Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review: The Renfield Syndrome

J.A. Saare
Urban Fantasy
Available Now
Received from author for review

Warning: Contains spoilers from Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between.


Rhiannon should have known better than to enter into negotiations with a demon, even if she was trying to help vampire boyfriend Disco. Now she's one hundred and one years in the future with scarily few ideas on how to return to her own time. All she knows is she needs to get a message to Disco per the demon's request in order to settle the debt he owed, and given his immortality, she should be able to find him in this future world.

Before she can set out in search of Disco, Rhiannon finds herself intercepted by a team of black-clad men with sizable weaponry and is forcibly escorted to their compound. Here, she's informed majority of the human population has been wiped out by something called The Renfield Syndrome, and those who aren't dead are in servitude to the vampires who have taken over.

Rhiannon eventually convinces their leader, Carter, to aid her in her search for Disco while repeatedly spurning his advances, but what she finds in this new future threatens to destroy her. With the help of some old friends, Rhiannon struggles through the numbness of her new reality but vows to return to her time and prevent this future from ever coming to pass.

The Renfield Syndrome is a challenging read, not in the sense it’s difficult to understand or navigate, but in the way it affects us emotionally, forcing us to face events and situations along with Rhiannon that turn us inside out and lay us uncomfortably bare with our soft underbellies blatantly exposed. Ms. Saare, though it’s crystal clear how important her characters are to her, is not the type to write a story in which she’s content to hold our hand by following up tragic events with soothing words and meaningless murmurs that everything will work out as it’s supposed to. Instead, she allows things to unfold in ways that are painful and raw and have us walking away from Rhiannon’s tale just to seek brief sanctuary in our reality, but ultimately we are forced to return and put our hands back in the fire for the simple reason we cannot bear to allow Rhiannon to face it alone. Despite being the product of simple letters put together to form words and then sentences, the characters and world are undeniably tangible and our experiences with them far more real than vicarious in nature.

Rhiannon is the same smart-mouthed woman we met and fell in love with in Dead, Undead or Somewhere in Between, her no-nonsense attitude making the 101 year leap through time with no difficulty. What is so appealing about Rhiannon is the vulnerability thriving beneath the tough exterior, her skin able to be punctured as easily as anyone else’s if one knows just where to strike. Her body’s haunted topography of puckered scars serves as a reminder to us of both her unbelievable strength but also her weakness, and we watch in horror in this installment as the one person trusted with this physical map to her soul betrays her more intimately than the repeated violations responsible for the marks themselves. Our hearts belong entirely to Rhiannon in this tale, her pain ours as we suffer together.

Introduced to us in this alternative future Rhiannon finds herself in is another love interest, a man we’ve met before and adored but whom we never thought a romantic threat. Ms. Saare manages to beautifully avoid the petty drama that often surrounds a love triangle (though that hardly seems a fitting term for this particular situation), elevating it out of the superficial stages of a dual attraction to two men and plunging us head first into the depths of pain, love, and torment all heartbreakingly combined into something we never expected. While we might tell ourselves Rhiannon’s choices are wrong and her decision to act as she does misguided, the entire situation is written in a way that makes her relationship with this newest man feel so disconcertingly right that we find any anger we’ve mustered melt away in a haze of confusion. We are left with a churning mess of an emotional reservoir, one that begins to spill over the edges and drown us in torn allegiances as we struggle to separate the chaos into recognizable feelings.

The Renfield Syndrome will be a story that many will love but is also one that will most likely give many a reader pause, Rhiannon’s actions and the actions of those around her creating a visceral and gritty reading experience. This is not a story we walk away from feeling light and happy, rather we carry the emotional weight of it for weeks after reading. Ms. Saare isn’t afraid to leave a mark on her characters or her readers, and even as we wallow in pain wishing she would make it stop, we silently thank her for drawing us in so deeply.

Rating: 4.5/5


  1. I didn't read this too carefully since I haven't read the first book, but it sounds interesting. I enjoy novels that are tough - that really take the reader on an emotional roller coaster.

  2. On Goodreads you gave the first book 5 stars so I added it to my books :) I haven't read too many necromancer books...always looking for something interesting! :)

  3. I just picked up the first one so I just scanned the review. I don't mind spoilers but you write such wonderful reviews that I will be tempted to skip the first book LOL

  4. I already have this book on my Kindle, but I'm a little afraid to read it. Not sure I'm ready for an emotional read yet. But when I do... I'm sure I'll seek Renfield Syndrome out.

