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Shadowhawk reviews the second book in the Jessica McClain urban fantasy series.
“Not as strong as the first book, but still pretty darn good, Amanda Carlson does a great job of increasing the stakes and ramping up events to eleven. An absolutely thrilling ride with a werewolf flavour.” ~The Founding Fields
Note: Some spoilers for Full Blooded are discussed here.
Reading Amanda Carlson’s debut Full Blooded last year was one of the highlights of my reading experience to date. It was the first time I had read a full-on shifter urban fantasy novel, and I was impressed with the characters, with the setting, and the author’s writing style. Finishing the book left me wanting more however, and it wasn’t until last month that I finally got the chance to fulfill that urge with the sequel Hot Blooded. At the end of the first book, things had become rather dire for the protagonist Jessica, the only known female werewolf in existence ever, and she had had to make decisions that bound her to forces she would rather not be a part of. In the sequel, Amanda Carlson explores some of the fallout from that decision, and she shows Jessica in full-ion action mode as a werewolf on the vengeance road. While I don’t think that the sequel is as good as the debut, it is certainly a damn fine read, and is a book that I would recommend all the same.
In a series, every book should up the stakes from the previous book, make the entire physical and emotional spectacle that much more intense so that there’s a real sense of jeopardy as far as the characters are concerned. If all the trials and tribulations that the characters face in a series are of the same difficulty level, then the challenges stop being challenges. It just ends up being more and more repetition. Thankfully, Amanda Carlson is able to avoid that particular pitfall and Hot Blooded is all about bigger and badder monsters, or smaller and awful-tough-to-destroy critters. Once again, the author is able to navigate the line between two extremes really well, and the novel is in a great place because of that.
The simple premise of the novel is that Jessica is now on a hunt to save her mate, Rourke, from the Goddess Selene, who had abducted her towards the end of Full Blooded. Joining her on this quest is her brother Tyler, and one of the pack’s wolves and Jessica’s friend, Danny. They’ve joined her as a special case and the stipulation of their assistance is that they can’t shapeshift should there be a need for it. Then, there is a pair of Vampire siblings in service to Queen Eudoxia, Eamon and Naomi. They are supposed to be excellent trackers and it is in that capacity that they join Jessica. Together, the five of them made for some excellent on-page chemistry, particularly where Jessica/Naomi and Danny/Naomi are concerned. These are the characters who are able to connect, platonically of course, to each other the most, and who drive the entire narrative from start to finish.
Jessica’s humour, her monologues with her wolf spirit, and her attitude are just as wonderful to read about as they were in Full Blooded. The character’s humour is one of the biggest draws for me where she is concerned, other than the fact that she is a no-nonsense, punch-you-in-your-teeth heroine who more than matches up to her fellow characters. In Hot Blooded, Amanda Carlson went all-out to flesh out her setting, and seeing Jessica grow with that was something I had wanted to see. It wasn’t handled as neatly as I wish since it did come across as abrupt power level jumps at times, but that’s my only real concern with it to be honest. With the increasing power levels, Jessica is portrayed as someone unsure of who and what she is, what her purpose is, and she is often wrong-footed by it as well, so that made for a good change of pace from the relentless action of the novel. The paws-to-the-walls action scenes are punctuated with scenes of reflection in which the reader and the characters all get a chance to breathe and adjust to the redesign of the game board, so the pacing never got out of hand.
At the end of the novel, Jessica is still one of my favourite SFF heroines, somebody who I think can match up to others like Nathan Long’s Jane Carver or Kate Beckinsale’s character Selene from the Underworld movie series, or even some of the comics heroines like Ms. Marvel (Captain Marvel now!) or Batgirl. Weirdly enough, my favourite SFF heroines for the most part seem to be those who have a healthy dose of humour to their attitudes, sometimes even morbid humour.
Where Jessica’s supporting characters are concerned, my favourite one is definitely Naomi. More than even Jessica, she is someone who truly grows in between the first scene in which we meet her and the last scene where we leave her. Her character arc was often unexpected, and came with a good amount of thrills as well. She is someone who is able to look past the restrictions of her race (much as with Jessica), and confronts in-setting stereotypes head-on. Where Jessica is the poster-character for were-creatures who have an inclusive look at the entire supernatural community, Naomi is the type to work more on the sidelines in a support capacity. And that’s why I liked her so much.
Tyler unfortunately does not get to do all that much in the novel beyond providing the muscle. There are scenes of familial bonding between him and Jessica, scenes which enhance her nature as a possible Lycan and shed more light on how the Werewolf society and culture work, but they are few and far in between. In the same vein, Danny’s appearance is also more of a cameo than it seems initially. Regardless, he injects a fair amount of humour into the novel, particularly when he starts hitting on Naomi. His dialogues always elicited a laugh, and helped break the tension that suffuses the entire book, providing some light-hearted entertainment as it did.
Where the author did end up disappointing me somewhat, was with the dialogue, and this applies much more to the dialogue between Jessica’s father (Callum McClain), Tyler and Danny. And my contention with their dialogue was that it was often too formal, too stiff. The vibe I kept getting was that this was the dialogue that the characters needed to say (because author) rather than what they wanted to say, if that makes sense. There was a lack of…. naturalness to the dialogue.
Also, Rourke gets very little screen-time in the novel. He was one of the best things about Full Blooded, even though he initially came off as a rather archetypical/cliched character, but I won’t deny that if it wasn’t for him, I would have rated that novel down at least a point. The way that Amanda wrote him was just brilliant, and I wanted to see a lot more of him in this novel. But as things stand, he doesn’t make an entry until the last few chapters, and things are quite rushed by that point since the big confrontation between Selene and Jessica is impending and the climax is round the corner.
Had the author put in an occasional scene between him and Selene, I think that would have worked out really well. For one, it would have broken the monotony of Jessica’s first person narrative, not that I had any problems with that per se. Second, it would have served to show off Selene to great effect, and made her into a much more rounded character with more nuance to her. The bits and pieces of her history that are revealed over the course of the novel through Eamon and Naomi, who used to serve her before they served Eudoxia, made for some really interesting reading. The potential for Selene to be an absolute threat was all there, but the author wasn’t able to capitalise on it all that much. What we get is more than sufficient, but the author could definitely have gone for more.
Other than all of that however, Hot Blooded was a novel that got everything right. It also has a monster of an ending that sets up the events of the third novel, Cold Blooded, and came out of the blue, which is how I expect endings like that to be. To give you a hint, consider how Charlaine Harris kept upping the stakes by introducing new supernatural creatures and factions with each of her Sookie Stackhouse novels (or how it was all handled in the adapted TV series True Blood which is what I’ve seen, never having read any of Harris’ novels). That’s what Amanda Carlson has done here, but on a smaller and much more “realistic” and believable scale.
In short, this is a recommended novel.