Dark Ascension, by M L Brennan

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – August 4, 2015

Summary: After a lifetime of avoiding his family, Fort has discovered that working for them isn’t half bad—even if his mother, Madeline, is a terrifying, murderous vampire. His newfound career has given him a purpose and a paycheck and has even helped him get his partner, foxy kitsune Suzume, to agree to be his girlfriend. All in all, things are looking up.

Only, just as Fort is getting comfortable managing a supernatural empire that stretches from New Jersey to Ontario, Madeline’s health starts failing, throwing Fort into the middle of an uncomfortable and dangerous battle for succession. His older sister, Prudence, is determined to take over the territory. But Fort isn’t the only one wary of her sociopathic tendencies, and allies, old and new, are turning to him to keep Prudence from gaining power.

Now, as Fort fights against his impending transition into vampire adulthood, he must also battle to keep Prudence from destroying their mother’s kingdom—before she takes him down with it…

Thoughts: It didn’t take too long for the Generation V series to cement itself as my favourite urban fantasy series. I can’t get enough of it, and there’s so much here that appeals to me. Interesting characters, great geeky humour, a wonderfully unique take on different mythologies and supernatural creatures. It stands out from other series, and it’s got a lot of very loyal fans, and I count myself among them. And even though I’ve been stupidly slow at actually reading and reviewing them (I seem to have gotten into the habit of reading one right before the following book is scheduled to be released…), I love them to death, and I couldn’t keep up my old habits of bad timing. I had a review copy, and I needed to dive back into this world.

Was I disappointed by Dark Ascension? Not in the slightest.

Unlike the other novels in the series, the central plot is more of a coming-of-age story than a supernatural mystery to be solved. Previously Fort ended up mixed up in a situation that needed dealing with, or actively investigating some odd happenstance, but here, most of what he’s dealing with are the ways his life has changed and continues to change. Fort ends up taking care of far more of his family’s affairs than he ever expected, and with his modern liberal way of thinking, he butts heads with both Chivalry and Prudence on certain issues. Which isn’t surprising, if you’ve read the other 3 books in the series. But a tragedy forces them all to cooperate on a whole new level, and Fort’s transition to full vampirism speeds up, and things will never be the same for him.

While I loved this opportunity to see more of Fort’s transition and to see him really come into his own, those who maybe got used to the series being a bit more action-oriented with a stronger mystery to deal with may be a bit disappointed in the way this novel doesn’t really present those things. There is action, and some of the usual high-stakes fight scenes (especially at the end), but the closest thing to a mystery is really the matter of how Fort will handle the supernatural politics that he’s forced to juggle. It’s a story of little stories, of growing up, of taking a stand and doing what you believe is right, no matter the consequences. It’s a story of figuring out yourself, and the people around you.

And it’s an odd tactic for the fourth book in a series, but it really works! Fort’s transformation comes alongside some truly heartbreaking scenes, scenes that actually had me shedding some tears halfway through the book, and there’s this sense that maturity often goes hand-in-hand with grief and loss. This is probably the most mature of all the Generation V novels for that reason; you see Fort experience things that can hit hard to anyone who’s ever endured the death of a loved on, to those who have had to make the hard choice between the status quo and a potential improvement. Things that are human to the core, a part of everyone’s life, and to incorporate them so well into the struggles of a man who’s wrestling with the unseen supernatural world, tangled alliances and twists on myth, is something that’s often attempted and rarely done well. Fort’s spent most of his life trying to keep the mundane and the supernatural aspects of his life utterly separate from each other, but those walls have crumbled. But some things are universal, and I love the way Brennan managed to blend the two elements so well.

