Blood Rights by Kristen Painter is an urban fantasy story with more unexpected twists to it than a roller coaster in the dark. It's not only a fresh take on the urban fantasy genre, but a fresh take on vampires as well.
What sets it apart from the competition is the strength of it's core characters, each of them cursed in some fashion, but stronger for it. For starters, we have Chysabelle - a comarre cursed by the circumstances of her birth. Born to the life of a blood-whore, and secretly trained as a lethal assassin, she is on the run from the most terrifying vampire of all, and accidentally bound to an outcast vampire just as cursed as she is. Malkolm, the outcast vampire in question, is a human hunter turned vampire, expelled from the noble ranks of the undead, and cursed to wear the names of his victims upon his skin, and to hear their voices in his head.
Doc is a varcolai shapeshifter, also cursed. A loyal comrade of Mal, limited to taking on the form of a common housecat when transformed, he is forever tied by his own conscience to the vampire who rescued him . . . and to the ghost that he wears. That ghost, Fi, is the most tragic of the lot. As the victim whose death triggered Mal's curse, she's not just a name he wears and a voice that he hears, but a ghost who physically haunts him.It's her love for Doc that binds vampire, varcolai, and ghost together, and it is Doc's love for her that eventually ties the comarre to them all.
As for that terrifying vampire I mentioned, the dangerously erotic Tatiana, she is cursed as well - both by her dark pact with the fathers of vampirism, and by her role in the curse of another . . . which is one of those delicious twists we only discover near the very end.
This is a dark story, set in a dark future that's not too different from our own. It's not quite a dystopia, but certainly a future lacking in shiny monuments to progress. It's also a very edgy story, dealing with themes of slavery and submission, and with the more dangerous elements of vampirism (notably sex and the concept of 'pure' evil) that seems to have fallen out of favour lately. As a reader who is all too sick of friendly, sparkly, reluctant vampires who only want to be loved, this was a refreshing change.
Having said that, there are several romantic subplots to the story, but they are handled very well. With the exception of Doc and Fi, the romances tie directly into the theme of slavery and submission, tainting the thrill of erotic discovery with the horror of the monstrous. On the surface, the romances are both curious and distasteful - to the characters, as well as the readers - but Kristen does a superb job of developing the characters so that that we accept the romances and find ourselves wanting them to work.
There's a lot of work required here to establish the characters, the world, and the mythology, but the pace never lags. It's a story that grabs you from the start, and one that keeps you turning pages late into the night. The action is bloody and intense, with beheadings and exploding vampires galore, and the fight scenes are inventive enough to be exciting, without dragging on and becoming gratuitously showy. The writing itself is gorgeous, conveying as much about the world Kristen has built as the story itself, and the dialogue is sharp and smart.
With the groundwork laid, and the next two books due to be released within months of this one, I cannot wait to see where Kristen is taking all of this, and what the ultimate payoff will be.