Title: Blood Rights
Author: Kristen Painter
Genre: supernatural fiction
Series: House of Comarré #1
Pages: 433 (Nook NetGalley ARC edition)
Published: October 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Source: publishers via NetGalley
The lacy gold mapped her entire body. A finely-wrought filigree of stars, vines, flowers, butterflies, ancient symbols and words ran from her feet, up her legs, over her narrow waist, spanned her chest and finished down her arms to the tips of her fingers.
Born into a life of secrets and service, Chrysabelle’s body bears the telltale marks of a comarré—a special race of humans bred to feed vampire nobility. When her patron is murdered, she becomes the prime suspect, which sends her running into the mortal world…and into the arms of Malkolm, an outcast vampire cursed to kill every being from whom he drinks.
Now Chrysabelle and Malkolm must work together to stop a plot to merge the mortal and supernatural worlds. If they fail, a chaos unlike anything anyone has ever seen will threaten to reign.
Kristen Painter breathes her own version of supernatural life into the genre with Blood Rights, the first in a planned urban fantasy series, and it is lively indeed. With a convoluted culture and three-dimensional, fleshed-out characters this was an interesting twist on the human/vampire relationship shown so often in this (and, really, paranormal romance as well) type of genre. There's a lot to take in and enjoy from Ms. Painter's crafted world of vampire geisha, corporeal ghosts and hidden assassins. Blood Rights is the kind of novel one would plan to read for "just a minute" but actually ends up in the same place but two hundred pages, numerous escapades and hours later. With her kick-ass female protagonist Chrysabelle and tortured male protagonist Mal, I found a lot worth mentioning from this introductory but by means boring first novel. Intensely readable, Blood Rights is definitely in the running for my favorite (adult/non-YA) vampire read of the year.
Moreso even than the characters, the world that the author has so intricately created is impressive and far-reaching. The comarré themselves are a creative addition: closely related to the kine (humans) of the world, but longer-lived, faster, and infinitely more desirable. The signum of the breed is also interesting: it allows for instant identification much like the facial tattoos/uploads of the GENs in the YA dystopia Tankborn. The comarré are always very aware of who/what they are and where they stand in the vampires' view. I found the interactions and dependency between the comarré and the vampires to be vastly interesting. Each side benefits uniquely from the arrangement: the vampire receives increased power/life from the blood of the comar/comarré and the gold-gilded almost-humans receive longevity, increased strength, speed and self-healing capabilities. I liked that it was a give-and-take between the both species; it certainly makes it easier to buy Chrysabelle's more martial nature further on. It's a fairly level balance of power that keep the comarré from being just slaves or indentured servants to the undead nightwalkers (and that's not even mentioning other obvious talents of the comarré. . ). While the vampire half of this symbiotic relationship isn't as revelatory and new as the comarré aspect, Painter does go so far as to imbue her novel with different types of vampires: fringe and noble, each descended from a vastly different source. I do wish clarification about terms/culture of this world had been provided much earlier: it's vexing to try and figure out what "fringe" or "anathema" means in relation to these vampires for 250 pages.
Obviously, Blood Rights has a very complete and complicated, alternate world. Though similar to this modern one we live in, locations like "New Florida" or "Islamic Republic of France" are subtly dropped into conservations, ensuring the reader is aware that 2067 is a very different world. Even the swearing is different, and even theme-appropriate for a vampire book ("son of a priest!" also? just hilarious.) With vampires in a very regimented patriarchal society, organized by Family/talent (I also loved the nods to first purported vampires Vlad Tepes and Erzsébet Bathory inserted into the novel) Elders and Dominus, Painter's social stratification is omnipresent, even among species, not just between them. Not only are vampires and comarré either reinvented or completely created, but many types of fae (wysper, shadeux, others), and other creatures, are present as well. Hidden from humans because of a mysterious "Covenant", Chrysabelle's world has other such nasties as Nothos, or hellhounds created from human and vampire stock. I love the constant touch if originality for Painter's supernatural creations: she even re-imagined shapeshifters as her varcolai. Not much was explained about the varcolai, with only one character belonging to that race, but with three novels to follow in this promising series, I'll trust the information is en route.
Chrysabelle, with her desire for freedom, is likeable though it takes a bit. Her desire for independence is one of the most compelling components of her character: as the saying goes, a gilded cage is still just a cage. As the absolute best of the best for comarré, a Primoris Domus comarré, she is much more than she appears, and more than any vampire bargained for. It's easy to root for Chrysabelle to win out against the bad guys. She's definitely hardcore, and while I fear she may be guilty of the dreaded "Waif Fu" trope, her violent tendencies work well for such a determined character. I wish Chrysabelle had been a little more discrete: secrets seem to fall from her lips anytime someone just asks. It's remarkably easy for Mal to tease the comarré race?species? from her within days of their meeting. I personally thought her story about the signum and what getting a new one means was very revealing about her character: this is a woman that has sought freedom her entire existence, only to be constantly, unjustly denied. I just wish Chrysabelle had dropped her attitude a bit earlier because it seems to go on a bit long once she's within Mal, Doc and Fi's circle. Mal himself is a dark, tortured vampire. As in, twice cursed and therefore gruff, reticent and often quite hard to deal with. Everyone has issues with Mal at some point in the story: Chrysabelle, Maddoc, Fi, Preacher, Dominic. . . I found Mal's double cursed status to be almost a conscience for the soulless anathema (outcast from noble vampires). Unable to take "vino de vena" (another clever twist to the real-world) Mal is different from all the other vamps in the novel, including his unusual relationship and attitude toward the comarré in his care. Mal is always isolated: even as a human he was "anathema", which bodes less than well for his eternal life. I liked Mal more than his female Golgotha-blade-wielding counterpart, and while I still find his and Chrysabelle's relationship to be too tumultuous, it is a believable one to read. It certainly takes a long time to coalesce, and their relationship is never the forefront of the narrative. This is definitely an urban fantasy not a paranormal romance. The focus is clearly upon the action and plot, with any side stories remaining just that.
Outside of Mal and Chrysabelle, I largely enjoyed this cast of characters. Even the villains are strikingly evil without being
too cartoonish. I will say that Tatiana, of the Family Tepes and the main present antagonist for Blood Rights is the most maniacal, megalomaniacal (it's a word) vampiress I've read to date. She somehow manages to be surprisingly well-rounded for a power-hungry bitch, with hidden facets I couldn't have seen coming. Her scenes were often cringe-inducing, especially those with the father of all vampires, varcolai, Nothos: the Castus Sangus. What I like best about Tatiana is that she is never predictable throughout the narrative and she was always riveting to read. Maris, an aunt of Chrysabelle's and a free comarré was a sneak favorite of mine. What I assumed to be a fairly humdrum character defied my expectations and was a fully-rounded and human character with her own unique and compelling history from before the events of Blood Rights. Painter does an excellent job of slowly teasing out the story of Maris, and her evolution was one of my favorite parts of the novel.
Most of all, I wish the beginning of the novel was a bit less unclear and confusing. Like I said earlier, I thoroughly enjoy this varied and lifelike world the author has fashioned for her characters to live within, but the first seventy-five or so pages were not easy. There's incredible amounts of action occurring even as the first chapter ends - murders, conspiracies, flight from danger, stabbings - with little to no contextual details. It's a lot to take in before the first understanding the basics of the world, like vocabulary. But if I was initially dismayed by Blood Rights, it didn't last past page 100. By then, the sheer amounts of awesome have started to leak through to the plot and characters and I loved it. Kristen Painter can definitely write a twist - ones I don't even predict. Some plot lines were fairly obvious but others might as well have been a piano dropping out of the sky upon my head (Maris! WTF!). I thought the time and effort spent on the varcolai (but super attractive) Maddoc was a little wanting. I had the same situation regarding Fi - she's very inscrutable and quite hard to read with her whiplash emotions. I was never sure what her real feelings towards Mal were, though I loved her and Doc.
As I said before and as was once again proved by the ending to Blood Rights, Ms. Painter is not an author I can accurately predict. I did not see that ending coming at all and I am left eager and excited to get book two, Flesh and Blood. With plot twists that are genuinely shocking, an intricate and complete world along with compelling characters, Blood Rights is a hard novel to resist for any urban fantasy/supernatural fiction fan.