The Reformed Vampire Support Group | Paranormal Support Groups #1 | ISBN 9781847247780 | Quercus, 2009 | 4 out of 5 Points
“Think vampires are romantic, sexy, and powerful? Think again. Vampires are dead. And unless they want to end up staked, they have to give up fanging people, admit their addiction, join a support group, and reform themselves.
Nina Harrison, fanged at fifteen and still living with her mother, hates the Reformed Vampire Support Group meetings every Tuesday night. Even if she does appreciate Dave, who was in a punk band when he was alive, nothing exciting ever happens. That is, until one of group members is mysteriously destroyed by a silver bullet. With Nina (determined to prove that vamps aren’t useless or weak) at the helm, the misfit vampires soon band together to track down the hunter.”
(*I have changed the blurb slightly to avoid spoilers. If you want the complete experience, don’t read the full blurb please)
This book is not your typical vampire book.
I know, I know, there have been a ton of books claiming that since the zenith of the Twilight Saga, and hardly any of those books delivered. In the end, ‘Not your typical vampires’ mostly comes down to Vampires who have slightly different powers, but unless they are portrayed as animalistic monsters, they are still elegant, powerful beings who put the super into supernatural.
IMMORTALITY WITHOUT THE PERKS
But Catherine Jinks’ vampires turn a ton of our pre-conceived notions on its head. Yes, they are still immortal; yes, exposure to the sun still kills them; and yes, they still need blood to survive; but they are not powerful, and they are not elegant. The best word to describe Jinks’ vampires is weak. And I am not talking about Twilight ‘We are vegetarians, so we are slightly less strong than other vampires’ weak. I mean newborn kitten weak. Old sick woman weak. The kind of weak you get after going through chemo therapy. They are so lethargic that they have to spend most nights lying on couches and watching TV because they have no energy for more, they can’t carry anything that’s too heavy, any kind of bright like makes them sick, and they suffer from constant headaches and nausea. If they are injured, they don’t heal, and while it won’t kill them, it will significantly lower their quality of life.
I have taken a look at the goodreads comments, which I don’t usually do before I write my own review, and I’ve seen that a lot of people didn’t like what Catherine Jinks did with her vampires, because they’re not ‘real’ vampires anymore, or because it’s something they weren’t expecting and couldn’t find a way to enjoy it. To be honest, I was incredibly happy that this book was not about ‘normal’ vampires. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a huge Anne Rice geek in my teens, and I still enjoy the one or other paranormal romance with swoon-worthy, all-powerful vampire heroes, but this version of vampires, of immortality, was so absolutely compelling that I did not miss Lestat’s elegance or Marius’ strength one second. In “The Reformed Vampire Support Group”, immortality is deeply unpleasant, but the vampires in this are still our heroes, and having a group of heroes with so many physical impairments makes the stakes so much higher.
For starters, you don’t need super-powered villains if your heroes don’t have superpowers themselves, and since the villains of this book are basically p-o-s hillbillies with A TON of guns, our heroes were pretty goddamn outmatched. Remember, if they get injured, they stay injured. Imagine living an eternity with a fractured lung or a shot liver. Their inability to heal makes the stakes even higher than if they’d be able to die, to be honest, because a normal human could take a bullet to the arm or the belly and heal and have a normal life after that. But one of the support group vampires? No chance.
Also, I just kinda like reading about people with physical limitations. Not just because it makes every conflict more interesting, but because there are a lot of people in the real world who are physically limited in some way, whether because of an injury, a chronical illness or a disability, and those people very rarely get to be heroes who save the day through pure daring. Even one of the most iconic physically limited characters in literature, Tyrion Lannister, doesn’t really survive because of usual heroic means, but because of his wits.
Don’t get me wrong, Nina, our protagonist, is pretty clever, and the second most important vampire, Dave, even more so. But Nina is, above all, rash and courageous in the kind of way you only get to be when you know you are outnumbered on all sides, but you still want to do the right thing, and Dave’s loyalty makes him follow Nina into the most dangerous situations, which also can’t quite be called ‘witty’, if we’re honest. But they still survive, they still beat the villains. They get to be heroes like any other young heroes in books, even though they are weaker, slower, and extremely handicapped by the fact that they are basically dead throughout the day. I really liked that, and I’d really like to read more books like this, if I can find them.
