Rating: 3.5 stars
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Kelas was a Hound, a monster created the night werewolves attacked his village, slaughtering his father, his family, and even his god. Kelas alone was spared — if one could call it being spared — given the bite and turned into that same monster, cursed to obey his vampire master. He was forced to slaughter other villages and other families, aiding in the destruction of his people and his kingdom. It was a living nightmare, bound by the blood bond Zoja chained him with, obeying her every command, and dying a little inside each time he did.
Somehow, through a combination of luck and courage, Kelas managed to fight his way to freedom, reclaiming his name, his identity, and his soul. The vampire Zoja, unfortunately, didn’t take the loss of her favorite pet with good grace and sent her hunters out to reclaim him. Against four or five he might have won, but seven? Eight? If it weren’t for the sudden arrival of the dark-skinned stranger, Kelas might have found himself chained as a hound once again and dragged back to his master, but Roshan’s own distaste for vampires, and a general dislike of bullies, caused him to come to the werewolf’s aid. Kelas now owes a life debt to, of all things, a vampire! He will do his duty to serve by Roshan’s side until he is able to save his life and free himself from any and all obligations to the most unusual vampire he’s ever met.
Between bounty hunters, murderers, chimeras, and shopping, Kelas is thrown into a world he is unprepared for. Roshan and his traveling companions — the healer Emmaline, the knife-wielding shopaholic Talia, and the archer Suyin — are nothing he was prepared for. They refuse to treat him like the beast he was, they buy him clothes and a a mount and treat him as an equal. With their caring and friendship, Kelas begins to believe he might be able to throw off the past and fully embrace his new future.
Unfortunately, no matter where they go, vampires seem to follow. It’s not long before politics and the threat of war bring Kelas and Roshan face to face with Zoja in a battle for so much more than a lost pet. Their failure could cost the freedom of an entire country.
Undaunted is a fun, quick, light read with hints at a greater world beyond what the story gives us. The characters are a bit simple and undeveloped, and the group of adventurers is a bit generic, but there are some unique and interesting ideas in this book — especially where vampires and werewolves are concerned — that make it stand out from the (forgive the pun) pack.
Vampires, in this world, have very little no resemblance to Stoker’s creation. While they are stronger at night, they’re not cursed to a life of darkness. They drink blood and use it to fuel their powers, but they seem more power-hungry than blood-thirsty. For Roshan, blood is more than just food, it’s a buzz and the sense of life and joy and magic. He can hypnotize and bind others to him with the blood bond, but he relies more on the inhuman strength and speed his vampire nature gives him. While werewolves do change into furry monsters, they aren’t insensate animals or crazy animal-men. They’re just as sane as any human, and Kelas is still Kelas even in his other form. He’s stronger and faster while he’s human, but not ridiculously so, and while he does monstrous things, he does them while under the command of a monstrous vampire, not because his werewolf nature takes over.
Neither the vampires nor the werewolves were fully developed due in large part, I think, to the rapid-fire nature of the plot. The story moved quickly — at times too quickly — from one point to the other which, while it made for an easy and engaging read, left me a little flat on the characters. The side characters of Roshan’s fellow adventurers were almost impossible to tell apart from their basic tropes: kind healer, manic-pixie rogue, taciturn archer. The other characters brought in, Roshan’s sire and vampire family and even Zoja herself, were lacking in any depth or personality.
I truly dislike a villain who is evil with a capital E just for the sake of the story. It devalues the heroes who must go up against them when the bad guy is a stereotype. A good villain makes for a good hero; a bland one makes for a bland hero. Kelas has more personality and depth when he’s dealing with his own issues with Roshan being a vampire than he does in the last third of the book when he’s fighting against Zoja. It’s then he devolves into: “Me werewolf hero, kill things” and stops being a person. The story makes it clear Zoja has to die in order for the world to be saved, but I felt no real urgency or emotional weight during those final scenes. The first half of the book was much better than the last half and was a more engaging story.
There’s one other issue I had, however, and that is regarding a conversation about Zoja. Don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler. One character, a powerful female vampire who is Roshan’s sire’s sire, comments that Zoja is powerful despite being female. This comment came out of nowhere. It was the first time in the book anyone had had an issue with anything female being more respected or powerful or outranking anything or anyone male that it actually made me pause. Roshan’s own vampire sire is female; her sire is female. Neither of them have issue with how powerful they are, or that Roshan — a male vampire — is subservient to them. In a world where two men loving each other, marrying each other, isn’t an issue, why does Zoja, a woman, being powerful count as an anomaly? It’s a small thing, but it seemed so out of place that it took me out of the story.
That isn’t to say this is a bad book. It’s not. It’s well written, easy to read, and the first half is a fun, quick read. But the lack of a good villain and a second half where there’s so much more telling than showing made me finish the book with a shrug. If you like fantasy, angst and emotions, and heroes who need a hug, you should consider giving this book a try. Kelas is a well thought out character, and Roshan has a few moments of his own, but the story lets them down in the end.