PROS: Strong female lead character; interesting side characters; fantastic use of things like smell and taste; 1980s pop culture; inventive new vampires; tantalizing hints at new magics.
CONS: Takes a little bit to really get going.
BOTTOM LINE: A fun, sharp take on vampires that forges new ground over tired tropes and becomes a satisfying, wild ride.
There is nothing I love more in this life than a good vampire novel. I blame the fact that I read Anne Rice at a very formative and rather inappropriately young age. I can’t help it. If there are vampires mentioned anywhere, I am there with bells on. While I’ve read a lot of really interesting vampire fiction I’ve also slogged my way through tired, uninspiring bloodsucking tales. Thankfully, Minerva Zimmerman’s debut novel is in the former category. Take On Me is full of fresh new vampire ideas and has a great cast of characters.
The novel takes place in the mid 1980s and uses the culture of the decade to aplomb. Zimmerman uses her 80s references sparingly and to great impact. This isn’t a Ready Player One-esque reference-orama. She smartly uses the 80s as set dressing and it feels more real and organic because of it. This isn’t someone who decided to write in the 80s because they’re popular or hip, it’s just that the story works best in the glamorous, confusing 80s. There are some scenes that take place much earlier, bits and pieces of character background that Zimmerman uses with surgical precision to highlight both her characters and the age they live in. This compare-and-contrast way of writing works well to highlight the different backgrounds and baggage these characters have.
The main characters are Alex, a vampire of indeterminate age who is finishing up his residency at a hospital, and Hannah, a suicidal teen he turns to save. While Alex is an excellent character and I loved seeing him, Hannah is the real star of the story. She’s brash and brave in the fragile way a teenager can be. She’s running from a controlling brother and gets caught up in forces she can’t even begin to understand. I loved her utterly. Her sarcasm is charming, her perseverance is admirable and I can not wait to read more about her.
The other characters in the book are well fleshed out and interesting. Hannah’s brother comes off as creepy and deluded, Alex’s vampire friends are presented as everything from hilariously meddling to shockingly deadly. Every single one of them were intriguing and seemed to jump off the page.
The book starts off slowly, perhaps a little too slowly, but once it finds its footing it races to a shocking, amazing ending. The groundwork has to be carefully laid so we can understand the impact of certain decisions but I wish it had moved a little faster. The beginning has a lot to cover and that weight makes it a bit unwieldy, but once the story gets going though, things slide swiftly into place. The plot is tight and doesn’t meander, and the dialogue is honed like a fine blade. It quickly became impossible to put the book down and the end hit me like a punch in the sternum.
I love that Take On Me also doesn’t rely on tired old vampire notions. Zimmerman has a fresh take on them that I found incredibly refreshing and fun. There’s the usual stuff you can’t get away from; preternatural strength, healing, etc., but it forges new ground with a very cool exploration of what smells tell vampires about each other, interesting new abilities, and much needed boundaries. A vampire that gets kicked in the knee will still have to deal with a broken leg for a few days. There also isn’t much existential vampire angst. No “why god me” or “I’m an abomination!”. These are savvy, smart vampires trying to live their lives.
Ultimately, I found Take On Me to be a fun romp through the 80s with a new kind of vampire. The characters are fantastic, the plot well done and though the pacing falters at the start it more than makes up for it later. Take On Me is the first book in a planned trilogy and I can not wait for the next installment. Minerva Zimmerman is a great new urban fantasy voice and this series has serious potential.