Graveyard Shift by Michael F Haspil.

Stars: 5 out of 5

Alex and Marcus are detectives at the Nocturne Squad in modern day Miami.  Except in this Miami, vampires live in the open and are considered as much citizens of the United States as humans are, obeying the same laws and enjoying the same rights. Oh and “vampire” is not a politically correct word. They are called nocturnes, and the Nocturne Squad is in charge of investigating all crimes perpetrated by and against nocturnes.

Oh I forgot to mention that Marcus is a few thousand years old vampire who knew Julius Ceasar, and Alex is even older than that. He is the mummy of pharaoh Menkaure, cursed to walk this world until the end of times…

I have been spoiled with excellent first books in new series lately and Graveyard Shift is no exception. I love the world; I love the main characters. I really have nothing to complain about.

So the worldbuiding. After the discovery and mass production Hemo-Synth, an artificial blood substitute, the vampires revealed their existence to the general public. And thanks to a successful PR campaign, they even persuaded said general public that they weren’t a danger to anyone and that human and vampires could coexist peacefully.

I like how much thought the author put into this idea. If vampires are regular citizens now, they also need regular jobs and places to live, places to go to relax and have fun, places to buy their artificial blood at. So there is a huge economical shift worldwide – the world literally never sleeps. Everything is open 24/7. Humans work during the day, and vampires do the same jobs at night. Even the smallest bodegas and grocery shops carry Hemo-Synth blood on their shelves.

And there is a bigger legislative shift as well. What was considered a monster and a creature of legend before is now a citizen of the United States. Staking a nocturne through the heart and cutting their head off will land you behind bars for premeditated murder just as easily as shooting a regular guy through the head. Now there are laws and procedures in place to deal with the paranormal citizens. Which calls for nocturne cops, or the Nocturne Squad.

Alex and Marcus are a few thousand years old each, and it shows in their generally pessimistic outlook on life and the world in general. But where Marcus tends to be mostly broody, Alex exhibits a pronounced lack of interest for anything. Alex, or Mankaure, has pretty much grown tired of petty human squabbles that never change, no matter how many millennia pass him by. He does his job not because he likes it or needs the money, but because the shadow powers that stand behind the government  said so. And since those powers have a certain set of canopic jars in their possession that Alex might possibly not be able to exist without, he has no choice but to comply. It is implies that they hold something against Marcus as well but what that is Alex never asked his partner.

There is also no love lost between the two. Alex thinks (for good reason) that all vampires are predators and ruthless killers, no matter the tamed and friendly picture the media are painting of them. A wolf in sheep’s skin is still a wolf. And Marcus… well Marcus is an Ancient who thrives in secrets within secrets, and who lives for intrigue and conspiracies. And also doesn’t care about anybody but himself.

And at the same time, those two have a grudging respect for one another and sufficient trust that their partner will have their back in a bad situation. After all, they had been partners for the better half of a century: first as part of a secret organization called UMBRA in charge of eliminating the vampires, and that killing them is frowned upon by society, as cops trying to uphold law and order.

I also love how dark and gritty this world is. These vampires are the sparkly type with a tortured soul. They are ruthless predators who prefer real blood to the synthetic thing whenever possible. And while some are content to visit bleeder bars and take a little from willing participants, others prefer the trill of the hunt and the kill, and a bit of torture thrown in the mix as well…

The story itself was really well done. It kept you at the edge of your sit from the very first page. And since I couldn’t help but love the characters, I was hoping for their survival and well being.  And while this books story arrived to a rather satisfying resolution, it left a lot of questions as to what will happen next, which is an excellent tactic for a first book in a series.

I want to know what happens to Alex and Marcus now. I want to see the fallout the events in this book have on human-vampire relations. And I want to learn more about Father Aguirre and his church. And is it really possible for vampires to grow back their soul?

So good job Mr. Haspil, good job. I am a fan now and I am eagerly awaiting the next book.

PS: I received and advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Speaker of the Lost (Lark Nation book1) by Clara Coulson.

Stars: 5 out of 5

Robbie was down on his luck: he’d fought with his girlfriend because he’d had seven beers which was one too many as far as she was concerned. So she took the car and left him stranded at his friend’s house, with no other way to get home but to hike five long miles on a small country road in the middle of the night. Little did he know that his day would soon get from bad to worse. First he lost his girlfriend and his wheels. Then he lost his head… in a very literal and final way.

Now Stella Newport, rookie agent at the FBI’s Paranormal Squad is sent to Bismuth, Maine, to investigate what looks like an attack by a headless horseman. And to make things worse, her partner is Oswald Bolton, who doesn’t keep the same partner for more than a couple months before they beg to transfer or have a nervous breakdown…

I love when the first book in a new series manages the often impossible task of introducing the world, the characters and their backstories, AND manages to tell a compelling story as well. Speaker of the Lost does exactly that.

This book shows us a world much like our own, where normal citizens don’t believe in magic  or the existence of supernatural creatures called the fae. Apart from those few people who can actually perform real magic and even open the gateways between our world and the world of the fae to allow them to step over into our dimension. Usually, because the sorcerers needs something from those fae. And that something is usually rather nefarious for everyone else. Good thing is, the fae demand a rather steep price for their services, often up and not limited to the death of the summoner upon competition of the contract. Another good thing is that the government is aware of their existence as well and even has a few special agencies in charge of paranormal crimes.

The story itself starts as a simple murder, albeit executed by paranormal means, but turns out to be much more sinister and far-reaching than our protagonists had expected. The good people of sleepy Bismuth keep some dark secrets indeed, and the town will never be the same after the investigation is closed.

Speaking of protagonists. This story is told from the alternating point of view of both Oz and Stella, and I must admit that the author did a very good job of creating two very distinctive characters with distinctive voices.

Stella is a joy to read about. She is smart. She is resourceful. She calls Oz on his bull%$#t and she isn’t afraid to let him know when he crosses a line. She is strong and she knows her own worth, but she is also very human. She can be overconfident and has a tendency to rush into things without thinking them through, but she isn’t afraid to acknowledge her mistakes and learn from them.

Oz on the other hand can come across as a total ass, and most of the time he does act like one. A lot of times on purpose because he doesn’t want to be saddled with yet another partner that will turn tail and run in a few weeks or days. He doesn’t want to get attached to another partner and feel responsible for them again. And there are reasons for that. I won’t spoiler here, but let’s just say that the few hints we get about Oz’s backstory explain most of his behavior. I actually cheered for him when he gradually warmed up to Stella, because I understood just how hard it was for him to trust somebody again. Or to allow himself to care for somebody again, because he was scared that he would fail to protect them.

I also liked this new twist on the headless horseman myth and how it was woven into the bigger meta of this particular world.

So as I said at the beginning, this book did an excellent job of getting me interested in the world and invested in the characters. It wrapped up the story of the dullahan and the sorcerer who summoned him, but also hinted at a bigger disaster that is yet to come. And I want to read about it. I want to see Oz and Stella working as equal partners, bickering and helping each other, and being awesome. So when is the next book coming out?

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.