|The 8th in the Anna Strong, Vampire series, Haunted is unusual, and unusually good, in several respects. Most authors of urban fiction create a world that more or less resembles the mundane one, sometimes only tangentially, and people it with their inventions and projections. The stories are insulated and escapist, and however relevant they may prove to be to a reader’s sensibilities, they are fundamentally works of fancy. Readers enter the writer’s realm, knowing that the book’s bindings are a portal, a temporary displacement, to an other world. In Haunted, Stein sets her heroine to wrestle with actual mundane horrors, a choice that she admits in her Acknowledgments made the writing difficult. Here are no metaphoric Monsters but real and present evils: drug lords, kidnappers, molesters and traitors who will do literally anything to further their interests. I have tremendous respect for Stein for doing so, and for doing so with a high level of accuracy.
Anna was made a vampire very much against her will, but strong-willed as she is, the vampire nature lives within her now more as a symbiote than a parasite, a source of inhuman strength and capability in times of need and choice.
A few trusted friends know about her dual nature, but in some cases knowledge and experience have strained friendship to the breaking point. Such is the case with DEA agent Max. At one time Anna’s lover, he now distances himself and harshly predicts failure in her current romance with too-good-to-be-true news reporter Stephen. It takes Anna a while to realize that the hurt she experiences from Max’s rejection is the same sort of hurt she inflicts when another sort of knowledge causes her to reject another friend, the shapeshifter Culebra. After all, it’s not easy to come to terms with finding out that one of the people you have trusted with your secret was once a drug and gun runner for a Mexican crime boss. And it takes all kinds of self-knowledge to come to that same friend’s aid when his past catches up with him.
Leaving a bemused Stephen behind, and a surprising question unanswered, Anna joins the still hostile Max on a dangerous venture to help free Culebra from his demons, if they can. But at the back of her mind, memories of family and thoughts of the lost opportunities for human happiness are unsettling Anna, especially as an impossible sounding offer has come from an unexpected quarter. Is she losing her soul to the vampire nature, or is it a terrible gift that renders her simultaneously the weapon and the wielder? Can she contain it? Can her conscience answer for its actions?
Here is thoughtful, well-written fantasy with heart and a strong mind behind the storyweaving. I’m looking forward to the next volume, and I’d like to thank Stein for her exertion. ~~ Chris R. Paige