A pale face, a gleaming white cowboy hat, and the painful bite of teeth in his neck are all it takes to destroy Kingston’s life. One moment, he’s a vampire hunter, one of only two left in the city of Phoenix protecting humanity against the growing evil; the next, he’s a vampire seconds away from tearing out the throat of his friend, partner, and one-time student, Martin. Now, Kingston is no longer human. He’s damned, his soul lost, cursed to be what he hates.
Caleb is a new kind of vampire bringing in an old form of evil. Traditionally, vampires take those who won’t be missed, the outcast, the loner, the lost and forgotten, bringing them into a new family, but Caleb has different ideas. He’s turning the rich, the powerful, the famous, and the white. He sees vampires as the superior race, white vampires as pure, and himself as their king. Phoenix, Arizona is the first city in his rise to the top. Now, to bring down the man who stole his life away from him, Kingston will have to turn to those very vampires he used to hunt for help. Those Caleb looks down upon have one choice if they want to see the sun rise on Caleb, and that’s to join together. Kingston will have to teach this new army how to fight, even as Martin pushes himself down a different path, one of magic and healing, to reach for a strength he didn’t know he had if he’s to save Kingston from Caleb’s corruption.
Kingston could only watch when, as a child, a vampire tore out his brother’s throat in front of him. Ever since then, he’s lived for one thing and one thing only: killing vampires. As a human, Kingston knew he didn’t have a fair chance against something faster, stronger, and impervious to pain, so … he cheats. He and Martin never play fair, never settle it man to man; instead, it’s two to one, hitting from behind, stabbing in the back, and doing what it takes to get the bloodsuckers dead. But, now that he’s one of those same blood-drinking abominations he’s learning that they do feel pain. Yes they’re fast, yes they’re strong, but that doesn’t mean they’re violent, and not all of them are ruthless killers.
Martin, too, lost his family, but it was so long ago, he doesn’t really have much of a memory of them. He doesn’t hate the way Kingston does. When Kingston is turned, it’s not just him whose life is turned upside down; Martin discovers that those gut feelings, those hunches and vague feelings, are the stirrings of his magic. With the help of the water witch, Talia, Martin starts learning to use his own powers in the hopes that he can somehow help in the war against Caleb. And maybe — though it’s only a silly legend — find a way to turn Kingston human again?
The crisis of self that Kingston is going through gives Martin and Kingston time to talk about something other than work (which is killing vampires), even as they prepare to go to war killing, um, vampires. Even so, it’s a chance for Martin to tell Kingston how he feels about him, but when he tries, Kingston brushes him off. He says he can’t trust himself around Martin, even though Martin has absolutely no fear that Kingston would ever hurt him, even as Kingston breaks his heart. Kingston knows how Martin feels but, he’s scared that what he feels isn’t just lust or hunger. Maybe it’s love? But he’s not ready for that. He’s not ready to face that.
This is a story far more about the journey than the destination. There’s a lot of world building tossed out, hints of other races, of different types of vampires based on how they were made, different witches, elves, and mermaids, but the focus is always fairly tight on Kingston and Martin dancing around one another. It’s brain vs. brawn — and Kingston, though smart and clever and cunning, isn’t always the brightest where Martin is concerned. It’s an open heart coming up against one that’s walled up tighter than a vault. Martin is able to adapt his thinking to see the human behind the monster, while Kingston can only see the monster first. It’s hard to see the man behind the fangs when so much harm and so much evil can be placed at the feet of the vampires.
The world building is good and goes against so many tropes. Yes, there’s an ancient vampire, but the ancient vampire isn’t all-knowing. That’s a lot of time to remember, a lot of deaths to mourn, a lot of loves lost and lives ended, and, as one vampire points out, humans aren’t meant to be immortal. Our minds aren’t adapted to it. Likewise, not every vampire is a killing machine, no matter how old they are or how fast. It takes skill to be a fighter, and not everyone is or wants to be.
I enjoyed this book and the author’s take on vampires. The dialogue was sharp and witty, the pacing was quick, and the plot was so tightly focused on the characters that I didn’t get a look at the Big Evil’s plans. This meant that surprises came as surprises, and the ending was able to be more personal to Kingston and Martin. It didn’t matter what happened elsewhere; it mattered what happened to them, how they felt about one themselves and each other, and made it a stronger book, in my opinion. I really hope there’s a sequel somewhere out there, or at least another book in the same world, because I think there’s a lot of potential to explore more of what this story has to offer.