(2007) Natasha Rhodes, Solaris Books, pbk, £7.99, pp ??. ISBN 978-1-844-1-6666-4
This starts off with everything going perfectly for the story's heroine, Kayla Steele, who is set to meet her boyfriend, Karell, for dinner where she hopes he will propose to her. Of course not everything is perfect, she has a job to hold down with a colleague who gets on her nerves and on top of that she has bills to pay. Anyway, she goes along to the restaurant but what unfolds is a night that will surprisingly change her life...
To start with, she discovers that her boyfriend has been killed! And by a werewolf gang no less! This leads to her finding out how little she actually knew about him and that he was leading a secret double life where, rather than holding down what could be considered a 'normal' job, he actually works for a group called 'the Hunters'. They are a secret organisation whose mission it is to keep the werewolves of Los Angeles (LA) under control. She also finds herself the target of the werewolf gang who killed Karrell and then discovers that, despite being dead, Karrell is still around in the form of a ghost. Indeed in order to redeem his soul she must avenge his death!
Kayla's life is then made all the more complicated when she finds that one of her colleagues is set to become the face of a new cosmetic product which is being launched as a cover by both werewolves and vampires who are plotting to further their control over the city.
This story is set in present day LA where, amid a culture of beautiful people, late night bars, fashion and socialising, the city hides a dark secret with a supernatural element amid this bustle and bright lights, and where Kayla Steele is a fish out of water having to deal with an underground culture she had no idea existed. However, she has assistance from ghostly Karrell who bestows her with special, life-saving abilities in the face of danger.
The premise behind the Hunters is an interesting one: the majority of them have had their lives affected by the loss of loved ones at the hands of werewolves. Further, they are armed with the necessary technology, weapons and knowledge to tackle the city's werewolf problem. While they are portrayed as an organisation with a clear objective, there is also a humorous element to them, for example with the layout of their offices, their banter and their handling of firearms. The Hunters find themselves under threat as one of their members is in league with a powerful vampire by the name of Cyan X who is himself is embroiled in a power struggle for the city.
The concept of vampires and werewolves in present-day America is not a new one and has provided subject matter for various novels by Kim Harrison and others. It has been the premise for shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and so on that level the novel does not provide anything particularly new. However, its strength is in the use of characters and situations. There is always something going on in the story and no one is what they appear to be. The varied background of gangs and leaders within the supernatural underworld provides Natasha Rhodes with an environment that lends her characters credibility, and links to realism are aided by the Kayla Steele who, for example, tries to get her life back to normal by returning to work after Karrell's death.
There is plenty of action that maintains the book's fast pace as Kayla grabs opportunities to prove herself to the Hunters whilst trying to stay alive despite being a prime target. Her reactions to the unfamiliar situations are well handled - some of her judgement calls prove to be the right thing to do whilst, humanly, others are not. Karrell, in ghost form, is used sparingly and is included only where the occasion calls; for example when Kayla is cornered in the Hunters' base. With so much going on it is, at times, hard to keep track of exactly what is happening and the werewolf characters did not stand out in my mind as being particularly distinctive, making it hard to remember who was whom. The book is also irritatingly punctuated with exclamations such as K-CHAK! And BOOM! These unnecessarily hinder the story's flow somewhat, especially as the descriptions of what is taking place are adequate. The book is written in a contemporary style that matches the time and genre the story is set in and it satisfactorily portrays Kayla's experiences and thoughts.
This is a fun, contemporary supernatural action novel and a light read that will, I suspect, predominantly suit a female readership. You would not necessarily need to have a great depth of knowledge of the genre to appreciate the storytelling and if you are looking for a book that introduces you to such light, popular fiction, then this would be a good one. It is the first in a series of novels featuring Kayla Steele, and ends with an intriguing cliff-hanger that may entice you to check out others in the series.
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