Merit? For real?
Disclaimer: Here I review Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill, the first book of the Chicagoland Vampires series. Despite the book being quite old (it was first published in 2009), I’ve decided to write spoilers in white so that they’re not readable by chance. Other spoilers though might be extrapolated, so, as always, read at your own peril.
When I lived with my parents, our next door neighbor was a middle aged woman with straw-colored hair. She was an avid smoker, so her apartment smelled of whatever food she was cooking along with an omnipresent, everlasting stench of stale cigarette smoke. Even the air on the landing our apartments had in common stank. Her cigarettes of choice were named Merit.
Imagine the surprise when I began reading this book, hopes high because of all the praise this series has received throughout the years, and then found out on page 5 that the main character shared the name with one of my most unpleasant childhood memories.
Jokes aside –the smell of ashtray doesn’t even make the top 20 of my worst childhood memories–, I must confess I’ve spent quite some time wondering why someone would call their characters like a cigarette brand.
Endless hours later, I still haven’t found the answer I’m so desperately looking for.
To be honest, I still don’t know if I liked this book or not either, so bear with me as I try to figure it out.
Merit is a book loving, hard-studying 27 years old Chicagoan who ends up being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is attacked, but super sexy Ethan Sullivan, master vampire, turns her into one of the undeads to save her life. From this point on, she struggles to reconcile who she’d been until the night of her almost-death with her new identity both as a vampire and as a novitiate of Cadogan House, one of the oldest and most important vampire houses of the USA. When it turns out that her attacker might be a serial killer, Merit starts her own investigation, one that will lead her to unexpected discoveries.
There are several things, both big and small, that make Chloe Neill’s vampires different from all the others. First of all, they can eat human food –must, actually–. Because of this, they don’t need to drain humans in order to survive. Furthermore, throughout the book it is stated that the average vampire needs one pint of blood every other day, and the blood is supplied by a company named Blood4You. While the idea of vampires needing food sounds pretty unusual to me, and Merit’s obsession with food is something I can totally relate to, the bottled blood is quite similar to True Blood, the one from Charlaine Harris’ The Southern Vampire Mysteries.
Moreover, when vamps are thirsty (but also angry or horny) their fangs descend and their eyes turn silver.
Well, at least they don’t sparkle.
Most of the vamps of this verse tend to live in big nests called Houses. Then we have unaffiliated vampires, also known as Rogues, who disagree with the excessive politicalness of the masters and just want to be left alone. While it is pretty common for vamps to not live on their own in many other urban fantasy novels, in this series it is expressly stated that the Houses are basically frat houses. And truth be told, if we don’t count the master vampires, most of the vampires do act like hormonal teenagers. Anyway, the novitiates receive a salary for being affiliated with the House and have to work for the House in order to earn the money. Since the masters can turn no more than 12 new vampires every year, they’re careful to choose only the boldest and the most beautiful (and most affiliated, of course). Basically vampires are just people with fangs, but nobody seems to like them: shapeshifters despise them, he rest of the supernatural community avoids them, and a lot of humans are plainly afraid. This point will be really important as the series goes on, generating lots of drama and definitely some food for thought.
Another interesting topic is Merit’s struggle. She is forced to abandon her job at the university, and to pledge loyalty to the very person who basically ruined her life (albeit trying to save her). Consent is a big theme throughout the book and I appreciate how through Chloe Neill is in portraying Merit’s hurt and anger, and how Merit comes to the conclusion that while she can’t change what’s past, she can still choose how to act and react to things.
In fact, I do like Merit. She’s a strong woman, who downright refuses to stop being herself just because someone else expects her too. I love her addiction to junk food –if only because it allowed me to expand my culinary horizons–, her love for books, her penchant for doing what’s right instead of what’s comfortable. I like her friends, her acquired family. Even her car. The thing that bugs me the most about this book is Cadogan House Master himself. I’m all for powerful, sexy vampires, and Ethan Cadogan ticks all the boxes. He’s hot, ancient, all business and no play. He cares for his subjects and is filthy rich. Furthermore, he is a Viking with shoulder length blond hair.
He’s basically Eric Northman 2.0.
Which is my main issue with this series. Among mainstream literature and films, in the ’00s The Southern Vampire Mysteries have shaped the figure of the vampire the way Buffy the Vampire Slayer did in the ’90s, so I tend to expect to notice a certain kind of influence in books on the topic belonging to the same decade. In the case of Some Girls Bite, this influence is perhaps a little too noticeable, which is a pity, because as the series progresses Ethan develops into his own person and, while he’s not my favorite character, it makes for a nice read.
That said, if you’re a sucker like me for conflictual relationships, Merit and Ethan do sure have one. He despises her, and yet he offers her to become his consort, to which Merit replies she’s not going to be his whore. That girl is sassy!
Talking about Buffy, did I mention Merit’s best friend Mallory is a fan? She makes Buffy references throughout the book, which I loved. What I didn’t like (and indeed consider a slip up) is that Ethan, the man who uses silverware to eat hot dogs and toasts, mentions Buffy too once. It came as a total surprise, since the characters in this book, albeit too sex-crazy, tend to be consistent and well-characterized. Nevertheless, the small incongruences didn’t stop me from devouring this book and the next few more (I’m currently reading book eight).
Time for ratings! Some Girls Bite has been a fun and light read, and it’s obvious that a lot of effort has been put into crafting this world. For the aforementioned reasons, I’m going to rate this book 7/10.