Red-headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells
Published by Orbit
328 pages (plus extras)
Review by Mark Yon
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how much fun it could be being a vampire. Jaye Wells’s debut novel emphasizes a tale with all the ‘advantages’ of being a vampire and with fewer aspects of the downside. As such it’s an enjoyable read, clearly emphasizing the entertainment without thinking too deeply about the angst side of things.
The plot’s pretty typical. Sabina Kane, female vampire assassin, is given impossible-seeming job by important people, namely to infiltrate the opposition and find out their plans for world domination and control. The spin here is that our sassy heroine is a half-blood. Part vampire, part mage (not a typical combination), at the beginning of the novel her vampire background is initially prevalent, Sabina having seemingly been abandoned by her mage-side of the family.
What she uncovers is that both sides are involved in shenanigans which threaten the fragile truce between the two races. And being of two races, she finds herself the inconvenient link between the two.
I found it to be a fast-paced, amusing book, but with some niggling little flaws that almost (but not quite) derailed it for me. Sometimes the speed of the prose tries, but doesn’t always, cover up the inconsistencies.
Sabina is a vamp that doesn’t follow the typical vampire rulebook. This vampire has warmth and bodily functions, for one, eats pizza and likes extra garlic on her garlic bread, has emotions and can have sexual relationships and give birth. Her vampyrric side gives her life longevity, extra strength, faster reflexes and greater healing abilities. This seems to make the life of a vampire great, though admittedly there are complications here.
Secondly, there is a major concept here that just doesn’t work for me, namely that all vampires are red-heads (though, luckily, not all redheads are vampires). The strawberry blondes are the youngest, the mahogany-coloured the oldest, thanks to Cain, whom God had marked with red hair after the death of Abel. Cain’s future affair with Lilith led to a blood-thirst and immortality from Lilith and the hirsute carrot-top from Cain. A nice idea, but it staggered my suspension of disbelief a tad. Thoughts of Count Dracula as a redhead just didn’t work for me.
Nevertheless, if you can live with those niggles, then there is a prevailing sense of humour that many will like. For me, this sometimes worked and sometimes felt as if it needed reining in a little. In places it worked well with a good use of minor characters. The use of a comedy stooge, an inconveniently placed demon called Giguhl (try saying that one out loud, to get its full effect) whose predicament provided some – let’s say ‘amusement’ rather than the g-word, shall we? – for me, but many of the jokes just seemed a little too obvious or were just a little too overplayed for me. If the ideas of forked male genitalia and faery porn rings sound amusing to you, you might enjoy this one.
In summary, this is not a bad debut novel. I get the impression the author had a lot of fun writing it. It reads fairly smoothly. It’s not deep, nor particularly significant, but then it doesn’t try to be. Unlike some, it’s not explicit vampire porn (though there are insinuations to sex), nor is it pretentiously ponderous either.
But as a page-turner, it’s pretty good, and if you are a reader who likes their reading fun and have an ability to live with the inconsistencies and not think too deeply about what’s going on, it may be what many an urban fantasy reader would like. Before they pick up the next one.
Mark Yon, April 2009.