by Christopher Farnsworth
Readers who are tiring of kick-ass psychic lady vampire slayers and their not-vicious-like-the-other-ones vampire lovers might want to give Christopher Farnsworth's Blood Oath a try. What romance Farnsworth serves up is refreshingly perfunctory, definitely taking a back seat to punchy action set pieces that infuse the novel with a summer-movie vibe. Blood Oath is decidedly heavy on the testosterone, but in this season of increasing sameness in the genre, this female reader found it a nice palate-cleanser.
Our protagonist is Zach Barrows, a brash and talented twenty-something on the Washington fast track. Zach's greatest asset is also his downfall: Rarely does he think through his actions to their eventual consequences. That's how he finds himself bounced from the inner circle at the White House to the Siberia of the back rooms of the Smithsonian, where his new job/punishment awaits. It seems that Special Agent William Griffin ("Griff," of course) is retiring, leaving open a position vital to national security; Zach is assigned to replace him. What, exactly, does Griff do? Why, he "handles" America's most dangerous secret weapon: Nathaniel Cade, a vampire from the Civil War era who is bound by the titular oath to serve the interests of the President of the United States.
Cade operates far below the radar, a one-man black-ops wrecking crew. He does the dirty, plausible-deniability jobs that officials will later claim never took place. Cade is no scary-on-the-outside, vulnerable-on-the-inside bloodsucker. He is menacing through and through, so much so that Zach wets himself at their first meeting. Cade's oath prevents him from harming the suits who give him his orders, but affords no protection for anyone else. Fortunately and probably predictably, Cade's core of decency and honor, the last vestige of his long-sublimated humanity, modulates his behavior most of the time. But make no mistake: Cade is a badass, pitiless killer; few readers will lose their hearts to him, though many will come to respect him--and perhaps to sympathize with him--as the novel rushes from one action-packed scene to another.
Despite its nineteenth-century presidential vampire and his Frankenstein-like immortal foe (he's building new, zombie-like super-soldiers out of what's left of dead ones!), Blood Oath feels utterly contemporary. Corruption is rife, and shadowy agencies pull strings in plots that often seem in direct opposition to the government's purported goals. The bad guys range from treasonous government officials to zealous Islamic terrorists to a lazy, spoiled brat willing to sell out his country for an easy buck. The paranoia is palpable; it quickly becomes clear that Zach and Cade can trust no one, maybe not even Tania, a vampire with murky ties to Cade whose motives may be suspect. There are a few political/moral undercurrents: a high-ranking figure turns out to be a traitor, an obsession with physical beauty leads to a horrors-of-plastic-surgery comeuppance, and the abuse of the soldiers' corpses after their death may be meant as an allegory for society's lack of appreciation for their sacrifice. But Blood Oath never dwells on the deep stuff.
Farnsworth's prose is charged but clipped, racing along at top speed. He knows how to turn a phrase; though the words might be prosaic, he has a knack for painting a scene in fresh, crisp shorthand. Bon mots a la Schwarzenegger pepper the dialogue, but manage to avoid being too hackneyed; occasionally, they are laugh-out-loud funny.
What a pity that beach season has come to an end, because Blood Oath is the perfect beach read, particularly for vampire lit fans who have had their fill of moaning, mooning vampires and the tough-talking slayers who love them.
This review was written by Sandy Rainey (using her own purchased book)