Thursday, September 6, 2012

Blood and Whiskey: A Cowboy and Vampire Thriller, by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall


A perfectly serviceable sequel to the surprisingly readable The Cowboy and the Vampire.

This installment starts off with Lenny, our favorite conspiracy theorist/munitions expert/militiaman--or rather, with his niece Rose. Rose has been living on the streets in Portland, but a run-in with some very well-dressed cowboys scares her into calling her uncle, and he and BFF Tucker barrel into town, gun a-blazin'. Trouble is, Rose ain't in Portland anymore, and when the two friends run her to earth, they don't like what they find.

Meanwhile, Vampire Queen (and momma to be) Lizzie is having trouble adjusting to her new responsibilities. The fate of her race rests squarely on her sassy shoulders, and it all depends on whether she can 'turn' humans into vampires, thus swelling the diminished ranks of the 'good' vampires (those who eat only bad people) and enabling them to resist the Reptiles (who eat pretty much anyone). She's got to prove her mettle to a whole horde of vampire overlords and deal with some unexpected (and very nasty) visitors, all while protecting the new life (or unlife) growing inside her. Will she be able to save her loved ones . . . and the world?

The plot here is fairly complicated to describe, though it's straightforward enough when you're reading it. This volume takes place exclusively in the small town West, with the exception of a few short interludes in Portland. Which was a good call on the authors' part, as it allows their familiarity with and affection for the northern West shine through once again. As I noted in my review of the first book, it is Tucker and his life and friends and town (and dog) that are the heart of the story, and time spent in his world is always enjoyable. Not, perhaps, quite as enjoyable as The Cowboy and the Vampire--Lenny and Dad both seem a bit less colorful this time around (and Dad in particular seems to suffer from some inconsistent motivations). Still fun, mind you. Just not as fun.

Fortunately, this is offset by the improvement in Lizzie's character development. Lizzie went and got herself a purpose! Instead of just being the plot point around which everyone and everything revolves, she actually does stuff--she is consistently (and unfailingly) devoted to Tucker (and Rex), and her desire to protect and care for her unborn child makes her much more interesting, not least because it requires her to actually kill people. Then there's her new role in governing the vampires--a prime opportunity to put that political theory masters to good use! It turns out Lizzie actually knows stuff! And just as Tucker is most likable when he is most Tucker--just a cowboy--Lizzie grows more interesting as she delves into her own identity as a person, rather than just a figurehead or a placeholder (Queen of the Vampires, damsel in distress, object of Tucker's affection, etc.).

There are some intriguing ideas percolating under the surface of what looks to be just a fun story. On the surface, this seems to be a feminist tale. Lizzie is the Queen, the Boss, the Top Dog. She is all-powerful, or as close to all powerful as it is possible for a (sort of) mortal to be. Yet time and time again we see that Tucker's primary motivation is to protect her. And even though Lizzie loves Tucker and certainly doesn't want any harm to come to him, she doesn't seem to be so fixated on protecting him. Lizzie is not too proud to admit that she loves her man and they're in this together. She is not above being excited by the thought of marriage, and she loves her baby. In other words, she is a curious mix of feminist and traditional qualities.

I look forward to reading more from Hays and McFall. There aren't many vampire stories set in the rural West, and I enjoy the incongruity of these supposedly sophisticated monsters adjusting to the simple, straightforward, down-home, low-brow environment of the Cowboy State.

[NOTE: For the more sensitive readers, there is some sexual content in this book, much of which relates to a relationship between a female vampire and a female human. So if you'd prefer not to read about that, well, this may not be the book for you. Or you can just skip those parts. Your call.]


CowboyandVampire said...

Alexis, thanks for the excellent and thoughtful review. We look forward to your reviews on future books!

Deb said...

Fabulous review, Alexis! I look forward to reading more from you in the future.

Alexis Neal said...

Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed the review!

Rebecca Camarena said...

Very nice review.