Monday, May 23, 2011

“Blood Oath” by Christopher Farnsworth (Hodder)

Farnsworth-1-BloodOathUK

The President’s Vampire, Case One

Sharp and ambitious, Zach Barrows is on his way up. But when he gets a call from the White House, it’s not quite the promotion he expected. Zach is to be the new political liaison officer to America’s best kept secret: Nathaniel Cade. The President’s vampire.

And Cade is the world’s only hope against a horrifying terrorist threat…

If you were to blend the thriller stylings of Vince Flynn or David Baldacci, and mash them together with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, this is probably what you’d get. Fast-paced, engaging and great fun, this was a pleasant surprise, and a book I devoured extremely quickly.

As someone who has been studying US politics and the presidency for the past five years, as well as having a long-standing fascination with vampires and the supernatural, the synopsis of Blood Oath jumped out at me when I first read it. The premise had the potential to go one of two ways: it could have been a disaster, or it could have been the start of something entertaining and special. Thankfully, it is most definitely in the second category.

Blood Oath, for me, stood out for one very important reason: it gets on with things. Other series in this sub-genre have, in my experience, had problems with getting off the ground at a decent pace. Even novels that make up The Dresden Files, perhaps the most successful supernatural-infused series, have a tendency to take an awful long time to get up to speed. Blood Oath certainly did not suffer from this, and I quickly found myself invested in the story and also intrigued by the blended supernatural-real world that Farnsworth has created. He doesn’t make the reader sit through pages of exposition to get us settled in – rather, he deploys a very simple and effective literary device (briefing book excerpts at the beginning of most chapters) to give us just enough information to make us comfortable. I felt at home reading about this version of reality as I do with series I’ve followed for a long time. This, to me, makes Blood Oath stand above a lot of other, established series. It’s not fully realised, as there are some gaps left, but one assumes they will be filled as the series progresses.

The ‘Good Guys’ of the piece are interesting and well-rounded. Cade, our vampire hero isn’t of the Twilight or Vampire Diaries ilk (although, there is a little bit of angst thrown in for good measure). He is, undoubtedly an “apex predator”, but one who is bound to serve the United States. Zach, his young, politically ambitious new liaison offers a nice foil for Cade, not to mention an easy in for explaining the world to the reader. It takes the two some time to get used to each other’s working practices, but we see a good working relationship evolve on the page. Zach’s sometimes abrasive and snotty character, not to mention his initial disbelief at what’s been revealed to him, makes for some amusing moments. For example, when Zach brings up the ubiquitous notion that vampires are masters of human sex appeal, Cade clarifies things:

“Humans are our food. Do you want to have sex with a cow?”

“Touch√©...”

The villains of the novel are delightfully twisted and varied. As already hinted at, Farnsworth has taken the modern premise of Middle Eastern terrorists and twisted it to suit the supernatural-bent of his novels. Not only are there a group of Apocalyptic crazies planning an attack on the US, but Cade and Zach also have to deal with an evil alchemist, and a shadowy agency plagued by personal agendas and staffed by socio- and psychopaths. It makes for a varied, action-packed adventure, as those working for good must not only contend with being caught in the middle of a number of conspiracies, but also being played as a pawn in a couple of them as well.

I prefer this to the Dresden Files for one very key reason: pacing. Butcher’s novels are very well structured and realised, but of the four I’ve read, it felt like each one took forever to get going. This is certainly not the case with Blood Oath, which I picked up late one night, expecting to read a couple chapters before going to sleep. Instead, I read a quarter of the novel before biology won and I had to go to sleep. I finished the rest of the book the next day.

If I had one complaint (minor as it is), it is that the author could have done a better job of Cade’s vampire-origin story. It’s well done, but a bit vague. Maybe I’ve just got used to Anne Rice’s long origin-tales, so I always feel that shorter, punchier versions seem a bit rushed. Nevertheless, it’s not central to the story – there are plenty of references to events that have happened before this novel’s timeline, so it’s clear that Farnsworth is gearing up for a large series (and the opportunities do seem near-endless). Aside from that, I don’t think I have a single complaint or issue with the novel.

This novel should appeal to a broad swathe of the reading public. If you like Supernatural and other shows of that ilk, this should certainly appeal. If you’re a fan of anything vampire or supernatural-related, this will appeal. It should also appeal to fans of thriller authors like Vince Flynn, David Baldacci, and Brad Thor, who are maybe finding the US-vs-Middle Eastern extremists meme a little tired and ragged around the edges. Farnsworth does a great job throughout weaving the Other Side (supernatural) into American history, offering up some interesting and original explanations for some key and tangential events of US history.

This was an absolute pleasure to read: it’s fun, intriguing, has huge potential, and is written with the skill of a long-time thriller bestseller. The authors prose is fluid and fast-paced, aiding a well-structured plot. This is a compelling and compulsively readable novel, in which everything just works extremely well. The infrequent, yet well-placed, insubordinate humour also helps a great deal. I can’t wait for the second instalment in the series, The President’s Assassin, which will be released in the next couple of months on both sides of the Atlantic.

Highly recommended.

For Fans of: Jim Butcher, David Wellington, Matt Forbeck, Simon R. Green, Justin Gustainis, Supernatural, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Underworld

[Christopher Farnsworth’s novels are published by GP Putnam in the United States]

1 comment:

  1. Correction:
    For reasns quite unknowable, I got the title of the second book in the series wrong: it is "The President's Vampire". I have no idea where I got "... Assassin" from... Weird.
    Apologies to the author!

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