Biting Cold is the sixth book in Chloe Neill’s CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES series. It’s impossible to even give the premise of this book, let alone a useful review, without mentioning major spoilers for books four and five, Hard Bitten and Drink Deep respectively, so if you haven’t read those books, stop reading this review now!
Is the coast clear? OK, here goes. Ethan has just come back from the dead, but he and Merit hardly have a chance to catch up; they must immediately embark on a road trip to stop Mallory before she can reach the Maleficium spellbook and unleash the evil bound therein. But not everything goes according to plan during this trip, and soon they’re back in Chicago with a dangerous new supernatural enemy to face.
The character arc of Mallory is the most compelling aspect of Biting Cold. The showdown between her and Merit is actually resolved pretty quickly, and then she has to face the consequences of her recent actions. In terms of literal “punishment,” she gets off pretty lightly, but the damage she’s done to herself and to her relationships is going to be lasting. Neill does a great job with Mallory’s realization that there’s no easy fix for what she’s done, and the only way to get through it is just to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
The redemption arc of another character is less convincing. We’re given a supernatural explanation for why this character previously went bad, but the explanation doesn’t quite fit with the particular crimes the character committed. This character just seems completely different here than ever before, even when you factor out the other thing that was going on. The explanation feels tacked on after the fact rather than previously planned. “It made sense at the time” doesn’t make it make sense to the reader. That said, this thread of the plot is action-packed and does make a decent “monster of the week” episode.
The romantic subplot is also irksome. Neill throws another wrench into the Merit/Ethan relationship, and this time it doesn’t work as well as it did in the past. When Ethan broke up with Merit in Twice Bitten, it felt real, and it hurt like Everywoman’s real-life breakups, only with fangs. Here, it just seems like a plot device to stretch out the sexual tension longer. It lacks impact, especially now that he has died and come back to life. By the end, when Merit is musing about being officially in a relationship, the two of them have started reminding me of those annoying couples on Facebook who change their status back and forth between “Single” and “In a Relationship” every time they have a fight.
The final pages do give us a step forward in the vampire-politics plotline that has been building for a few books, and as I mentioned above, Mallory’s arc is compelling and there’s enough action in Biting Cold to keep you entertained. However, there are some character-consistency issues and too much unnecessary relationship drama, and the end result is that this book feels like a filler episode.