Of course, there’s more to Dark Ascension than just a dark heavy maturity. If that’s all there was, I wouldn’t have liked it nearly so much. As always, the banter between Suzume and Fort is pure genius! I love the way those two carry on, the way their dialogue plays out, whether the situation is tense and emotional or lighthearted and fun. I love the geeky references and odd subculture references that Brennan throws in, very few of which I don’t get, and this makes it so very easy for me to connect to the characters because — at least in the case of Fort — I think how he thinks a lot of the time. His internal monologue contains lines that I would think and say, and I love being able to say that about a character in a modern-day setting, because that’s so rare for me!

(Side note – Since Babymetal was mentioned, I wondered if Megistune was Suzume’s favourite song. It’s a better song that What Does the Fox Say, after all. :p)

What it comes down to is this: the status quo of both the in-book world and the books themselves was established, and Dark Ascension breaks it and takes things in a couple of unexpected directions. It’s got so many beloved aspects that the series has become known for, as well as some new insights that take things to a different level. It’s a great book, a worthy addition to the series, and from the ending, the ride isn’t over yet!

And I want to be right here when it starts up again!

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Tainted Blood, by M L Brennan

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – November 4, 2014

Summary: In the third Generation V novel, Fortitude Scott proves that working with family can be deadly…

Former film student Fortitude Scott is finally gainfully employed. Unfortunately, said employment happens to be with a group of sociopathic vampires—his family. And as much as Fort is loath to get too deep into the family business, when his brother, Chivalry, is temporarily unable to run the territory, it’s up to Fort to keep things under control.

So when the leader of a powerful faction of shifters turns up murdered, Fort finds himself tracking down a killer while navigating dangerous rivalries, longtime grudges, and hidden agendas. Even with the help of his foxy kitsune sidekick, Suzume, he’ll need to pull out all the stops to hunt for the paranormal assassin.

But as he calls on fairies, witches, and ghouls for help, he discovers that the problem is much bigger than a single dead werebear. The supernatural community is preparing for a massive shift in power within the Scott family leadership—and Fort has landed right in the middle of the gathering storm…

Thoughts: With the fourth book soon to hit the shelves, I thought it was past time I catch up on the Generation V novels, so I decided to sit down with a copy of Tainted Blood and see what Fort and Suzume were up to.

Chivalry is in mourning, Madeline’s health is flagging, and Prudence is, well, less than prudent. So Fort is the one assigned to investigate when one of the local werebears is murdered. The Ad-hene may be suspects, but then again, there’s also evidence saying they had nothing to do with it. But if they didn’t, then who? Succession is in question, and the pressure’s on Fort and Suzume (but mostly Fort) to find the real culprit before too much damage is done.

While some people are obviously disappointed that the inexperienced Fort is the one leading the investigation, others are happy to see the youngest Scott take a larger role in the affairs of the family and territory. Various supernatural creatures are less than happy with the arrangements between them and the Scotts, and they see Fort as a way to make some changes. Appeal to the youngest and most liberal to try to get deals they know full well that nobody else in the family would give them. And Fort is all for this, seeing it as a fine line between following his family’s wishes and making the world a better place for all who have to live in it. This is setting the stage for a coup, I’m sure of it, and though lines don’t exactly get drawn in Tainted Blood, things are definitely coming to a head, and I’m curious to see what comes of all this political posturing in the end.

I think I will forever love the back-and-forth dialogue between Suzume and Fort. Honestly, those two are a big part of the reason I love this series as much as I do. Suzume is a wonderful prankster. The running gag in Tainted Blood with her pasting googly eyes to everything had me grinning a lot. And Fort, well, he remains one of my favourite characters across just about every urban fantasy you can name, because despite him being the youngest child in an ancient vampire family, he’s wonderfully realistic, and it’s so easy to relate to him. He struggles with not only the implications of his emerging vampiric nature, but also the mundanities of everyday life; juggling work with other responsibilities, making sure he doesn’t accidentally eat his roommate’s food, the fact that his car has been falling apart around him for years and he doesn’t want to take the easy way out and accept his family’s money to get a new one. He’s independent in a way that doesn’t go over the line into obnoxious, his humour and light geekiness makes him very appealing, and I just generally love to read about the guy.

