Saturday, November 1, 2008

Review - "Blood Memories" by Barb Hendee

When I learned that Barb Hendee had written an urban fantasy I was quick to pick up a copy as I love urban fantasy and admire her and coauthor J.C. Hendee’s Noble Dead fantasy series. I figured this would be a guaranteed good read. Boy was I in for a surprise.

This slim novel (243 pages) tells the story of Eleisha, a vampire who was turned in her teens in the early 1800’s in Wales. Now living in modern day Portland, she is the caretaker of her sire’s senile father (also turned vampire). Another vampire, William also lives in the city. They hunt for blood and the life force of humans whom they must kill - to protect their secrets and sustain themselves. There is much recounting of hunts in gory detail and flashbacks to fill in the back story. This is the vampire trope presented as a psychopath. Remorseless killing machines.

I find it difficult to connect with characters of this nature and I strongly felt I was reading a horror novel not an urban fantasy. Finally five pages before the end at page 238, Eleisha has an epiphany that she doesn’t have to kill her victims to survive. I made a note to include a relevant quote, but unfortunately it is not included here (but more on that in a moment). Hurray, perhaps she was a character with a chance of redemption after all. This was now solidly in urban fantasy territory and the obvious setup for future sequels, but to me seemed too little too late. This was disappointing but not the surprise.

Prior to posting my reviews I visit the author’s websites and blogs to pick up any additional tidbits of interest, check for links and other items of merit. This is where I found a series of discouraging surprises relating to Blood Memories.

Here is what I discovered –
  1. Buried in her FAQ section is a mention that Blood Memories is revised version of a novel written in the mid-nineties. Ms. Hendee updated the book to 2008 and rewrote the last three chapters to set up the sequels. I guess if I had researched the book more thoroughly before purchasing I might have known this. Silly me. This confirmed my sense that this was a horror novel as there was not much urban fantasy being written then with the current 21st century urban fantasy sensibilities. It also illuminated the sudden character about face near the conclusion of the book.

    I respect a writer’s right to repurpose their work as they see fit. But in my mind this was little more then ‘bait and switch’. A deliberate and calculated decision to jump on the strong urban fantasy bandwagon with a minimum of effort, but without disclosing to fans of the genre what they were really buying. To me the sudden change in character motivations near the end invalidates the characters very foundation moving forward in a series. Really in 170 years of undead life, Eleisha never considered the possibility, or failed to kill a victim and discovered she was replenished anyway? Or for that matter, any of the other vampires. Enough said.

  2. You will note I did not include the pivotal quote or even include the usual cover blurb in this review. Again in the FAQ’s a question is posed – Can I quote from your books on my website, blog etc.? And the response is a vehement – “Sorry, but no… absolutely no.” She provides a few eyebrow raising reasons and finishes with a final condescending note about her criteria for 'professional reviewers' – “If you feel the need to ask for more detail on these criteria, you can immediately assume you do not qualify.” Wow. Hence no details in my review. I have always found the urban fantasy community of authors to be open and friendly. This is anything but.

  3. Finally you will also note there is no link to an excerpt from the novel. Not because I didn’t want to include one. There isn’t one at the publishers site, however there is one on the www.barbhendee.com website but it is not linkable. I suspect deliberately so given point two above.
I know this has been a bit of a rant, not my usual style, so please feel free to comment. Blood Memories is Book 1 in a new series to be called The Vampire Memories. Sadly I cannot recommend it. As an alternative check out the Hendee’s fine Noble Dead saga.

13 comments:

  1. Straight from the Copyright office itself:
    Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

    Therefore, you could, regardless of what an author or publisher might say, use quotes in your reviews.

    I'm really sorry to hear about your experience and I really hope that this is just a misunderstanding that will be quickly cleared up.

    But I can totally see how the author's position as stated here would make you decide not to provide any quote at all.

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  2. Thanks for the references Carolyn and for stopping by. The whole situation just caught me by surprise. I really respect Ms. Hendee's work and this all just seemed out of character, perhaps from a prior bad experience.

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  3. And Carolyn I also intended to say that I've read the entire Crimson City novels which are just fabulous.

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  4. I read this book also, and felt the same way you did also.
    http://kbgbabbles.blogspot.com/2008/10/bood-memories-review-and-chat.html

    But I didn't quote from the book, because quite honestly, the book wasn't worth quoting.

    ReplyDelete
  5. KB read your review and agree. Glad to see I am not alone in my assessment. Sad thing is I really wanted to like this book and the forthcoming series.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I guess I'm in the minority here. I thought Blood Memories was an excellent novel, and I felt the characters especially Elisha were well realized. For better or worse I bought into the world Hendee created. It is dark, no doubt about it.

    Recently I read another thumbs down review of this book. Can't remember which blog.

    I didn't quote from the book either, although I have done so with other reviews of novels. It never occurred to me to check if it was OK.

    Just my 2 cents :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Patricia. My negative review stems more from the expectation that this was to be an urban fantasy. I just don't think retrofitting it as a contemporary urban fantasy works. As a dark fantasy/horror novel it is actually engaging enough.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hey SciFiGuy

    I understand! You think you're getting one thing and instead get something else!

    Publishers, and authors, love to jump on the bandwagon of whatever is popular at the moment wether it fits or not.

    All the best, Patricia

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  9. I was going to read this book, but after I requested it sometime ago and was given the professional reviewer criteria, decided to pass. I was offended, not because I was told no, but because I felt knocked down in the rejection. Don't get me wrong, I've been told no before, but the condescending manner I was told this time became an instant turn off.

    That said, I'm sorry it wasn't what you thought. Do you consider it to be an advertising flaw at all?

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  10. Wow. Well, here's my question: how many "authoritative scholarly critique" organizations are jumping to review re-worked horror/UF novels these days?

    Yuck. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Why would an author want to alienate her readers and reviewers? In many cases we "amateur" reviewers and bloggers are an author's most influential and hard-working PR/marketing team. And we work FOR FREE. Shutting out the reviewers and limiting their ability to post thorough reviews is a really good way to keep a book from selling. Not a wise move if you ask me.

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  11. Hey Scooper, I can only conjecture on the advertising strategy here but certainly the cover design is visually consistent with recent urban fantasy branding. It is labeled in small print on the back as part of the Roc 'Fantasy' line.

    ReplyDelete

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