Anyway, I can thank Jackie for nudging me into this League of Reluctant Adults mini-challenge, because Jaz Parks is my favorite new heroine in a long time. It's possible that Ms. Rardin's husband said it best - in the author blurb at the back of the book under "extras" is this conversation:
...when I finally confessed to him my love for all things vampire, ... he said, "Then maybe you should write a vampire novel." To which I replied, "It's all been done already." And he said, "Not by you."
And I have to say, the man was ten kinds of SO RIGHT. (That must be hard to live with, eh?)
Sometime in the late 80s, popular action-hero movies underwent a bit of a shift. To make them the perfect date movie, they needed to appeal more to women. Before Die Hard, most of them < alert: sweeping generalization ahead > consisted of car chases, shoot-outs, explosions, and beautiful but diabolical female double-agents in bikinis. Sometimes all at once. With Die Hard, we got a really unexpected dose of humor but no let-up in the suspense or thrills, and IMO it changed action-thrillers forever.
This alchemy that romance and vampire mythology has got going on has been explosive and effective, but it's becoming a little bit old hat. It's not easy to come up with interesting twists. What Rardin has done is to throw in a little bit of Die Hard-style action into the UF/PNR mix, and done it so well that the next Die Hard sequel really ought to involve vampires.
The Same Only Different
Per the Official UF Style Guide, Jaz is a kick-ass, heavily armed, slightly neurotic red-head who tells her story in first person. However, Jaz's voicing of this story is outstanding. It's appealingly conversational and wise-cracky; perceptive and smart but fallible; layered and full of personality. Jaz has a complicated history but there's no info-dumping -- the tidbits about her character are handed out in the perfect balance between tantalizing and satisfying.
I also like that the term "kick-ass" doesn't actually appear anywhere; and Jaz has a professional approach to her abilities. She trains; she's a professional soldier of sorts; she understands what she can do (physically, anyway) and it's all handled without neurosis or disingenuous surprise at her abilities "under duress". The kick-ass is merely factual and comes through in the unfolding of events. I'm not sure I'm expressing this right, but bottom line is -- she pulls off the professional thing for me, refreshingly.
I really liked the political plotting of the story -- it's a modern "problem" that the team of Jaz and Vayl need to solve, and the paranormal elements are... well, I wouldn't say "window-dressing," exactly... What I mean is, this is the sort of story that has been told repeatedly through the ages: about power and betrayal and politics and double-cross. What makes it unique to us today are Rardin's wonderful characters and the unique paranormal world-building. It has the clean spare pacing of military-style contemporary, and the paranormal bits are treated matter-of-factly; in the same way another author might treat hostile terrain or enemy weaponry.
Speaking of weaponry, anybody who's a fan of Bond's Q or Inspector Gadget should get a kick out of Jaz's goodies. The scenes where they're introduced are exactly like every classic spy movie where the agent gets briefed on how they work, which seemed a little tongue-in-cheek to me in a fun way. Imaginative, useful, and within the realm of possibility, the gadgets have a high "cool factor" and are an entertaining bit of frosting on this cupcake without overwhelming or bogging down the action.
The only thing that did not come off flawlessly for me was, to some extent, the paranormal world building. I really liked the vampires, and the take-it-in-stride way that Jaz and the other human characters have just absorbed the fact of their existence. I liked most of the world-building to do with Vayl.
However, the stuff that was specific to this book's plot spun into the Very Very Complicated, with a side order of Over The Top-- demons, soul-eating, the Mysterious Happening that Happened to Jaz (I still don't really get what exactly Happened there), Cassandra (nice name for the seer!) and the Enkyklios ... I dunno, I guess it all worked out in the end but I was pretty close to getting lost there for awhile. My sense is that much of this is underpinning for the rest of the series, and that maybe some of it could have been parceled out later.
Overall though, this is the most promising new (to me) series I've started in a while; I love Jaz's voice and military-ops style of the pacing and I can't wait to find out more about Vayl and what, exactly, Jaz is to him.