by Alyxandra Harvey, fantasy (2010)
Bloomsbury, £6.99, ISBN 978-1-4088-0706-4
Out For Blood is the third book in Alyxandra Harvey's young adult series revolving around the vampire Drake family, but this one can stand alone pretty well as the plot is self-contained and recurring secondary characters show up only when necessary. Unfortunately, it is perhaps not the best idea to start with this book as the series seems to be on a free fall.
Imagine a school of kids trained to become vampire hunters. That is the Helios-Ra High School, run by the humans called Helios-Ra who devote their lives to the eradication of the fanged kind. However, things have become less clear cut recently: the Helios-Ra boss, Hart, signed a peace agreement with Helena Drake, currently the queen of the fanged kind. While previously, members of the Helios-Ra just stake whatever vampire that catches their fancy, now they must distinguish between the "good" and the "bad" vampires. The bad vampires will be the bloodthirsty Hel-Blar types, of course.
Our 18-year old heroine Hunter Wild comes from a long line of well-respected vampire slayers. She has only one more year to go before graduation when this story opens, and you can bet that it's going to be one year to remember. Aside from the usual problems instigated by a teacher who can't stand her guts and exam blues, Hunter also has to deal with unexpected assaults of Hel-Blar on the school as well as what seems like widespread usage of "vitamin pills" among her peers (including her best friend and room mate Chloe) that lead to bizarre deaths. On top of it all, she has to deal with her infatuation on Quinn Drake.
Out For Blood is actually a PSA masquerading as a story. Using anabolic steroids is bad! It kills both humans and vampires! While Ms Harvey takes care not to go on a soapbox and preach, the anvil is still woven into the plot in a manner blatant enough for even the most oblivious reader to detect. That's not to say that this story is boring, though. The mystery of the vitamin pills may lead to a rather predictable denouement, but the author builds up the mystery in a manner intriguing enough to keep me wanting to learn more.
The biggest disappointment in this story is the characterization, which is disappointingly superficial.
Quinn is practically a one-dimensional character here. He is an angst-free teenage vampire who loves being what he is, making him a refreshing change from the angst-ridden creepy-eyed stalkers out there, but his characterization stops there. All I know, by the last page, is that Quinn likes his ladies a lot and he's, er, happier than most of his kind.
Hunter is portrayed as a Buffy wannabe (Quinn actually calls her Buffy here), but she is far from a capable heroine. I won't have an issue with this if the author hadn't passed Hunter off as one of the star students of Helios-Ra High School. Hunter only succeeds in taking down some random Hel-Blar mooks, and even then, she's working in a group. Left to her own devices, she's very dependent on Quinn or Kieran, another student, to help her extricate herself from her mess. I certainly would agree that Hunter may be out of her depths here as taking on actual vampires is far different from simulated training in school, but Ms Harvey doesn't give Hunter any chance to prove herself here. Whenever Hunter is in danger, Quinn or Kieran shows up to quickly deal with the problem.
It's not just Hunter that suffers from the Just A Chick syndrome, though. Lucy is now officially a burden to her boyfriend Nicholas, as she now shows up to mouth off a few sassy lines before getting into trouble or requiring protection. Solange is moping and sighing when she's not making out with Kieran. Thankfully Isabeau doesn't show up in person here - I'd hate to see her suffer the fates of Lucy and Solange by being turned into Yet Another Girlfriend in this book. It seems like love renders female characters useless and reduces their roles to being their boyfriends' arm accessories in this author's universe, sigh.
The heroine being far less capable than she's supposed to be aside, Out For Blood is still a pretty decent read by all means. Unfortunately, it follows two books that have far more memorable characters and story lines. As a result, it just doesn't measure up in this instance.
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