Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Review: L.L. Raand, The Midnight Hunt (Bold Strokes Books, 2010)

This is the fourth of four reviews of recent female werewolf fiction. You can read the others here:

Part 1: Catherine Lundoff, Silver Moon

Part 2: S.J. Bell, Bonds of Fenris

Part 3: Allison Moon, Lunatic Fringe

Nearly a year ago, I ran a poll on this site for readers to vote for their favourite female werewolves. One werewolf – L.L. Raand’s Sylvan Mir – got far and away more votes than any other contender. I’ll repeat what I said at the time, this was not the result of spamming or any other dodgy practice, but rather an outpouring of support from Raand (aka Radclyffe)’s very loyal fans. With an endorsement like that, I had to read the books.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Midnight Hunt (the first book in Raand’s Midnight Hunters series). I was a little trepidatious. The book has been described as both erotica and erotic romance – two genres that I’m not hugely enamoured with. In the comments left by Raand’s fans, her alpha werewolf Sylvan was most often described as “hot”, and I was worried that this meant sexy, but one-dimensional. Still, I began the book with an open mind, keen to see why it was so popular…

… and I’m really glad I did. I was very pleasantly surprised, and now understand why I recently heard Radclyffe described as “the rock star of lesbian romance”.

The Midnight Hunt is set in a world in which “Weres”, vampires and other “Praetern” races live uneasily alongside human beings. Though the human and supernatural creatures have long co-existed, the latter have recently come out into the open, leading to a troubled cohabitation that is, at the start of The Midnight Hunt, very much a work-in-progress.

Sylvan Mir is the alpha “Were”, attempting to protect her species in the face of human antagonism and uneasy alliance with the other Praeterns. In addition to this, young female werewolves are being attacked, and a disease called “Were fever” is infected both humans and werewolves. When one of Sylvan’s wolves is infected, she is thrown into the path of human doctor Drake McKennan, who risks her own life to treat a werewolf.

To complicate matters further, a (human) investigative reporter named Becca Land is determined to get to the bottom of recent events, which means her working with, or at least trying to work with, Jody Gates, a vampire detective. I’m guessing I don’t need to note, here, that all four of these women are very sexy and each pair feel a powerful (and dangerous) attraction to each other… it is an erotic romance after all.

So, what was it that made The Midnight Hunt stand out from the crowd? What was it that surprised me? The first thing was the quality of writing. The book is very readable, and very well-paced. The sex scenes – notoriously difficult to get right – are sexy. A good balance is drawn between detail and euphemism, which I thought was a real strong point of Raand’s writing style.

But the main reason why I enjoyed this book was the characterization, especially that of Sylvan Mir. As I said above, I was half-expecting Sylvan to be nothing more than a ‘hot’ female werewolf, and I’ve read enough of those. But Sylvan, though definitely sexy, has a depth and plausibility to her character that was very engaging. Attempting to balance being a leader with her own emotional needs, trying to work with the other Praeterns and exist with the humans, Sylvan was conflicted, isolated and, sometimes, brutal. And I make no secret of the fact that this is how I like my she-wolves. This also meant that her developing relationship with Drake was more believable – as well as allowing for the requisite obstacles for the romance storyline.

There is also more to the plot of The Midnight Hunt than just romance and sex – though, don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of sex. I liked the world that Raand had sketched out, and think that her decision to set the book shortly after the “Exodus” of the Praetern races, rather than during it, was a good one. It was an interesting angle to take on the humans/supernaturals living alongside one another, and, if anything, I would have liked to have seen more of this world. I hope it will be developed further in the subsequent books.

If I have a criticism of the world-building, it would be that Raand’s “Weres” are much more compelling than her vampires. Not that vampires need to be the central creatures in a fantasy world (and I hope the focus of my blog shows that I don’t think that!), but rather that the vampires in The Midnight Hunt are a little underdeveloped beyond their hypnotic, polymorphous sexuality. This was a little frustrating, as Raand’s vampires do have some unusual aspects that differentiate them from the current mass of vampires – I wanted more of these.

I suppose this is a good point to talk about the sex. As I’ve said, the sex scenes are well-written and strike a good balance of the erotic and the romantic. I am not a huge erotica fan, so occasionally found myself waiting a little impatiently for the sex to finish so Sylvan could go out and hunt again, or get back to investigating what has been happening to her pack. Raand’s werewolves and vampires are hypersexual by their very natures, but, to her credit, she does give some good discussions of the consequences and implications of this – as well as some pretty steamy set-pieces. I felt the ending of the book also focused more on the resolution of the sex/romance plot than the investigation of “Were fever”, though this is to be expected given the genre. It’s also worth noting that this is the first book in a series, so some loose ends are necessary to carry through to the next instalment.

In conclusion, The Midnight Hunt is a great start to a series. Its ‘alpha’ female is a really creation, and I was fully invested in Sylvan and her development through the book. It is an erotic romance, which might not appeal to everyone. The sex outweighs the violence and horror by a wide margin, and I know this may not be to everyone’s tastes. However, there is much more to this book than sex, and I think it has a wider appeal than simply its genre.

If you are a fan of paranormal erotic romance, then The Midnight Hunt is a must-read. But, like I’ve said, I’m not normally a fan of the genre, but still enjoyed the book immensely and am looking forward to reading the rest of the Midnight Hunters series. If you like your female werewolves hot and sexy – but also fierce and protective, conflicted and spiky – then you will like Sylvan Mir. Now you can take my word for it, as well as the legion of Raand fans who voted in my poll.

For more information about the Midnight Hunters series, see the publisher’s website.

Part 1: Catherine Lundoff, Silver Moon

Part 2: S.J. Bell, Bonds of Fenris

Part 3: Allison Moon, Lunatic Fringe

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