  5. Alison - She writes really great characters, it's hard not get emotionally invested in their lives:)

    Jacinda - I really enjoy these books! Beware the ending on the first one though, it's kind of intense:)

    Felicia - Yay! Hope you like it. Rhiannon is hilarious, but I like that JA isn't afraid to be dark and have things happen that are difficult for the reader to deal with.

    Amanda - I was a basket case after reading and emailed JA demanding to know when the next book came out:)

  6. Hmm, I've never heard of this one, but I do like the sound of it. Great review, Jenny, as always :)

  7. I never heard of this book before, but I enjoy reading stories with memorable characters that you can't help but feel invested in their lives. I'll have to check this series out. Thanks for the recommendation, Jenny.

  8. Hmm, I like how you said the book stays with the reader. I love it when an author can give me a good emotional ride. Thanks for the lovely review Jenny!

  9. I skimmed this review because I don't want to be spoiled for the first book, but wow! The Renfield Syndrome sounds great! I love books that evoke emotion; I'm glad the author isn't afraid to make things gritty and real. Thanks for the review, Jenny! :)

  10. Hafsah - Thank you! This is the second book in the Rhiannon's Law series, and I just adore both:)

    Rummanah - It's pretty impossible not to get sucked into Rhiannon's life - she's been through so much but she still has this hilarious attitude.

    Savy - Me too, the emotionally intense books are always the most memorable for me:)

    Lauren - It was fabulous. It ripped my heart out on multiple occasions, so I'm hoping some of the damage gets repaired in the next book:)

  11. Really have to read one of her books. I love it when a book stays with me after finishing it. It just begs for a re read in the future.

  12. Oh my gosh, you've hit on all the reasons why I'm afraid to read this one:

    1) "...a challenging read, not in the sense it’s difficult to understand or navigate, but in the way it affects us emotionally, forcing us to face events and situations along with Rhiannon that turn us inside out…"

    2) "...we watch in horror in this installment as the one person trusted with this physical map to her soul betrays her more intimately..."

    3) "...her relationship with this newest man feel so disconcertingly right …"

    I've been waiting for this book forever, but now I'm afraid of it. I love Disco and I don't want him to be bad! I don't want to like the new love interest! I want HEA with Good Disco **bursts into tears**.

    I'm going to have to put on my big girl panties and read it, you've left me somewhat reassured that I'll be vaguely satisfied.

  13. Ooooh!! I need to add this series to my TBR immediately!

  14. Jenny - Exactly. I will definitely be reading these again.

    Jennifer - SO GOOD! It made me both extremely unhappy and extremely happy at the same time which is a pretty amazing feat. There's no way you can't feel something for the new guy, and then Disco does some things and it's all just a big exquisite mess and I loved it:)

    Ashley - DO IT! Read book 1 first though:)

  15. I've never read any of the books in that series. Did you like the first one? It looks like you enjoyed the second, but I didn't read for fear of spoilery stuff in the first. Do you think it's one I should pick up?

  16. Oh man! I have bought the 1st book like a while ago and have yet to read it. I know I'm bad! I so want to dive into this world and I'm so glad that it continues. Yep, I'll be getting this one too!

  17. I want a book by her, so need one. If I only could get all the books on my wishlist ;)

  18. Jen - Wrote you an email, but the short version is YES:)

    Melissa - After you read book one you'll be more than a little glad the world continues because it's a cliffhanger of epic proportions:)

    Blodeuedd - Wouldn't that be nice? I have way more books on my wishlist than I can possibly afford:(

  19. Darned you! Tempting me with another series! I just skimmed your review because I didn't want to spoil it but Rhiannon sounds like a character I could get behind.

  20. God this sounds painfully emotional to read. I can't tell if I'm strong enough to read it, especially this last one. And how confusing to have a love triangle in the future, what a way to play with your reader's emotions!! Even though I haven't read the first one, I think they're both going on the list. Jenny you're hurting my pocket!


  21. I agree that this isn't a story that the reader walks away from feeling "light and happy." I was angry through most of this book, and then really sad, which made me more angry. It was one hell of a ride!

  22. "Ms. Saare manages to beautifully avoid the petty drama that often surrounds a love triangle (though that hardly seems a fitting term for this particular situation), elevating it out of the superficial stages of a dual attraction to two men and plunging us head first into the depths of pain, love, and torment all heartbreakingly combined into something we never expected."

    You have a way with words!! I loved this book. I loved your review. Beautiful job!

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