BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Fortitude Scott must investigate the death of a werebear while the supernatural community prepares for a change in leadership.
PROS: Great characters; believable and compelling relationships; original vampire mythos; sets up for one hell of a sequel.
CONS: Murder mystery could use more immediacy; lack of werebear mythos.
BOTTOM LINE: Another solid American Vampire novel that builds on its predecessors and sets up a big change in the series.
I did not expect to receive an ARC of M.L. Brennan’s third Fortitude Scott book so soon. I reviewed Generation V and Iron Night (American Vampire Books 1 and 2) and absolutely adored them, so it was a pleasant surprise when I opened my mailbox to find Tainted Blood. Brennan’s American Vampire series is a bit of an anomaly, I must admit. In recent years I’ve become far more accepting of the urban fantasy genre but I’m still not keen on the usual suspects: vampires, werewolves, and the like. Yet Brennan has me waving the Team Fortitude flag.
It all amounts to her approach. Detective stories are a mainstay of urban fantasy but Brennan averts the gritty hardboiled feel embraced by other authors of the genre and pursues a lighter approach. Sure, there’s murder and violence and all sorts of dark goodness to savor, but it is punctuated by relentless humor. Tainted Blood is a book that takes itself seriously but never too seriously. In past reviews I’ve mentioned wanting to see the series adapted for television and I believe the tone to be similar to that of USA Network’s Psych.
Throughout the series the humor frequently manifests in the relationship between our protagonist, Fortitude, and his sidekick, Suzume. Tainted Blood is no different. Trickster Suzume has some new pranks up her sleeves and while I won’t ruin them for you I will say that this book convinced me to hit the craft store and invest in a bag of plastic googly eyes. Fort and Suze’s relationship is one of the most real and endearing fictional relationships I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. Both characters exhibit agency but the spirit of each really shines through when they’re together. In this book Brennan continues to develop what has been teased at in the previous two books, though in what direction I won’t say.
If Fort’s relationship with Suze provides the levity it’s his interactions with his own family that bring the real drama. Fort’s mother and siblings are a constant source of conflict in his life. The matriarch, Madeline Scott, rules the oldest supernatural empire in the Americas but her reign is nearing its end. Much of Tainted Blood revolves around the transition of power that will take place after Madeline leaves the throne. Fort’s sister Prudence, the oldest of Madeline’s children, is the most obvious choice to fill the power vacuum. The supernatural community is bracing for such a change-up. Prudence is a cold, calculating creature, though Tainted Blood does show readers another side to the character that I never expected to exist. Should Prudence take control of the territory it would likely mean oppression but there is one hope — Fortitude Scott. In his adventures thus far Fort has proven himself to be a far more compassionate breed of vampire, one willing to work with the other monsters rather than beat them into submission. There is, of course, another contender for the throne in Chivalry, Fort’s older brother. Chivalry has been a favorite of mine throughout the series and though he has a much smaller role in this book he too gets some unexpected character development.
It’s a fine line that Brennan treads with the Scott family. Too vicious and her vampires are unsympathetic, too sympathetic and they’re weenies like the Cullen’s. Fortunately for readers Brennan hits the sweet spot. Brennan likes to challenge how you feel about these characters. For every humanizing moment there’s a darker one around the corner. This is what makes the American Vampire books chilling and heartwarming in equal measure. After all, villains have families too…
There are two areas that Tainted Blood felt a little weaker than previous installments, these being the werebear mythos and the murder mystery. With Generation V Brennan introduced a fresh vampire mythos that made the monsters creepy and plausible. With Iron Night Brennan gave us a vision of elves that could give you nightmares just looking at a package of Keebler cookies. Unfortunately the werebear mythos gets little attention in Tainted Blood and this segues into my problem with the murder mystery as well. There’s a lot going on in Tainted Blood between Fort and Suze’s budding relationship, Fort’s ghoulish new roommate and his new side job walking dogs, the death of Chivalry’s previous wife and the humorously morbid search for a replacement, Fort’s continued transition into a full-fledged vampire, the Scott family dynasty, and more. The investigation into the assassination of a werebear clan leader sort of gets lost in the noise until halfway through. It’s hard to fault Brennan for this given the amount of other stuff done right in the book, but the murder investigation lacks a sense of urgency that is present in Generation V and Iron Night.
I will say that when Fort and Suze get around to business and crack the case open it’s pretty satisfying. Feints and red-herrings kept me guessing who was responsible for the murder until the very end — and that’s with only three likely suspects! I wish that I learned more about the werebears over the course of the book (bears are my favorite animals by the way) but perhaps Brennan is just setting us up for the next book. After all, the elves were introduced in Generation V but didn’t get the limelight until Iron Night.
Complaints aside, Tainted Blood was well worth the read and M.L. Brennan’s American Vampire series continues to thrill and delight. Brennan writes urban fantasy in a way I wish more authors were willing to try. Between refreshing mythos, genuine relationships and believable romance, a less-than-hardboiled hero, good-natured fun, and the whole family dynamic this is not a typical urban fantasy series and I eagerly anticipate the next entry.