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Blood Oranges by Kathleen Tierney

Blood Oranges by Kathleen Tierney
Book Name: Blood Oranges
Author: Kathleen Tierney
Publisher(s): Roc
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Release Date: February 5, 2013 (US) April 24, 2013 (UK)

Urban fantasy is something of a gamble for me. While I do enjoy reading about mythical creatures navigating the modern world, I sometimes find the books get too dark and gritty for my taste. I prefer idealistic to realistic in my fiction, and I certainly prefer idealistic to cynical. However, I will brave even the grittiest of books from time to time, partly because I haven’t lost the habit of reading every book I come across. The other reason I chose to brave Blood Oranges is a little less defensible (or more, if you share my taste in fiction): one of the epigraphs is a quote from Firefly.

Considering the quote was Zoe saying that a hero is someone who gets other people killed, I probably should have been prepared for just how gritty the book would get.

Siobhan Quinn – who prefers to go by only her last name – is a self-professed junky who lives in an apartment provided for her by a man known only as Mr. B. She doesn’t have a steady job; instead, she hunts vampires, werewolves, and other nasty creatures of the night, all while providing enough sarcasm and snark to endear her to any partially jaded reader (and even to those of us who claim to prefer optimism in our fantasy). Life isn’t exactly good, but it could be far worse.

Naturally, it gets worse very quickly.

While out hunting, Quinn stops to shoot up and is promptly attacked by a werewolf. (To her credit, she admits how stupid it was for her to do that.) She is bitten but gets rescued by…something…before blacking out. On waking up, she learns that the mysterious something capable of taking down a werewolf is a vampire who calls herself the Bride of Silence and is incredibly old. She claims to want Quinn as a weapon, though doesn’t explain what she wants that weapon for, and bites her on the neck, turning her into a vampire-werewolf hybrid. She then turns Quinn loose, and our heroine stumbles off in search of her mysterious Mr. B in the hopes of figuring out what’s happened to her.

The world of Blood Oranges is both recognizable and alien, and it’s strangely enticing to find a fantasy book set in a world that could feel real. Tierney balances grit and realism in a way that makes Quinn’s world feel like one that could actually exist, even with the vampires and demons scattered throughout. It’s far enough removed from my own comfortable suburban life that it doesn’t feel ridiculous to imagine creatures of the night populating its streets, but it never gets so gritty that I would have trouble believing it could be real.

Part of this realism comes from the characters. Quinn isn’t one of those fantasy heroes who can dismiss everything with a mere quip and an easy laugh, though she very much tries to be (complete with the occasional Buffy reference); she’s in over her head, she’s scared, and she shows it. The other characters have the slightest feeling of being stock characters, but not at all in a bad way. It gives them a feeling of familiarity, and when they begin falling out of Quinn’s life, it unsettles the reader just as much as it unsettles Quinn, making for a book that grows alarming and truly suspenseful.

As I read this book, I couldn’t quite decide whether I liked it or not. In the end, I came down on the positive side, but there will likely be readers who don’t enjoy it as much as I did. Blood Oranges isn’t your standard fantasy novel. While it does follow the standard pattern of “inciting incident, rising action, climax” with exposition throughout, it doesn’t follow the pattern in the way most fantasy readers would expect. Rather than having an action-packed fight through the city, Quinn’s story is filled with waiting. There’s a lot she can’t do on her own, and I found that reading about her attempts to learn about what she was (which felt rather like reading about someone trying to put together the most important puzzle without having a picture on the box, while the pieces were scattered all around the house) made the story feel still more realistic. After all, no one can understand everything about their life and the world around them, so why should a fantasy heroine be any different?

This unconventional method of telling a story does have its drawbacks, however. While it is interesting to pick through the lies Quinn tells the world (and those she tells herself) to get to the truth of what’s been happening, having an unreliable narrator can be frankly annoying, and reading about someone trying to put together what feels like the world’s most impossible puzzle can get frustrating, especially for those of us who have grown up on traditional high fantasy and are used to protagonists who are able to take their fate into their hands.

Sometimes, though, tradition should be done away with, and Blood Oranges does a very good job of it. Not everyone will enjoy this book, and some people will almost certainly dislike it, but I think it tells its story very well.


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