Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, MaryJanice Davidson, Angela Knight and Vickie Taylor
2005, Vampire Fiction
Jove, $7.99, 297 pages, Amazon ASIN 051513970X

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Varies

It took me a while to get into vampire romances. I can't even watch when there's blood on TV; the idea of an undead person sucking blood was not especially sexy to me. But since Undead and Unwed came out, I've reconsidered (read: Sinclair! Ooooh my!) This anthology, although a mixed success, continues the evolution of vampires from Gary Oldman in heavy make-up to sexy, noble, even vulnerable immortals who happen to like the taste of hemoglobin.

Vampire Fiction
The first story, The Girl Who Was Infatuated with Death, is part of Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series. I have never read these books, and if you think this disqualifies me to judge this story... well, just skip the next two sentences. It begins with some of the most unintentionally hilarious writing I have seen in a while; it played in my mind like an episode of Dragnet, except with a female Joe Friday. Anita really is high on herself, isn't she? Anyway, the ostensible plot is that a grieving mother comes to Anita for help in tracking down her teenaged daughter, who is trying to become a vampire because she's about to lose her leg to cancer. Anita reluctantly agrees to try, since if the girl succeeds, Anita would have to stake the vampire who converted her: it's illegal to make an underage vampire. She turns to Jean-Claude for help, and although Anita wants to resist him, it's pretty much impossible - he is one sexy dead guy. That's pretty much the story, her conversation with the desperate mother, then her encounter with Jean-Claude. The title of the book is more appropriate to this story than its own title: Bite. This is a bite, a little nibble, out of the Anita Blake saga. It just ends, with no resolution to anything, and felt like an excerpt from an actual, longer, book. I can't say whether fans will appreciate it more, but I wasn't that impressed. (Sensuality: Warm) Grade: C

Vampire Fiction
Next was another quick chapter in a series, One Word Answer by Charlaine Harris. Sookie Stackhouse is doing her yard work at midnight (in Louisiana - didn't the bugs just eat her alive?) when a limo pulls up and out step a shriveled vampire and an officious non-human. The non-human, Mr. Cataliades, informs Sookie that her cousin Hadley has died and left Sookie everything. Wondering why it took so many sort-of people to come all the way up from New Orleans to tell her, Sookie starts asking questions, with loyal friends Bill and Bubba at her side. Needless to say, there's more to the visitors' mission than just reading Sookie the will. As an episode in Sookie's life, it's decent, but as a "story of dark seduction" (as the cover promises) it's lame. The closest it gets to anything romantic or sexy is to tell us that Bill and Sookie are just friends now - so, there's not even any hinted-at, potential seduction. Maybe this was the wrong anthology for this story. (Sensuality: N/A) Grade: C

Vampire Romance
MaryJanice Davidson continues the trend with Biting in Plain Sight: yes, it includes Betsy Taylor, Queen of the Vampires, but no, it's not in first person. Sophie Trudeau is a veterinarian in a remote Minnesota town. She never hesitates to make house calls for sick cats in the middle of the night, although she doesn't keep daytime office hours at all, and she never seems to get any older. The townspeople know she's different, but she's so nice and such a good vet, no one really asks questions. Liam Thompson knows what she is, though; he's been in love with her for twenty years, and never had the nerve to talk to her except over a sick pet. One night he finally gathers up his courage and invites her in for a drink (orange juice, if you were wondering) and on the news they hear about a rash of suicides somewhere else in Minnesota. Sophie figures out it's a rogue vampire causing trouble and sets off for St. Paul to consult with the Queen, with Liam refusing to let her go alone. It's interesting to see Betsy and Sinclair from a different point of view, but they suffer from it, in a way. It's almost like the author is telling readers how she wants us to see them, how we should see them. Also, they play a very minimal role in the story; cutting them out would have allowed more focus on Sophie and Liam and not detracted from the story, except to spare us Betsy's very rude comments on Sophie's shoes. Still, Davidson is funny, and Sophie's story of unexpected love, and Liam's steadfast devotion, is very sweet. (Sensuality: Warm) Grade: B

Fantasy Romance
Galahad by Angela Knight is another Mageverse tale (like Seduction's Gift, in Hot Blooded). The main idea behind this parallel universe is that King Arthur and his knights are really vampires dedicated to saving humanity, with the help of a magical race of female consorts, called Majae, who have The Gift. The neat thing about The Gift is that it's activated by repeated, vigorous sex with a vampire. Caroline Lang's Gift is newly activated, although the vampire who turned her on promptly ditched her; his job was just to activate her magic, and she's a little peeved at him for not telling her this. Caroline begins having intense visions of human sacrifices by an evil vampire cult bent on destroying the good vampires, and she sees herself fighting them off with a gorgeous vampire swordsman who turns out to be Sir Galahad. Caroline is very accomplished with magic, for having only been a Maja a short time, but the evil vampires are very, very evil, and she and Galahad are the only two good guys available to fight them. For those who donšt like...ahem... earthy language, consider yourself warned: four letter words abound, including several that start with "c" (you know what I mean). This story is very raw, both in the violence and evil portrayed and in the sexual scenes. As a romance, the ending kind of cheats to get two near-strangers their happily ever after. Still, it's got "dark seduction" in spades. (Sensuality: Burning) Grade: B-

Vampire Romance
Finally, Blood Lust by Vickie Taylor is a well-crafted story of life, death, power, love, revenge, and humanitarianism. Daniel Hart is a microbiologist who's just perfected a wholly synthetic form of blood. Instead of being pleased and excited about the pharmacological possibilities, his employer beats him senseless, destroys his lab, steals all his research, and makes off with his girlfriend. Yeah, Daniel's ticked off. He discovers Garth, his evil ex-employer, is really a vampire, and after some research into the species, decides that the best way to get revenge is to become a vampire himself. He'll take out Garth, then kill both himself and his poor girlfriend, who was made vampire by the scum-sucking Garth. To become a vampire, he needs a vampire to kill him, so Daniel finds Deadre, who is unmoved by his proposal. Being a vampire pretty much stinks, in her opinion. The High Matron of the city has imposed strict rationing on all vampires, and they may not drink blood unless they have permission. Deadre's starving for just a drop, and she thinks Daniel doesn't know what he's asking for. But soon enough circumstances lead to the inevitable, although Daniel didn't realize how much he would need Deadre after he's undead. This story really worked for me. There was a lot of plot packed into it, but it moves along at a quick pace. Unlike the other stories, it doesn't have a lot of explaining to do about continuing characters and plots and the rules of vamp-dom. It's well-written, tightly plotted, and gives its vampire protagonists real depth. (Sensuality: Hot) Grade: B+

Fans of Anita Blake and Sookie Stackhouse will probably enjoy the first two stories, but there's not enough there for people who aren't already immersed in those worlds. Biting in Plain Sight and Galahad can stand on their own, but benefit from prior knowledge. Blood Lust, though, is the real gem, and I definitely recommend it to any and all fans of sexy vampires.

-- Diana Ketterer

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