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Touch the Dark
Karen Chance
Roc, 307 pages

Touch the Dark
Karen Chance
Karen Chance is from Orlando, Florida. After getting a degree in history, she spent two years teaching in Hong Kong. Touch the Dark is her first novel.

Karen Chance Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

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'"The Elves are livid, and say if the vamps can't deal with this they'll do it themselves. They lost one of their nobles in the crossfire, and you know how they are about that kind of thing." Actually, I didn't. I'd never seen an elf or talked to anyone who had. Some vamps at Tony's didn't even believe they existed. The rumour was that they were some elaborate prank the mages had been playing for centuries, to try to convince the vamps that they had powerful allies.'
Touch The Dark is the first novel in a new series, featuring Cassandra Palmer. Cassie, is a virginal young woman who talks to dead people, and following the murder of her parents, was brought up in a vampire mafia family. Then she ran away. Tony, (surely an estranged Soprano), the undead godfather of the bloodsucking mob, is looking for her, along with other interested parties. The only advantage Cassie has to begin with is her ability to interact with ghosts, and to some extent make use of their ectoplasmic powers. One ghost in particular, an 1880s gambler named Billy Joe, lives in the necklace she wears. Billy Joe acts as Cassie's personal lookout, occasionally affecting the physical world in small but crucial ways. Among the others thrown into the mix are Tomas, a master vampire tasked to bodyguard Cassie, but with his own secret agenda; Louis-César, a dandy among the undead, later revealed to be a famous literary figure remembered in the fiction of Alexandre Dumas; Mircea, who happens to be Dracula's older brother; Pritkin, a human battle mage of the Silver Circle, and the former vampire lover of the Russian Queen, Grigori Rasputin. All are interesting, well drawn individuals, but special mention must be made of Mircea, who works splendidly as the most famous of vampires in all but name, with the heritage but not the baggage, and Pritkin, whose name sounds like he's a fluffy toy, nevertheless acquits himself well as the Rambo of the mage world; weapons infested and hair-trigger hommicidal.

If at this point you have a touch of déjà vu, that's because Karen Chance has shrewdly identified a gap in the market, and focussed her efforts accordingly. Comparisons must be made with Laurell K. Hamilton, and her best-selling characters Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, and Meredith Gentry, exiled princess of the Fey. Cassie Palmer borrows a little from both, but copies neither. Fans of Hamilton's earlier works will be delighted to learn that Chance's use of sex within the story, is both fitting and brief. The story has its darkness, but is not really dark fantasy. It also has some depth, but does not come close to Anne Rice territory. Instead, what it concentrates on is delivering a fast paced, inventive, introduction to the past, present and possible future of a tough yet still sympathetic character. In addition to vampire clans, the backdrop includes human mages, demons, were creatures, ghosts, pixies, and allegedly elves. The story centres on the reason why everyone wants Cassie, which is her developing control over the undead, and quite originally, the ability to body-hop in space and time, altering events. It's a useful trick, which all the main players are worried about, and would like to control. The swirl of what characters say they're up to versus what they're really doing can sometimes be a little fuzzy at the edges, and Cassie's innocence, given her upbringing among blatantly sexual predatory creatures, was also difficult to accept. Having said that, unlike the afore-mentioned competition, Cassie's ability to keep her knees together allows the story to flow. As events unfolded I found myself won over by her single-minded determination to survive, and her off-white humour, which made up for the minor defects.

In summary, Touch the Dark is a worthy beginning, which in the fullness of time has the potential to become excellent. A sequel, Claimed by Shadow, will focus on the mages. Future books featuring both Cassie Palmer, and different protagonists within the same universe but different parts of the world, are planned. There's also a novella sized work mainly about the mysterious Fey. The signs are that Karen Chance can maintain momentum, continue to develop her world intelligently, and avoid the mistakes of her predecessors. Therefore, this is a series I can recommend getting into on the ground floor.

Copyright © 2006 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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