by Alyxandra Harvey, fantasy (2011)
Bloomsbury, £6.99, ISBN 978-1-4088-1497-0
Bleeding Hearts is the fourth book in Alyxandra Harvey's Drake Chronicles and I don't recommend that you plunge headlong into this one without reading the previous books. The Drake family is large, so there is a sizable number of secondary characters here to bewilder newcomers. Also, the narrative duties are shared between Christabel Llewellyn, Connor Drake, and Lucy Hamilton. Lucy is not only the heroine of the first book in the series, My Love Lies Bleeding, she also makes many off-hand references to existing relationships and events in previous books.
In fact, the packaging of this book is somewhat deceptive in that while it purports to be about the romance between Christabel and Connor, the plot is actually a continuation of developments in the previous books. Despite sharing narrative duties with Lucy, Connor and Christabel are actually secondary characters in this story once the conflict ramps up in the second half or so. Solange and to a lesser extent Lucy are focused to a greater extent in the story, as the Drakes are drawn into what seems like a civil war of sorts between the nasty vampires, the Hel-Blar.
Anyway, if you have read the previous books, you will know that, as the grand vampire convention draws near, the Hel-Blar are in town. Solange is still the target of murder attempts, and as Solange's brothers puff up in protective bravado, Lucy wishes that she can join the party and be... well, more useful. Since her boyfriend's brother hooked up with a more capable human vampire-slayer, Lucy feels increasingly more helpless as she is sidelined in the efforts to protect Solange, her friend. I find Lucy's story arc here pretty interesting, if somewhat predictable. I like that she actually decides to do something instead of just moping because she's merely an ordinary teenage girl compared to the other characters in this story. And sorry, folks, her romance with Nicholas is pretty much shoved to the background. Even the very brief spotlight on the progression of the romance between Solange and her vampire-hunter boyfriend Kieran (prognosis: oh crap) is far more emotive than Lucy's relationship with Nicholas here. Lucy's story arc here is focused on her, not on her and Nicholas.
Christabel, Lucy's cousin from out of town, falls in love with Connor, but their romance is so thinly developed that I could have missed it if I blinked too often. Christabel on her own is an interesting character. She may seem like a clone of another wretched bookish girl from the city (cough) at first, but Christabel is for real. She is genuinely bookish, she doesn't do that fake "I'm not pretty, and I'm saying that just so that you will pity me and pay me attention - I'm actually very hot and every guy I meet wants me!" act, and she actually likes Connor more when she realizes that he's a geek just like her. She ends up being a pawn in the deadly power struggle between various vampire factions in this story, the poor thing, as if her own issues with her drunk and barely functional mother aren't enough for her to deal with. Connor, on the other hand, is strictly Another Drake Dude. Apart from his love for comics, he's not very different from his brothers.
Still, the shallow romance aside, this book is actually very entertaining. The author is back in top form where humor is concerned, and Christabel is so cute as this endearing somewhat cynical heroine who can surprisingly hold her own when the going gets rough. The plot developments in this story are also gripping to follow, thanks to the solid build-up in the second half of the book. I actually jumped in mild shock at the cliffhanger ending, because I was too engrossed in the story to play spot-the-tropes. But while the build-up is good, the author rushes through the more dramatic events in the late parts of the book, so much so that events pretty much speed past and are over in just two or three pages! I don't know why this book can't be longer - it's not like the author can't spare a dozen more pages to flesh out some key developments and events in this story, surely?
Bleeding Hearts sees the author bounding back nicely from the merely okay previous book, but it is marred by spotty pacing. Also, the presence of too many secondary characters prevents Christabel and Connor from truly shining in what is supposed to be their own story. Therefore, I'd suggest reading this one as an intriguing continuation of the series instead of a romantic vampire romance. My final score of the book reflects this. If I were to judge this book as a romance novel, it'd rate far lower because the romance is present in abysmal quantity. You've been warned.
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