Wicked Game
by Jeri Smith-Ready, fantasy (2009)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-0134-6

I confess I was quite fatigued by romantic urban fantasy tropes when I picked up Jeri Smith-Ready's Wicked Game. I was actually hoping that this book would help me overcome my current fatigue because I thought the plot seemed interesting as it promised to be what seems - to me - like a hybrid between Empire Records and The Lost Boys.

Ciara Griffin used to help her parents swindle people, but eventually she helped testify against them in court. Now she's trying to go straight, and as life would have it, she finds herself selling BS, honestly this time, as the new marketing intern of WMMP, one of the last independent radio stations around that play music you really want to hear. Ciara's mission to help WMMP raise enough ad revenue to prevent the upcoming takeover attempt by the radio conglomerate Skywave. Should that happen, it's bye bye to a playlist full of rock and roll, punk, and blues and it's hello, Miley Cyrus all day all night.

But it's not just good taste that is at stake here. The owner, the DJs, and Ciara's boss are vampires. Ah, but wait, the vampires in Ms Smith-Ready's world isn't your typical brooding alpha males with fifteen-inch sparkly penises. In this alternate earth, vampires don't just feed on blood, they also become eventually disconnected from their reality, preferring instead to live in the past during the year when they died, er, were made. Ciara's DJ boyfriend Shane McAllister, for example, became a vampire in 1995, and therefore, he has a hard time understanding and learning things that happened after 1995. As the vampires exist longer, they become more and more detached from the present, becoming unstable and even violent if they allow the present to intrude too much into their personal happy bubble. It's not that the vampires are complete stand-ins for Alzheimer's patients, so don't worry, this story is not that depressing, but still, I have to admit that I find this take on vampirism a most intriguing one.

At any rate, the DJs therefore need WMMP. By playing the music that they love and are familiar with, they manage to maintain that delicate grip on their sanity. If they lose WMMP, they would be adrift, at the mercy of Control, the vampire body that tends to treat potentially troublesome vampires like inmates in a lunatic asylum.

As an introduction to this new series featuring Ciara and the DJs, Wicked Game takes its time in getting to the more action-packed scenes, instead slowly showing me how the vampires live and how Ciara becomes accepted as one of the gang despite her being a human surrounded by vampires. While I personally have no issues with the plot and the setting as I find them fascinating, I can't help thinking that this story would be so much stronger without that boring romance between Shane and Ciara.

Shane is one of the most boring heroes I've come across. He's bland to the point that the author could have replaced him with a cardboard cutout and I probably won't be able to tell the difference. He's also pretentious. He's a vampire, so what he gets off on by complaining about staying true to one's musical cred, I don't know, especially as he's a, you know, wedding DJ before he became a vampire. I can't help seeing him as a middle-class sappy version of Eminem, and it quite ruins the whole sparkling boyfriend effect. I also have a good chuckle about how the author tries to convince me that Green Day is one of the most important acts of the 1990s. Dude, how can Green Day compare to that band that went, "A-ha, a-ha! Pretty fly for a white guy!"? Now that is fly.

Shane being boring aside, I also find that his romance with Ciara renders her behavior for the most part as unbelievable. He almost killed her on their first date, but she keeps going back to him. Since the author doesn't tell me that Ciara has a death wish, I don't know what to make of Ciara's attraction to Shane. I don't even know why she's attracted to him because he's just a bland wedding DJ with a flat stomach. I just know that her attraction to him remains unbelievably constant despite the fact that he can easily kill her to the point that it borders on blind faith.

Without Shane's existence and therefore without all that pesky and uninteresting icky romance thing, this story would have a greater focus on the workings of WMMP and the vampire politics that come along with the job. And I believe I would have preferred that story instead of this one, where everything interesting is diluted by a tepid and uninspiring romance.

Rating: 72

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