Generation V – M. L. Brennan
When first I came across this title, I discarded it outright because I thought it would be another example of the now-consumed-to-the-bone (or is it fang?) vampire trope. Yet I kept reading enthusiastic reviews about it, and catching the word “different” which made me curious, so I decided to give it a try. Generation V is indeed different on many levels, starting with its main character, who is quite removed from the trite representation of vampires in Urban Fantasy: this book is a great fresh start for a new series, and the author is one I intend to keep on my radar.
But let’s proceed with order…
Fortitude Scott is an almost-vampire, meaning he has not come yet into his powers: a transition he’s dreading, and a heritage he tries to avoid as much as possible. For this reason he lives on his own, away from the influence of his powerful family – but he’s not leading a charmed life, not by a long shot. Despite his college degree in filmography he barely scrapes by as a waiter in a coffee shop run by a disgruntled and abusive boss, staffed by lazy and bad-mannered co-workers; his roommate Larry is a slob who has not paid the rent in months and had sex with Fortitude’s girlfriend, who in turn has convinced him that this “open relationship” will be beneficial to both. In short, Fortitude is a loser on many fronts, as he himself recognizes with wry self-inflicted humor, without showing the smallest inclination to do something about it. We are as far as possible here from the glamorous, fascinating and kick-ass characters that can be found in most U.F. books, and as a reader I was both amused by and angry with Fort for being such a wimp and not trying to be more assertive.
There is nothing glamorous in his family either: his mother Madeline rules her territory with the iron fist of a Mafia boss; his brother Chivalry literally consumes willing human wives as we would consume soft drink bottles, and even his total devotion and care for them can’t erase the fact that he kills them to survive; and his sister Prudence is a cold-blooded killer who, among other things, is responsible for the murder of Fort’s human foster parents when they started to ask too many questions. This is one of the most fascinating sides of the vampire myth as seen from the author’s original point of view: vampires are long-lived but not immortal, and their small numbers are the result of the peculiar way in which they reproduce, which requires the creation of human hosts infused with the vampire’s blood so they can carry the offspring to term. The blood infusion turns those hosts into insane killers, though, hence the necessity of foster parents, with whom the young vampires live until they come into full powers.
Having witnessed the bloody murder of the couple who raised him, Fortitude is both wary of Prudence and terrified at the prospect that one day he might become as cold, distant and exploitative as the rest of his family, so when he’s summoned to the mansion to meet a visiting vampire from Europe, he holds high hopes of finding someone different, someone who could give him some hope for the future. Of course nothing of this kind happens, because Luca – the guest to whom Madeline offers hospitality and the freedom of her territory – is a deranged pedophile who indulges in a kidnapping and killing spree, ignored by Fort’s family because of those same rules of hospitality. This finally wakes up Fortitude, who decides to take on Luca and save a little girl he’s keeping as a plaything.
Here’s where the story becomes more interesting, thanks to the appearance of a wonderfully crafted character: Suzume Hollis, kitsune shapeshifter, or in her own words, “a fox who can become a woman”. Suzume is the exact opposite of Fort: energetic, irrepressible, funny and above all sneaky. Hired by Madeline as a bodyguard for her son, Suzume proceeds to turn Fortitude’s life upside down while at the same time bringing to the fore his more pro-active drives: I received the distinct impression that she acts as a much-needed catalyst for something that had lain dormant too long, and finally wakes it up. Fort is a different person when he’s with Suzume: after the initial annoyance at this flesh-and-blood tornado taking possession of his life, he becomes more reactive, refusing to let things happen to him. If the first half of the book is played on a more humorous level, reaching its apex with the appearance of Suzume and her witty antics, the drama of the situation slowly encroaches on the lighter tone and takes hold of the rest of the story: this transition is carried by Suzume, who progressively leaves behind the funnier aspects of her personality to show more clearly her trickster nature, and the dangers connected to it. There is a scene in which Suzume’s grandmother warns Fort about her granddaughter, because she might abandon him when “the situation is no longer amusing”: when that happens, he will have no other choice but to find his own strength, and hope it will be enough. The final part of the novel is a breathless rush toward a not-so-certain epilogue that kept me awake until late at night.
For a first book in a series, Generation V is quite strong and well-balanced in storytelling and characterization, with none of the problems that could have troubled it, like uneven pacing or excessive exposition to lay down the background: on the contrary it’s a solid installment, rich in original details and situations. It goes without saying that I look forward to next book(s).
My Rating: 8,5/10