Bitten & Smitten
by Michelle Rowen, fantasy (2006)
Warner, $6.50, ISBN 0-446-61700-8


Bitten & Smitten, Michelle Rowen's debut full-length effort, is one of the most enjoyable laugh-out-loud vampire romps I've read in a while. The author has an effervescent sense of humor that works really well because Ms Rowen knows how to walk that fine line to stay within the boundary of "funny" instead of stepping out into "trying too hard" territory.

Set in Toronto, this story introduces our heroine Sarah Dearly who used to be an aspiring actress until she somehow found herself a secretary, oops, executive assistant - a job that is more demanding than rewarding. She doesn't have much of a social life apart from hanging out with her best friend Amy. I don't know why, given that she's pretty enough to land herself a leading role on a TV commercial once upon a time, but I suppose that's how romance heroines can be in such stories.

When the story opens, Sarah's blind date claims to be a vampire. Sarah's memory is a little fuzzy on what happened after a few drinks, but this fellow claims that he has made her his. Forever! Thinking that he is mad, she flees from him... only to run smack into a bunch of fellows who proceed to take out stakes and kill the poor loser date of hers before her horrified eyes. She would have been toast too if she hadn't recovered her wits enough to flee again.Luckily for her, she runs right into Thierry de Bennicoeur. If you can't tell by his cheesy name alone, he's a vampire. Not only that, Sarah will soon learn that he's the vampire that other vampires look up to and fear/admire, even if all Thierry does in this story is to mostly brood and act like a wimp who idolizes Edward Cullen way too much for his own good. Because she is now without a "sire" to show her the ropes, Thierry reluctantly steps in to fill the role. Sarah will have a blast getting to know the vampire culture while trying to reconcile her vampire nature with her human lifestyle, but watch out, vampire hunters are out to ruin her fun...

Sarah can be such a ditsy goof at times but she never truly crosses the line to being too stupid. Okay, telling someone that she is a vampire early on in a bar is a very stupid thing to do, but she's disoriented and still in shock after learning about her new diet, so I can give her a pass in that situation. For the rest of the story, Sarah is a blast to follow as she learns the ropes of being a vampire. The secondary characters complement her personality nicely as she paints the town red - okay, maybe not literally except during that final climatic scene - and Ms Rowen has me laughing so often in the process.

What I really enjoy is the unexpected hard-hitting moments in the story. While this is a humorous tale, the author doesn't shy away from depicting the far-from-pretty nature of the vampires at times. While Sarah can be frustratingly naïve at times, she has to learn the hard way several times that vampires can be mean and dangerous. She tries to be an optimistic Pollyanna at times, but the vampires she interact with and the things they sometimes do can leave her shaken to the core. This aspect of the story adds a most welcome level of depth to things.

What I am not too enamored of is Thierry. It's odd how Sarah is so fixated on being in love with him when she barely knows him and she spends more time in the company of Michael Quinn, a hunter-turned-vampire that becomes her buddy if only because nobody else will want to even talk to him due to him being a vampire hunter once upon a time. Ms Rowen makes more effort detailing Sarah's interactions with Quinn, which is an odd show of priority if you ask me, considering that Sarah's supposed to be in love with Thierry and what not. Thierry spends more time playing the emo cliché - brooding, whining that he wants to die, keeping things from Sarah (including the fact that he has a wife), and generally keeping to the background like boring wallpaper. Why is he attractive? Er, I suppose it must be the whole French name and brooding crybaby face thing. Sarah's a big fan of Anne Rice's vampire novels, after all.

Apart from the hero and the lackluster romance, Bitten & Smitten is a most enjoyable read where I am concerned. Ms Rowen has the whole balance of humor and story down pat here and I have the time of my life as a result.

Rating: 88


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