Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Blood Memories by Barb Hendee

Dear Ms. Hendee,

book review While I haven’t read them, I’m more familiar with your traditional fantasy books co-written with your husband.   I had no idea you were even working on an urban fantasy novel until I opened up a package Jane sent me and found this book’s cover staring up at me.   I’ve said in the past that I’m growing weary of urban fantasy, and this one featured a vampire heroine to boot, but I was in a good mood and more willing to give it a try.   Since I read the first chapter and found myself unable to stop until I reached the end, that turned out to be a good decision.

Eleisha is a nearly 200-year-old vampire.   In this world, vampires have a gift, which is essentially a defining quality they had in life pushed to supernatural extremes.   This gift can range from sexual magnetism, irresistible charm, to mindnumbing fear.   Eleisha’s is helplessness.   This doesn’t mean she can’t take care of herself.   It means exactly the opposite actually.   Instead, she brings out the protective instinct in everyone around her, making them want to come to her rescue.   I thought this was a wonderful reversal from the typical kickbutt heroine we normally encounter in UF novels, and it was the perfect illustration that you don’t have to be able to take on ten opponents at the same time to be dangerous.   Eleisha’s gift putting her gift into action is one of the more unnerving and disturbing things I’ve seen in fiction recently because I think we’ve all met someone who brings out those instincts in us.   Now imagine if that person was a vampire who intended to make you dinner.

(un)Life’s going well for Eleisha until one day she receives a phone call from her friend and fellow vampire, Edward.   Sounding ill and unstable, she immediately goes to his house and discovers he’s been eating dog corpses (vampires can’t consume food in this world because it’ll make them ill since their digestive system no longer works) and acting very bizarre.   Eleisha is at a loss to help him and before she can stop him, he walks out into the sunlight.   That’s bad enough.   What makes matters worse is that he does so in front of three police officers who watch in disbelief as he bursts into flame.   When you factor in the details that one of the officers is a telepath (vampires release all of their memories upon death, effectively sending a mental blast to anyone in the general vicinity and their vampire sires) and another is a psychometrist, Eleisha has a very big problem.

Eleisha flees Portland with the her aged, vampire companion, William, and seeks refuge with another vampire, Maggie.   Unfortunately, the telepath and psychometrist follow her.   What follows is a game of cat and mouse as Eleisha tries to elude one man who’s taken it upon himself to rid the world of vampires while trying to make the other understand what made her.

As I said earlier, Eleisha is not your standard UF heroine.   She can’t fight.   She’s not tough.   Her entire gift depends on her looking fragile.   I found that extremely refreshing.   I also liked the fact that these vampires are not the brooding, angsting characters we so often find in UF novels.   In fact, Eleisha is often very scornful:

Film portraits of some handsome romantic undead hero bemoaning the fact that he’ll never again see the sunrise have always made me gag. Edward and I used to go to the threater when we were bored and giggle during those silly scenes. We probably annoyed a lot of people. But after the first few adjustment years, I never missed the sun. My world is dark, and if I want light, I just stay home and run up the power bill. Why should anyone living an unnatural existence long for natural light? Ridiculous.

One of my major criticisms of vampires in fiction is that they don’t read like vampires.   I realize there’s a fine line to tread between keeping a character sympathetic and making her unrelatable, but often times I feel like supposed vampire characters read just like humans who sometimes drink blood.   Is that really believeable when some of these characters have lived for centuries?   The vampires in in Blood Memories read like vampires, alien and detached from humanity.   Perhaps not quite as foreign and eeries as the vampires of Joey E. Hill’s vampire erotica novels but these have the same sort of feel to them.   I personally like that.

I also found Eleisha’s backstory very fresh, if sad and unfortunate.   How many characters can you think of that are made into vampires in order to take care of a vampire suffering from Alzheimer’s? (Spoilers follow. Unfortunately, I’m having technical difficulties with the spoiler code. I apologize.) Eleisha was a servant to Lord William when they were both alive and human.   But as he got older, he developed symptoms that we today associate with Alzheimer’s.   When everyone withdrew from him in disgust, including his own wife, Eleisha became his companion and nursemaid.   When William’s wife begs their son, Julian (who by that time was already a vampire) to make William into a vampire to heal him, he reluctantly agrees.   Julian’s concern is that William’s strong sense of mortality will prevent him from being able to drink blood from a person.   It turns out even worse than he feared.   Not only can his father not drink blood from humans and other vampires, he wasn’t healed and now he’s trapped for eternity as a vampire suffering from Alzheimer’s.   Considering this an even greater abomination now than before, Julian makes Eleisha into a vampire so she can be William’s nursemaid for eternity as well. (End spoilers.) I found this a very powerful reminder that everything has a price and not everything goes according to plan, that in fact every action and choice has consequences.

