Tired of vampires? Or werewolves? Or girls who can dispatch the critters with no effort, swinging a stake through the heart as if it were a knife through butter? Yeah, me too. But give me a vampire who is a werewolf who is also a young female human hunter of vampires and werewolves, and we’re in business. Make her the unreliable, foul-mouthed narrator of her own story, and you’ve got Kathleen Tierney’s Siobhan Quinn in her first adventure, Blood Oranges.
“Kathleen Tierney” is Caitlín R. Kiernan, one of the finest writers of horror fiction working today, trying her hand at urban fantasy. Tierney isn’t satisfied with a cookie cutter approach to the genre, however; she wants to make it her own. So her heroine is a teen who ran away from home at the age of 12 for very good reasons. Quinn has lived on the streets ever since, making her way however she can. Her life features turning tricks, shooting heroin, and slaying monsters.
Except the monster slaying? That isn’t entirely intentional. Our first hint that our narrator is unreliable comes only after she’s told us she’s recently had a couple of “pretty spectacular takedowns.” A few pages later, she reminds us that all junkies lie, and cops to “stretching the truth like it was a big handful of raspberry-flavored saltwater taffy.” Quinn instead has been the luckiest kid ever to be surprised by a ghoul or a vampire, right up until the day she gets turned into a vampire and a werewolf both. When her luck runs out, it really runs out.
Fortunately, she has a mentor. He’s not anything like Giles, who helped Buffy figure out the proper ways to stake vampires, as Quinn is quick to tell us. Before she was turned, Mr. B (so-called because he changes his name every day to a different moniker starting with the letter “B”) provided her with heroin, cash, and a place to live, just to get some of the shine of monster-hunter that reflects off her; that is, he uses her as a sort of insurance to keep him safe from the monsters, with whom he regularly does business. After she obtains her dual damnation, he keeps providing her with cash and a place to live, but also appears to provide her with clean-up operations as needed. So when Quinn kills a cabbie because she gets a little too hungry when no one truly disposable is around (like, say, a homeless person), Mr. B takes care of it.
Mr. B draws Quinn’s attention to the fact that the vampire who turned her said something at the time about Quinn being her pet and her weapon, even while explaining that a vampire that’s a werewolf is considered a particularly terrible abomination among the monsters, by the monsters themselves. This sets Quinn on a mission to see how she can remove the werewolf curse (apparently it’s impossible, once one is dead and risen again, to get rid of vampirism). In the meantime, Quinn seems to have become unpopular among the undead and other nasties, and is therefore simultaneously trying to track down who is behind the attacks on her. In short, the plot thickens.
Tierney has created a marvelous character in Quinn. She’s no better than she ought to be, and it shows in her foul mouth, her grammar, and her often less-than-brilliant moves. She has no sympathy for herself, and asks for none. Yet she is able to care for others, including those one would normally not consider worthy of her regard, and she seems to be a fine judge of character, even if she doesn’t always act on it (her relationship with Mr. B being Exhibit A). She is far more real as a complete human being than are many of the teenage, lithe, tattooed demon hunters we regularly find in urban fantasies these days. And you can’t trust her an inch, which means she keeps readers on their toes. I enjoyed this book a good deal, and I’m looking forward to Quinn’s next outing.