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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.

Halfway to the Grave

Halfway to the Grave - Jeaniene Frost

I would have devoured this novel like cookie-dough ice cream...when I was sixteen. The same, unfortunately, can be said of Twilight.

*Ducks* Oh, simmer down, Halfway to the Grave fans. I'm not saying the book is the same as Twilight; it's admittedly better, although, let's face it, that bar is set mighty low. Also, there is a resemblance betwixt the two. Both feature a female protagonist who is isolated and somewhat alone; who, lo and behold, finds everlasting love and companionship with a handsome dead guy. An old dead guy.

Catherine (Cat) is a half-vampire, half-human hybrid. (Given that I've written a protag with the same pedigree, I can't take issue with that.) Cat came about when her mother was raped by a vampire, a very young (read "freshly dead") vampire who still had some live swimmers in his sack. Cat, her mother, and grandparents live in a hicksville, a charming place where people still get their Bibles in a twist over single motherhood. This, apparently, is why Cat is friendless and alone. Also, I guess because she's a half vampire and afraid someone might figure out she's different. Honey, I've got news for you. We're all different.

Anyway. To placate mother, who is cray-zee (more on that later), she has spent most of her teenage years and now early twenties, roaming the night, hunting vampires. Because all vampires are Eee-vil. I remind you, that she's half-vampire, so, uh, "Yikes," what a mind-fuck her mom has laid on her. (I can actually relate because my grandmother was a racist who hated Mexicans and I'm half Mexican.)

Well, one evening, a handsome, platinum blond vampire with a Cockney accent strolls into her life. She tries to kill him; he kicks her ass. But...then finding out what she is, he falls instantly in love with her. I mean INSTANTLY. Don't pass Go; Don't collect $200; go straight to love.

It's fucking insane. And not romantic. Or sexy. Thing is, ladies, in real life, if a guy comes on this strong, this fast, you should run like the dogs of hell are nipping at your heels. Seriously. Not good.

Pretty soon Bones (yes, that's his name) is training her to be an uber killer of the undead, because (of course), he's also a hunter of vampires, and is currently on the trail of a very bad vamp. His nemesis, Hennessy, is trafficking in human slaves, young women, i.e., he's a very naughty dead guy.

In principle, this isn't a bad premise. Except the story is waaay more paranormal romance than urban fantasy (UF). In the irritating, "It's time to save the world, but first, let's fuck" sense of the word "romance." In the "Sexual tension and relationship building? We don't need that, let's fuck" sense. (Again, my sixteen-year-old self would have loved all the sexy times. Now? Meh.)

One of the neat things about a good UF is a strong sense of place, a setting so palpable, it's a character in itself, and a cool juxtaposition between magic and mundane. Something, however, that Halfway to the Grave lacks. I've seen better backgrounds in minimalistic, experimental plays, the kind with nothing more than a white backdrop for a set. The story takes someplace in the South, there's a university somewhere, but, uh, that's all that stays with me. I'm not even sure what time of year it is.

The same can be said of any secondary characters. For the most part, there aren't any. The few that pop up are cardboard cutouts, or in the case of Cat's next door neighbor, Timmie, a prop to demonstrate that Bones is a jealous and possessive boyfriend. *Rolls eyes, sees white brain stuff.*

Which leads to Cat's mother and grandparents: Cat's grandparents, seen briefly, since she and mom live with them, are fundy, whackadoodle, god botherers, whose only discourse with Cat consists of the slut shaming thing. When they meet their bloody end, instead of being shocked or sad, I'm doing a little cha-cha-cha dance of happy. For the life of me, I can't see why Cat would give a shit about these old kooks.

And then there's Mom. I have no idea what her real name is; it never seems to come up. Mom was raped by a vampire and has never gotten over it. Yes, I know I'm being insensitive to victims of sexual assault. Except I'm not. Point of fact, I hate the depiction of victims as hopelessly broken, unable to ever be normal. Victims heal; we humans are astonishingly resilient. And it's been more than twenty years since the incident. And no matter horrible the attack, the result was a beautiful daughter that mother "supposedly" loves. It's time Mom moved on and quit twisting her poor daughter with self hatred.

Mom. Hate. Her.

Then there's the Buffy/Spike comparison. So not the case. First, Buffy Summers, though The Chosen One, is not a pathetic, friendless loner. She's got a cadre of good friends, Giles, Angel, and eventually, Spike. The strength of the TV series is the relationship between the Slayer and her Scooby gang. And Spike, though slightly domesticated by his ill-fated attempt to win Buffy over, was never inclined to be a good guy. Point of fact, mostly he was deliciously Evil. That's what made him so yummy. Bones actually bears a stronger resemblance to Angel, although he lacks Angel's overblown case of self-loathing. (No. I wasn't on board the Angel/Buffy ship.)

One review of Halfway to the Grave said it read like fan fiction and I agree and disagree. Agree because it contains many of the wish-fulfillment fantasy wanks of fan works. Disagree, because some fics are pretty good and don't follow this formula. (Even though my own foray into fan fics features the old immortal loves young mortal trope, the h/H don't get to the sexing and I-Love-Yous until late in the story.)

The one thing I liked about Halfway to the Grave? The fact that Cat doesn't turn into a guilt machine when faced with killing human beings. If it's evil, it's dead. She merrily blows the brains out of bad humans with the same verve of killing vamps. If a character is going to be bad ass, she should be bad ass, and not a mewling slave to stupid conscience. In that respect, Cat is awesome.

Ultimately, my own issues with emotionally abusive parenting combined with a fondness for sexual tension over insta-sex/love, doomed any chance for me and this novel to connect. Sorry, book. It's not me, it's you.