SHADES OF GRAY (Jude Magdalyn series #1)
Received from author for review
Though she is named after saints, Jude Magdalyn's life has been anything but blessed. The death of her parents resulted in life in an orphanage, and then life on the streets forced at times to sell her body for survival. Now, she lives the life of a con artist, reading tarot cards for tourists wanting the authentic New Orleans experience.
A reading with what she assumes is one such client yields highly atypical results as events take place and information comes to light revealing Jude to be the preordained leader of the Covenant, a group of powerful individuals warring with an organized group of vampires. Now she finds herself in the middle of a life she never thought possible, surrounded by people with whose hopes and dreams she is burdened, destined to fill a role she's not sure she can handle.
With the guidance of her mentor Gillian and the occasional pointer from vampire warrior Williams, Jude begins to hone her powers and train for the war everyone says is coming, and coming quickly. Jude has only ever had to care for herself, but now she bears the responsibility of dozens of lives, young and old alike, and as much as there are those outside the Covenant who wish her harm, she may face an even greater threat from within.
Shades of Gray wastes little time introducing us to the action, immediately catapulting us into a richly diverse and slightly eerie post-Katrina New Orleans as our heroine realizes she's an intrinsic part of a war humanity has no idea is being waged. Typically, finding ourselves in the middle of events quickly is welcome, as world building and extensive descriptions of characters and locations make for a slower pace where our involvement in the story is delayed considerably. However, the lack of history in this tale keeps us on the fringes of the battle as opposed to being on the front lines, our limited knowledge preventing us from fully ascertaining the magnitude of what Jude and company are fighting for. The villain is clear, but the specifics of how the opposing factions came to be and why their hatred burns so bright remains muddied. Therefore, our emotional response when good lives are lost is stunted, our hearts merely bruised instead of shattered beyond repair as the full weight of their sacrifice remains outside our realm of understanding.
Jude has an incredibly smart mouth and a bottomless reservoir of pithy remarks, and while this makes for some extraordinarily entertaining witty repartee, her sarcasm is sometimes layered so thick it forms a coat of armor around her we are unable to chink, thus keeping the sentiments underneath out of our reach. She also at times makes herself difficult to like, one instance in particular with regard to Williams, engaging in an activity during a time of grief from which she knows she should walk away, having the presence of mind to know it's wrong but not the emotional strength to refuse the comfort. When the dust settles, she immediately cries foul, making a monster of a man who, based on the information we've been provided, doesn't entirely deserve the label. Her attention shifts from Williams to Covenant member Theo quickly and easily prior to the grief episode, and when he provides her with an out from blame for the entire ordeal she latches onto it with a shocking intensity, assuaging her guilt and transferring her hurt and pain to Williams's broad shoulders. She is strong and independent, but her shortcomings force us to keep our distance when we might otherwise be drawn in by a friend, a confidante, and an able leader.
The secondary characters are beautifully portrayed however, a wide array of personalities overflowing with flaws and vulnerabilities as well as unique gifts and inherent strengths that add a fascinating layer to the story. Our affection for Williams is instant and unwavering, one of the reasons why his quick dismissal by Jude and his subsequent treatment at her hands leaves us a bit confused, wondering if we agree with her that our loyalty has been misplaced. He is a vampire of many secrets who acts in ways that, despite their mysteriousness, are in her best interest even if she fails to view them as such. As much as we would like to hate Theo and render him a usurper of Jude's attentions whom we adamantly deny the gift of our affection, Ms. Pruitt makes him very difficult to dislike. He takes Jude's snarky comments in stride and instead of meekly accepting them or lashing out in anger, absorbs them and slings them back at her with the added facet of guidance, helping her to extend her powers and be the ray of hope they need her to be.
We are left with an interesting development in Jude's personal life, one with far-reaching implications for both the war itself and her existence as a whole. It's clear we have as much to learn as Jude, and here's hoping we get a touch more information in book two so that we no longer have to crouch on the sides of the fighting ring, but rather get to have our hands tagged so we can cross the ropes and enter the fray.