by Alina Morgan, fantasy (2009, reissue)
Liquid Silver Books, $4.50, ISBN 978-1-59578-561-9
The Twilight Deception was previously published by Cobblestone Press back in 2006, with the author using the pen name Elisabeth Drake back then.
Our heroine Arielle Thompson is an agent with the FBI Paranormal Investigations Division more popularly known as Shadowguard. She's tough as nails, sassy, uses the F-word, and more - just another one of those heroines, really. In this story, there are all kinds of creepy-crawlies living among humans, but until now, the vampires are known as psy-vamps because they feed on one's psychic energy rather than blood. I wonder what psychic energy tastes like. Anyway, Arielle is given a tough mission: someone or something is running around killing people and draining them of blood so it looks like the traditional old-school fangface kind of vampire has crawled out of the shadows to do its thing. Guess who is in charge of determining whether there really is a fangface and, if that is the case, taking down the old fangface.
Ari's a witch, which explains why she is deemed powerful enough to take on this mission on her own. She can detect aural signatures of the creature (human or otherwise) responsible for the death of a person on that person's corpse and retrieve the final memories of that dead person. If this is a d20 role-playing game, I'd say Ari is a mid-level cleric with the ethereal empathy feat. Sorry, I don't know to explain things any better. Go consult the AD&D Player Handbook if you need more explanation. Let's just say that Ari's ability makes her a good one-woman CSI squad.
Alas, her attempt to relive the final moments of this fangface's victim causes her to black out and fall right into the clutches of what seems to be a pack of vampires. Luckily, Ari doesn't have to think of a plan to kick these vampires' undead rear ends because she gets rescued by a Lestat-wannabe vampire hero called Jackson before she knows what has happened. Jackson claims that the vampires are pursuing this matter themselves and Ari doesn't have to meddle in the "internal matters" of the vampires but Ari, being the kickass heroine that will beat Buffy black and blue in a WWE ring with one hand tied behind her back, is not going to back off so easily. Ari may regret her decision soon enough when she's swept up in an adventure involving a new strain of vampires and sorcerers that came to this world from another via portals. What happens is that the vampires have sent this sorcerer to scout this world that they have discovered via a portal - the world being Earth, of course - and the sorcerer decides that he may as well turn rogue and commit all kinds of mayhem instead while amassing a following of similar-minded vampires. Hence, the recent mysterious deaths. Like Ari, Jackson is a one-person Rambo squad. It makes sense that they work together. Two is better than one, after all. Right?
Alina Morgan has an interesting alternate world in this story. Vampires and witches are nothing new, but the otherworldly vampires here are not the usual vampires and their ability to pass themselves off as humans even in broad daylight allows some interesting possibilities. The author also knows how to tell a story in an entertaining manner - this short story has excellent build-up and ends most satisfactorily despite the book being only 75 pages long. I don't feel that the story is rushed to a conclusion. Sure, I would love to have more depths in the characterization, but in its current form, the world-building is done just right and the characters are fine as well. These characters come off like urban fantasy stereotypes at first glance, but Ms Morgan inserts enough of her own take on these stereotypes to make Ari and Jackson characters in their own right.
Jackson comes off as a bit of an old-fashioned gentleman all about honor when at the same time he won't hesitate to rip the head off a badly-behaved vampire, how adorable. Ari however is a bit of a problem because there are moments when she comes off as insufferably cocky and impulsive. However, Ari can walk the walk as well as she talks the talk, with her few moments of stumbling here and there explained by the fact that she is not familiar with the fangface situation like Jackson is so of course she will understandably bumble her way through now and then. If this story is longer, however, I suspect that I will find Ari utterly obnoxious because she just won't shut up and she is in overly-sassy mode 24/7. But since Ari proves that she can think for herself and this story isn't long enough for her to make a spectacle of herself, she's still capable of carrying the story.
The Twilight Deception is a well-paced and well-written story with minor stumbles that ultimately do not get in the way of my enjoyment of the story. It will be interesting to see where Ms Morgan will take this series from here.
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