Saturday, May 22, 2010
It was only a matter of time, given the current vampire craze, that someone attempted to fuse political intrigue with everyone's favorite blood-suckers. Unfortunately Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth seems to be made up of clichés rather than anything of substance. Nathanial Cade is a vampire who serves at the leisure of the President of the United States. Agreeing to be bound by a blood oath cast by a voodoo priestess, Cade has served since the presidency of Andrew Jackson and has protected every president since that time. Cade lives surrounded by relics of supernatural threats he has defeated but remains haunted by the real-life Dr. Frankenstein, known as Johann Konrad, who still lives and continues to perform experiments in hopes of creating the living dead. Zach Barrows is a kind of political golden-boy. At least he was until he was caught in a compromising position with the President's daughter. He's been hand-picked by the President to replace Cade's current handler who is dying of cancer and soon realizes that there's a big, supernatural world that he never knew existed. And before Zach even has a chance to settle into his new position, he and Cade are called to a crime scene that involves a lot of severed body parts-- indicating that Konrad might be further along in his efforts to create a zombie super soldier than Cade realized. "Blood Oath" is one of those books that are basically fun but really, really shallow. Farnsworth is a scriptwriter and it shows in the basic lack of character development and credibility. Just by reading the back cover of the book you know there's a good chance the story can go from zero to absurd in no time flat if it isn't written with a certain finesse, and I'm afraid it isn't. What bothers me the most about "Blood Oath" are the clichés. You can literally check them off on your fingers: the pairing of the experienced, cynical partner and the smart-mouthed protege-- check; ambivalent hero-- check; psychotic, CIA black-op villains--check; long-standing grudge-match with evil nemesis-- check; gratuitous sex scene--check; explosions and gun fights--check; kidnap and torture of newbie partner-- check... I could go on like this for awhile. I mean, the whole book is like this. But you know what? I take it back. There is something that bothers me more than the clichés. Have you ever had one of those moments when you wanted to chuck a book across the room because a scene was too ridiculous? "Blood Oath" has a few of those. The one that really stands out is a scene in which one set of villains (in this case they are Muslim extremists) are carrying a severed head, intended to be part of the resurrected super-soldiers our other evil-villain has created, through the airport. When stopped by security they claim they are using the head for a "brain transplant" and are let through. Do I even have to explain why this scene is wrong on so many levels? And believe me, there is a lot of story construction here of this caliber. Additionally the characters are not credible at all, with the villains being the worst. As I mentioned before one group of bad-guys happens to be a group of CIA black-ops agents. These people are recruited specifically because they lack anything resembling morals and are prone to committing all kinds of murder and mayhem. And I couldn't help wonder what made Farnsworth decide that if the CIA were to put together a group of agents with the license to operate outside the law, why would they pick the most unreliable, corrupt people they could find? None of the characters have much in the way of personality, but the traits they do have seem to consist of either fleeing the scene at the first sign of danger or killing the first co-worker that becomes inconvenient. And, unfortunately, the heroes don't fare any better. For a novel that's intended to be a new take on the vampire myth, there is nothing new here. Cade is like all the other tortured, reluctant vampires who choose not to feed on human blood. I mean, that's it. The only original take on the story are the bits inserted to show the results of the tests the government has run to see the extent of Cade's abilities. And the partnership of Cade and Burrows doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Burrows is supposed to be the best-and-brightest type. An Ivy Leaguer with a quick wit. The only problem is that there are no demonstrations of logic or smarts that make us believe that Burrows is particularly bright, and his wit consists of dialog along the lines of "Dude, your girlfriend is weird." Normally I don't out of my way to bash a novel. But I kind of want to at least ensure that one voice out there offers an honest review of "Blood Oath." If you go to the Amazon page for this book, you'll see a slew of 4 and 5 star reviews and the only conclusion I can come to is that Farnsworth has a lot of friends willing to review the book. I can see a smattering of readers saying the book is fun, but all the claims that this is the best vampire book ever! really leaves me suspicious that the reviews are not what I would consider honest assessments.