find the killer…. Whereupon he meets P.I. Vicki Nelson, who is also on the case. They decide to join forces – Vicki working the day, Henry the night shift.

Henry is based on the real illegitimate son of King Henry VIII of England. Henry, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, was a genuinely interesting historical figure. He died at the age of 17 after a becoming bed-ridden by a mystery illness. The circumstances surrounding Henry’s death were bizarre, but his funeral was even stranger. Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, ordered Henry’s body be wrapped in lead and taken for a secret interment.
Henry is a wonderful undead leading man. Not only has Huff turned historical factoids into a fairly plausible and reasonable history for Henry, but she’s made him into a really fascinating modern-day vampire. Henry is a poet, deep down, and in his latest career manifestation he’s started writing historical romances (‘bodice-rippers’) under the pseudonym ‘Elizabeth Fitzroy’.

I read some reviews of the ‘Blood’ series, written by Sookie and Twilight fans… and they all warned that while ‘Blood’ was an enjoyable series; it lacked the ‘heat’, the smut that has become trade-mark of the Urban Fantasy genre in recent years. I tend to disagree.
I really loved the Henry/Vicki pairing. On one level, they make a great sleuthing team. I loved the contrast of their abilities – Henry who is imprisoned by daylight, and Vicki who is blind at night.
More than that though, Vicki and Henry have real heat. I didn’t expect them to – I was all geared up to be disappointed in a lukewarm romance, judging from other people’s reviews – but I responded quite differently to the pairing.

Vicki and Henry are opposites, and both are trying to deny their attraction. Vicki, because things are complicated enough with Mike Celluci and she’s still trying to wrap her head around the whole ‘vampire’ thing. And Henry wants to deny his feelings because he’s lived through 455-years worth of loss, and doesn’t particularly want to add Vicki to the long list of mortals he’s had to say goodbye to.

Vicki and Henry are certainly no Cat & Bones, but they do have spark. Their relationship in this first book is more along the lines of Kate & Curran in Ilona Andrews’s series. Furthermore, Huff is very cluey about vampiric mythology, and through the Vicki/Henry partnership she is able to explore that popular metaphor of vampire and lust.
Certainly if ‘Blood Price’ was being written for today’s market, Huff may have been encouraged to include a bit more smut…. But I don’t think its lack detracts from the book. And actually I think Huff beautifully sets up a Vicki/Henry/Mike love triangle for future novels. I definitely got the impression that Huff didn’t want to lay all her cards on the table in this first book, but that there was going to be a slow-burning romance for Henry and Vicki…

“But you wouldn’t have lived as long as you have if you hadn’t figured out how to learn from your mistakes. When I find this person, I’m going to need you for backup.”
“Well, thank you very much.” Just what he needed, being patronized by someone whose ancestors had no doubt been grubbing out a living on a peasant’s plot when he’d been riding beside a king. He pulled his hand out from under hers and tried not to wince when the motion twisted the wound in his arm.
“Before you get snooty, Your Royal Highness, perhaps you should consider who the hell else I can use? Trust me on this one, suspicion of demon-calling is not likely to impress the police. I don’t even think it’s a crime.”

I expected ‘Blood Price’ to be quite outdated, since it was written way back in 1991. But surprisingly, this book has aged very well. The only hints that this isn’t set in modern day are the lack of cell-phone and Internet usage. But those technical omissions are barely noticeable.

I loved this book. The mystery is intriguing, the characters flawed and wonderful. There’s definitely heat between Vicki and Henry, more than I expected (judging from nay-saying reviews).
If you are a fan of the old-school Anita Blake books, this series is for you.
Tanya Huff is writing this series based on her own vampiric mythology – borrowing from the greats like Bram Stoker, Vlad the Impaler and European folklore. As opposed to more recent UF authors who are amalgamating their lexicons from more modern stories and pop-culture references. It’s refreshing, and just what I needed to pull me out of my vampire-genre slump.
I’ll definitely be reading the next 4 books.

5/5


6 comments:

  1. I must confess I'm reading book 5 at the moment! Haven't read the other books as this is the only book I could get hold of, but I'm liking it sofar, although I can tell that I'm missing some backstory when it comes to how characters react to each other.

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  2. Oh, wow - great review! This sounds like a great read. Now, getting hold of a copy might take some doing though...

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  3. Tanya's books may not have the smut of the more recent offerings but it surely has the most wonderful sexual tension threading through the entire series. There is a sixth book - a compilation of short stories that are certainly worth the read as well.
    Not to worry, they are all still in print and on the shelves!

    If you like the books I would also suggest looking up the TV series that was produced in 2007 titled "Blood Ties." Available on DVD and at iTunes. The first two episodes are the embodiment of the first book, also titled "Blood Price 1 & 2." It is a modernization yet true to the story. The rest of the episodes (22 in all) are based on the characters and other adventures they might have had.
    ;-)

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  4. If you enjoy the "Blood" series, you may also want to look into the "Smoke" trilogy, a spin-off starring minor "Blood" series character Tony.

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  5. Yeah, it's always amusing when a author claims for him or her self to be the founder of some genre. :)
    But it becomes especially funny in the case of Hamilton, because I bet there are bookstores out there in which Tanya's novels stand right beside hers. Nothing against the early Anita Blake novels though, I loved to read them just as much as I loved to read the Blood series, they just operate on a more, say, pleasure centered basis. :)

    I read Tanya's Blood books around the time they came out and loved how she puts a new modern spin on the classic movie monsters.
    Haven't read a book from her that I didn't like, so far.

    But tracking down the "origin" of Urban Fantasy, you might want to take a look at Pat A. Brisco's "The other people" from the 70's.
    A werewolf detective novel, that, while still closer to a classic pulp novel style, already shows some "Urban Fantasy" markings.

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  6. Aweaome review hon! def a series I need to check out =)))

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