Written by: Chloe Neill
Hard Bitten is the 4th book in author Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series. This outing finds protagonist and recent vampire Merit in a bad spot. Since the events at the end of Twice Bitten, things are a mess, literally and figuratively. Humans are now more fearful of vampires and are protesting outside her house, Cadogan House. She’s also having trouble doing her job with her master, Ethan, constantly trying to woo her back. All of these are minor distractions though once Chicago’s mayor calls a meeting with the two and tells them about a case the police have come upon where a man is insisting he saw vamps killing women at a “rave”. And if they don’t fix the problem fast he’s got an arrest warrant with Ethan’s name on it.
First I have to start off by saying that the plot above is pretty much the first few pages and is barely the plot, but to say much more would ruin a fantastic reading experience. And oh boy is this review going to be hard to write without spoiling any of the fun, but I’m gonna keep this as spoiler free as humanly possible.
Where Some Girls Bite might be similar in ways to Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series, Hard Bitten is more Buffy meets Harry Potter. I make this comparison because of a few reasons. First the Harry Potter. That world is filled with a lot of very different characters and each book unveils a little more of a giant universe, while keeping with a core group. It also isn’t just about Harry Potter, it’s about the people in his life almost as much, especially the further the series went. And the Chicagoland Vampires series is very much about all the supporting characters as much as Merit and Ethan. You root for things like the relationship between Luc and Lindsay, two smaller characters that Neill has done a great job of making just as important to the stories. Then there’s Merit’s best human friend, Mallory, who recently learned she’s a witch. Her storyline could be an entire series on it’s own. These rich relationships and stories aren’t confusing and enhance the world the books are set in, they make everything much more full of life.
Now for the Buffy comparison. Which I think applies more to this book than the rest of the series. Sure there is the positive girl power of the overall Chicagoland Vampires series. Merit is a strong woman who knows what she wants but is also a real enough character to sometimes not be totally sure. Her relationship with Ethan pulls you in but it’s a complex one, an adult one, and Merit trying to balance reason with emotion is compelling. But here’s the real kick in the guts. Chloe Neill is a crazy genius with Joss Whedon-esque qualities. She pulls off some stunning twists that you will never see coming and she’s seemingly had it all planned from the beginning. The series really turns from guilty pleasure to work of genius in Hard Bitten. It’s where Neill really let’s loose.
But enough with those comparisons. Hopefully they gave you an idea of the great ride that you’re in for with Hard Bitten, but there’s so much more. I sat down with this book and devoured it. It was like a Merit worthy meal. Seriously delicious. I really blew through it because I couldn’t put it down.
There’s just so much author Chloe Neill does right. There’s intense relationship moments, but there’s a fine line she effortlessly bounces along that keeps it from being a dull romantic drama or a bodice-ripper. The mystery aspect of the story (Who and what is causing some serious vampire aggression?) is intriguing and is played close to the chest. Add to all of that great characters, multiple layers of political motivations that must constantly be considered by everyone involved, and you’ve got a unique winner of a book.
As I usually do with anything part of a series, I’ll tell you how open to newcomers this book is. The previous 3 Chicagoland Vampires books were pretty much accessible to everyone, although Twice Bitten less so, but by now the strands of backstory are pretty tightly woven and I suspect this will continue in the next installment, November’s Drink Deep as there are a number of things that are left open (although not in any sort of unfulfilling way) by the end of this volume’s adventures. There’s enough explanation throughout that you probably won’t be lost, but you also won’t get the full impact of much of the story nor the importance of some of the events. I’d suggest starting at the beginning with Some Girls Bite (), don’t worry you’ll be sucked in really fast and up to this one in a week if you’re anything like me.
Before I end this long and obviously glowing review I just have one more thing I felt while reading that I have touched on a little in the rest of the review, but I think bears it’s own dedicated section. Chloe Neill has created this wonderful universe and filled it with very realistic characters, even though they may be vampires or shifters or sorceresses, or other supernatural beings. But what she’s also done is create a very strong female protagonist in Merit. One that were I to have a daughter I wouldn’t mind her embracing. I had Buffy, and even though I’m just a regular dude I consider myself a feminist and am sad when there is a lack of strong female characters out there. Not only is Merit strong but she has flaws, she makes mistakes (sometimes willingly) and deals with the repercussions. I cannot tell you how important this is. She’s not superhero, she’s just a woman, but one who goes through extraordinary (and some ordinary) circumstances and comes through with conviction, bruised and scraped but still standing tall. And Neill goes beyond that. She gives this empowerment to many of Merit’s partners in crime like Lindsay and Mallory. The women and world of Chicagoland Vampires and Hard Bitten are the anti-Twilight. Girls should be screaming and going crazy for this type of material, even if Chicagoland skews more adult than pre-teen.
Overall I heartily recommend Hard Bitten for everyone. It’s certainly the best of the series so far and a great read that’ll keep you wanting more.
It comes out May 3rd and is available for pre-order right now in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon: