Blood Rights by Kristen Painter
This is all my fault, really. I mean, look at at that gorgeous cover. The gold and red over a monochromatic frame and stormy sky, the long hair, the fantastical dress, and, of course, those tattoos. It’s the work of Spanish artist Nekro, and he just knocked it—as well as the other covers in the series—out of the park. But nothing about the summary, which involves courtesans who serve vampires (AWESOME!) and one of those plots that could destroy the entire world, said anything about being supernatural fiction (often wrongly called “urban fantasy”—that would be The Lies of Locke Lamora) set fifty or so years in the future. I was expecting a straight fantasy novel, or, at the very least, a novel set in medieval Europe. But, I thought, perhaps I’m just biased against mainstream supernatural fiction. I should give it a shot. This is exactly why I end up reading mediocre books; I’m swayed by a cover and then I don’t want to admit my weakness. We should really come up with a name for it, since I have a raging case of it.
Blood Rights takes place in 2067, where humans have no idea about the supernatural world around them, ruled by vampires, who are serviced by the beautiful and pure-blooded comarré, mortals bred to be bled by vampire nobility. When Lord Algernon, Elder of one of the vampiric houses, is murdered and a body is left behind instead of ash, suspicion falls on Chrysabelle, his comarré—but Chrysabelle has escaped into the mortal world, where she finds herself attached to Malkolm, a twice-cursed vampire noble now outcast and shunned by vampiric society, alone with the voices in his head. But the vampire on Chrysabelle’s tail, Tatiana, has much more in store than simply bringing Chrysabelle to justice, and the two must find a way to stop her evil plan.
To be totally fair, the comarré are just as interesting as I thought they would be. (Comar is the masculine singular, but comarré appears to be both the feminine singular and the plural for both genders. It’s weird.) Their blood is an immense power source for vampires (due to the purity of their blood; I don’t know Painter’s criteria here) and vampire saliva gives them power in turn, which makes them long-lived. Their tattoos—their signums—indicate how much their blood is worth, but they’re more than courtesans—they’re also trained as assassins. It’s a very interesting concept, despite those few stumbles, and I’m sorry we don’t see more of the regular world of comarré, as Chrysabelle is on the run.
I don’t really know what else to say about the worldbuilding. Again, I have this bias against mainstream supernatural fiction—you know, The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries or The Dresden Files. And I know the latter series is supposed to be quite good; it’s just that dark, gritty, and supernatural rarely attracts me to a book on its own. This is why I stopped watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and rarely watch Supernatural. I just prefer my supernatural fiction a bit more whimsical and warm, like Big Wolf on Campus and, in its own way, Harry Potter. So I feel some of my criticisms—such as the various weird types of fae (a word I loathe) from “shadeux” to “wysper” to “cypher”—are more aimed at a genre as a whole that doesn’t really worry about their supernatural inventions passing as normal humans, even when the divide between mortal and supernatural being is clearly delineated (i.e., it’s not a mixed society like The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries). Also, when did regular vampires get boring? When did they start needing extra superpowers? But, again, that’s something you see in the genre a lot, so I don’t feel it’s fair to pin this on Painter when it looks like everyone who writes in this genre pulls the same stunt I hate.
But I can pin the romance on her. On one level, there’s justification for Chrysabelle and Malkolm’s painfully inevitable romance; Chrysabelle needs a vampire to drain her to continue being a powerful comarré, Malkolm hasn’t met a woman his equal in centuries. But all they do is fight, and somehow this inspires gooey feelings. At one point, Painter comes up with a contrived reason to make them kiss so Chrysabelle can remain a comarré. I guess having her drink his saliva the way he drinks her blood would have been too unsexy. There’s also a scene where he touches her while she’s asleep, ostensibly to get a better look at her tattoos, but it’s still creepy. And Malkolm has done terrible, terrible things, to the point that Chrysabelle’s sympathy as he spills his origin story full of those terrible, terrible made me angry; I mean, I know he’s changed and she’s used to vampires, but still. You need to get your priorities sorted, wow.
Ultimately, it’s just alright. The story is mildly interesting and has a nice arc in itself while setting up the rest of the trilogy. (Because of course it’s a trilogy.) Most of this is because of Tatiana, who manages to be both cheesily melodramatic and actually menacing at the same time; I shocked myself by rooting for her at the end. But the rest of the characters feel flat; Chrysabelle is dark and snarky while Malkolm is dark and tortured. Fi, Malkolm’s ghost, is unfunnily perky (right down to buying inappropriate clothes for the heroine, who apparently doesn’t understand you can button a coat up all the way to hide your clothes) and can turn herself corporeal. Yeah, I don’t get it either. I can stir up no enthusiasm for this book, to be totally honest, and those are the books that I really don’t like; the ones that leave no lasting impact, negative or positive.
Bottom line: Despite an interesting concept in the comarré, Blood Rights falls flat—while the story is mildly interesting and sets up the rest of the trilogy nicely without feeling like a set-up rather than a novel, the flat characters, painfully inevitable romance, and the general failings of this particular subset of supernatural fiction leaves me thoroughly unmoved in any direction. Eh.
I read this digital galley for free on NetGalley.
Blood Rights will be released on September 27—tomorrow!