It's almost a year since I started into Chloe Neill's 'Chicagoland Vampires' series and it's about time I kept on going. Book one was 'Some Girls Bite', which was published in 2009 and has spawned twelve further volumes and a live sequel series. It was a lot of fun, even if it was built on a startling set of plot conveniences and was clearly an introduction to a series.
That meant that the plot of 'Some Girls Bite' was pretty threadbare, because there wasn't enough room to really explore one and set the stage for a series at the same time, with the latter winning out. This second volume shows that there are real stories to be told here, all while gradually expanding an arc that will presumably run throughout the series.
To catch you up, vampires have come out of the closet in Chicago, as it were, so they're now public knowledge. Other supernatural creatures exist too, from werewolves to river nymphs via security fairies, but they haven't yet followed suit so they remain a secret to the world at large. The city (so presumably the government) is aware of them though and the mayor of Chicago has appointed an ombudsman to liaise with them.
'Some Girls Bite' follows a new vampire called Merit, studious black sheep of wealthy parents, who was turned without her consent, as the only way to save her life from a vampire attack. She doesn't want to take up her new life at Cadogan House, especially because she has a lust/hate relationship with its master, Ethan Sullivan, but she does and her surprising powers prompt him to appoint her House Sentinel. Plot conveniences include her grandfather being the ombudsman mentioned above, not that she knew it, and her roommate being a powerful witch, not that she knew it.
'Friday Night Bites' opens soon enough after 'Some Girls Bite' that Merit has still not yet moved into Cadogan House, so commutes to work for her shift or whenever there's a crisis. And with Gabriel Keene, shapeshifter leader, maybe coming to town for a conference and Celina Desaulniers, the founder of the oldest house in Chicago and the perpetrator of evil in book one, back on the loose, crises aren't unusual occurrences.
A fresh snippet of information about the Chicagoland vampires escalates that too, namely that there are Raves, or illegal and unsanctioned parties where vampires round up unwary humans and have them a grand old feast. A journalist, Jamie Breckenridge, is on the case, sniffing around to find a story to make vampires look a little less positive in the press than their current celebrity status.
Of course, the plot conveniences that drive this series mean that Merit grew up and used to date Jamie's brother, elder brother Nick, who has a Pulitzer to his name. That prompts Ethan, master manipulator, to ask her to mend bridges with her family (read: her rich parents) to gain them access to the set where the Breckenridges walk. And other rich folk with power, of course, because it cannot be said that Ethan can't turn things to his advantage.
Everything that was good about 'Friday Night Bites' is good here. Characters are vibrant and engaging, not least Merit who is very much her own girl but in a situation where she's controlled by others. She doesn't like this and she fights it, which at once makes her an invaluable free spirit to both Ethan and Cadogan but also a constant problematic discipline case. This is balanced well and her shifting priorities are reasonably believable.
Everything that wasn't good about 'Friday Night Bites' is mostly good here, a little plot convenience aside. We get a real story, that we can sink our teeth into, pun not intended but appropriate anyway. The Raves add another level of insight to the world of the vampires, which is still mostly hidden even with them out to the public. We learn about this and other things through Merit, so there's a fair progression there. While we do question some motivations, they are all satisfactorily explained by the end.
As the second book in a series, I had to wonder how it would fit into the big picture that I'm unaware of thus far. It progresses things nicely from 'Some Girls Bite' but it feels like it does so in a controlled manner, so that there remain plenty of other revelations to drive future books. There are hints at a progression for other characters, not only Mallory, Merit's now ex-roommate, who was always going to have another part to play in the series at some point when her powers fully manifest.
There's a progression to Merit's relationship with Ethan too, which is the sort of thing that we know is going to erupt at some point, even if it's at an entirely inappropriate time. For now, her inner vampire reacts to him on the level of catnip while her control allows her to suppress that and work with him on a professional basis. She's also dating a different master, the new Navarre head, Morgan Greer; that she's doing so in part because Ethan used his attraction to her to solve a short-term problem is really icing on the cake.
Had I not been reading this in 2019 with thirteen books published already, I believe I'd have seen this as a strong follow-up to a flawed but decent first volume. It continues what 'Some Girls Bite' began, but it tells its own story with a beginning and an end too, an end which will surely become a new beginning as the series runs on. There's plenty here to set up more to come and I'm more on board with the series now than I was a book prior. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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