Francesca Marinelli was turned into a vampire over two hundred years ago and then buried beneath her sire’s St. Augustine house as a punishment. The whole nest was then killed, and Cesca languished underground until the 21st century. Now she’s enjoying her second chance — and those handy modern conveniences. Nancy Haddock takes Charlaine Harris’s True Blood idea one step further: Cesca drinks Starbloods, synthetic blood with flavors like caramel macchiato. It’s a good thing she has that option, too, because she is grossed out by blood (and can barely stand the synthetic stuff).
Always the Vampire is the third in Haddock’s Oldest City Vampire series. As the book begins, Cesca’s boyfriend Deke Saber is suffering from a potentially fatal illness brought on by the Void, an evil magical thoughtform. Later she learns that her ex, Triton, has it too. Now she and her friends have to figure out who created the Void and how to defeat it. And the last thing Cesca wants right now is supernatural drama; she already has her hands full with her friend Maggie’s wedding.
I think my experience with this book suffered for my not having read the first two installments. It’s not that I was confused; Haddock does a good job of bringing a new reader up to speed on what’s happened so far. But reading a recap of previous events is different from actually “experiencing” those events. It doesn’t inspire the same emotional investment in the characters or their relationships. Series faithful will, I’m sure, enjoy Always the Vampire more fully than I did.
Readers’ enjoyment will also depend upon expectations. This is a light, frothy novel. To go back to coffee drinks, if some urban fantasies and paranormal romances are black coffee, Always the Vampire is more like the aforementioned caramel macchiato — and make it skinny, half-caf, with lowfat whipped cream and sprinkles. Expect sweet romance, lots of clothing descriptions, and a fun beachy atmosphere. Haddock’s portrayal of St. Augustine is good, and making Cesca a ghost-tour guide is a nice touch.
What doesn’t really work is the suspense. We see plenty of meetings and planning sessions and supernatural workouts as Cesca and friends prepare to take on the Void. No one seems to be in much of a hurry, though — including the disease, which only flares up intermittently. It turns out there’s a reason for this, but it doesn’t do much to raise tension in the meantime. Some other complications are solved easily and/or quickly. I just wasn’t all that worried for our heroes.
If, however, you’d be tickled to read about two cute couples getting together and two other cute couples moving their relationships forward, with a touch of spookiness along the way, Always the Vampire may be what you’re looking for — and readers who’ve enjoyed the previous two books are the ones most likely to (pardon the pun) have a stake in those outcomes.