Byte Marks
by Mardi Ballou, paranormal (2008)
Samhain Publishing, $3.50, ISBN 1-59998-939-5

The heroine of Mardi Ballou's Byte Marks, Dominique LaPierre, is a witch. In this story, she decides to drop in to San Francisco to visit her friend Lilith Graves. Lilith is a half-ghoul who is feeling blue about her uneventful social life. After all, those guys tend to run for the hills after they are introduced to Lilith's ghoul father ("thick blue skin, red eyes, claws and growl") for the first time. At any rate, Dominique could use a little pick-me-up herself since she and her now ex-boyfriend had recently parted ways.

While hitting the social scene of spooks, Dominique bumps into vampire Antoine Thierry ("a cross between Frank Langella's Dracula and Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow"), the owner of the hot spot Club Red. She doesn't usually do spooks. He doesn't usually do non-spooks. But you know how things will turn out between those two, I'm sure. There is a minor issue about Antoine's feelings about Dominique's business venture, but that's easily disposed of in this short story so it's pretty much a non-issue in the end.

The entire premise - owner of spook night spot meets lady on her night out - is an overused one from way back when everyone and her grandmother fancied themselves an author and decided to write a romantic urban fantasy after reading one too many Laurell K Hamilton's books. Byte Marks follows the script faithfully, so there is little surprise to be had here.

In fact, I find myself more intrigued by Lilith as, unlike with the whole boring and overplayed shticks that are the witch heroine Dominique and the vampire hero Antoine, I don't come across many half-ghouls before. I'm especially curious as to how her father managed to get her mother to stay still long enough to impregnate her, given that he's supposed to have claws and poor social manners. Maybe it's because he's rich? Or maybe she's blind or into lovers of the unusual sort? The mind boggles.

The good thing about Byte Marks is that it is a pleasant read. The story starts off on an awkward note when Lilith and Dominique start telling things that they should already know to each other as an obvious way for the author to clue the reader in on the characters' backgrounds, but the author soon finds her rhythm and stride shortly after that bumpy beginning. But because the story is predictable and it follows the script faithfully, this is also a rather unremarkable read as well.

Rating: 70

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