I’ve said this before, ever and anon, but there are times when you just have to quote yourself: “Ethan Sullivan, Master Vampire of Cadogan House, is an asshole.”
And he is. He really, really is. From the first time we meet him, when he saves the life of our heroine Merit by gifting her with an unwanted unlife in the first of Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires book, Some Girls Bite, Ethan is exactly the kind of autocratic alpha male hero that simultaneously repels and attracts. A big part of this, for me anyway, comes from the fact that he is one of the mere handful of great and powerful vampire lords that exist in Neill’s alternate reality; his sense of entitlement and noblesse oblige really pisses off my revolutionary heart, and there are times when I can feel his tyrannical and seemingly omnipotent will beating me down. I feel like Dennis the Peasant from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Help! Help! I’m being repressed!”
Happily, Merit feels exactly the same way. And she has far greater cause for her concern, since she, as a novice vampire, has had her studious, somewhat solitary life utterly upended by her newly undead status, and is forced to bend the knee to her Master, or be left outcast and nationless. This series is Urban Fantasy, so naturally we get it all in first person, and one can’t help but love Merit just a little bit more with every page as she bucks the system, damns the man, and fights hard to get her way, despite the enormous odds against her.
Merit is awesome.
A quick backstory briefing: studying for a Ph.D. in literature, Merit (that’s her last name, by the way; we don’t learn her first till Book 3, and it’s not nearly as bad as she seems to think it is) is attacked by a vampire one night and is saved only by Ethan’s bite. As head of Cadogan House, one of only thirteen such vampire covens in all of the United States, he is permitted to turn an allotted number of new recruits each year, and although Merit is none too pleased by his decision to make her one of that number, he believes she should be honored by his sacrifice.
Yeah. They pretty much hate each other right from the off. You know where this is going, right?
Of course, once resigned to her fate and inducted into Ethan’s cabal of nightwalkers, Merit is no mere factotum among Cadogan House’s throng; she is our heroine, after all, and is therefore Super Special enough to be named Sentinel of all Ethan surveys. Basically, she’s his knight errant, his clan’s bodyguard; she’s Kevin Costner to his House’s Whitney, and despite a lack of true fighting skill and her avowed reluctance to join any club that would have her as a member, she is immediately thrust into the thick of internecine politicking and investigation, all while trying to learn how to handle a sword.
Luckily, she has help.
For one, she has the awesome, deserves-his-own-series warlock and warrior Catcher Bell as a sensei; snide yet goodhearted, he is sexy as hell and has a great T-shirt collection (sample slogan: “Public Enemy Number One”). Merit can also call upon the support of her best friend Mallory, who (what are the odds?) is soon discovered to be the possessor of wicked hot magical skills herself; she and Catcher become a thing, to the dismay of anyone who might have thought the latter a strong contender for our heroine’s affections.
But never mind, there are plenty of assorted non-Ethan men who have more than a passing interest in our Merit, and who assuredly keep things interesting; vampires, shapeshifters, what have you. More cool stuff about Merit: she is an accomplished dancer; she’s a pretty good detective; she is brave, resourceful and selfless. Also, she is the scion of one of Chicago’s elite society families, and while her parents are none too fond of a) vampires or b) Merit, her paternal grandfather is the kind of doting old gentleman that we’d all like to have in our lives…except that in this case, he also just happens to head up the Mayor’s supernatural liaison taskforce.
As our tale opens, vampires have only very recently come out to the world as more than legend, but it wasn’t the invention of Japanese blood substitute or somesuch that led to their big reveal. It was one mad, bad and dangerous to know vamp named Celina, ancient Master of a rival local House (Chicago has three), who basically wants to rule the world. The first book had Merit turned, then furious, and then slowly come to accept her fate as a Cadogan vassal. The second, Friday Night Bites, had her undercover in her parents’ privileged world, trying to solve Crime. The third, Twice Bitten, had her don the UF black leather proudly, be screwed over by Ethan in a painfully unnecessary (except to the plot) way, be solicited to join a shadowy society that acts as a kind of Internal Affairs for vampires, and also gave unto us the community of weres—having now joined vampires in their public exposure, the shifters have also declared a side in the long-foreshadowed human/supernatural war...
This is the backdrop against which the latest in the series, this week’s new release Hard Bitten, takes place, with Merit again thrust into the thick of vampire affairs, as well as some tricky affairs of the heart. Angry protesters are lobbying outside Cadogan House in scenes reminiscent of townsfolk with pitchforks; renegade vamps appear to be killing innocents, which has the powers that be none too pleased; there is a dark supernatural underbelly that must be infiltrated and brought to light; and the tangled situation with Ethan is nothing if not intense, as he tries desperately to win her back after making such a mull of everything in the last book. Meanwhile, we have Mallory developing her aforementioned wicked hot magical skills in peculiar, one might even say secretive, ways, Catcher being delightfully Catcher-y, Cadogan House’s roster of guards continuing to entertain with their shenanigans, and a big twist at the end that not a one of you will ever see coming. NOT. A. ONE.
In short, Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires are an absolutely vital addition to any avid Vamp Lit fan’s bookshelf; fascinating, funny, at times infuriating but always fabulous, it is a series that has only gotten better with each new release and stars a panoply of captivating characters, including a heroine that you will come to love ever more as you get to know her, and a hero to—quite literally, in Merit’s case—die for.
Even if he is an asshole.
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.