devil's kiss sarwat chaddaBilli doesn’t want to be a Knight Templar. Originally an official Church-sanctioned crusading order, they were officially disbanded and declared heretical in the thirteenth century. Now they exist in secret, a small band of deadly fighters based in London, charged with protecting humans from a standard slew of nasties: vampires, werewolves, and demons possessing dead bodies. Billi’s father, the current Grand Master, insisted that she become one of them, though several of the older Knights objected: Billi’s a girl and, historically, girls were not allowed in the Knights Templar (being a monastic order and all that). At fifteen, Billi is officially a member of the order, but would much rather go on dates and get her homework done on time than spend her nights fighting vampires. She might be slightly happier about it if her father ever showed the slightest pride or care for her well-being, but no such luck.

Angsty teenager + supernatural evils = melodrama.

Also, there is a general problem with many reluctant hero(in)es: we pick up books about, say, modern-day female Knights Templar because we want some badassitude. It’s an added bonus if the badass hero(ine) has a realistic, complex personality and therefore thinks about the reasons (s)he’s kicking ass, has some moral compunctions, and is generally three-dimensional. The bonus turns into a penalty if the thoughtfulness turns into whininess. Alas, the whininess:badassness ratio in Devil’s Kiss is rather high.

In a separate issue, I was left with an unanswered question: why are all the Knights except Billi (full name: Bilqis) named after Arthurian figures (Arthur, Percival, Gwaine, Bors, Balin, Pelleas, Kay, Elaine)? Granted, Devil’s Kiss is set in England, where Arthurian names are much more common, (I have a British cousin named Merlin), but to have all of them named thus begs an explanation. There are, apparently, some modern conspiracy theories connecting the Templars to Arthur¹ (and, of course, the entire book is based on the conspiracy theory that the Templars are still around), but neither these theories nor King Arthur are mentioned in the book, so that doesn’t go far in the way of explanation. Unlike Billi, the others weren’t born into the Templars; they came to it as adults. Did they change their names? Billi didn’t have to change her name when she officially joined. Was there some monumental coincidence? Where there are prophecies, as there are here, I have trouble accepting coincidences. So why the Arthurian names? Why does Billi pull a sword out of a stone? There could be some cool Arthurian connections, but the lack of explanation or exploration left my vastly unsatisfied. Perhaps Chadda will explain in one of the planned sequels, but I doubt my curiosity will be enough to get me to pick them up.

September 2009

¹ Wikipedia says, “Revisionist historians and conspiracy theorists claim that the Knights Templar stored secret knowledge, linking them to myriad other subjects: the Rosicrucians, the Cathars, the Priory of Sion, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the Hermetics, the Ebionites, the Rex Deus, lost relics or gospels of James the Just, Mary Magdalene or Jesus (such as a ‘Judas Testament’), King Solomon, Moses, and, ultimately, Hiram Abif and the mystery religion/mysteries of ancient Egypt.”

The Devil’s Kiss ~ Sarwat Chadda


Vampirates Book 4 Black HeartI picked up a copy of Vampirates: Black Heart and only realized when I was about to start reading that it’s not the first volume in a series, as I had thought, but the fourth. Oh well! I read it anyway. I’m really not sure I was missing much, though my synopsis might be a bit vague.

Twins Grace and Connor have found themselves in some strange circumstances since their father died, their mother having died – more or less – when they were infants. I gather there was a shipwreck, and they were rescued by pirates – Connor – and Vampirates – Grace. Each was immediately attracted to the lives of their rescuers, Connor joining a pirate crew and Grace befriending the Vampirates. At the beginning of this volume, they’ve been briefly reunited and are in position to learn about their mother and her history. Also to get embroiled in internal Vampirate politics and a possible clash building between the mortal Pirates and the Vampirates and deal with first romance, them being fourteen and this being a vampire book.

I was not expecting either great writing or a great plot. I was rather hoping for a trashily fun book, with swashbuckling.

I am sad to report that there is decidedly little swashbuckling.

There are, however, rather a lot of exclamation points, often at rather inappropriate times. For instance, a character who is supposed to “come across as an old curmudgeon”¹ should not use exclamation points. Ever, really, much less often. On a similar vein is, “‘No!’ Cheng Li said very calmly.”² On cannot, by definition, exclaim calmly.

The pirates are overly civilized, the good Vampirates are boring, and the evil Vampirates are unconvincing in their evil. The strange lapses of sense³ could be somewhat forgiven by fun and swashbuckling, but alas, both are lacking.

¹p. 412
²p. 491
³Why is a character who’s supposed to be kept out of combat being trained for a deadly combat mission? What is up with the “pregnancy spell”? How is the idiot character better at negotiation than the intelligent captain?

Vampirates: Black Heart

PeepsYes, it is as trashy as it looks.

Vampirism – though you’ll rarely find the v-word in the book – has nothing to do with magic. It’s a parasite. Parasite-positives (peeps) are super-strong (in effect), have excellent night vision, an aversion to carbs, and cravings for protein – the meatier and bloodier, the better. In most peeps, this manifests as cannibalism. In the lucky one in a hundred who are carriers, they just really like the Atkins diet. And are really horny. All the time. And the parasite is viable in just about all bodily fluids, including saliva, and is small enough to slip through latex condoms. So the responsible carriers, like our narrator, must be completely celibate with anyone who isn’t also a carrier. And at 19, Cal’s the youngest carrier by a hundred years or so. So he’s totally celibate.

I call foul on a book narrated by a nineteen year old male who’s horny all the time, does not have a moral stance against premarital sex, and is celibate by necessity, in which masturbation is not mentioned once.

Anyway, Cal infected several woman between being infected himself and when the Night Watch, which deals with peep containment, found him, explained why he suddenly had night vision and such, and trained him as a hunter. And sent him off to track down his now-cannibalistic exes and send them to the containment facility in Montana. So far, so good. Except when he tries to track down the mysterious woman who infected him, things start to get a bit weird – a possible new strain, a possible conspiracy in the Night Watch, possible new infection vector, strange things coming up from deep under New York. Now Cal doesn’t just need to track down the woman who infected him, he also needs to figure out what’s going on and save the world!

It’s really trashy.

That said, it’s also pretty fun. Vampirism-as-STD is pretty hokey, but he uses it to come up with some pretty nifty explanations for various parts of the vampire mythos, like cruciphobia and the mirrors thing. Fighting vampires with Elvis memorabilia, a boombox of Ashlee Simpson, and a Garth Brooks tee-shirt is nicely campy, as, really, vampire things should be. There are chapters on real-world parasitology, which are interesting and short enough to not get boring or detract from the narrative flow. (Though I call foul there, too: a teenage boy explaining the evolution of human head lice and body lice without mentioning human pubic lice? Especially since the evolution of human pubic lice is even more interesting?)

Do not pick up Peeps expecting anything thought-provoking or revelatory. Pick it up if you want some fun trash.

Peeps ~ Scott Westerfield ~ westerblog
From Unshelved, my favorite description of Peeps