CAN YOU EVER REALLY TRUST A VAMPIRE?
A SURPRISINGLY CREATIVE DEBUT SERVES UP SOMETHING JUST A LITTLE DIFFERENT FROM THE AVERAGE URBAN FANTASY TALE
Touch The Dark
(Cassandra Palmer Series, Book 1)
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
Date: 6th June 2006
Looking for a run-of-the-mill urban fantasy yarn? Well, Touch The Dark, is not the book you are searching for. While it appears to be on the surface, and certainly starts off as such, Touch The Dark, slowly evolves into something a little more interesting. Elements of Greek mythology, re-imagined historical figures and time travel come together to create on oddly compelling mish-mash that will keep even the most unwilling readers engaged until the end.
Joining a long list of female protagonists in the oversaturated urban fantasy genre, author, Karen Chance, introduces Cassandra Palmer in this first book of a series. While most urban fantasy heroines tend to be witches, or vampires, or even werewolves, Cassie is a seemingly human clairvoyant, able to see and communicate with ghosts, as well as see past and future events. Even in this supernatural world of vampires, werewolves and mages, Cassie’s gift is considered to be rather special, making her a highly sought after individual; even more so than she realises.
The early chapters of Touch The Dark meander rather ponderously, with much time given over to revealing Cassie’s back-story. Readers are told how the orphaned Cassie spent her childhood in the custodianship of a vampire gangster her father worked for called Tony. Unbeknown to Cassie, Tony was utilising her clairvoyance to enrich himself, increase his power and influence in the criminal underworld, and for killing people. After learning the truth about this, Cassie mistakenly comes to the belief that this usage of her abilities is at the heart of her desirability to the supernatural population; but there is so much more to it than that.
As the story begins, adult Cassie has been living on the run for three years, having escaped from Tony’s clutches, but constantly aware that she must remain vigilant of his lethal retribution. After mysteriously receiving an anonymous e-mail at work that indicates that her location has been compromised, Cassie goes on the run once again.
Just when things take a turn for the worse, Cassie finds protection from the most unlikely source; the North American Vampire Senate. It doesn’t come as a surprise to Cassie, to learn that the Senate want her alive in order to use her gift. Someone has been attacking and killing members of the Senate, and Cassie is their only hope of figuring out how it is being done, and how to prevent further slayings.
Up until this point, Touch The Dark, is a pretty standard urban fantasy affair. The premise of Cassie aiding the Vampire Senate in exchange for their protection seems like a pretty simple one, but things do indeed get more complicated as Cassie learns the truth about the origins of her power, the reasons for the increase of these powers, and the destiny that she has no desire to fulfil.
By the time Touch The Dark concludes it’s apparent that Karen Chance has, somehow, successfully constructed a novel considerably better than it had any right to be. Few, if any, of the characters can be regarded as even semi-compelling or distinct, never mind actually being memorable. It is a rare thing indeed that upon completing a book, I don’t have a favourite character or one that I can point to as being the most intriguing. The Consul of the Vampire Senate was the closest thing to that, and she is barely in it.
Another weakness of Touch The Dark lies in its world building. It required extra concentration to keep track of the various institutions and factions of the supernatural world, and it was never obvious who the “good guys” and “bad guys” were, and whether or not such distinctions are even applicable. I often had a hard time remembering which factions were meant to be human and which were not.
The use of re-imagined historical figures (which is a pet peeve of mine) was another point of contention for me. I really dislike real historical people being incorporated into works of fiction, especially when they are re-imagined as supernatural beings. So you can’t really blame me for rolling my eyes at the introduction of Rasputin as one of the main antagonists, or sighing at the inclusion of such figures as English playwright, Christopher Marlowe, and Italian Renaissance artist, Raphael.
Yet in spite of these issues, the use of Greek mythology, and the unusual decision to throw time travel into the mix, Touch The Dark, becomes increasingly more enjoyable with every chapter. In fact, as the narrative progressed I found myself becoming more engrossed in the story, and less inclined to put the book down. I was even able to appreciate the hilariously written sex scenes.
I would probably be doing a disservice to Karen Chance to describe Touch The Dark as a guilty pleasure; though it does come perilously close to being so. But to the author’s credit she has established a very solid foundation upon which to build this series, moving onwards. To my surprise, I am looking forward to being reacquainted with Cassandra Palmer in the sequel novels, as she has the potential to be one of the stand-out heroines of Urban Fantasy.
So prospective readers, jump aboard Touch The Dark, the roller-coaster ride of supernatural intrigues and sexual shenanigans, with a reluctant heroine who must save the day while fending off the attentions of her vampire protectors who seek to claim her for themselves.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.