Tor Romance, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35400-4
Touch of Evil is the first book in the new series The Thrall by CT Adams and Cathy Clamp. It is not related in any way to the authors’ A Tale of the Sazi series. This one is different from the other series because the story is told in the first person point of view by the heroine Kate Reilly. If the heroine in the first few books of the other series is anything to go by, these authors haven’t mastered the art of creating coherent and strong female characters well. I’m afraid they still have some work to do after Touch of Evil because the authors have merely gone off the polar opposite end and instead of creating a super-weak and useless heroine, they have created instead the uber Mary Sue heroine.
The premise of this series is fantastic. Sure, there are werewolves and other woo-woo creatures, but vampirism in this story is given a more menacing twist. “Vampires” are actually humans infested by a parasite. The infested humans are called Hosts (duh) while the parasite is known simply as the Thrall. The Thrall creatures live like insects in the sense that all the Thralls in a region are under the command of a Queen (which could be male or female) and they can all communicate with each other telepathically. I will just let the authors explain how the whole Host-getting-infected thing works:
“The queen vampire lays her eggs in the arm vein of a Host human,” Dr. MacDougal had said. “When the first egg hatches, it releases a toxin that temporarily paralyzes the Host so that the hatchling can move freely through the bloodstream up to the base of the brain. Once there, it settles in to live. It sends its primary ganglia to wrap around the Host’s spinal cord and the two secondary ganglia through the nasal passages and roof of the mouth where they break through the skin beside the eye teeth. Hard and sharp, these hollow tubes are used by the creature to suck human blood, and, in the case of the queen, to lay her eggs.”
I love it. The whole concept of the Thrall is almost Lovecraftian in its scope. I am all excited and ready to party as I turn the pages… until I realize to my dismay that this is actually nothing more than a cat fight between our Mary Sue heroine and all those psychotic jealous bitches that hate her because all their men are in love with her. I know there are guys who subscribe to the “my girlfriend can totally beat up your girlfriend!” school of entertainment and will enjoy this story, but I’m not such a person, alas.
Katie has a problem. Monica, the current Queen of the Denver thralls, hates her. Monica is the first of a slew of violent psychotic bitches who hate Katie. What Katie did to earn her ire was to try to protect her boyfriend Dylan a while back from Monica and ended up killing the Queen. Monica then took over as the Queen and she nurses a bitter grudge ever since. Monica is also rabidly jealous of Katie because the original Queen (a male) wanted Katie first (Katie is special, remember?) and Monica was only a poor second choice.
Meanwhile, Dylan turns out to be a pathetic man-slut because he cheated on Katie with another psycho-hussy before he proceeded to cheat on that hussy with Monica. Now he’s reenters Katie’s life, still thinking that she’s the most special one of his women and needing her help to locate his missing niece. Katie also has a new tenant, a werewolf. Because Tom is a man and Katie is special, naturally he falls in love with her. Monica goes even crazier as a result.
Katie isn’t just some superheroine who killed a Queen, she is also an ex-professional volleyball player and psychic. She is also kind to her tenants, rich, and open-minded when it comes to sleeping with furries. She has no insecurities here. Meanwhile, Monica is an over-the-top psychotic bitch and the other psychotic bitches are no better. There seem to be no middle ground in the portrayal of females in this story, there are either perfect or insane. I have no idea what the authors are thinking when they do this.
As a result, Touch of Evil could have been a great claustrophobic tale of horror but it instead becomes a ridiculous cat fight between Katie and a bunch of whackjob women. Meanwhile, Tom and Katie have a romance that is filled with some of the most cheesy lines I have come across. The end result is a book that could have been great but instead comes off too hard like a story trying to be as bad as a typical Laurell K Hamilton-style “sexy and violent” bodice-ripper.
I like the premise, the Thrall concept, and all. I just don’t know what happened to the execution of the story.