The premise of Tainted is this: A young woman, Lily, is killed while carrying out vengeance against a rapist who attacked her sister. Lily is sure she’s going to hell for all the things she did in her short life, but instead she comes back from the dead…in someone else’s body. Her mission: to hunt demons for God. Her reward, if she succeeds, is redemption.
At first, I was reminded of a couple of other urban fantasy series. The wrong-body plotline and the theme of sisterly love reminded me a bit of Vicki Petterson’s Signs of the Zodiac (though Lily’s new body is a stranger’s, not her sister’s). The idea of earning redemption by slaying supernatural nasties called S.J. Day‘s Marked to mind. And Deacon, the possibly-evil bad boy who stirs Lily’s senses, reminded me of a lot of urban fantasy love interests. What I really loved from the beginning, though, was the story of Lily’s struggle to integrate herself into the life of Alice, the woman whose body she now inhabits. It’s hard and confusing trying to take over someone’s life without giving away how little you know, and it’s sometimes sad, as when Lily realizes how few of Alice’s acquaintances have even noticed the difference.
What really kicks Tainted into high gear is Lily’s growing curiosity about Alice. Why is she in Alice’s body in particular, and what happened to the real Alice? Things start adding up a little funny, and I remember thinking, If Julie Kenner has the guts to take this story where I think she’s taking it, I’ll be thrilled. And Kenner does. A big fat plot twist takes Tainted out of “standard-issue urban fantasy” territory and makes it something unique and very much worth reading. Even Deacon turns out to have more depth than I was expecting.
If I have any quibble with Tainted, it’s this: Demons, in Kenner’s universe, bleed black sludge instead of regular blood. This is plot-relevant a couple of times. Trouble is, I can think of two scenes that would have been very different if Lily, and the reader, had been privy to the color of a bleeding character’s blood. Knowing whether these two characters were demon or human would have given a lot away, and so the narration simply doesn’t mention the color of the blood. Given that Lily usually notices this detail during combat scenes, the fact that she doesn’t in these two instances feels a little bit like cheating.
That said, Tainted is quite enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to the two upcoming Blood Lily Chronicles novels. There are enough twists here to set this series apart from the pack, and that’s something to celebrate in this subgenre.
The Blood Lily Chronicles — (2009) Publisher: Lily Carlyle has lied, cheated, and stolen her way through life. But in death, she’ll really get to be bad… When her little sister is brutalized, a vengeful Lily determines to exact her own justice. She succeeds at the cost of her own life, but as she lies dying, she is given a second chance. Lily can earn her way into Paradise by becoming an assassin for the forces of good. It’s the job Lily believes she can really get into — but she doesn’t realize that she may not be able to get out.