Sunday, June 14, 2009

The hugely satisfying mix of familiarity and monsteryness in the hero of Wicked Game

It practically takes an act of God to get me to pick up a new vampire series these days, but wow, I'm sure glad I gave this one a whirl. Wicked Game is book 1 of the Ciara Griffin/WVMP radio urban fantasy series by Jeri Smith-Ready. I bought it because I wanted to read Bad to the Bone, Book 2, which came out last month, and I'm constitutionally incapable of starting a series at Book 2.

The plot, quickly: Vampires, stuck forever in the eras when they were turned, work as DJs in a radio station. (The '40's guy does blues, the '60's guy does psychedelia, etc.) and the radio station is in danger of being bought and destroyed; intern Ciara Griffin to the rescue.

Anyway, I am loving the character of Shane MacAllister the youngest of the vamps, who spins grunge (he was turned in the 90's).

The hugely satisfying familiarity of Shane MacAllister
This is an exquisitely and perfectly drawn portrait of the grunge guy, a species that roamed the streets of Minneapolis in small herds in the late 80's and early 90's, though I think even somebody who missed all that would recognize this type of guy--I think he's typical of the counterculture 20-something you find in a number of alternative scenes, and it's just really fun to read about him.

A few of the details that make Shane so 'that guy'
  • Shane is sleeping on the couch when Ciara is first introduced to him and his co-workers, but really, he's highly aware of everything going on in the room.
  • His blend of ideals and pragmatism is pitch perfect: He opposes the idea of degrading the purity of the station with a cheesy advertising campaign, even if it means it's eventually destroyed, but in the end, he accepts the save.
  • He has a genuine rock-guy pedigree but is the first to mock himself ("My first concert was Night Ranger and .38 Special, but don't tell the other DJs. They think it was Black Flag.")
The most perfect Shane scene was when he takes Ciara, who has trust issues with him at this point, to a bluff to watch fireworks, and packs this little picnic, then he somewhat awkwardly pulls out a guitar to sing her a song. Just before he starts, we get this little moment of self-effacement:

He takes a deep breath and blows it out slowly. "I apologize ahead of time for fucking it up."
But then it's actually a very lovely song that he plays well. I never see this type in UFs, and certainly never as the hero. But he's excellent as a hero. He's neither alpha nor beta, just your smart, easygoing buddy who underplays his strengths, but he'll whip them out when he needs to.

The way in which the hugely satisfying familiarity of Shane MacAllister makes his monsterness really intense.
So all the DJs here are a real-life type, they're all a guy (or girl, in the case of the goth girl) that you might work with or be neighbors with. Except the older era vamps, though they seem like somebody's grandfather (in behavior, anyway).

Take Rio, Rhage, Wrath, Eric Northman or Butch for comparison--those guys are already other, at least in my mind. Even Sookie's Bill is other-ish--a Civil War era vet, slightly stiff and clueless. I mean, none of these guys seem like real life guys, so it's not that huge a stretch they might kill and suck blood.It's not like you really know them.

These guys you might know. I mean, the WVMP DJs seem so familiar and friendly, especially Shane, that it is startling to know they have this violent animal nature, and some killed for food, or have it in them to do so. Ciara is constantly having to be reminded--and reminding herself--that they are not human. Shane is not human. He seems so cuddly, and acts so cuddly--it's a just a wonderful effect, wonderful tension. I know other books play this card, but JSR's excellent characterization makes it fresh and powerful.

Is there a saying about this? Like, when something dangerous is embedded in the familiar, that makes it all the more intense?

The also-hugely-satisfying way in which this book relates to the human condition.

It's been said that part of the reason Buffy became so popular is how it sort of pulled some of its truth from real life. Truths like: Nobody ever goes to the high school library. The nerdy kids always turn out more interesting. As soon as you have sex with your high school boyfriend his personality completely changes, and he turns into a monster freak.

The thing about the vampires here is that they are stuck in their eras, and they stop growing, become more empty husk, empty patterns of the past--less and less human and more monster, until eventually, they really are dangerous to society. To me, this is a sad thing that happens to real life people: they grow old, stop taking in new things and get fossilized, somehow less human. But then I also know older people who are interested in the changing world around them, and they continually take in new ideas and learn new things, and they beat the fossilization. Really, we are all on that journey to some extent.

So beyond the external battle with the baddies, there's a poignant internal battle and a character journey for all these vampires - can they stop the dehumanization process? Specifically Shane - can he fight the fossilization of being stuck in his era? Can he learn new things? Play new songs on his radio show? Learn computers? Can Ciara help him?

