Posted in: AztecLady Reviews
Tags:Brethren, Sara Reinke, vampires
First book in the Brethren series by Ms Reinke, this is a very dark novel—vampires as a species ARE very much the villains here. It feels to me more like an urban fantasy than a romance, not because there is no romantic relationship—there definitely is a romance between the two main characters—but because there are questions raised by the world building that aren’t answered in this book.
Here’s the blurb:
When Brandon Noble and Angelina Jones first met, he was an awkward teenager harboring a crush on his tutor’s sister. Five years later, Angelina is a streetwise cop who’s sure she’s seen it all, until Brandon comes back into her life—lean, handsome, possessing a strange, powerful allure… and a terrifying secret.
Brandon is one of the Brethren, an ancient clan of ruthless vampires. Like other Brethren families, the Nobles have accumulated great wealth and prestige, never marrying outside their kin, never leaving the isolated Kentucky farmlands where they live, undetected, among their prey. Horrified by his birthright, Brandon shunned the ritual of the first kill, earning the Brethren’s lasting wrath. But the exhilarating passion he and Angelina share rouses the primitive impulses he has tried so hard to deny. And even if Brandon can protect Angelina from his enemies, can he save her from his own dark thirst?
The prologue sets the tone of the story. Brandon has tried to escape the cult-like compound where the Brethren live, by applying to a specialized college. Brandon was born healthy but was attacked during a robbery, which left him deaf and mute. Because of his physical imperfections, he has been despised and abused by most of his family and the other Brethren since the attack, and when his Grandfather discovers Brandon’s plan to escape, he is beaten and both his hands broken—leaving him completely isolated and helpless for months.
The novel itself starts a bit over a year later, after Brandon’s hands have healed and he has finally escaped. He reaches out to the only outsider who ever helped him and lived, his erstwhile tutor in sign language, Jackson Jones. Only Jackson is out of town and his sister Angelina is taking care of his prized plants. Just a few hours after these two meet again, Brandon’s past, and his nature, catch up with him. Thus starts a race against time and family, which will lead both Lina and Brandon to discover things they couldn’t have imagined.
The writing in the prologue is so powerful and so evocative that I hurt for Brandon, even before I realized just how far things were going to go during this scene—the feeling of foreboding is amazingly well realized in just a few short paragraphs.
The writing voice, however, changes drastically in the first chapter, becoming what I can only describe as choppier during most of the scenes set in the present; and then it changes back whenever Brandon remembers his life at the Brethren’s compound, becoming again dark, vivid, evocative, and powerful.
There is also some rather awkward exposition when the narrative is in the current timeline, e.g, during a phone conversation with René, her ex-partner, there are some three pages of Lina remembering how he was shot during a pursuit, losing his leg as a consequence, and the reader is treated to an instance of a tad too obvious foreshadowing.
Further, there is some repetition on the world building, a couple of times coming from the same character and during the same scene. Brandon repeatedly muses about why he reacts to Lina the way he does, and what those reactions mean. Lina wonders repeatedly about Brandon’s family. René’s loft is described, with eerie similarity by three different characters in successive scenes.
Something else that bugged me, and often yanked me right out of the scene was the description of sign language peppered through the dialogue. I don’t understand why it was necessary to describe many of the hand gestures for ASL so minutely. It interrupts the flow of the scene in many cases—and this is worse when the same sign is explained twice in less than ten pages. From a reader who doesn’t know any ASL, it would seem that these descriptions are there to make sure that readers know the author either knows ASL herself, or did her research.
On the other hand, something I personally liked very much is that there is a similarity—whether intentional or not—between the family and group structure of the Brethren and that of some of the fundamentalist Mormon sects. From polygamy and the subservient role of women, to arranged marriages between teenage girls and men often decades older, to the secretiveness and iron control the Elders have over the rest of the community, all these aspects of the world building felt realistic and accessible.
Make no mistake, it is an extremely dark world—and not just in the “gore, blood, death” dark, but in a “they live under the thumb of a psychopath” dark kind of way. The coolest part for me is that there is a shade of grey to that psychopath, there are hints of secrets and hidden agendas, and so he is not simply a cartoon villain.
Brandon is, I feel, the best drawn character in the book, with Lina and René just a bit less rounded, but still well written. The weakest characterization is that of Tessa, Brandon’s twin sister, and of his father and mother—these last two are mentioned several times but remain too vague for me to make up my mind as to who they are. Good parents? good people? cowards? sheep? I hope to see more of them in the next books, because I want to get to know them.
While there is an ending in which Lina and Brandon are alive, together, and—so far—ahead of the Elders who are sure to hunt them down, there is a sense of urgency and fear to it. This is definitely not a traditional HEA, because the danger they are in is tangible and because the reader is aware that Lina and Brandon have a long way to go to truly know each other because, so far, everything has happened at warp speed.
This one gets 7 out of 10, because of the things that bothered me in the execution, but I am looking forward to diving into Dark Hunger, the second installment (which comes out in September)