HERE BE SPOILERS FOR ALL CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES NOVELS, AND ESPECIALLY FOR THE AWESOME MERIT’S LAST OUTING, HARD BITTEN (NAL, MAY, 2011).
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. (AND WILL BE AGAIN.)
I feel really, really strongly about spoilers. In fact, I hate them with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. (And yes, I’ve mentioned this before.) While I do acknowledge there are times when their siren call is almost irresistible, promising a kind of smug foreknowledge, and even that they might render the often long wait for their subject less arduous, I always find myself regretting it whenever I succumb to their breathless allure. I wish I hadn’t known in advance that Buffy and Spike were going to hook up. That Sirius was going to die. That Soylent Green was people.
Which is why I am rambling, rambling here, all sound and fury signifying nothing (well, except for the obvious, I guess), until I feel I have used up approximately enough words to ensure that when this post shows up on the H&H homepage, and you, my theoretical reader, check out the teaser-style opening that accompanies all such, you will not be inadvertently spoiled for what might well be the twistiest ending1 since we realized that Bruce Willis had been dead the whole time.—And, no, giving away the ending of The Sixth Sense doesn’t constitute a spoiler. That movie’s over a decade old!
You know what’s not so old? Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series. The first installment, Some Girls Bite, only hit bookshelves in 2009, after all. The fourth, and latest, was Hard Bitten, which came out in May—and it is regarding that particular tome that I find myself so protective of your spoiler-status, if perchance you have yet to sample it’s unfathomable coolness, ahead of the upcoming Drink Deep, which comes out November 1, 2011.
Because…and, seriously, I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but PLEASE don’t click through if you think you might read this series and prefer to be surprised by what occurs…
***************Major Spoilers Below****************
Ethan died. Ethan DIED, man! A stake through the heart and then POOF. No more Master Vampire of Cadogan House. No more dickish alpha male bravado and a heady dose of written-word sex appeal, honed admirably across the course of four novels. Just a soul-sick Merit, his chosen champion and—if he had his way—consort. A phalanx of devoted subjects, bereft without their charismatic leader, accept no substitutes. Not to mention a battle royale brewing between assorted vampire interests; a non-supernatural population on the brink of panic; a city left reeling after the revelation that their popular Mayor was a bona fide crazy person; and a worryingly powerful witch newly come into her power who seems to be the harbinger of a major shakeup in the magical world.
The thing is, though…can Ethan really be dead? I mean… REALLY? Dude is the hero of the series. Sure, Merit—our heroine and first person narrator, don’t you know—has had many another suitor in her unlife, and is assuredly not going to be short of a comforting (broad, muscled and manly) shoulder on which to cry. And there can be no denying that it would be a very, VERY bold choice for Chloe Neill to make, to leave Ethan all ashes to ashes and dust to dusty, opening up the field for another to woo our girl; kind of like when Topher Grace left That 70’s Show and instead of sensibly ending the series at that point they tried to replace him in both Donna’s and our hearts with that, you know, other guy. (I’m not saying it would necessarily be a good choice; just a bold one.)
Also, it’s somewhat difficult to imagine just how Ethan might be brought back to life here, following this second, apparently much more permanent death. It’s one thing to die as a human in an Urban Fantasy setting: you could very well find yourself awakening to discover that you have been “cured,” as well as granted virtual immortality by an ancient dark kiss. (Plus you’ve also developed an affinity for black leather and hot, intractable men who annoy you.) It’s quite another to be returned to corporeal existence after having been reduced to “a pile of ash on the floor.”
Then again, it’s not without precedent. After being staked in the first season of Buffy, Darla came back to life, conjured with evil design in Angel’s first season finale. On film, Dracula is famous for turning not to dust but smoke, and re-forming just in time for a sequel-spruiking epilogue. And vampires in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld are constantly being reduced to dust and then getting reconstituted by the merest drop of blood. (They’re like Cup-a-Soup. But the really gross kind. No, they’re just like Cup-a-Soup.)
And let’s face it: for all that there is a lot that is delightfully new about Neill’s vampires, and about our representative reluctant-vampire narrator in particular, there is also a lot in this series that is perfectly in keeping with the subgenre as it has evolved since its inception, way back with Tanya Huff’s Blood Books, and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake. (Although I would argue that the sub-subgenre of First-Person Vamp Lit into which this series falls—featuring a snarkily single creature of the night, beset by her friends and her thirst for blood—really began with MaryJanice Davidson’s Queen Betsy back in 2004. Discuss!)
So, do I think Ethan is dead for realz? No. Probably not. And for all that he has often pissed me off mightily in his tenure as Merit’s autocratic “Leige,” I will be ever so glad should that prove to be so. True, I have often called him an “asshole,” and I stand by that position, but he’s Merit’s asshole, he’s our asshole, and I want him back. BAD. (Still, how impressive would it be if he was just, like, gone? Like, Mandy-Hampton-in-the-first-season-of-The-West-Wing-never-to-be-heard-from-again gone? I’d be saddened, but awestruck, by Chloe Neill’s anti-fanservice insanity.)
How will he come back? Magic? Time-travel? Oooh, what about some kind of alternate-reality Ethan? A twin? A clone? No, too sci-fi. Demonic intervention, maybe? Or…could he be a ghost? So many possibilities! Though, magic really is the most likely, isn’t it? Do you think it will be magic?
Luckily, I am about to find out for myself. But before I crack open my advance copy (stay tuned for a Fresh Meat on Drink Deep, to appear in these pages any day now), I felt like I just had to share my anticipation, my sheer, unadulterated wild imaginings, all untrammeled by anything even resembling a spoiler. I’ve seen the front cover. That’s it. So all I really know is that Merit’s wearing her black leather (again) and is carrying her sword (again)... No real surprises there. I haven’t even read the blurb, or the two sample chapters up at Neill’s website. (“Sample chapters?" I think she means “torture chapters.”)
So, here I go...huh. Wow. Oh my! What an amazing twist! I mean, who would ever have thought that it was all just a dream? That he was really a chick? That they’ve all just been inside the Matrix?
Oops. Sorry! I forgot to warn you about the spoilers.
1 Okay, equal twistiest ending, as anyone who has read Mira Grant’s kickass Feed (Newsflesh, Book 1) could attest.
Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.