It's a character journey that doesn't end with this book - I'm looking richly forward to continuing it in Bad to the Bone.

Jeri Smith-Ready interviews at Patricia's Vampire Notes and Bitten by Books.
Proper reviews: Tempting Persephone, Alert Nerd, Musings of a Bibliophile, Leslie's Psyche ...(anybody else? Let me know!)


Brie said...

I LOVED Wicked Game. I normally try to steer clear of vampire books, but since I'm a JSR fan, I gave this a try and it was so worth it. Very quirky, witty, and fun.

Glad that you enjoyed it. You'll have to share your thoughts on Bad to the Bone once you read it.

Amy C said...

I am a HUGE fan of Jeri Smith-Ready's Aspect of Crow trilogy. I thought it was simply amazing! I have Wicked Game. Have had it for quite sometime, but I haven't read it yet. I don't read many vampire novels, even though it is by Smith-Ready. I will read it eventually, and then probably wonder why the hell I ever waited so long! I also have Requiem for the Devil, which sounds amazing also.

Carolyn Crane (aka CJ) said...

Brie: I really liked your review of this. This is my first JSR, and I'm so glad. BTTB is on my TBB.

Amy C: I may need to check that out. So, you have all her books, it looks like!

Amy C said...

Yeah :), I just need to get Bad to the Bone one of these days. Oh definitely, look into her Aspect of Crow trilogy. If you like fantasy, she's amazing. I did review all three books on my blog :). The third one brought all three together and it was PERFECT!

Kati said...

You know, I think I won this book a while ago. Huh. Sounds up my alley.

*wanders off to the bookshelves for a look*

Thanks, CJ!

orannia said...

Thanks CJ! This is a 'new to me' book/author, and I like the twists :)

I'm constitutionally incapable of starting a series at Book 2.

Isn't that an international law?

And should I admit to hanging out at my high school's library?

Janicu said...

This was one of my favorites last year. And Shane is a great vampire.

Renee said...

Hmmm...the vampire next door? I like it!

I have Voice of Crow on my tbr, but I keep hearing great things about Wicked Game that I may have to check it out first.

Great food for thought, as usual, CJ!

RfP said...

I'll have to look for this. I love the idea of working music and pop culture into the characterization, and this take on it sounds like brittle than the vamp-chick-lit novels I've tried. From your description, this series sounds like yet another interesting way in which paranormal fiction can depict extreme versions of human conundrums: fossilizing in a particular decade, never listening to anything new, and turning into a sourpuss before one's time. (Noooo! :)

RfP said...

or LESS brittle, even.

Mandi said...

Ooh..I need to pick this one up!I've never read this author.

Carolyn Crane (aka CJ) said...

Amy: Oooh, I have to check out those reviews!

Kati: snort. Yeah, see if you can dig it up. Maybe you need a backhoe.

Or: YOU hung out at the library? Nerd!

Janicu: Agreed! Shane's such a great vampire.

Renee: LOL. Yes, Vamp next door. In the 1990s.

RFP: Right, that made it really rich, that the fossilization isn't something fabricated for this world - it felt 'true'

Mandi: Try her, Smexy!

azteclady said...


rats rats rats!!!

I still don't have this one, and I'm in a book buying moratorium and now I WANT IT more than I did before.

I hate you.

(thank you)

Leslie said...

Wicked Game - Loved it! I think I gave it an A. Smith-Ready has some free short stories on her site related to the series.

But David Cassidy?! I was more of a Shaun fan myself. ;)

Carolyn Crane (aka CJ) said...

AZ: you are welcome...I think! I know the feeling, though.

Leslie: I'm putting your review on the list. I love how you compared it to wkrp in Cincinnati, but cooler and undead. Great! LOL.

Ahem, SHAUN? Are you serious? David RULES!!

Hilcia said...

So glad you liked it CJ! I loved Wicked Game and I'm not usually an UF reader, lol! But just HAD to read it after finishing her Aspects of Crow trilogy (LOVED that one).

Such a refreshing look at vamps, and love Ciara's character. I'm reading Bad to the Bone. Hope to see what you think of it once you read it. :)

PS: Shaun Cassidy all the way...

Tumperkin said...

Comment whore tuning in to say..............

Great post!

Tracy said...

CJ - what a fabulous view of Shane of the series in general. I think Shane is one of my all time favorite characters - I just love him.

orannia said...

And is anyone else thinking of WKRP or am I showing my age?

Kwana said...

Look at you making me want to read this book. Darn!