A Taste of Crimson
What a difference a book makes. Ms. Liu’s debut book Tiger Eye was a bit of a disappointment. Though many loved the shape-shifter/X-Men plotting, what I came away with was more akin to frustration than anything else. The imaginative storyline was appealing (indeed, it motivated me to read this sophomore effort) but all I could see was a lot of purple and occasionally awkward prose, a heroine too good to be true, and a hero both too tortured and too good to feel real. Some of those same elements are present here; the creative storytelling and tortured-but-true protagonists are back. There’s something else here too, though – the writing has changed and improved.
The first book in this multi-author series, Crimson City by Liz Maverick, introduced a darker, alternative Los Angeles. The re-imagined city is one in which humans, vampires and werewolves uneasily co-exist. The werewolves are the low men on the totem pole, the least politically and economically powerful. Their clannishness and xenophobia have made them vulnerable to attack from all sides. When the vampires seek them out to forge an alliance against increasing human aggression, the Grande Dame Alpha of the Maddox clan reluctantly agrees to hear their offer. There’s one major problem in the negotiations: Werewolves are being killed and the likely suspect is a vampire. Investigating the murders is an unlikely team of werewolf, Keeli Maddox, and vampire, the Vendix Michael.
Though Keeli is the granddaughter of the Grande Dame of the Maddox clan, her family history makes her something of an outcast. She works at a job above ground and she struggles to contain what she fears would be the ungovernable wildness of her wolf side. When she goes after a man one night the last thing she wants is help from a vampire. But help he does. Keeli is both fascinated and repelled by Michael, but she knows that working with him may be her clan’s only salvation.
Like Keeli, Michael is viewed with suspicion by his own people. His job is to work as a sort of one man Internal Affairs Division for the vampires. When a vampire goes rogue and begins killing humans or werewolves, the Vendix (Michael) is called in to deal with the offender. And by deal with, I mean kill. Scorned by his own people and unable to deal with his own past history, Michael is thrown by Keeli. Much as he fights it, Michael finds himself falling hard for a werewolf. What’s even more terrifying is that Keeli returns his feelings and neither of them knows what to do about the situation.
Keeli and Michael both have baggage, serious baggage, and could have been just too, too tortured for words. What helps in keeping them from wallowing are their efforts to work through the baggage and their ability to see the goodness in one another. All of this makes for a very satisfying Romeo and Juliet kind of romance. For much of the book I didn’t know how they were going to work everything out. And if I found the solution to their problem a little too easy, the getting there was interesting and emotionally satisfying.
A little less satisfying was the conclusion of the mystery storyline. The explanation for the murders was a bit much. True, I found the characters involved well-developed and interesting in and of themselves, but their motivations didn’t quite ring true. If we’re to believe the truly dark, dark happenings in the past brought about current events, then the response of the people in the present day was too weak. It’s difficult to be more specific without giving away the plot, but suffice it to say there’s a lot of promise in the set-up, and it eventually falls a little flat. The “everything’s resolved let’s all get along” finish simply didn’t do the story or the writing justice.
Many of you will wonder if you can read this without reading others (I think there are supposed to be six total) in the series. Definitely yes. Ms. Liu did a very nice job of with her world building in A Taste of Crimson and I was never at a loss. So if you like werewolves and vampires and things that go bump in the night, this one will probably be right up your alley.