Book Review: This Side of the Grave

Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress Books are a series I started reading before I began writing this blog, I tore through all the books I could get my hands on, and then forgot to keep an eye out for new books in the series. However, recently, there has been much blurbing and reviewing about Once Burned, the latest Jeaniene Frost novel (a new series which is a spin off of the Night Huntress books) and I realized, I was a tad behind. So I quickly requested This Side of the Grave and devoured it as quickly as vampires can drain a body. Frost’s characters are always entertaining, and as the series picks up the politics and social dynamics of the gang evolve and grow into a complicated glorious mess.

The fifth book in the series, This Side of the Grave picks up from where the fourth book left off and doesn’t let up. It was an amazing ride not only as to an intricate and exciting plot, but also as far as to character and background development. Cat and Bones are a much beloved urban fantasy couple and they do not disappoint. Some of the secondary characters are not exactly flushed out to their full potential, and this is definitely not a stand alone book. But, overall I was pleased with the fifth book and excited to continue with the series.

The Night Huntress Books follow protagonist Cat, born half vampire half human, a woman with supernatural strength and speed. Taught to hate all vampires as evil bloodsucking demons Cat spends her days working for an elite group of Homeland Security where she hunts down vampires and kills or cages them, hoping to some day stake her father, the man who ruined her mother’s life. But then Cat is captured by Bones, a vampire bounty hunter and the two strike up a tentative partnership. Cat agrees to train with Bones who says he will help find her father. Their training is interrupted when they are viciously attacked, just as Cat has begun to warm up to the idea that not all vampires are bad. Now she is suddenly forced to choose which team to back. Will she deny her vampire side?

**spoilers for the rest of the series up to This Side of the Grave**

Because of her unusual heritage, Cat is pursued by all the members of the undead community, vampires, ghouls, and ghosts alike. Cat begins her journey as a snarky maladjusted angst driven young woman, then she meets Bones and discovers the mind set she has grown up in has only made her hate herself. So, Cat embarks on a path to discover who she really is, while fighting all the baddies in town. Along the way she digs up information about her past that has been wiped from her memory by an extremely powerful vampire, ending with standing in the middle of a bunch of (fre)enemies being claimed wife to two different vampires. She chooses to handfast (the bloody way) with Bones and the two are married and the baddie conquered to the satisfaction of voodoo ghoul queen,  which doesn’t bode well for Cat in the long run.

In This Side of the Grave, Bones and Cat have been married for a short time and Cat is now a full blown vampire, with a blood thirst like no one else’s, she craves the blood of the undead. When she consumes their blood she takes on their vampire psychic and physical abilities, though it doesn’t last forever, she gains the ability to shoot fire from her hands, read other people’s minds, and that is only the beginning. Now Cat and Bones must deal with the mysterious vanishings of vampires. Those who have disappeared have something in common, they are no longer under the protection of a head vampire. The disappearances have something to do with Apollyon, a ghoul who has been around for centuries. His rhetoric against vampires, and Cat in particular,  are igniting a war forcing Cat and Bones to set up an uneasy and unspoken alliance with the ghoul voodoo queen herself. Then things star to fall apart.

What I enjoy about the Night Huntress series are the main characters, Cat and Bones, an odd couple that have a lot of issues. I enjoy following Cat’s journey of self discovery, which is what I really take away from the series, especially after reading the fifth book. Cat began the series hating who she was, but determined to use her supernatural powers for the better good. Then she learns for the “better good” is more murky a subject than she was taught by her vampire hating mother. Along her journey, Cat is joined by Bones, a former gigolo and criminal, who aids in Cat’s discovery of learning to be OK with herself. I like that the two actually get married and have relationship issues that they have to work on. I was also pleased as punch that Cat had learned her lesson from previous incidents and in This Side of the Grave worked with Bones as a partner and teammate instead of just going off on  her own as she had done in the past. Excellent character growth.

Some plot points and characters in this series are cliched urban fantasy, but they don’t deter too much from the overall enjoyment of the main characters. All the men are brooding and dark, all the women steely strength and kickass with a smile. This makes me a little wary that her new series will be much different from the Night Huntress, but I am willing to give it a try. I’m still looking for a book (or series) where the female character gets a dose of sluttiness (shut up, it’s a word) from an outside source and chooses to not be embarrassed because it isn’t her fault she suddenly has the hots for everyone, or maybe -just maybe, just embraces that she is a sexual being. Honestly, it seems the alpha males in urban fantasies have their sexuality down pat and it is the poor little girls who don’t. Well sli (sexually liberated individual) it up already and be a woman! (Ok, so sli is technically not a verb, but what was I supposed to say? Man it up and be a woman? Because that doesn’t work either.) A female who owns her own sexuality would be a nice change from, ‘I’m a sexual character but I don’t want to own that so I just act embarrassed, and that makes it ok that I like sex.’

Despite a few oddly prudish moments, Cat definitely is an interesting character who grows and becomes a better person as the story progresses, which is one of the reasons I keep returning to this series. While there is an element sameness because every time Cat and Bones beat a baddie, each book also has its own unique plot twists and background development that they are separately fun reads. Putting the cliched triangle behind her, Frost sets out to create characters who have actual monogamous relationships that they must work on, friendships that must adjust as peoples’ (the vampires’) primary relationships blossom, and partners who act as a team rather than the single girl or guy they’ve been for the past four centuries. The Night Huntress books are a fun urban fantasy series that teach a lesson or two about adjusting world views, learning from past mistakes, and what happens if a once halfbreed starts feeding on vampire blood.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: This Side of the Grave

  1. I won’t lie–I get a bit of a cringe happening whenever I come across an urban fantasy novel these days! That said, I do like that this one seems to take a more interesting approach to character and theme that many in this genre. Characters who actually get married and love each other rather than having sex while loathing each other’s guts? Whoa!

    • I enjoy urban fantasy, but I am tired of the constant cliched love triangles and hate sex. If you want to read a really funny series where the main characters get married and have an actual relation ship you should check out the Undead and Unwed series. Betsy, the main character, wakes up in the morgue a vampire and is more put out her step mother dressed her in payless knock offs than that she is undead. :D

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