HARD BITTEN (Chicagoland Vampires #4)
New American Library/Penguin
Available May 3rd
Received from publisher for review
Warning: Review does contain spoilers from previous books and alludes to certain events in this book though no specifics are given.
In the aftermath of the shifters' announcement of their existence, things in Chicago for Merit, Ethan, and their fellow vampires are a bit uneasy. The human population is not reacting well to the news that yet another supernatural species is living among them, and they have taken to picketing and rioting in front of Cadogan House to show their disapproval for the individuals they once so thoroughly accepted.
To make matters even worse, Mayor Seth Tate reveals to Merit and Ethan a witness statement wherein a man claims to have seen a multitude of vampires take the lives of three women in a frenzy of bloodlust. He assigns Merit and Ethan the task of putting an end to such behavior with a less-than-veiled threat of his retaliation if they don't gain control of the vampire population.
When a visit from a member of the ruling council of vampires pays Chicago a visit, Merit finds herself without Ethan's direct help in solving their human political problem while he deals in vampire politics. Paired with Jonah, Merit uncovers a disturbing new drug circulating the vampire raves–one that causes the erratic behavior the witness described–and as she delves deeper, she realizes the threat is even greater than they imagined and the potential fallout much more catastrophic.
Hard Bitten is a pivotal book in the Chicagoland Vampire series, presenting us with shocking new information and sending our emotions into indescribable turmoil as we deal with change and loss on a scale we haven't experienced before. While this book could have easily fallen into the trap of a middle book in a series where the character interactions become predictable and the action fails to be as impressive as it was previously, instead Ms. Neill takes a decidedly riskier route, testing us as much as she does her characters as we all struggle to come to terms with seemingly irreversible events. This fourth installment is like beginning the series anew–though the characters are comforting and familiar, the startling revelations place us firmly back on square one as we eagerly anticipate the next book to help us relearn how to put one foot in front of the other in this world.
Merit and Ethan are as fun, humorous, and infuriating as ever, their complex relationship returning to the slightly-guarded-but-still-sexually-tense state that existed prior to the progression of physical intimacy in the last book. Though they seem to have taken a step back in some respects, there is an openness and candor to them now that satisfies our clawing need to see them together and happy. Where before they engaged in an intricate dance comprised of sarcastic flirting and laced with a bit of good-natured antagonism used to mask the admission of any true feelings, we now have the honest confession of fear, hurt, and betrayal adding an emotional intimacy to their connection. This new rawness is mesmerizing, causing our hearts to ache a little less with each quiet acknowledgment as we know the strength it takes each of them to reveal a vulnerability to the other, and we long for the moment when a touch between them will be free of all the complications and can be a more simple and treasured thing.
Ms. Neill does a beautiful job with the plot in this series, each book focusing on a new but related problem to the vampire race being openly known to humankind, and this continuation of that world sees the escalation of previous personal, political, and supernatural battles to such a degree that putting the book down to take a breather becomes an impossibility. The heightened tension, the augmented danger, and the increased significance of repercussions for actions taken culminates in an ending that thoroughly swipes our legs from under us, leaving us shaking in uncertainty as to the future and our hearts bruised, broken, and in desperate need of repair. We are robbed of a vital component of these books–confusion, anger, and searing pain coalescing to create a bone-deep chill as our minds work frantically to concoct scenarios in which the events we've just witnessed will be remedied and the glowing happiness we felt at the end of the previous book will be restored.
This is a story where an extreme reaction is impossible to quell–tears will fall, teeth will grit, and fists will clench in anger as we both praise Ms. Neill for so thoroughly engaging us in her world and its characters while simultaneously questioning why she chose to hurt us so deeply. Despite our pain, we can't help but look forward to the next book, hoping that the explanations for, and reasoning behind, the conclusion of Hard Bitten will be partially illuminated. We have little choice but to place our complete faith in Ms. Neill's very capable hands, knowing she must have a plan and forcing ourselves to take comfort in the knowledge that we will be privy to it in time.