Lee Child (and others, I'm sure) has said something along the lines of the key to writing a long-running series is that in each book you give the readers exactly the same thing, only different. Here in book 11 of the Jane Yellowrock series, that's exactly what Faith Hunter has delivered -- Jane Yellowrock up to her neck in revenant vampires, schemes within schemes within schemes, and dealing with the Big Cat that shares her body -- but in a new way, with different (yet the same) schemers, a different kind of revenant, and new challenges and revelations about her Beast.
The tricky part of this is coming up with something to say . . . I mean really, the fact that I'm still reading the series 11 books in pretty much demonstrates that I'm a fan and that I'm predisposed to like this -- both in its sameness and differentness. I like spending time with Jane and the rest (particularly Eli, Alex and Bruiser), seeing her navigate through this wold, and beating people up/taking out vampires. The "same" stuff is as good as always (maybe even a little better), so what about the "different" stuff?
There's a lot to cover on that front, actually -- I can't cover it all, that's Hunter's job (and she's so much better at it). But I can do a little. This book takes place sometime after Curse on the Land (yay, multi-series continuity!), and long enough after Shadow Rites that Jane's started to come to terms with her expanded household and all that it entails (please note the use of the word, "started" -- I'm not sure she's quite finished even at the end of this one). But that's just the beginning. There are a handful of revenants popping up -- but they're not the kind that Jane is used to dealing with. And their presence might be signalling something significant.
The Youngers have evolved somewhat -- Alex is maturing, and even getting out of the house a little -- but he's still the same dude. Eli -- wow, we see so many sides of him here that we hadn't before (maybe saw hints of, but not like this), I loved every bit of the Eli material here -- and man, did he make me laugh. He also made me get a little bleary eyed at one point -- something I couldn't ever imagine that I'd say.
Beast does something that I don't think we've seen before -- she has something going on that she's keeping from Jane. There's something she knows, maybe something she did, that she's blocked Jane's knowledge of . That's scary -- kinda cool -- but mostly scary. The repercussions of Beast doing things without the human part of her knowing, there's a couple of books right thee.
Naturally, the biggest differences come from growth and changes to Jane herself -- at one point, she says
My life was so weird I scarcely recognized it.
The only reason readers can recognize it is that we've followed the series -- if someone made the strange decision to read Skinwalker and then jump to Cold Reign, I bet they'd barely recognize the protagonist. The changes in her abilities, her shifting (but not totally shifted) feelings towards vampires and their practices, her love life, her friends, her understanding of her past, etc., etc. -- she's come a long way, mostly for the good, I think. There's even a sentence I identified in my notes as "possibly the sweetest, sappiest thing to come out of Jane's narration." I decided not to include it here, but fans will gush over it. I just know it.
None of that means that when it comes time for bringing the pain that Jane's not up to it -- in fact, thanks to recent events, she's better at it than ever. Her use of the Gray Between (which is bordering on being over-used), is improved here -- she's able to handle it better and uses it to her great advantage. Yeah, she might be not be that recognizable, but she's a better character for it.
The core of this book -- plotwise, anyway -- comes back to the looming summit with the European Vampires, while Leo continues preparing for it, some things start happening that make he and his Enforcers begin to think that maybe the EVs are already in New Orleans and doing what they can to undermine him before anything official happens. Hunter, like many authors, has really taken advantage of the long-lived nature of vampires and how they'll use that for long-range planning. In Cold Reign we see that used very well -- as I mentioned before, there's a new kind of revenant running around New Orleans -- and there's no good explanation for how that's happening (there's a pretty diabolical explanation, however). This brings us back to the first time Jane stuck her toe in the water of Leo Pellisier's plans, and the early defenses against insurgents that Jane mounted on his behalf. Plots and schemes that we thought we were done with (if only because the plotters and schemers were no more), are brought back up and put into a new light in a very convincing manner. If Hunter said that she'd been planning these moves since book 2 or so, I'd believe her -- I'd also believe her if she said that she needed something for this book and took advantage of some of material from her early books. Either way, she does a very clever job of it.
There's a little bit of Soulwood in Cold Reign. We get a mention or two of Nell Ingram. Rick LaFleur is around doing PsyLED stuff -- without the rest of his team, sadly. Soul is seen a few times, but doesn't do much (but what she does is pretty cool).
I've long enjoyed Jane's calorie-rich dietary needs and the abandon with which she dives into her food -- and I think I've noted with both books, how fun it is to watch Nell Ingram sample junk food. But I think in Cold Reign, Best trumps them both -- she eats her first taco. And I found it delightful, really, literally laughing out loud. I've decided that what Hunter's fans need is a Food Network-style show featuring Jane, Nell and Beast trying various foods -- I'd just love it.
The ending came a little quicker than I expected (possibly was confused thanks to the Soulwood preview at the end tweaking the percentage -- but even without that, it seemed sudden). Which isn't a bad thing, and probably says more about me than anything about the book -- maybe I just wasn't ready to say "see ya later" to Clan Yellowrock yet. Without spoiling much, there wasn't a lot of resolution here -- there was enough -- but not as much as you might expect. The threat to Leo is still out there, and Jane et al. have their work cut out for them to prevent a European Vampire takeover.
Another winning tale of Vampire Politics, New Orleans weather, Magic, Big Cats and blood -- lots and lots of blood. At this point, I'm not sure Hunter can do anything wrong with this series -- and I hope she doesn't prove me wrong anytime soon. Get your orders in now folks so you can dive on it on May 2.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work -- I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.