By: Brian G. Wood
Rating: Excessively Good
Blood Mother, the sequel to Dead Roots, is a continuation of Tom’s terrifying life at the DPSD. Set primarily on an old plantation in Louisiana, Tom is on trial for the murder of two baby vampires, or krasue. Even though baby vampires are freaking gross and have the most disgusting diet ever (no spoilers), killing a baby vampire is super offensive to adult vampires, who are only really able to produce baby vampires once every half century if they’re lucky. However, as pissed off as the vampires are, everyone can pretty much agree that humans are in charge here and they’ll be limited as to how much they can punish Tom. In fact, Judge Berenger, a sympathizer who’s kind of in charge but not completely, thinks that Tom can get out of trouble altogether if he can find out who’s killing the adult vampires.
Sleep continues to evade Tom as Keda’s Aki tortures him with nightmares. He finds some comfort in meeting the apparent medium Sophie Theroux, who promises to help him solve the crime while he deals with the rawness of his near-death experience and his strained relationship with his best friend. His visit is further complicated by a new coworker who is a total pervert, a succubus who’s taken an interest, and an increasingly frustrating relationship with his commitment-phobe boss, Margaret.
Unlike Dead Roots, the villain is not quite as clear this time. Between the mysterious Theroux, the terrifying but oddly predictable Judge Berenger, and the morally indeterminate Tippler, it’s difficult for the reader and the main character Tom to know to whom the focus should be pointed. Tom’s mind, love life, and job are equally muddled. There’s never a dull moment as we follow our suitably tortured protagonist through the mess that is his life.
Compared to his debut novel, Dead Roots, Wood does an even better job at grossing the reader right the fuck out this time around. I had particularly loved the recurring spontaneous vomit in Dead Roots and was kind of wondering whether this time around would be less funny or more of the same vomiting, but it was neither. The vampires are like no vampires I’ve read of or seen in any kind of movie before. They’re absurdly grotesque with no skin, horrid diets (again, no spoilers), creepy rituals, and even creepier babies.
Blood Mother is not just about grossing you out; it’s also about sex. At University, I learned how to be some kind of a literary professional and one of the things I learned was that vampires are always sex. Bram Stoker, an author stifled by Victorian censorship and values, wrote a story where “bite” was connotation for “sex,” an act which turned young, beautiful women seduced out of wedlock into lustful, hungry monsters. Charlaine Harris’s vampires deal with bigotry and get called “fangers” as the many homosexual characters in her books struggle with the same world. Even Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight vampires are a Mormon sex ideal – beautiful, dangerous creatures that are perfect if you’re married but could totally kill your ass if you’re not. Of course, just because vampires are a well-worn literary metaphor doesn’t mean that every author who features vampires in their work is using them that way. I never asked Wood whether these vampires were metaphors for sex, but I got some pretty good grades in those literature classes and I think they are. I think they’re metaphors for the nasty, underground, illegal scat and torture porn that sends its actors and actresses to the hospital for stitches and antibiotic drips after scenes. If they’re seductive sexual fantasies, they’re the sort normally relegated to the minds of people who use medieval torture devices as foreplay. I don’t know why I didn’t learn my lesson about reading these books on my lunch breaks after Dead Roots, but I think I would have had an easier time keeping my sandwich down if I’d been watching Two Girls, One Cup.
That being said, even following some awkward encounters with a succubus and some grotesquely uncomfortable scenes with new character and five star creep Oscar Tippler, Blood Mother manages to be about sex and still be woman and queer positive as ever. In fact, it even tackles a few currently relevant issues related to racial strife that won’t be lost on an audience still reeling from the Zimmerman verdict. Blood Mother is a unique and masterful experience. You’ll want to read it. And then you’ll want to read King of Men.
King of Men
By: Brian G. Wood
Genre: hopefully you’ve figured this out by now
Rating: As amazing as I’ve come to expect
King of Men will be the first book I’ve ever reviewed on this blog pre-release. I had the honor of getting my hands on a copy of this one
before it becomes available to the public on September 10th. Normally, I refuse to accept gift copies in exchange for reviews on account of a) the authors I review not being paid big publishing money by big publishers and b) it creates a conflict of interest where I’m afraid to write an honest review that’s less than sparkling about a gift I was given. I’m the kind of person who honestly gushes over that three-sizes-too-small Justin Bieber hoodie I was given for Christmas because the thought put into it actually truly warms my heart and I don’t even care that it doesn’t fit. Obviously, this personality trait could pose a threat to my integrity as a reviewer.
I made an exception this time because this was the third of Wood’s books that I’ve had the honor of reading and by this point, I could be pretty sure that it wasn’t going to suck out loud. Plus, I was super excited to see the trans character he developed with the assistance of my wonderful life partner and how that all turned out. I was not disappointed.
The third book in The Analyst series, King of Men is the most fast-paced and action packed. Keda, Tom, and Artie are immediately swept off onto an odyssey of sorts with Keda’s barely controlled passenger, the increasingly powerful Aki. Aki has some old enemies in Japan and none of them are too happy to see him back. They must exorcise Aki as quickly as possible before Harold can find them, catch them, and keep Aki (and Aki’s power) for himself.
Though Tom is still the main character to whose inner monologue we are privileged, Keda is the main attraction in this volume. He must confront the demons of his past, the parents he left and never saw again since coming out as gay while containing the demon within. For his part, Aki grows as the Byronic hero we never much got to enjoy before. He’s the bad guy we want to win, the tortured villain who doesn’t seem so bad contrasted with the overly pious and under-nuanced Japanese supernatural authorities. If only his victory wouldn’t mean Keda’s loss.
King of Men is the book that fans of The Analyst series are waiting to read since we meet Keda in Dead Roots struggling against a powerful demon inside of him while reassuring Tom that Japan’s attitude toward the supernatural is to embrace it quite a bit more than Americans. The Japan in King of Men is the Hogwarts to America’s muggle world. The supernatural cast of characters is colorful, interesting, and immersive. If it weren’t for the meddling of the loathsome villain Harold Saldana, King of Men would almost be more of a fantasy than a horror novel. Unfortunately for poor harassed Tom, he’s still a character in one of Brian Wood’s books and as such he still has to deal with acid-spewing hunger demons, a giant spider with half of a human hanging off of its stomach, and a sexy ghost with some anger management issues. Oh well, at least he’s given up on giving up smoking.
King of Men is simultaneously funnier and darker than the previous books in the series. Keda and Tom are dealing with some heavy stuff, but the gravity in their lives is matched by levity from the fun-loving tea house full of hard partying demons and a ghost who can’t use her cell phone.
It’s hard to say too much about King of Men without spoiling it. While the villain is obvious this time, the book is no less rich in mystery than its predecessors. In defiance of the typical progression of fiction series which typically get heavier and more outrageous in plot once the characters are established, King of Men is more character-driven. One of the characters’ gender is explored with tact and sophistication. Culture, sexuality, and coping with the past take the focus. It’s well done. It’s funny and horrifying. It’s gross and delicious. It’s the natural result of the quickly evolving world we’ve come to love. It’s the brain-child of a well-read and talented author. Go read Blood Mother now so you’re ready for it. You have 8 days.