Chicagoland Vampires #7
Adult Urban Fantasy
Available February 5th
Received from publisher for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
At the tender age of 27,
Merit became a sword-wielding vampire. Since then, she’s become the
protector of her House, watched Chicago nearly burn to the ground, and
seen her Master fall and rise. Now she’ll see her mettle—and her metal
—tested like never before.
It started with two . . . Two rogues
vanishing without a trace. Someone is targeting Chicago’s vampires, and
anyone could be next. With their house in peril, Merit and her Master,
the centuries old Ethan Sullivan, must race to stop the disappearances.
But as they untangle a web of secret alliances and ancient evils, they
realize their foe is more familiar, and more powerful, than they could
have ever imagined.
The Chicagoland Vampires series is one that has gained in popularity due in large part to Ms. Neill’s trademark sense of humor and her proficiency in writing witty banter, with a smoldering sexual tension between Merit and deliciously frustrating Master vampire Ethan Sullivan only feeding an already ravenous hunger for the books as a whole. The past couple books have been a bit darker in tone, the playful camaraderie between Merit and both Ethan and Mallory replaced by a somber tone as death and darkness stunned Merit’s world and turned it on its head, but House Rules sees a return of the rapier wit we’ve come to appreciate from Merit, and it’s nothing short of delightful to watch her wield it as she challenges Ethan the way she did in earlier books. Though there is a certain amount of levity threaded through this seventh installment, the seriousness of Cadogan House’s impending defection from the ruling council of vampires is present and accounted for; drama, romance, and mystery all combining to remind us of why we love Merit and company so very much.
Ethan and Merit’s relationship has always been an entertaining battle of wills, Merit’s distaste for authority clashing repeatedly with Ethan’s expectations of obeisance and obedience, and their struggle to patently deny the chemistry between them has been a highlight of each book. The continuation of their stop-and-start relationship in the previous two installments has notched their antics down a touch from amusing to mildly frustrating, but luckily Ms. Neill gives us an Ethan and Merit in House Rules who have learned from their past mistakes and are admirably fighting their knee-jerk reactions to perceived slights in order to set a new standard for their relationship – one of strength and unity rather than fear and doubt.
Though there is no shortage of romantic drama for our leading couple in this story, the way they deal with it shows a great deal of growth, with Ethan in particular making some significant progress in the relationship maturity department. When a few revelations shake the fragile foundation they’ve begun to rebuild, House Rules has them bracing for impact rather than running and ducking for cover as they have before, with Ethan attempting to express his feelings vocally rather than shuttering them away behind his Liege and Master mask. Though he has a long way to go before anyone might describe him as communicative or demonstrative, what we see in this book gives us hope they are on their way to becoming the powerful couple we've always known they could be.
In addition to a strong comedic and romantic performance from both Ethan and Merit, we’re also given a solid mystery in this installment, a serial killer targeting vampires with seemingly little motive keeping us on our toes throughout even as we grit our teeth in frustration at the actions of the Greenwich Presidium against Cadogan House. Ms. Neill successfully juggles several different plotlines, giving each of them due attention while blending them together to form a single cohesive story, and we walk away from this story blissfully satisfied in a way we haven’t quite been for the last couple books.