Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Review: Red-Headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells

Red-Headed Stepchild (US - Canada - UK)
by Jaye Wells (Website - Blog - MySpace - Facebook - Twitter - Goodreads)
Publisher: Orbit (March 31, 2009)
Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher's Blurb:
In a world where being of mixed-blood is a major liability, Sabina Kane has the only profession fit for an outcast: assassin. But, her latest mission threatens the fragile peace between the vampire and mage races and Sabina must scramble to figure out which side she's on. She's never brought her work home with her---until now.

This time, it's personal.

Red-Headed Stepchild
is the story of Sabina Kane, half vampire and half mage, who is assigned to infiltrate a rival group of supernatural creatures led by a "man" named Clovis, who is half vampire and half demon (he's not really a man in the human sense, hence the quotation marks). The book is urban fantasy set in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

I found it to be a quick read that held my interest. However, throughout the book I felt detached from Sabina, even though her outcast status as a half-breed initially made her sympathetic. The events of the story were described, but I couldn't always tell how they were affecting Sabina emotionally, so it was hard to empathize with her. At other points the book seemed to be telling me what she was feeling instead of showing me. For instance, there's a fun demon character named Giguhl whose antics annoy Sabina no end. I never got the idea that she was fond of him. But later we're told she is, although it wasn't backed up by anything shown previously. The same kind of emotional telling instead of showing happened a few more times with other characters. Telling isn't as effective as showing, and it kept me from connecting emotionally with Sabina and the others. Even when a certain friendly character died I didn't find that I cared.

The plot itself kept me guessing. Sabina can't trust anyone, so there was a constant sense that the story could go anywhere. However, there were a few times when I wanted to yell at Sabina to pay attention to clues she was choosing to disregard. For instance, if a friend disappears under mysterious circumstances and there are hints that another acquaintance might be involved, it's probably a good idea to investigate. Whenever Sabina ignored a clue or potential problem, which happened too many times, she seemed to be acting illogically, which detracted from the read.

The world of the story is nicely fleshed out, particularly the origin myth. In this world the supernatural races are the children of Lilith and worship her as their goddess. Vampires are descended from Lilith and Cain. The vampires' "mark of Cain," which they all inherited from their forefather, is their red hair. The mythology is logical and believable. I particularly liked the significance of applewood, although I wasn't clear on why it seemed to be toxic only to vampires, not to Lilith's other supernatural descendants.

Before the end Sabina has to make an important decision about her loyalty. Of course, she needs something big to propel her into making her final decision. Unfortunately, the "something" that was chosen didn't seem compelling enough. I felt there were much better, more logical reasons for her to make the decision she did.

Once her decision was made, then the story progressed to the climax -- except that the climax was anticlimactic, particularly in respect to a certain enemy who had to be dealt with. What Sabina chose to do seemed to be dictated by the needs of future stories, not by Sabina's own emotional needs. It wasn't organic, so it wasn't completely satisfying.

Overall, I have to say I found Red-Headed Stepchild to be a flawed book, but it also had its good points. It provided a light read and an interesting take on the vampire mythos.


Tia Nevitt said...

Thanks for coming through while I was slacking off this week, Raven!

Raven said...

My pleasure! It wouldn't have happened without two long coast-to-coast flights. :)