REVIEW: All That Bleeds by Kimberly Frost
Dear Ms. Frost:
This book ended up being too frothy for me. Alissa is a Muse and as such her role in life is to inspire those around her. The big concept in the book is that the heroine is competing to be the Best Muse of All (or for to be the Wreath Muse) which is akin to a Miss Universe pagaent complete with an evening gown competition and a swimsuit (“I’ve heard we’ll be wearing bathing suits for the photo shoot by the retreat’s tropical indoor pool. No gloves or long skirts for that session.”) and sportswear component as well. It’s not even ironic. Her competition is her former best friend:
Cerise Xenakis, her former best friend, held court at the center. Cerise’s dark hair gleamed in the candlelight. She wore a daring dress of white leather and pewter lace. From a distance it looked like lingerie, and Alissa had heard that Cerise had taken the dress from a music video she’d starred in for the Molly Times, one of the bands she inspired. The Molly Times’s debut album had gone platinum and had been nominated for three Grammy Awards.
Alissa swallowed hard, wondering to whose presentation the EC—the Etherlin Council—had given more votes: hers or Cerise’s. Among the people Cerise inspired, there were an Olympic gold medalist, a Heisman Trophy winner, a principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, and four multiplatinum musical artists. Among Alissa’s aspirants, her writers had won a Pulitzer, three National Book Awards, and two Academy Awards. Her scientific and engineering aspirants had published eighty-four scientific papers and generated nineteen patents, two of which Alissa had been included on. She had transferred her share in the patents to the Etherlin community trust. She was proud that her work on clean energy had generated eight million dollars over four years. That was four million more than she’d made modeling. She wanted to be respected and regarded as a muse of substance, but she was glad to have the modeling income for the community as well. She knew that with her combined earnings, she’d contributed more money to the trust than all the other current muses combined.
The romance tension comes from Alissa falling for someone who is forbidden to her. Alissa is the daughter of the House of North and one of the most accomplished Muses of all time. The Wreath comes with extra powers. (Kind of like a power up pack in a video game). Alissa seems to be a shoo in. She even seems to have the support of the father of her closest rival.
Alissa’s coronation, however, is imperiled by a scandal involving Merrick, a ventala. A ventala is the progeny of a human and a vampire. Some view Alissa with suspicion regardless because her mother killed herself. Alissa must be an exemplar candidate because she needs to be the Wreath Muse in order to save her father who is suffering from some kind of dementia. Alissa met Merrick when he saved her from a demon five years ago. Ever since then, Alissa has secretly written him letters and he has left her gifts. When Alissa is up for the
crown title Wreath she begins to be targeted by someone dangerous. Merrick comes back to protect her with the Etherlin security team reluctantly allowing him into their midst.
Part of Alissa’s danger seems to be intertwined with her mother’s suicide and her father’s dementia. Unlocking those mysteries will reveal a dark side to Etherlin.
On the one hand, there was some interesting world building. Outside the Etherlin live a mix of humans, vampires, demons and ventala in the Varden. There are syndicates that rule with Varden and its fairly lawless…yet, the Muses venture out during sanctioned visits to inspire greatness. (Are they inspiring the gangsters? I could never really tell if the Muses were responsible for all the success or only the good success. Were there evil Muses out there? ) Alissa says:
“To be entitled to a muse’s energy and efforts, a person has to work extremely hard and has to have talent or intelligence, ingenuity and drive. Do you understand? There aren’t a lot of muses. Our focused attention facilitates the greatest inventions, the greatest works of literature, feats of athleticism, scientific discoveries . . . If a muse expends energy on someone who isn’t capable of doing something extraordinary with it, then what happens to the person who could have created a masterpiece or the next technological revolution? It’s actually a weakness in my character that I haven’t stopped.”
The idea is that the people who live in Etherlin are superior. They are ruled by intellect and inspire others to create great art, invent useful products, or be successful politicians. Yet the vampires are looked down upon because they are impulsive and driven by emotion and need. Isn’t there some inherent inconsistency here? Someone who inspires others through emotion thinks that emotion is somehow devaluing? And what is with all the focus on how someone looks in their gowns and their bathing suits if you are a MUSE? My face, it has a very confused look on it.
The Etherlin people hold a pageant to pick their Wreath Muse! How can these people think themselves superior? Their entire days are spent looking good. Alissa has to meet with the Ralph Lauren people but soon “She hoped to be completely consumed with the Wreath Muse publicity tour and the obligations of the role.” In the end, I couldn’t get over that a) I was reading a paranormal pageant book interspersed with some vampire sexxoring and B) the only reason that Alissa wanted the Wreath was to save her father. Seems rather unMuse like to me and the ending. Oy, the ending. It shot another huge hole in the worldbuilding.