I like the way Tainted Blood goes deeper into Fort’s family situation, too. As I mentioned previously, Chivalry’s in mourning, which means he’s also refusing to feed on blood until he remarries. This is a big part of why Fort is still engaged in his family’s political affairs, but more than that, it gives us another insight into Chivalry’s character. We see him caring for Bhumika in the previous two books, but here, he’s actively seeking a new wife, deliberately picking one he knows full well he’ll end up killing in the end, but caring for them no less. Madeline is slowly growing weaker, less capable of keeping her family stable, and given that Prudence is the eldest, it’s no surprise that she’s next in line to take the role as head of the family once Madeline can no longer hold the reins. But for all Prudence’s cruelty and coldness, this book did a lot to, well, humanize her. You get to see a side of her that clearly cares about Fort and wants him to thrive, even as their personalities clash. It was a side of her that really didn’t get a chance to be seen in previous novels, and I thought it was a fascinating glimpse into her character.

Each Generation V novel is a fantastic addition to the series, revealing more and more of a nuanced and complex urban fantasy world. Fort’s a great character to follow along with, since he’s mature enough to be a fully developed character, but still inexperienced and ignorant of much when it comes to supernatural politics. The reader gets to learn at the same time Fort does, without awkward infodumps that are only really there for the reader’s sake. Brennan deftly sidestepped that. With a wonderfully unique take on the vampire mythos and a brilliant cast of characters, this series is revitalizing a genre that was — for me, at least — getting stale. If you haven’t yet jumped into this series, you’re missing out on something truly incredible!

Iron Night, by M L Brennan

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – January 7, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Underachieving film theory graduate and vampire Fortitude Scott may be waiting tables at a snooty restaurant run by a tyrannical chef who hates him, but the other parts of his life finally seem to be stabilizing. He’s learning how to rule the Scott family territory, hanging out more with his shapeshifting friend Suzume Hollis, and has actually found a decent roommate for once.

Until he finds his roommate’s dead body.

The Scott family cover-up machine swings into gear, but Fort is the only person trying to figure out who (or what) actually killed his friend. His hunt for a murderer leads to a creature that scares even his sociopathic family, and puts them all in deadly peril.

Keeping secrets, killing monsters, and still having to make it to work on time? Sometimes being a vampire really sucks.

Thoughts: I have an unpleasant track record with this series. I waited for ages to read the first book. Then I loved it. Then I waited for ages to read the second book. And I loved it too! I’m going to try to break my habit and not wait far too long to read the third book, because this series is so incredibly entertaining, well-paced and filled with characters that you want to spend time with. It’s not worth it to wait.

Fort is coming more to grips with his vampire nature, and even though he’s not entirely happy about it, he does use his abilities more to his advantage instead of constantly denying them, as he did in Generation V. Rather than going from angst to superpowered celebration, this causes some interesting tension in Fort’s character, where years of habit and uncertainty still cause him to view his vampirism in an unpleasant and sometimes frightening light but he not only needs the strength it gives him but also begins to crave both power and blood. Occasionally at inopportune times. In addition to this, Fort is taking on more responsibility within the Scott family, from making sure the bridge trolls get their shipment of goats to eat, to tracking down and bringing to justice a vicious murderer that has made its way into Scott territory.

Fort’s geekiness is brought more to light here, and not just film geekery, either. It’s offset, as before, by Suzume’s sarcasm, wit, and unending ability to pull pranks on Fort in ways that are more annoying than outright malicious, which was good to see. Pranking, in books as in real life, is one of those things that can quickly cross the line to cruelty, and I’m glad to see that things were kept on the comfortable side of the line. Suzume is one of those characters I could read about from now until the end of time. She’s funny, she’s intelligent, self-assured, and, as I said in my review of the previous novel in the series, incredibly competent.

