Biting Cold; or, Why Merit Rocks

I have to thank my local Barnes and Noble at Westwood Village. This past Tuesday could have been horrible. I came home to find the cat lapping at about a half inch of water covering our dining room floor. Seems the water heater in our new place decided pissing all over the floor would be a wonderful way to welcome us to the complex.

In the middle of freaking out and throwing towels around, trying to keep the majority of the water away from the paper boxes full of books lining one wall, Barnes and Noble called to tell me the book I’d pre-ordered had come in. At first I was confused-the only book I’d pre-ordered when I’d gone in to pick up Broken Harbor was Chloe Neill’s Biting Cold, due out August 7th. Lo and behold, the store got it in a week early, and rather than hold it hostage, they called me to come pick it up. So thank you, Westwood Village B & N, for making my Tuesday a little less shitty.

Now.

My second thank you goes to Ms. Neill herself. This book came at a time where I was stuck in the middle of polishing two requested manuscripts, and I needed a distraction. A BIG distraction. I needed to be sucked in so I forgot what time it was and ended up going to bed later than I’d intended.

Hooo boy did she succeed.

Biting Cold picks up immediately where Drink Deep left off, with Merit chasing her best friend to Nebraska to prevent her from stealing a nasty, vile book. What ensues involves messengers, fairies, shifters, vamps (of course) and gnomes. Yes, gnomes. I pretty much squealed when I got to the gnomes.

There are a couple of plot threads through Biting Cold, and they all tie nicely together. Not only is Merit trying to track down Mallory, she’s dealing with a pardoned Mayor Tate, the head of the Greenwich Presidium, oh, and the return of her liege. Her liege being none other than the purveyor of the raised eyebrow, Ethan Sullivan.

And she does it all with snark and style to spare.

The heart of this book, as with all the others, is Merit. She is the best kind of kickass heroine, one who is wicked smart, sassy, strong when she needs to be, and unafraid to be vulnerable. Her reunion with Ethan isn’t all hearts and rainbows, and what could have ended up as a super annoying mess (apparently Ethan didn’t resolve any of his issues during their time apart) was handled in such a way that, had it happened in real life, between two actual people, it would have been plausible. Well, sort of. The supernatural element, not so much. But the emotions driving it? That shit happens all the time. Same with her relationship with Mallory. Mal’s got quite a bit of work to do to repair their friendship, and Merit’s not about to let her get out of it. She could. She could forgive her best friend for all the crap she’s done. But she won’t. She knows Mal needs to redeem herself, or they’ll never be able to trust each other again.

This is what makes the series, and Merit in particular, so engaging. Until someone mentions blood, I forget they’re vampires. As someone who’s not the world’s biggest vamp fan, this is a huge plus in my book. Merit, even as a vampire, is a relatable character. Just because she’s got super strength and will burn to ash in the sun after a few hours doesn’t mean she doesn’t deal with life’s little dramas, just like the rest of us. She gets hurt, physically and emotionally. She’s still a little socially awkward, from having spent so much of her time in the stacks at the library. She gets cranky, hungry, tired, everything. She gets knocked down, and then she gets right back up again. And she’ll do it as many times as she has to, until she gets the job done.

Oh, and the food? One of these days I’m going to stick the BF on a plane and we’re going to eat our way through the Windy City.

Biting Cold carries a lot of emotional weight, one Neill handles with skill. Instead of being bogged down with the remorse and fear running rampant after the events of Drink Deep (and to a certain extent, the sucker punch we were handed at the end of Hard Bitten), the plot moves along at a good clip, striking a balance between the need to resolve the chaotic emotions of betrayal and joy and the action demanded by having demonic forces loose in the city.
Oh, that point I promised you about demons (well, evil)? Here it is:
I told you when we sat together in my prison of human making, when I advised you the division of evil and good was unnatural, that ‘evil’ was a human construct. (p. 14)
That line could launch a thousand and one debates. Awesomesauce.
Neill sets up a story arc that takes off with House Rules, due out in February 2013, that has me excited and nervous. Excited because it’s a new direction for Merit, and Ethan, and Cadogan House. And nervous for the same reason, because it’s uncharted territory. In an increasingly violent world, what comes next after Biting Cold for Merit and her crew will be one hell of a ride. And I’m anticipating a couple more sucker punches along the way.
 

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