Facing a break from the day job, and willfully ignoring a pile of work I should have otherwise been doing, I hit the road and went to crash at a friend's place for the weekend, bringing my ereader with me. I fully intended to spend time catching up with my friend, but then V.J. Chambers hit me with a literary ton of bricks!
I began this book with lowered expectations. After all, I had just 'purchased' it for free, so how good could it be? The beginning was not inspiring, as I realized that it is written in the present-tense, a quality I usually detest in stories. It began with the story of a teen-aged girl who was making out with a boy on the bleachers. Really, the bleachers? This is an old, highly stereotypical image, and I was already losing interest. Besides, the girl in question (our protagonist, Olivia) has a car. Can't she just ask the boy (Brice) to head back to the back seat? It has to be more comfortable than the bleachers. But, with my friend already in bed for the night, I decided to flip through a few more pages. And in the next page or two, the stereotype was shattered. Entirely.
While these two characters are trying to figure out how, exactly, the act of copulation was supposed to work (I did mention that they were teen-agers, right? Did I also mention that they were drunk? And inexperienced?) one of them, Brice, turns into a monster. Not a werewolf. Not a vampire (thank God) but a Berserker. The clearest way I can think of to describe a Berserker is to compare them to Reavers from the Firefly series by Joss Whedon a few years back. They are human-shaped still, but act like rabid animals.
Our MC, Olivia, immediately jumps into action to bring Brice safely to her Nona who may be able to preform a magic charm on him, while avoiding having her formerly-amorous-now-rabid friend tear a piece out of her jugular. This is the reader's introduction to the magic-system in this story. It hits like an 18 wheeler. Up until this point I wasn't even sure the book belonged in the Fantasy genre.
From here Olivia gets caught up in a tangled plot to try to uncover dark secrets about her parents' past, discover what has become of her mother, and watch her back as her treacherous cousin, Vincent, competes with her for control of the family 'business'. She juggles all this while dealing with her growing feelings for Brice, their relationship only complicated by his tendency to revert to a Berserker every night at midnight.
The world is contemporary, and the magic fits into it seamlessly, and uniquely. Far from the stereotypical novel I feared with the opening bleachers scene, Chambers has found a novel and intriguing role for magic to play in her world. My one quibble about the magic system is that there are too many unanswered questions. I don't know how the magic of Olivia's family works, exactly, or whether it's difficult to use. I don't entirely know if this is a magic everyone can preform if they have the right training, or whether it requires innate talent. Besides a few entertainment examples, I'm not even sure what the magic is—or can be—used for. Chambers spends little time on the details here. But this is just book one of three, and a lot of the intrigue surrounds magic-use, so perhaps more information is delivered in the next few books.
Overall, the book was a page-turning, fast-paced, enjoyable read that kept me from seeking interpersonal contact for a large part of the weekend! Olivia is a well-rounded main character and fairly believable as a seventeen-year old. Many of the other characters do not seem as multifaceted but that's often the case with first-person narratives. At times, though there is a lot of action happening, the plot did not advance as quickly as I'd like, leaving me feeling frustrated. But in general the book grabbed—and held—my interest from the moment Brice's eyes turned red, signaling his change.
Will I buy the next two books at $3.99 a pop? I am not sure yet. Though I enjoyed this tale quite a bit, I left it feeling an odd lack of curiosity about what will happen next in the mystery-plot surrounding Olivia's family. I don't quite know why this is but, for some reason, I don't feel that I care enough about the mc to be worried about what happens to her. But who knows. As the weeks stretch on, curiosity might get the better of me.
And how does one become a Berserker? Believe it or not, its a magical STI.