The murder mystery in Iron Night starts with Fort coming home to find his roommate murdered, mutilated, and dumped through the apartment window. As the investigation deepens, it’s revealed that local elves are at the core of it all, and involved in a sinister plot involving blood sacrifice and breeding projects. It’s quite twisted, which is what makes Brennan’s plots so much fun to read. Things are rarely as they appear on the surface, new information is constantly coming to light, and the whole thing works quite seamlessly. I love the way Brennan plays with mythology, tweaks lore in ways that give everything a fresh new feel while still staying familiar to readers who grew up on classical fantasy and supernatural stories.

And yes, I’ll admit it, I was rooting for Suzume and Fort to get together by the end. Previously I gave the series praise for not falling prey to the old “lead male and lead female must hook up” dynamic, and in many ways, I still stand by that. While it was clear that there was a growing attraction between then as the story went on, it didn’t interfere with the story. It added to it, complemented it, but didn’t detract from it the way I find many romances do. I could really feel for the characters, and the romance didn’t feel shoehorned in out of some misunderstanding that characters need romance to be complete. Fort and Suzume are complete, whole and realized. And it’s partly because of this that they make such a good team, both professionally and romantically. This is what stands them apart from many other urban fantasy pairings I’ve come across. Not all, but many. And I like it!

When all is said and done, I want more. I spent the entire time reading this book kicking myself for not reading it sooner, much as I’d done for Generation V, and everything I liked about the previous book is still here in spades. The lore, the characters, the brilliant writing and Brennan’s flair for realism in observation and dialogue. It’s a well-crafted urban fantasy than stands head and shoulders above the competition, and if you haven’t given yourself over to the series yet, you ought to think about changing that, pronto!

(Received for review from the author.)

Generation V, by M L Brennan

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – May 7, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Reality Bites.

Fortitude Scott’s life is a mess. A degree in film theory has left him with zero marketable skills, his job revolves around pouring coffee, his roommate hasn’t paid rent in four months, and he’s also a vampire. Well, sort of. He’s still mostly human.

But when a new vampire comes into his family’s territory and young girls start going missing, Fort can’t ignore his heritage anymore. His mother and his older, stronger siblings think he’s crazy for wanting to get involved. So it’s up to Fort to take action, with the assistance of Suzume Hollis, a dangerous and sexy shape-shifter. Fort is determined to find a way to outsmart the deadly vamp, even if he isn’t quite sure how.

But without having matured into full vampirehood and with Suzume ready to split if things get too risky, Fort’s rescue mission might just kill him…

Thoughts: My initial impression of this book, when I had read only the summary and hadn’t actually opened the book to read even the first page, was that it sounded good but that the whole “sexy and dangerous shapeshifter” thing was a real eye-roller. Of course she’s a sexy shapeshifter. Can’t have a female character get in the thick of things without being drop-dead gorgeous, and you just know that she’s going to play the romantic interest to the leading vampire man. Cheesy, probably heavy on the romance, exactly the way I don’t like my urban fantasy. I figured it might be good but nothing I’d really go out of my way to read.

Then a chance brief conversation with the author convinced me to give the book a try after all.

And was I ever glad that I did! From beginning to end, Generation V was entertaining, insightful, funny, and filled with enough bloody action to please even those jaded readers like myself who often find that “urban fantasy” is just synonymous with “paranormal romance.” I was incredibly impressed by Brennan’s first foray into full-length urban fantasy, and it left me hungry for more.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Fortitude “Fort” Scott, a young vampire with a useless degree who pays his bills (barely) by working at a local coffee shop. He doesn’t get along very well with his family, vampires considerably older and more powerful than him. He has problems with his roommate, who hasn’t paid the rent in months, and with his girlfriend, who decided it would be a good idea to sleep with said roommate. He is, with the exception of the vampire issue, a regular guy, not so dissimilar from many people who will be reading about him. He’s not superpowered, he doesn’t know amazing battle tactics, he has no magical abilities, and his sheer normalcy sets him apart from a good deal of UF protagonists I’ve encountered.

