Red-Headed Stepchild
by Jaye Wells

What's a Murder or Two Between Friends?

What They Say:
Things To Do:

1) Infiltrate rival vampire cult and assassinate leader
2) Get rid of demon houseguest
3) Ditch the hot mage stalker
4) Betray family
In a world where being of mixed blood is a major liability, Sabina doesn't really fit in. And being an assassin - the only profession fit for an outcast - doesn't help matters. But she's never brought her work home. Until now.

Her latest mission is uncomfortably complex and threatens the fragile peace between the vampire and mage races. As Sabina struggles to figure out which side she's on, she uncovers a tangled political web, some nasty facts about her family, and some unexpected new talents. Any of these things could be worryingly life changing, but together they could be fatal . . .
The Premise: Born of an illegal (and, in the eyes of the vampires, deeply immoral) relationship between a vampire princess and a powerful mage, Sabina Kane has been shunned all of her life. Raised by her grandmother, the high priestess of Lilith (and one of the ruling vampire triumvirate), she's never, ever been allowed to forget that she is tainted, a disgrace, and less than her full-blooded peers.

Only by serving as an assassin (and a good one at that) has been able to win any respect from the local vampire community. But even then, its a grudging respect, granted only because of her killing talents. And lately, the Dominae (the ruling vampire triumvirate) have been . . . confrontational.

First, it was an order to kill the only friend she had among the vampires. And now, they're insisting she infiltrate a cult preaching tolerance between supernaturals - the one place she might be accepted - and execute the head. As the Dominae explain, it makes perfect sense that she'd seek refuge with such a group . . . Half-breeds like her are treacherous freaks of nature, after all.

But the Dominae have been keeping secrets from their half-blooded assassin. And this assignment will take Sabina very close to the truth . . .

The Review: Sabina Kane's first novel jumps headfirst into the world of the half-vampire/half-mage, starting the audience off at a pivotal moment in her life. Already an accomplished assassin among the vampires, Sabina gets her first inter-species target: a half-demon/half-vampire who's building a rival cult/syndicate, one which is recruiting from several different supernatural factions. However, in doing so, Sabina's exposed to the wider supernatural world for the first time, which is quite an eye opening experience for her.

Told from Sabina's perspective, the author did a wonderful job showing us the world through Sabina's eyes. A borderline abused child turned (vampire) mob enforcer, her upbringing dramatically colors her perception of events, as she prowls through Los Angeles and San Francisco. And the author really pulls her warped perspective off: how she views people, or reacts to problems, as well as what she understands, and what she misses, make perfect sense in light of her upbringing. And the author knows how to weave all of that into the background, without hitting the audience over the head with it.

Unfortunately, the author did have to make a trade-off to so thoroughly flesh out Sabina's perspective. There are at least two plot twists that a casual reader will probably be able to guess, simply because they're not emotionally damaged vampires trying to please their sole parent-figure. But that's forgivable, because it seems to be a conscious choice on the author's part, and Sabina's take on things does add a lot of color to the story.

The vampires are fairly traditional, with a few tweaks. Here, vampires are born (not made via a blood exchange). And all of the vampires have red hair - an inherited "mark of Cain" from the first vampire. There's also a theocratic element to their organization, as priestesses of Lilith run things. You still won't catch them sunbathing, though.

The vampire culture is a definite selling point. Not quite an organized crime syndicate, and not quite the traditional "aristocratic" take on vampires, the audience really gets a feel for the society that Sabina grew up in. One of the vampire bars, for example, really sticks out. The main section, open to humans, is known as "Salvation", and is popular among the Hollywood set looking to do a little "authentic" slumming. The VIP section, known as "Damnation", is open only to vampires . . . There's some nice vampire slang, too.

However, once the novel moves into the more supernaturally "cosmopolitan" parts of San Francisco, it does lose a little something. The other supernatural races just aren't as fleshed out as the vampires, and (at that point) Sabina isn't particularly welcome in the vampire-only businesses. So for the last . . .oh, half of the novel or so, the author can't really take advantage of all the color and setting elements that she's already established.

There aren't any traditional scenes of sex or drug use . . . but Sabina's very streetwise, and occasionally makes some "adult" observations. Such as noticing that one character's bedroom reeks of sex.

Series: Red-Headed Stepchild is the first book in the Sabina Kane series, which is currently five novels (and two short stories) long.

Recommended for: If you enjoyed L.J. Smith's Night World series, but want something a little more "adult", then Red-Headed Stepchild is a good bet. In particular, it reminds me a lot of Huntress, with a very similar setup - just grittier.

There is a touch of Vampire the Masquerade, and the Blade series . . .but only a touch. A couple of references, sure, but liking one doesn't guarantee that you'll like the other. However, if you're a big fan of Aahz from Robert Asprin's MythAdventures series, the demon Gighul reminds me a lot of him (except for the Home Shopping Network thing).

My Final Thoughts While there are several sequels to Red-Headed Stepchild, they don't really interest me. Instead, I want prequels. I want to know more about Sabina's life before the events depicted here, and to see more of the world of the vampire syndicate she grew up in. So far, the other supernatural creatures just . . . I don't know, there just not as vibrant. I want to read about Sabina's first kill, to see her spend more time among the vampires, to learn more of the vampire businesses, and maybe some of their rituals . . .

As it stands now, the Sabina Kane series is shaping up to be a solid, if not outstanding or spectacular, supernatural series. The author is definitely embedding plot hooks for future novels, and if you're a fan of mages or fairies, it looks like both groups are going to get a lot of attention. I just don't see how Sabina can get back to the vampire side of things, which is what the author spent the bulk of her time developing