For a romance novel to be rich and full, one of the usual requirements is that the heroine possess believable faults and, in some cases, many faults. Idiosyncrasies, difficult backstories, fears, dysfunctional families all help to fill-in the person the heroine is at the beginning of a story. Faults, yes, but rarely does a heroine seduce then suck the souls of the men she meets. That’s just not something a “normal” heroine does. Then again, a succubus is not a “normal” heroine and Succubus Blues is not the usual romance.
Georgina Kincaid has a cat, an apartment and a job as an assistant manager of a bookstore. That’s the life she lives, but it’s not who she is. She’s a succubus – an immortal, a shapeshifter and professional seductress. Georgina yearns for a different life, but as payment for a mistake she sold her soul and any chance of home and hearth. That decision, made a lifetime ago, led Georgina to her current role of soul gatherer through sex.
The soul-for-sex exchange sounds cold and heartless. In other hands, the idea could condemn Georgina with a high unlikeability factor and doom the book. However, in the world created by Mead, the role of a succubus is a matter-of-fact reality. One that blurs the lines between good and evil, giving depth to the players on both sides of the debate. Demons, angels, vampires and other immortal forms walk the streets of Seattle. Many of them land in Georgina’s bookstore. Almost all cross her path in some way.
The cast of characters here is plentiful and varied. Jerome, Georgina’s demon boss. Carter, the head angel in town and a constant companion of his dark counterpart Jerome. Seth Morgenstern, the writer-in-residence at Georgina’s bookstore and secret reader crush of Georgina, who also is cursed with the ultimate male problem in a romance book – he’s a nice guy. Roman, the hyper handsome and mysterious hottie who makes Georgina’s blood boil. Warren, the married bookstore owner who looks to Georgina for sex not knowing that she is using him as a form of succubus refueling. And, Doug, Georgina’s co-worker. But that’s not all. Georgina’s pals and companions – Hugh, Peter, Cody, Erik – and the fellow immortals who roam around annoying Georgina and work together to round out the cast. A significant number of characters, all of whom get page time in Succubus Blues and all of whom the reader gets to know through Georgina’s first person narration. Despite this singular point of view, the characters – most of them male – take on a range of characteristics and play different roles here. This is a credit to Mead. Her strong, clear voice shines through a flawed and very real heroine. Using Georgina’s perception and through action and description, Mead sets apart each of the other players, creating a world that is deep, charged with excitement and compelling.
Georgina and her internal conflict in wishing to be someone other than the something she is has the potential to propel the book all on its own. Georgina fights off attraction to males she likes. The fear of sucking the soul right out of them is a strong motivation for her to live a solitary life. Despite her immortal calling, Georgina has a moral core and is conflicted, yet realistic, about what she must do to survive. So, she captures the souls of the dregs of society – a fact not appreciated by Jerome – and, even then, only does so when her need to recharge her energy overwhelms her. One complaint is that these aspects of Georgina’s character come out through a series of flashbacks that, at times, break the momentum of the overall plotline. The information, while vastly important, is handed out in such small bits and over such a long period of time that the lack of information early on leads to some confusion. When the integral information does come it adds layers to an already complex heroine.
Succubus Blues travels beyond Georgina’s internal war to delve into broader concept of good versus evil. Mead does not take the easy way out and have individuals be all good or all evil. Rather, this story deals with the not-so-comfortable middle ground, the points at which good people do bad thing and evil people demonstrate good intentions. Little is all good or all bad. Mead does not judge nor does she allow Georgina to do so. Rather, the reader is left to draw the conclusions, making this debut book smarter than many that have gone before. Despite these heavier theoretical ideas at work here, they never weigh the book down, likely because they pass by with a subtle touch.
Filling in the remainder of the book is a murder mystery. Someone is killing Seattle’s immortal population and, just so happens, the dead immortals are same immortals Georgina views as enemies. Jerome and Carter know more about the situation than they’re telling. Georgina, never one to follow the demon rulebook, refuses to stop poking around even after Jerome warns her to do so. Georgina’s search takes her on a journey through, including a brief research of Bible passages, and lands her in danger.
That’s the plot of the book. A fast-paced and highly energetic race to figure out who is the real “bad” guy murderer. What makes this book so utterly readable is the combination of an interesting plot, impressive worldbuilding, intriguing characters, clever writing and a unique heroine. The other positive factor at work here is the “what it’s not” aspects of Succubus Blues. It’s witty but not cutesy, serious but not dour and paranormal but not otherwordly to the point of being unrelatable.
There are aspects about which readers should be aware. Aspects which may not work for some. To the extent immortals can even have a happily ever after, Georgina doesn’t get one here. The reality is that this is not a romance. It is at times sensual and at time romantic, but it’s not a romance in the traditional sense. In fact, there isn’t even a clear-cut hero until the very end and even then… Sure, Georgina gets plenty of sex – most of which takes place off stage – but this is not about a couple working together to build a relationship in the traditional romantic sense. This is Georgina’s book. Her journey. Her struggle. Also, as the first book in a series, there’s a “just wait” feeling to the ending. For the most part, the mystery wraps up, but the loose ends do open the door for future chaos.
Whatever missteps happen here – and there only a few, some might say none – nothing takes away from the enjoyment of this hard-to-define but very strong urban fantasy read.
You can visit Richelle Mead here and buy her book here or here.