HELLO, MY NAME IS NINA AND I’M A VAMPIRE
Another thing that just really made this book extremely fun to read was the characters. Since the whole thing revolves around a vampire support group, of course this group had to have members, right? So we have a pretty big cast, which can be a bit tricky for some authors because the temptation to just ignore some of them completely is very big, and readers can get confused about who is who quite easily. The members of the reformed vampires support group, though, are all distinct and honestly interesting enough to stay visible behind the more illustrious characters of Nina, bitten at 15 in the ‘70s and still living with her mother, Dave, a local ex-musician, and the unofficial leader of the group, Sanford, a doctor and the guy who created the means by which they can survive without human blood. There is Bridgette, who used to be a nun and got bitten as an old woman and spends most of her time knitting, Gladys, who used to be a streetwalker in 1920s Sidney before she was bidden and who whines all the time about everything, Horatio, who was the first vampire created in Australia and who is reeaaally into the whole powerful-gothic-vampire thing, even though he’s as weak as any of them and George, who doesn’t do a lot except breed the guinea pigs they live off (instead of drinking human blood), but who is also described as generally not being the most clever bloke, so I guess that’s okay.
(Can I just say how much I love the concept of a nun vampire? I love the concept a lot.)
The whole cast is just so goddamn interesting and the scenes were all of them are together are so absolutely funny that I feel like I actually really know all of these characters (except George. Poor George. But a guy who likes guinea pigs can’t be so bad). There are just so many interesting details about vampire life that really feel fresh and new, and I also love that they actually need a ton of human help, which they get in the form of Father Ramon, a local priest, and Nina’s 60-year-old mother. God, I loved Nina’s mother so much. Not just her absolute no-bullshit attitude, but also her huge commitment to her daughter made her an incredibly compelling character. Father Ramon was also just such a lovely person, and an honest to god saint for not once complaining about all the bullshit the vampires keep putting him through.
The plot was also really interesting. The basic premise is that one vampire was killed, and now they know that a vampire killer is looking for them. When they turn the tables and start looking for him (to explain to him that they are no danger to anybody but guinea pigs), they stumble into a plot that is far too big for any of them. There are a ton of really interesting twists, and Nina’s PoV voice is just a lot of fun to read. I kept catching myself walking to the kitchen without actually putting the book down (and walking into doors because of it) because I just didn’t want to stop reading.
GIVE ME JUSTICE OR GIVE ME DEATH – OH, WAIT
Now, you might wonder why I have decided to not give this book 5 points even though I liked it so much. The reason for that is pretty simple: I want bad people to be punished in books, and this book did not do that. I mean, even A Song of Ice and Fire killed off a whole ton of their most despicable characters, but in this book, two extremely horrible, abusive people do not get punished, and when the victim of their abuse complains about it, it is shut down because ‘they have changed’.
I think I have already hinted on this in my review about “The Door That Led to Where” but I do not like ‘but they changed’ as a reason to redeem characters who did horrible things to people who were powerless to fight them. I am not going to spoiler the book, but something absolutely horrible happens to a person in it, something that would even make some of the more assholey ASOIAF characters pause, and this person doesn’t even get to openly advocate for punishment for their abusers because they ‘changed’??? That is goddamn bullshit, and I was very, very disappointed by this. Disappointed enough that I’ve subtracted a whole point, not just half a point like I’d usually do. I know you don’t always get your revenge in real life, bad people aren’t always punished in real life, but that’s why I read books – because they aren’t real life.
But even despite its very disappointing ending, I did still just enjoy this book too much to give it less than 4 stars. I’m going to read the second book in the series soon (which you REALLY shouldn’t look up, guys, because MAJOR spoilers), and I really hope that there might be a bit of justice for the poor character who didn’t get his revenge in this book. But if not, I just hope I’ll get more of what made this book great, because I just really loved the characters in this book and I loved the humor and I loved the plot. So, let’s hope for the best.
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