Thank you for avoiding the almost UF-standard love triangle.   In fact, there wasn’t much of a romantic subplot in this book at all.   That might change in the future but I found that a nice change of pace.   I will honest, though, when I say I found the telepath’s obsession with Eleisha very creepy and unhealthy.   The disconnect between his feelings for her and Eleisha’s inability to understand them was another effective way to remind us that Eleisha is no longer human.   I also want to thank you for portraying the tense relationship between Eleisha and Maggie.   I’ve complained in the past that we don’t see enough UF heroines have female friends, and it was nice to see how two different vampire women could work past their differences to reach some accord.   I look forward to future books in this series.   B

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

12 Comments

  1. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 15:42:24

    Oh, hey…I’m interested. I’ve been on a serious reading binge lately.

  2. Brie
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 15:46:42

    I’m familiar with Hendee’s work with her husband. I’ve read a couple of books in that series and liked them enough. Their take on vampires in that series was different as well.

    I’m bored with how formulaic UF has become: Kick-ass heroine, two or more love interests, no other females to be seen, etc., etc. More and more they are edging towards interchangeable and predictable. But this one sounds promising, and lacking most of the UF cliches. I think I’ll give it a go.

    Thanks for the review.

  3. Jia
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 15:49:20

    Huh, what happened to my spoiler code? Let me see if I can fix that, or at least indicate the spoilers!

  4. Shanna
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 16:34:12

    I’m about halfway through this book and I’m having a hard time with it. I find Eleisha to be really unlikeable. I agree it’s kind of nice to have a character that isn’t the stereotypical UF heroine but I just don’t have any sympathy for her. I am determined to finish it however. Maybe I’ll change my mind by the end.

  5. Diana Peterfreund
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 21:55:10

    Sounds interesting — also, a bit like a critical response to Twilight (especially given the suicidal Edward). After all, wouldn’t Eleisha’s power make good sense for Bella, who inspired so much “protective instincts” in others as a human?

  6. Val Kovalin
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 22:55:48

    Excellent review, Jia! You managed to articulate what it is that I find formulaic about urban fantasy and just couldn’t quite pin down myself. I think it was all fresh when Laurell K. Hamilton did it with Guilty Pleasures back in 1993: kick-ass heroine, no female friends, love triangle, et cetera. But since then the writers that follow (at least the risk-adverse ones) are trying too hard to stay in her footsteps and copy exactly what she did.

    And I never really thought about the concept of vampires seeming too much like humans who just drink a little blood now and again. :) Very insightful! You’re right, they should be vastly different from humans.

  7. Jia
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 06:23:06

    Diana: Funny you mention that. I did a little research and apparently this book is a rewritten re-release of a novel Hendee published nearly 10 years ago, so it actually predates the Twilight phenomenon by many years. On the other hand, this was probably a good time for a re-release because it offers a nice change of pace.

    Val: The 400-year-old vampire who acts like a 17-year-old is one my biggest pet peeves in vampire fiction. Even if a person is “frozen” in time so to speak, the passage of time still has its effects mentally, for better or worse. Like I said, I know it’s a fine line authors tread. You can’t make the vampire too inhuman for fear of making them unsympathetic (and as noted above in the comments, Eleisha can come off as unsympathetic) but as a reader, sometimes I wish authors would try to work with these ideas and themes more often.

  8. Karen W.
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 10:26:34

    I’m so looking forward to this book! I enjoyed the dhampir series by Ms. Hendee and her husband, but I love urban fantasy even more, and it sounds great.

  9. Susan/DC
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 13:02:47

    I know I read a book recently where a character was dying (of cancer, I think) and the heroine asked the hero to turn him. The hero refused, saying that it would only doom the character to an eternity of pain, as then neither the cancer nor Death could vanquish the other. I’ve scanned my book journal, however, and it’s not there, which only emphasizes that the whole reason I have to keep such a journal is because my memory is like a sieve. If I didn’t write them down (and I clearly forget to write ALL of them down), I wouldn’t remember half of what I read.

  10. Brie
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 13:10:38

    Susan, that story sounds like Kathryn Smith’s Be Mine Tonight.

  11. Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary » Dear Author Recommended Reads for October
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 15:00:44

    […] is that we have few books to recommend this month. Jia liked, but did not love, Barb Hendee’s Blood Memories. I liked Deirdre Martin’s Power Play and the upcoming Samhain release by Maya Banks, Into the […]

  12. Barb Hendee
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 10:23:38

    Oh, Jia,

    Thank you for this insightful and detailed review. Yes, I did write this novel ten years ago, and although I am still fond of the book, I just completed the sequel . . . and I like it much better (smiles).

    Thanks again.
    Best,
    Barb

%d bloggers like this: