Ravenous
by Sharon Ashwood, fantasy (2009)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22617-4


Sharon Ashwood isn't a new author as she had written three paranormal historical romances under the name Naomi Bellis. Ravenous is her debut as Sharon Ashwood and I have to say, this is in many ways a very good read.

The story just sucks me in from the first chapter when our heroine, the witch Holly Carver, walks into a sentient haunted house to rescue six trapped victims, one of whom turns out to be her human boyfriend Ben. She is accompanied by her occasional partner in crime, the vampire Alessandro Caravelli. The resulting battle between our good guys and the dark force controlling the house is a nerve-wrecking, utterly chilling, and fabulously entertaining read. I still say that this is the most memorable part of the whole story.

In this alternate Earth, the spooks are forced to live alongside humans because, well, as the author points out, with the advance of the electronic age when everything and everyone is carded and recorded, there is very little opportunity for these spooks to remain in hiding. The vampires behave just like Laurell K Hamilton has decreed back in the dark ages: Alessandro serves his queen and operates as the head enforcer in this town of Fairview. Because of his status, it is inevitable that he has an interest in all things spooky that happen in the town. With Holly being a part-time student and part-time witch who struggles to keep the family spook-busting business going, it is also unavoidable that she bumps into Alessandro often. And that he has become infatuated with her long before she has even a little idea of his feelings for her.

When the traumatic incident in the local Amityville Horror house causes Ben to withdraw from everything paranormal (this includes Holly), Alessandro realizes that Holly is, for the first time in their acquaintance, available. Before he can move in for the kill, however, he learns that someone, probably an ancient enemy of his Queen, is in town killing Fairview college students and summoning demons from their prison to wreck havoc in town. What is going on here? Who knows, but since this is a romantic urban fantasy, it is predictable enough that Holly unknowingly holds some great power that makes her the target of the big bad fiend.

Ravenous is a very good read because Ms Ashwood has created a very detailed and interesting, if not entirely original, setting here and she has an equally compelling story going on as well. The pacing is superb, the narrative is most engaging except for the occasional forced sassiness on Holly's part, and the way the author has Holly and Alessandro mirroring the legend of Eurydice and Orpheus is fabulous. In other words, I find this a very entertaining story. This is one of those books that I have to finish reading in one sitting because it sucks me in that well.

The characters are fine on their own right, and I especially like how bad these vampires are. Which is to say, we are talking about vampires who enjoy their lifestyles instead of tedious whiny angst-ridden vampires. Alessandro has a worrying physical resemblance to Laurell K Hamilton's rainbow-flavored vampires, but he behaves pretty bad-ass here when he is riled. I like that.

My only reservation here, and it's a big one I must admit, is the way the story upholds the stereotype of big strong men and helpless damsels. Holly is pretty weak in this story, but I would be fine with that given that she is, after all, way out of her league here and a childhood incident had stunted her magical abilities. And yet, it is a pretty typical pattern of her to either faint after doing a single bad-ass stunt or lose control of a situation - this happens even at a penultimate moment in this story. I am also exasperated by Holly's wide-eyed deer-sees-headlights behavior in this story. For example, when she and Alessandro go spook-hunting and they see a bunch of ghouls, she actually goes to say that she is so happy that Alessandro has a gun. Excuse me, but since our heroine knows that her life is in danger, why doesn't she carry her own gun? Holly's inability to understand that she needs to take some pro-active steps to protect herself, relying instead on the men around her to protect her, exasperates me in this story. Holly isn't too bright here and she also is pretty weak, relying heavily on the protection of the big strong men around her to rescue her when the going gets tough.

I blame this on author Mark Henry's influence, but I also find myself feeling sorry for the poor ghouls and Changelings in this story. Why is it that every spook that doesn't resemble a pretty human gets portrayed as one-dimensionally vile and hateful? Please don't tell me there is not even one lovable ghoul in this entire setting!

I was convinced that this book would be a keeper during its first half or so, but I have to deduct a few points from the final score in the end due to the disappointing heroine and some bizarre "Are these people for real?" moments from the good guys. Still, that doesn't mean I haven't a fabulous time reading Ravenous. I can't say it's a keeper, but I can definitely say that I am hooked and I want more.

Rating: 88


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