Thursday, October 9, 2008

Undead and Unworthy (book) by MaryJanice Davidson

Betsy Taylor, newly married Queen of the Vampires and lover of shoes, has to deal with complications and dangers in her life yet again. Betsy's dead stepmother, who was the bane of her existence when she was alive, has come back to haunt her - she's annoying, overly critical, insulting, and no one can see her except Betsy. Before Betsy can even begin to try and get rid of her, she's got another problem to deal with: the Fiends (feral vampires) are thinking clearly again and have decided that all their anguish and problems were Betsy's fault. They're determined to kill her, and they don't mind hurting her friends in the process. Garrett admits that the Fiends' new condition is his fault (he fed them his blood), but Betsy forgives him - in fact, she forgives just about everybody, and lets her own feelings of guilt and responsibility get in the way of solving things the way most vampires would, by just killing anything that endangers her and her friends. Nick, Betsy's best friend's boyfriend and a cop who hates her guts, drops by to ask for Betsy's help finding a vigilante killer - despite the other complications in her life and the possibility that Nick is just trying to get her killed, Betsy agrees to help.

The note to the reader at the beginning of this book explains that this book is the beginning of a new story arc. As far as I can tell, that story arc is going to be about Betsy actually shaping up and beginning to do the tough and possibly not nice things that one must do when dealing with vampires. In the past, Betsy has tried to rule by human rules and ideas. This hasn't always been successful, but it's never gone as badly as it has in this book, which leads me to the other change in the series - MaryJanice Davidson actually kills off two of Betsy's group. They're not characters who've had a large part in the series, but it's still sad when they die. In previous books, when a character appears to have been killed, Davidson always pulls some new vampiric ability of Betsy's out of a hat. This time, however, unless Betsy can bring people back from the dead and restore brain matter, the dead good guys are not coming back.

Pretty much everyone shows up in this book: the Fiends (many of whom finally get to reveal their real names), Betsy, Sinclair, Tina (Sinclair's incredibly loyal bodyguard/secretary/whatever), Antonia (both Betsy's stepmother and the werewolf Antonia), Garrett (a former Fiend), Nick, Marc (a doctor and Betsy's gay friend - there are jokes about his gayness, but they aren't meant to be taken as mean jokes), Jessica (Betsy's rich black friend - once again, I remember jokes, but they're not meant to be taken as mean jokes, and Jessica gives as good as she gets), and maybe others I'm forgetting. With all of these characters, some of them naturally get less time than others - Marc is hidden away pretty quickly, and Jessica doesn't show up much more often than him. Antonia (the werewolf) felt like an extra, something that makes a lot of sense once you get to the end of the book. Nick drove me crazy sometimes, with his unwavering dislike of Betsy (it's understandable that he hates her, but it gets to the point when you want to shout, "enough already!").

Tina got a few interesting scenes, and there were parts where I found myself thinking, "It would be awesome if a future book focused on Tina more." It's sometimes easy to forget that Tina is a powerful and dangerous vampire, since she usually acts like everybody's efficient secretary/waitress/bodyguard. I liked reading about her getting truly angry - she didn't sound as frightening as Davidson seemed to want readers to think she was, but she was definitely different. I also can't help but think that she was in the right. Betsy might've had fewer problems if she had just killed all the Fiends she could find after they got loose and started threatening her, or if she had let someone else kill them. Instead, Betsy wanted to apologize to the Fiends and talk things through with them. She wouldn't have been the same Betsy if she'd killed them all, but there might have been less worry and hand-wringing.

In the middle of all the danger, Betsy takes a bit of a break and takes Sinclair to meet one of her few living relatives, her grandfather, a bigoted veteran of World War II who now lives in the care of a nurse. I enjoyed those bits, and I especially liked the part at the end, when Betsy gets advice from her grandfather about dealing with killing and death.

Overall, I liked this book, but this may be the point at which the series becomes much darker. Throughout most of the earlier books in the series, the main appeal was the humor and the bits of romance. This book still had humor, and Sinclair and Betsy are still in love (they have sex, she drinks his blood, she takes him to meet a family member, etc.), but, if Davidson isn't careful, all the lighter stuff is going to start clashing really badly with the darker stuff in later books. Since Betsy can't help being part of the lighter stuff (she's not the brightest crayon in the box, and she can be a bit ditsy at times), the fact that she will be the one who has to deal with the darker stuff, since she's the Queen and all, means that Davidson has a tough road ahead of her.

Read-alikes:
  • Dead Until Dark (book) by Charlaine Harris - This is the first book in Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series. Sookie is a telepathic barmaid. Most of the people in her small Southern town know about her special abilities, but most people can also forget about it a bit because Sookie makes an effort to either not read people or not show that she's read someone. It's an exhausting life, however. Before the beginning of this book, vampires revealed their existence to the world, and in this book Sookie discovers something she thinks is wonderful - it's very hard, if not impossible, for her to read the thoughts of most vampires. Soon, Sookie is dating a vampire, but, unfortunately, being around him gets her involved in more danger than she's ever experienced before. Those who'd like another story with vampires, action, and a bit of romance might like this book and series. Like Davidson's Betsy Taylor books, this series starts off on the lighter end of the scale and gets darker as things progress.
  • You Slay Me (book) by Katie MacAlister - This is the first book in MacAlister's Aisling Grey series. All Aisling wants to do is deliver an old, gold dragon statue to her uncle's client in Paris. Instead, she comes across a dead woman and a mysterious and sexy man. The man (who is also a dragon), named Drake, disappears, along with the statue. Aisling has to prove she didn't kill the woman and recover the statue, all while dealing with the revelation that she is a Guardian (basically, the Keeper of the Gates to Hell). Those who'd like another story with fantasy, action, humor, and a bit of romance might like this book and series. Similar to Davidson's Betsy Taylor books, this series gets a bit darker as it progresses.
  • One for the Money (book) by Janet Evanovich - In the first book in Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, Stephanie, a resident of Trenton, NJ who's desperately in need of money, gets a job as a bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie - never mind that she doesn't know the first thing about being a bounty hunter and doesn't even own a gun. Her first assignment is to bring in Morelli, a cop who's been accused of murder and the guy who charmed her out of her virginity when she was 16. Those who'd like another story with fast-paced writing, humor, and a bit of romance might like this book and series. I'd especially recommend this to those who enjoyed Undead and Unworthy but could have done without the sadness and character deaths - as far as I know, Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series isn't going to get dark anytime soon.

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