Book Review: Honor at Stake by Declan Finn

Honor at StakeHonor at Stake by Declan Finn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars should be allowed.
First off, let me say I loved the book over all and eagerly look forward to the sequels.
I was watching for this book with great anticipation. I follow the author’s blog and have always found him to be articulate, charming, and entertaining. I promised to pick up a copy of this book when it came out and provide an honest review. Here goes.
It was off to a rocky start when, at location 65 (Kindle edition, no page numbers) Declan first describes our heroine, Amanda Colt. Her eyes, Frangelico brown; her skin, Siberia pale; her hair…red-gold. Am I seriously the only person who remembers Nancy Drew’s Titian blonde hair? I was so cheesed off, I had to put the book down for a while and read something else as a palate cleanser. Or, to explain it another way, the lack of parallelism threw me as a reader out of the flow of the story completely.
When I felt I could come back to the story with a less hostile eye, I picked it up again. On the blog, Declan said the book started years ago as a Buffy the Vampire fanfic with his sister. For the first 37% (again, thank you, Kindle), the fingerprints of this are all over. Amanda seems poorly sketched and Marco by contrast is almost a caricature of himself compared to how he develops later in the book. It is so heavily telegraphed about his archaic ways and his fascination with Amanda’s neck that I was tapping my toe to ‘get to the reveal twist already’. Marco’s mother is mentioned twice (locations 115 and 1176), but she is given no description, dialogue, or presence. I wonder if she will be pulling a Chuck Cunningham?
The action, once begun, never really stops. The evil vampires are truly evil. The Vatican ninjas kick butt (subtly, of course. They’re ninjas!). The development of a central bad guy comes along nicely, with hints of an even bigger bad guy behind him guaranteeing sequels. (Per Declan, book 2 is with the publisher and book 3 is in progress now.) The rest of the book is excellent. It is engaging, drawing you into the story, making you want to know more about the characters. I was captured and seduced without realizing it, the best way. The book transitioned from a slog to a safari. I became invested in them as persons, not just pixels on a screen. Declan’s philosophical discussions on The Vampire in His Natural Habitat are well-paced and not info-dumped. He writes intelligently and expects his readers to keep up without writing condescendingly, yet keeps the navel-gazing to a minimum such as is only necessary for character development. The romantic tension between Amanda and Marco is developing slowly, which is a welcome relief. It is a co-plot that braids into the main plot, but doesn’t overpower it and works to strengthen their ties as partners. Courtship. Seduction.
I was intrigued by the introduction of the Kraft brothers. Merle (Merlin), Dalf (Gandalf), and Tal (Taliesin), half-brothers all dealing with the supernatural, each in his own demesnes. Spin-off novelettes?
One last complaint. The book really needed an epilogue. It had a prologue. Something leading into book two a little better than our intrepid heroes sitting in the living room licking their wounds.
All in all, after a slow start, a very good urban vampire story and I can hardly wait for the next in the series to come out.

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