Welcome to part two of the Working for the Mandroid stop of Rhiannon Frater's Pretty When She Kills blog tour. Earlier today Rhiannon stopped by to do a short Q&A with us. Now we have a review of the first book in her Pretty When She series, Pretty When She Dies. Later tonight - fingers crossed - I'll have a review up of the sequel and focus of this blog tour, Pretty When She Kills.
Also remember that we're giving away an e-book copy of both books over on the interview with Rhiannon, so make sure to go enter. If you'd prefer to listen to Pretty When She Dies, it has just recently become available as an audio book. You can find it through audible to the left.
Pretty When She Dies
Adult / Horror / Vampires
Amaliya wakes under the forest floor, disoriented, famished and confused. She digs out of the shallow grave and realizes she is hungry...
... in a new, horrific, unimaginable way...
Sating her great hunger, she discovers that she is now a vampire, the bloodthirsty creature of legend. She has no choice but to flee from her old life and travels across Texas. Her new hunger spurs her to leave a wake of death and blood behind her as she struggles with her new nature.
All the while, her creator is watching. He is ancient, he is powerful, and what's worse is that he's a necromancer. He has the power to force the dead to do his bidding. Amaliya realizes she is but a pawn in a twisted game, and her only hope for survival is to seek out one of her own kind.
But if Amaliya finds another vampire, will it mean her salvation... or her death?
I have to admit up front that I’m a bit biased when it comes to Rhiannon Frater’s vampire, necromancer, zombie series that starts with Pretty When She Dies because a predominant portion of the books take place in Austin. My life also predominantly takes place in Austin, so a lot of the backdrops used are places I’m well acquainted with and so I felt more submerged into the story than someone not as familiar with the Austin area might feel. Often Frater got really specific about minute locations that might seem a little random or unnecessary to a reader not as familiar with the local quirks of the area, but I found it to be an added fun element.
This is not a YA series. Scenes often quickly turned from action or drama into graphic vampire sex. The violence is equally graphic, and sometimes the two things merge into one giant not-young adult friendly ball of crazy. But in a good way. Frater is fantastic at managing to throw in numerous elements of urban fantasy and then balancing all these elements so nothing is wasted or forgotten. In this one book, we have vampires, vampire rivalries, secret frat orgies, zombies, zombie armies, reluctant vampire hunters, grandma mediums and necromancers. That’s a lot of pieces to put together into one cohesive and comprehensible story and Frater is fantastic at it.
The story opens up with Amaliya waking up not knowing who she is or where she is, having been buried alive in a forest near the small college she attends. She follows her instincts through the campus and eventually starts to remember how she ended up in the ground. By the time her blood lust fully emerges, it’s clear that Amaliya – a bit of a sad sack with an unfortunate past and a truck load of family issues – is a bit lost and things are going to go very badly for her. As she travels across Texas looking for direction and saying goodbye to her family, the creepy mccreepster who turned her into a vampire stalks her from afar, acting as a constant reminder of what she’s lost and how little she knows about being a vampire.
Which eventually leads her to Austin and to Cian, technically her vampire “brother” and a wealthy 300 year old Irishman, who somehow managed to keep his accent over the centuries. Cian is a fun character, a vampire trying to be more human while still finding compassion for a newly turned baby vamp that will clearly ruin his life. I liked that he remained a more or less pragmatic character even when the carefully build house of cards he’d built with his human fiancée and creepy servant crumbled around him. In a book full of extremes – the extreme moodiness of Amaliya, the extreme badshit crazy of The Summoner, the extreme girlishness of Samantha – he was a nice stable neutral, even in moments when he vamped out.
But what made Pretty When She Dies a great read was the final confrontation between Amaliya and her random cast of cohorts and the ancient and powerful Summoner. Unlike many reads I’ve experienced lately, it wasn’t a quick resolution. The conflict had multiple phases and felt entirely epic, balancing out what up until then had been a pretty standard baby vamp origin story. Frater creates a very satisfying big bad battle with all the characters making choices that made sense and nothing really happening conveniently. It’s incredibly well choreographed with characters acting as you’d expect and the outcome being both surprising and awesome.
Despite the awesome things I’ve heard about Frater’s The Last Days trilogy, this was my first experience with her writing. She has a talent for quickly creating compelling characters you want to learn more about and developing relationships amongst them that feel real and natural. While Samantha – the previously mentioned human fiancée – seemed extremely over-the-top emotionally, people like that exist and someone would probably have to be at least a little on the crazy side to convenience themselves marrying a vampire was a good idea. With a cast that could have seemed overwhelming as it continued to grow larger, Frater balances all the plot lines with grace and skill so that none of the characters feel like they fall through the cracks, only to pop up unexpectedly when convenient.
But in the back of my mind I kept wondering if someone who hadn’t ever been to Austin might find the world build a bit lacking with clubs being named specifically and not being developed from the ground up. The world felt full and robust to me because I’ve been to these places and all it takes is a mention of Spiderhouse Cafe or South Lamar or Kerby Lane for me to know exactly where these characters are and what atmosphere they’re experiencing. I felt like I might have been filling in some world-building elements with my own first-hand knowledge that might be left feeling underwhelming to someone without that familiarity. But that’s all conjecture, and one I usually have when reading books that take place in Austin within real life locations.
Pretty When She Dies is a great start to a vampire trilogy that truly embraces what vampires are – at least in my head – supposed to be: dangerous, sometimes uncontrollable monsters, not cuddly friends. By throwing in necromancers, Frater adds an element of uniqueness that left me wanting to start the second book, Pretty When She Kills, the moment I finished the first one even though it was far past my bed time. This is a great addition to the adult vampire horror cannon, and I look forward to seeing where it goes.
I received an ebook copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review as part of the blog tour.