When I listen to/read interviews with authors, I hear frequent mentions of "Trunk Novels" (writers of other formats have similar labels for their scripts or whatever), the novels they wrote at the beginning of their careers that they don't try to submit to agents/publishers, but use to learn their craft. Then they put them in a trunk (or a disused folder on their hard drive), and move on. In the age of digital publishing, there are (I fear) a lot of what would otherwise be Trunk Novels up for sale at various places online. I think ten years ago, A Change of Heart would probably have been that kind of learning experience for Mark Benjamin, instead, it went up for sale last weekend.
Don't get me wrong -- it's not a bad book. Sure not a good book, either.
A Royal vampire is about to die, but he knows (based on a prophetic vision) that he will sire the most powerful vampire in history. Which means he'd better get to siring, and quick. Thankfully, a bullied bookworm stumbles upon him at just this point, and just before dawn, Gabriel Harper is turned into a vampire.
What follows for Gabe is a lot like the best part of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movie, he stops wearing glasses, becomes muscular and coordinated, confident enough to take on bullies and talk to girls. Sure, he has a craving for raw meat -- but you can't get everything you want, right?
Gabe and his friends are out celebrating their graduation a couple of months later and are almost attacked by some vampires. This attack (and Gabe's probable successful defense of his pals) is prevented by a group of paramilitary men. These are members of the Silver Legion -- a group dedicated to hunting down vampires (see The Initiative from Buffy season 4). Because Gabe & co saw them, they are drafted into the Legion. Basically. It's not really that well justified, honestly.
The Legionnaires are supposedly a well-oiled machine, but basically are on the verge of falling apart -- petty rivalries, glory-hounds, secret initiatives and politics are about to tear everything apart. How supernaturally strong creatures haven't destroyed them yet is just a sign that they're not trying that hard. The Vampire Courts are just as rife with internal weaknesses and schemes, which probably explains why the Legion still has a chance.
Benjamin did pull off a late surprise -- I'd sussed it out before he revealed it, but not long before. I've got to give him that (which sounds more begrudging than I intended). On the whole, the intertwining plots just make everything unnecessarily convoluted -- he was going for complex, but missed. The last two chapters were clearly intended to spur readers on to the sequel, but I'm not sure they set the bait quite right -- the last chapter in particular was more obscure than mysterious.
Weak plot elements can be forgiven and/or overlooked if you're given characters you can care about. And there just aren't that many of them here. There are a few characters I like, but just a bit -- the way that Benjamin writes these people make it hard to like, empathize with, or care about.
There was a lot of talk about senility, occasionally involving people a decade or two away from it. Along the same lines, you've got a lot of college students (on the verge of graduation, no less) acting like high schoolers. For that matter, the back-biting, scheming, and jealousy displayed by both members of the Legionnaires and Vampires seems fit for Beverly Hills, 90210. Don't get me started on discussions of virginity -- I cannot believe adults carrying on that way.
I didn't intend on writing a negative post here -- I liked bits of it, and I've read worse things this year -- mostly, I didn't mind it and am pretty lukewarm about it. Benjamin was trying, he set his sights on the sky and tried to hit it. Sadly he didn't.
In short, there are worse ways to spend some time than with this book -- and underneath a lot of mis-directed ambition, there's the makings of a good book.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post -- sorry about that Mr. Benjamin.