Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Generation V by M.L. Brennan

I normally don’t read much in the way of vampire fiction, having little interest in the sub-genre long before it became the hot property following the success of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. But being a genre reader, especially considering the amount of urban fantasy I read, coming across vampires is unavoidable. I just rarely read a novel with a vampire as the lead character. I find the inherent cliche and unavoidable attempt to make something as antique and overdone more modern and relevant to be largely off putting. So I’d dismissed M.L. Brennan’s debut, Generation V, as not my bag, and moved on. But when Brennan contacted me directly for a review, I accepted. It’s always incredibly rewarding when an author likes your reviews of other work enough to seek out your opinion. I will admit to some trepidation before cracking the cover, but Brennan quickly set me at ease with her unconventional and quirky tale of fledgling vampire, Fortitude Scott.



Fortitude Scott is not your typical vampire. For in Brennan’s mythology, vampires are bred not made. And Fortitude has yet to embrace his sinister genetics, choosing to be a vegetarian to abate the cravings that hint at his gradual descent into full blown monster status. He lives apart from his family, who rule over a large swathe of the United States from their palatial estate in the playground of the wealthy and powerful, choosing to live an impoverished existence while working a thankless job at a local coffee shop. But try as he might to ignore his parentage and the supernatural forces moving beneath the surface of his community, Fortitude is drawn into the very world he has spent his entire life trying to avoid. When Luca, a European vampire, enters the territory controlled by Fortitude’s mother, and uses her promise of hospitality to allow him to abduct and murder young girls without fear of consequences, Fortitude cannot stand idly by and continue to think of himself as human.

Brennan does an excellent job of separating Generation V from the run of the mill vampire tale right out of the gate. Readers spend the first few chapters thoroughly immersed in the mundane aspects of Fortitude’s life. Even though Scott’s elder brother Chivalry makes an appearance, it only serves as a counter point to just how different Fortitude is from the full-fledged vampires of his family. His job is a nightmare as is his impoverished living situation and his train wreck of a relationship. Fortitude is nothing like your typical vampire protagonist, seemingly content to let life run roughshod all over him. While this approach might be a little short on action, making the story a bit of a slow starter, it is absolutely necessary to establish Fortitude’s humanity. This is the crux of his character and what drives his choices throughout the novel. Fortitude is a person first and a vampire second, and this is what gives Generation V enough legs to get past the vampire fatigue that many long term genre fans experience.

Brennan’s world building also does an excellent job of distancing the novel from others of its ilk. The nature of vampirism is very different from the age old model of each new vampire being the victim of an attack from its sire, with each new vampire being bred from human hosts in a perilous and disturbing process, which I will leave for readers to explore more fully on their own. This distances Brennan’s vampires from the tortured victims of many vampire tales of the past, and instead paints them as monsters that are more and more removed from their residual humanity as they age. Fortitude’s siblings, Chivalry and Prudence are used to demonstrate this to good effect. Chivalry is emotionally cool but still has his own code of morals, while Prudence is a chilling example of a supernatural sociopath. This is a stroke a real genius, allowing Brennan to use the familiarity of the concept to her advantage while paving the way for more original ways of approaching the trope. The contrast between Fortitude and his siblings also serves to better illustrate what Fortitude has to lose if he embraces his supernatural heritage.

Vampires aren’t the only supernatural beings in the world of Generation V. Brennan also includes the kitsune of Japanese folklore, elves, and witches in her world building. Other than the kitsune, who get major screen time due to Fortitude’s bodyguard, and seeming love interest Suzume, the other supernatural elements are mainly window dressing, though they are used to hilarious effect and defy reader expectation at almost every turn. The kitsune are an ingenious addition to Fortitude’s story, especially since the reader’s exposure is almost completely due to the presence of Suzume, who chews up the scenery with her antics and pop culture rich wise cracks as she steals almost every scene in which she appears. But Suzume is far more than comic relief and literary eye candy. She’s the catalyst that sets Fortitude in motion, not just against the novel’s antagonist but to a place where he finally begins to take charge of his life rather than letting others bully him at every turn. Suzume is rife for more exploration and I look forward to learning more of her back story as this series continues.

While the story starts at a slower pace, it really picks up a head of steam around the midpoint as Fortitude and Suzume start to get traction in their pursuit of Luca. The action sequences are pulse pounding and feel surprisingly harrowing since Fortitude is more than over matched at almost every turn. I applaud Brennan’s restraint in not turning Fortitude into a super human ass-kicking machine for her convenience. Keeping Fortitude an every man keeps the story from derailing into stereotypical territory and ups the ante for the reader in the final scenes.

Taken as a whole, Generation V is a fresh take on an old saw that benefits from Brennan’s excellent world building and the authenticity of its cast. Fans of urban fantasy who are weary of the same old, same old shouldn’t miss this engaging mix of action, humor, and coming of age tale. I’ll definitely be around for round two.

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