The Chicagoland Vampires series started out fairly light and has gradually become darker. The unpretentious, easily digestible writing style is still in effect, and humor is still present, but Merit’s troubles have increased in complexity and the emotional stakes have been steadily raised. Hard Bitten is the fourth in the series and the darkest so far. Chloe Neill brings together a number of previously introduced plot arcs, and all hell breaks loose.
Merit is touched by Ethan’s recent gestures but still wary of him after their breakup in Twice Bitten. She doesn’t have much time for romantic angst, though, because Cadogan House is in trouble. The events of the past few books have put Cadogan, Ethan, and Merit on the radar of both the human and vampire authorities. We’ve been following Merit intimately, so we know she’s been trying her best to solve problems rather than create them, but to the outside observer, it looks like Cadogan is the epicenter of all the drama. The last straw is a super-violent vampire rave that leaves three women dead. Now, unless Ethan gets his House in order, Mayor Tate will have Ethan arrested and Darius, leader of the vampires’ Greenwich Presidium, will place Cadogan in receivership. Merit’s role as Sentinel is to solve the rave mystery and clear her House’s name.
The plot is the type of twisty mystery we’ve come to expect from Neill, with a healthy dose of character development: many of the series’ recurring characters are changing and evolving as a result of the new roles they have assumed. Hard Bitten also revisits some questions raised in book one — why was Merit targeted for attack, anyway, and how did Ethan know to be there? — and provides answers that are sometimes shocking. But the biggest shock is the ending, a huge sucker punch of a development that may also be a cliffhanger.
I say “may be a cliffhanger,” because I don’t know if Neill will “fix” this situation or if it will be permanent. Genre expectations and a few intriguing hints make me think all is not as bleak as it appears. I look forward to finding out, either way. All I know is that if it’s a cliffhanger, it’s a seriously evil one… and that we’re lucky we only have to wait until November for book five, Drink Deep.
Hard Bitten is the fourth book in Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series and I was admittedly at a slight disadvantage trying to pull out the backstory because I haven’t read the first three books. Amazingly, this was still a really fun read even though I didn’t know all the details. Chloe Neill knows how to tell a story and even if her subject material is not incredibly innovative, she still manages to keep things moving and make things interesting.
Merit (she goes by her last name) is a good-looking, trash talking, ass-kicking vampire who lives in Chicago. She was involuntarily made into a vampire after being attacked and nearly dying anyway. That is a plus in my book because she valued her humanity. Merit is also the daughter of a wealthy businessman and politically tied in to the city of Chicago. To top it all off, she is romantically involved with the head vampire of the “House” that she belongs to. This is all pretty well-covered ground in urban fantasy.
The Cadogan House, where Merit lives, has been the focus of a lot of violence and turmoil. Much of that has been instigated by the leader of another vampire house and Merit and her off-again boyfriend, Ethan Sullivan, are trying to keep things from getting even further out of control. In order to do that, Merit is drawn into the investigation of the murder of humans by out of control vampires. If she doesn’t get it figured out, her House will be shut down.
This is all good stuff. I like the way that Neill tells the story even if she uses some terms a little too often. Merit is a good heroine and the supporting characters are all pretty well developed, even the bad guy vampires. The best part of Neill’s writing is that she is not afraid to kill important characters! I absolutely love the fact that she is not so in love with her characters that she can’t bear to write one out of the story. For me, what was an otherwise decent, but common, urban fantasy novel became something much better because the author has the guts to make things hurt.
Merit needs to get to the bottom of the crime, but, unable to tell who’s on her side, she calls in a dangerous favor from a member of an underground vamp group that may have intel on the attack. Merit soon finds herself in the dark heart of Chicago’s supernatural society—a world ready to fulfill the protesting humans’ worst fears, and a place where she’ll learn that being a vampire means getting a little blood on your hands….