Liquid Silver Books, $6.10, ISBN 978-1-59578-537-4
Once Bitten is the first book in a romantic urban fantasy series featuring Alexa O’Brien, Alpha werewolf, magic user, and professional spook-buster. If there are any spooky villains on the prowl, terrorizing innocent folks and what not, you can count on her to bring out the bad-ass. This one has all the typical traits of an urban fantasy story that you can find on the market nowadays – first person point of view, feisty heroine on the forefront, vampire boyfriends, et cetera – so in a way, you know what to expect when you begin to read this story.
Staking pedophile vampires is part of day’s (night’s, to be accurate) job, but Alexa faces a genuinely challenging case for once when she and her partner Jez St Claire are asked to eliminate a werewolf serial killer – and the person happens to be Alexa’s former beau and pack Alpha Raoul Roberts. Raoul has to be set up to take the fall for those murders, Alexa is convinced of that. That man is a jerk, but he won’t commit murder… right?
Meanwhile, she develops a most inconvenient attraction to the vampire Arys Knight. Alexa would like to believe that she’s hardened herself against messy softer emotions like lust and eeuw, maybe even love, but Arys looks set to challenge her opinion of herself.
This one is interesting, because Ms Lee has the werewolves needing to replenish their power after they have used it to blast people to kingdom come, and Alexa can recharge hers either by eating a hearty meal, getting a power transfusion from a willing donor, or – of course – having wild sex with a hot vampire bloke, for example. I also have to warn you that if you are expecting sweet spooks here, you are in for a real wake-up call when you come across a scene where Arys feeds on his victim and Alexa stands by, watching and feeling excited by what she sees, as his victim slowly dies in his arms. She won’t interfere, you see, because it’s Arys’s nature to feed, just as she is not above admitting to herself that there is no sweeter delicacy than human blood. Folks like Alexa and Arys have human friends, but when it comes to chow time, they aren’t above having a human snack or two either.
In fact, there is a real sense of hunger and lust that is dark and edgy, almost inhuman, even, in the interactions between Alexa and Arys that has me truly intrigued. I love how the author has these spooky people reveling in the darker aspects of their nature and making such antics erotic in the process. But at the same time, this isn’t a typical romance, so don’t expect Arys and Alexa to become an official couple by the last page – I will let readers find out what happens instead, heh.
Once Bitten takes some time to get going, but once it does, oh boy, it is pretty good indeed. The story is not all sweetness and sunshine, so be prepared for some scenes of gore and violence. The best thing about this story is how well Ms Lee combines horror, eroticism, and violence in one heady concoction that has me wanting more. There are some very good scenes here – the one involving Raoul and the villain in a penultimate moment is especially gripping and memorable. I could do, however, without the presence of some tired clichés of the genre, such as the crazy jealous ex-girlfriend of the vampire hero who will show up raving like a psychopath.
This one is a delicious walk to the really dark and wild side. If you think the current trend of romantic urban fantasy is too sanitized, what with vampires who won’t drink blood and werewolves who won’t eat meat, take a look at this one. These spooks may get along well with humans, but they never forget that they are monsters too – in fact, they even revel in the savagery of the inhuman aspects of their nature even as they, rather paradoxically, try to eliminate the truly nasty monsters in their midst in order to protect themselves from being exposed to the unsuspecting humans around them. I like this. Reading it sort of makes me feel like wanting to go howl at the moon myself.