December 12, 2012

Jeri Smith-Ready: "Wicked Game"

Title: Wicked Game [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: WVMP Radio (1st of 4 books, but there's also a free download novella that is book 3.5 in the series. See Jeri Smith-Ready's site)
Author: Jeri Smith-Ready [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Year: 2008
Age: 18+ (though Jeri's site actually says 16+, but I think the whole series would be better handled by more mature readers)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Original take on the overused vampire theme. Interesting, mostly tridimensional characters. Radio station and music play a big role (if you love them passionately, that's a real bonus). Not too gory for a vamp novel. A few surprises along the way.
Cons: The way book heroine and grunge vamp start their relationship...feels like a vampire version of human rape to me.
Will appeal to: Vamp lovers who want to sink their teeth into something different. Music/radio lovers - even if they don't usually do vampires.

Blurb: Recovering con artist Ciara Griffin takes an internship at a local radio station, whose late-night time-warp format features 1940s blues, '60s psychedelia, '80s goth, and more, all with an uncannily authentic flair. Ciara soon discovers just how the DJs maintain their cred: they're vampires, stuck forever in the eras in which they were turned. Communications giant Skywave wants to buy WVMP and turn it into just another hit-playing clone. Without the station - and the link it provides to their original Life Times - the vampires would "fade," becoming little more than mindless ghosts of the past. To boost ratings and save the lives of her strange new friends, Ciara, in the ultimate con, hides the DJs' vampire nature in plain sight, disguising the bloody truth as a marketing gimmick. WVMP becomes the hottest thing around - next to Ciara's complicated affair with grunge vamp Shane McAllister. But the "gimmick" enrages a posse of ancient and powerful vampires who aren't so eager to be brought into the light... (Amazon excerpt)

Review: I know, I know. The last WVMP book came out a few days ago, and I'm only starting on the whole series now, 4 years after its first release. My more than valid excuse is, I only set up this blog a couple of months ago - so I want to make up for lost time, plus review the last installment of the series, Lust for Life, as soon as I'm getting it from the web bookseller. So, in the meantime, let's just take a look at how it all began, 4-years-and-something ago...
First off, I usually stay clear from vampire books, especially since Twilight was out. There are so many out there, it's not even funny. I suspect many of you who are reading this have a penchant for vampires instead - and there's nothing wrong with it of course. Only, all the clones in the market are not a compliment to the genre...just an exploitation. If I have to read about vampires, they're required to be unique in some respect - and, according to other reviews and the genre's overview I got, Smith-Ready's are.
What sold me on this series was the music angle, or better, the radio one. Smith-Ready's idea to equate vampires with people who got stuck in their "glorious" and young age was totally brill. Most radio personalities - at least those who work for small, local stations - do tend to get stuck in a music era and overlook what comes next...trust me on this, 'cause I'm actually a DJ (I prefer to call myself a "speaker" though) for one of said stations here in Italy, and I've seen my share of that. So the core idea for the book rings true to me, and while on one hand I can sympathize with the vamp DJs, on the other hand I find Smith-Ready addresses a real issue here - fossilization (not only for what concerns radio personalities - or vampires - of course). But she goes even further - her vamps also develop obsessive-compulsive personalities after they're turned, as a way to cope with their new reality and mantain a form of control over it. Another interesting and unespected detour from the old vampire cliché. [...]

Of course, some of the usual vampire stuff is present - like literally "getting cooked" in the sun, or dying for a stake through the heart. But even the stake thing is original in some respect, because they don't actually go "puff" - the way they die is nothing I've read/seen before, a haunting experience both for the bystanding characters and the reader.
One funny - though too convenient - thing is that all of the six vamp DJs form a kind of "27 club" of their own, just like the one that ideally reunites all the musicians who died tragically at the age of 27. 
Not only the vamps, but all the characters in this series are flawed, or have some weaknesses at least. Our heroine, Ciara, is the most flawed of them all, though her personal family history does account for that. So I can sympathize with her all the same (also because I like her voice in the novel), with the notable exception of her reaction to vamp Shane's "courtship" (I use the term ironically). He loses it on their first "date" (Ciara doesn't believe he's a vampire yet) and almost kills her...but from the next day on, she's like "Whatever. Shane's a great guy - and hot too - only a little bit undead. And he only came close to kill me this one time after all. Then he treated me to this really sweet impromptu picnic and serenade, so everything is settled now", which is frankly ridiculous. Though it does work in the book, for some reason. (Also, how come Shane only loses it this one time, while usually having so much restraint?). Anyway, as their relationship progresses, it does feel real and warm. Shane even agrees not to bite Ciara (anymore), because she can't stand the very thought of it. The two bond over music and stuff, have their ups and downs like normal couples, and so on. Ciara begins to think she can prevent Shane from "fading" and help him adjust to the passing of time. There are even some truly romantic moments that manage not to taste like marshmallows, which is a plus for me.
One may wonder why Ciara is so committed to helping the vamp DJs, other than to keep Shane alive (err, undead) and well. Especially after some "small" incidents recounted in the book. The answer here is not simply the usual "I'm madly in love with a vampire" stuff (Twilight, anyone?). Even before dating Shane, Ciara feels connected to the vamps, because, as she puts it herself, "I used to prey on people too...so I can't judge you for taking what you need to survive". This actually makes sense - she does belong somewhere now, though this "somewhere" happens to be a dark and dangerous place.
The Skywave attempt at WVMP takeover is another real-life detail thrown into this carefully built fantasy world. These things happen, folks, more often than not. Again, I know that firsthand. Of course, this is a novelized version of the current small-radio-stations-raiding policy, 10-million-dollars check included.
This book has got a little bit of everything: action, conspirations, long-lost parents, undeath, but also love, friendship, music, fun...and sex. Tasteful sex, for the most part - though Shane's episode with his donor Deirdre and Ciara watching can be questionable to some. But I found myself not even flinching, though I don't usually like the stuff. The only thing that bothered me, like I said, was Ciara and Shane's first "date", though I understand it was functional to the story. Well, anyway, never a dull moment. So I expect many of you can take pleasure in this book - and the rest of the series - for a whole lot of different reasons.
I forgot to mention, "Wicked Game" is a 1989 song by Chris Isaak, and if you read the lyrics they do fit Ciara's predicament. Also, every chapter is named after a song, and Smith-Ready's even provides a book-related playlist. You can see that music is the real backbone of this novel (and series, because all these books follow the same path).
Do you like trivias? I actually took the time to read the next novel sneak peek, and compare it to the real beginning of Bad to the Bone - let's say I had a feeling, and yes, they do differ slightly. Smith-Ready did polish it before it got published.
One last thing: though this novel is first in a series, it reads like a standalone project. No cliffhanger in the end. But you will more than likely be hungry for more!

For my review of "Bad to the Bone" (second installment in the series) click here.
For my review of "Bring on the Night" (third installment in the series) click here.
For my review of "Let It Bleed" (installment 3.5 in the series) click here (warning: big spoiler in this one! It couldn't be avoided, being available in the blurb itself...).
For my review of "Lust for Life" (fourth installment in the series) click here
For more Adult books (also by Jeri Smith-Ready) click here.

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