But when a European vampire steps foot in his mother’s territory, and when the murders start happening, Fort finds himself thrown together with Suzume, the aforementioned kitsune shapeshifter, and the two start on a deadly quest to save a little girl from her supernatural kidnapper.

Let me take a moment to talk about Suzume, and why I really like her in spite of my initial reservations. For one thing, he interactions with Fort are hilarious. She’s very much in control of herself, aware and confident and not afraid to use everything at her disposal to get what she wants, and that includes throwing people off guard with sheer sexuality if need be. Or if the situation calls for diplomacy, or submission, or just plain old punching stuff, she’s ready and willing to do that too. She’s spectacularly competent at what she does. She is not, however, someone who will just throw her life or herself away for somebody else, someone who changes to suit some sort of romantic subplot (which was pleasantly downplayed in this novel, romance taking not so much a back seat as being put in the trunk of Fort’s Fiesta because it really isn’t warranted or appropriate for most of the book). She’s self-serving, but loyal to those she considers worth it. She’s not the kind of character I expected to like, but when it came right down to it, she’s a character I ended up loving.

Brennan plays with vampire mythology in interesting ways, taking some things from Dracula, other bits from more modern vampire lore, and giving it all a new and interesting twist that left the whole thing feels original and very well thought out. She does the same thing with Japanese kitsune lore, elves, witches, and many classic roles in supernatural fiction, giving us limited glances into a much larger mythos than the book has time to delve fully into.

I finished Generation V with the overwhelming sense that I judged this book too harshly before I gave it a chance, and regret that I took so long to actually read it. I pitched it to a friend by saying, “When you read this, you’ll like it;” not “if you read it,” but “when.” It was mature and fascinating story with interesting characters, the whole thing keeping you on your toes even if it does get a tad predictable at times. Fans of urban fantasy should be reading this. And more to the point, those who feel as jaded as I usually do about the genre should be reading it too, because it will flip your expectations upside down and leave you wanting more. I can’t wait to dive into the sequel, Iron Night, and I have high expectations for it after the impression that Generation V made.

(Received for review from the author.)

Birthday giveaway! M L Brennan’s “Generation V.”

Today, I turn 29. It’s my birthday, and that can only mean one thing. Presents!

No, not presents for me, silly. Presents for you! In honour of my birthday, it’s time for a giveaway!

Generation V   Fortitude Scott’s life is a mess. A degree in film theory has left him with zero marketable skills, his job revolves around pouring coffee, his roommate hasn’t paid rent in four months, and he’s also a vampire. Well, sort of. He’s still mostly human.

But when a new vampire comes into his family’s territory and young girls start going missing, Fort can’t ignore his heritage anymore. His mother and his older, stronger siblings think he’s crazy for wanting to get involved. So it’s up to Fort to take action, with the assistance of Suzume Hollis, a dangerous and sexy shape-shifter. Fort is determined to find a way to outsmart the deadly vamp, even if he isn’t quite sure how.

But without having matured into full vampirehood and with Suzume ready to split if things get too risky, Fort’s rescue mission might just kill him…

Author M L Brennan has kindly offered a signed copy of her latest, Generation V, for this contest.

Rules
~ Open to residents of the US and Canada (apologies to everyone else).
~ Contest runs until 11:59 PM AST (GMT -4) on June 13.
~ Winner has 48 hours to respond to my email or else another winner will be chosen
~ Mailing address will be sent to the author in order to send the winner their prize. Information will not be kept or used for any other purpose.
~ Following on Twitter or Facebook is not mandatory, but is always appreciated.

How to Enter
~ To enter, send an email to bibliotropic.reviews@gmail.com with your name and mailing address.
~ For an additional entry, leave a blog post comment telling me who your favourite vampire is, and why.