Title: Bite Me
Author: Parker Blue
Genre: supernatural fiction, young-adult
Series: Demon Underground #1
Pages: 229 (uncorrected Nook NetGalley ARC)
Published: September 2008
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Source: publishers via NetGalley
An edgy book for teens that spans the gap between young-adult and adult fiction. Life after high school is tough enough without having to go 15 rounds with your inner demon. Val Shapiro is just your ordinary, part-demon, teenaged vampire hunter with a Texas drawl. And a pet hellhound named Fang. Soon enough she finds herself deep in the underbelly of the city, discovering the secrets of the Demon Underground and fighting to save those she loves. Whether they love her back or not.
Straight off the top, I have to disagree with my little blurb copy and pasted above. I don't agree that this is a novel that "spans the gap between young-adult and adult fiction" - I think this is a solid but not spectacular series opener for a definitely young-adult series. Bite Me more than delivers on the rest of the promise hinted at above: it is edgy, it is fun, and Val and Fang are a comedic duo with flair and timing. I can understand the appeal for older readers - at almost 24 I'm probably at the outset of the target demographic - but this is definitely a young-adult vampire/supernatural novel. Not the most original or ground-breaking, but full of enough verve and unique mythology/lore to keep me more than interested.
Set in San Antonio, Texas (hey, is there anywhere near Morganville, TX? Texas definitely has a bad infestation of vampires...) Bite Me is vampire-slayer Val(entine) Shapiro's starring show. Eighteen years old, part succubus lust demon and a vampire slayer, Val is far from normal but completely real and grounded. Echoing her split nature, Val is a half-Jewish and half-Catholic tumult of drama, danger and humor ("The name's Val, not Buffy. Do I look like a blonde cheerleader with questionable taste in men?") She might come across as trying too hard on occasion, but Val amused me by and large and I definitely bought her persona of tough, funny capable vampirehunter.The lust-demon/part succubus thing is a huge problem in Val's life (even though she's technically only 1/8 succubus): she doesn't feel human, that she belongs or is even loved by her family - common teen issues that make Val intensely relatable for younger audiences. While "Lola" (what Val calls her demon) doubtless gives Val boons (extra speed and strength, accelerated healing) she doesn't come without a hefty price. Val's personal issues with herself and her nature are another strong point for the novel: she consistently struggles to distinguish "demon-Val" and "human-Val" while almost resenting a key part of who she is. The truth about Val she refuses to acknowledge is that she is much more powerful of she works with the Lola part of herself instead of denying her nature and being ashamed by it. She can be either immature or mature (her handling of her mother's rejection was surprisingly mature for YA), but she always presents herself as a real person.
The supporting cast is not as rounded out as it would need to be for a higher rating - and one of the main ones this is only a three star review, instead of a four. Val's younger sister Jen is an important part of the events of Bite Me, so it's too bad she lacks any real characterization. Like her daughter Jen, Val's mom Sharon is also drawn in broad, undetailed strokes. Her substantial (and somewhat overwrought) issues with Val are left clouded and unexplained - making Sharon appear as a cookie-cutter villain rather than a conflicted woman with a uneasy relationship with her daughter. The only really fleshed out supporting characters were that of Val's snarky hellhound/terrier Fang and love-interest/partner Dan. Fang is practically human in personality and actions, but the hellhound with humor and heart nearly stole the show several times. The only one that unequivocally loves Val, Fang is one of the most likeable demons in the book. Dan, Val's partner in SCU, plays a good straight man to Val's loose cannon antics. He's stoic and reserved - almost the archetype for a detective but emerges as a sweet and kind companion to balance Val's more dangerous nature. Lieutenant Ramirez of the SCU also has potential for a character - I can see him easily as a father-figure for the vampire hunter - but he as mostly relegated to the background for much of the novel.