Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4.75 stars
Narrator: Andrew McFerrin
Length: 7 hours, 36 minutes
Ante died over a century ago. A soldier in some forgotten war in Croatia, he was left for dead on the battlefield until a vampire found him and offered him the chance to live. How could he refuse? Today, Ante lives in Las Vegas stealing cash and company from drunken gamblers, taking only enough blood or money to live, nothing more. He’s not interested in being one of the powerful vampires — the Shadows — who rule the city. He just wants to be left alone. Being left alone, however, comes with a price. Every now and then Ante is asked to do a favor, find someone missing, kill someone troublesome. After all, having no loyalty to his fellow vampires means he can kill them with impunity and indifference. It’s not a much of a life, but… it is a life.
Ante’s ennui is broken on the night he sees a young man talking to a woman at the slots. There’s nothing unusual about that; this is Las Vegas, after all. However, the fact that she handed over her money with a smile and walked away is far from what one would call normal. Person after person is charmed, giving away money, drinks, food, all for a smile and a flirtatious look. Ante has to know more, and soon finds himself face to face with the lovely, charming, and quixotic Peter Gehrardi. It doesn’t take either man to see feel the connection between them and they’re soon tumbling into bed, each reaching across a lonely void to a kindred spirit. Peter’s blood tastes like nothing Ante has ever had before, and for Peter… well, he’s certainly never met a vampire before!
One night is all it was supposed to be. Ante left, though not easily, and returned to his solitary life, only to be called to the Shadow’s casino to speak with one of his handlers, a female vampire named Dorothy. He’s told that the Shadows would very much like him to find a supernatural guest who has recently arrived in Las Vegas and encourage him to come and join them. This elf (Ante hadn’t know there were such things as elves!) is supposed to be able to charm people, a gift the Shadows would certainly like to make use of. The very thought of Peter in their hands is enough to send a chill down Ante’s back, and he leaves, desperate to find Peter and convince him to leave.
Peter, though, is stubborn. Also, he hadn’t known he was an elf! There’s a whole new world Peter hadn’t known existed and he’s full of confusion and questions. When the Shadow’s goons come to try to force the matter, Peter and Ante must make a decision. For Peter, Ante may be willing to sacrifice everything. His home, his progeny, his life as he knows it, because Peter has made Ante feel something he hasn’t felt in years. Peter makes him feel alive.
I have mixed feelings on this story. First, it’s a good vampire story. Second, it’s a creative paranormal story. I liked Ante and I was easily able to believe he was both an ancient vampire and a powerful one. But there were some pacing issues and a few plot issues, and then there’s Peter.
First, the good. By which I mean Ante. Ante is the narrator of this story and we see the events unfold through his point of view. He’s reserved, stand-offish, and highly moral with a dry sense of humor and a large dash of fatalism; he’s very much a “go with the flow” kind of vampire. When meeting a demoness and her hellhounds, he’s interested but not scared. When meeting a werewolf or a djinn, he’s just as indifferent to their existence. It’s not that he doesn’t care, it’s just that Peter and Peter’s life are more important to him. Making use of a demonesses power is what he cares about, not her life story. While it makes for a less developed world book-wise, it makes for a more believable narrative story-wise. Ante doesn’t care that I want to know why a djinn lives in California. He wants to know if she’ll help him protect Peter from the vampires.
Ante has been for much, if not all, of his life in Las Vegas firm in renouncing any and all ties. Lee, the boy he turned because he was lonely, was his first and perhaps only progeny, but Ante has cast him aside. Dorothy, who keeps inviting him to join the Shadows and offers a bit of friendship in her own way, is just as quickly shut out. Ante has no desire to connect to anyone or to be part of any organization. Until Peter. Like himself, Peter is alone. Unlike himself, Peter is reaching out for company and willing to open his heart. At first it may just have been the kick Peter’s blood gave him and the wonderful sex they shared, but the longer he’s in Peter’s company, the more Ante is required to feel, the more he is urged to renounce his self-imposed exile and rejoin the not-so-human race.
Peter makes him feel. To feel for the people of sanctuary, the other misfits and outcasts who want nothing of power struggles, who only want to be good, do good, and seek happiness. Their simple and freely-given friendship appeal to his moral code in a way Lee and his hench vampires didn’t, couldn’t. More importantly, Peter likes them and they are willing to help Ante fight in order to protect his elven lover.
Peter is the weak point of this relationship. It’s not that he’s badly written. In fact, he comes across just as developed as Ante and remains true to his character throughout the book. It’s just that love at first sight is a hard story to write. Ante falling for a pretty young thing I can get behind. Peter, caught by the novelty of first seducing and then being on the run with a vampire, I get. But the two of them just don’t — in my opinion — have much chemistry beyond the physical. It was too easy and too pat and I just got the impression that Ante was more in love with Peter’s blood and his innocence than Peter as a person.
The rest of the story, though, is entertaining, even with the uneven pacing. Peter and Ante meet relatively quickly in the first third of the book, but then it’s a lot of talk and a lot of exposition until the final third where everything felt very rushed. The climactic confrontation between Lee and Ante felt very matter of fact and the resolution with the vampires was sort of brushed off into a corner. Some of this can be excused as this is all purely from Ante’s viewpoint, with his opinions being the only ones we’re given and his version of the story the one we’re being told. Even accepting that it just felt very off-hand to me, leaving me with an unsatisfying ending.
Andrew McFerrin narrated this book and did a wonderful job. Ante’s accent sounded real to me and he managed to get across both his indulgence and amusement as well as his anger. He portrayed all of the characters well and told the story with good timing. He has a great voice for audio books and I hope to hear more of his work in the future.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.