Minion, L. A. Banks
I must confess to being deeply disappointed by this book. So much of today's urban fantasy is being written by white women, about white heroines, that I really wanted to enjoy an urban fantasy about a black heroine, by a black writer.
Unfortunately, I found Minion to be overly derivative, unnecessarily complicated, slow-moving and poorly plotted, and, what I actually found most jarring of all, annoyingly inaccurate in its attempts to give the ornate edifice of its mythology an occult underpinning.
See, there are master Vampires who occupy the seventh level of Hell, and lesser vampires who hang around in the lower levels, except when they hang out on earth (at one point, I thought someone was describing a D&D adventure), and there are only so many lines, one for each continent. And then there's the Guardians, who are empowered by all the lovely forces of light, and come in all the rainbow colours of the races and faiths of the earth, and there are always 144,000 of them (a tribute to the original 12 tribes, but whether that's for the 12 Tribes of Israel or for some idea about 12 tribes of humanity I'm not sure) and they protect sacred texts and do good deeds and fight vampires and other nasties and whenever a super-duper vampire slayer is about to be born, they try to find him or her (at least there's some gender parity here) and protect and teach the slayer until he or she is ready to complete the change and kick mega-vampire ass.
But this time, Damali Richards, the slayer, or Neteru, is a super special "millennium bridge" female, who was conceived in one millennium and will come to power in another. To make her even more special, her father was a cleric who hunted vampires until he was seduced and turned by one, and her mother was touched but not turned by the same vamp while pregnant with Damali. And there's some other stuff having to do with mystical triangles in the sky that haven't been seen for 3,000 years and the slayer's mama having been an innocent who unknowingly cast a revenge spell over the buried coffin of a master vampire who then supernaturally mated with the vengeance demon to create a new breed of super special demonised vampires that are now running loose and killing both the guardians surrounding Damali and the family and "business associates" of her childhood boyfriend and gangland leader Carlos, who now owns a major night club and runs drugs and a prostitution ring.
Oh, and Fallon Nuit, the master vampire who killed her daddy, is trying to seduce Damali in her dreams, because a Neteru can somehow, if properly seduced by a vampire at just the right time when she's begun to mature but hasn't come fully into her power, become pregnant with a daywalker, a vampire who is invulnerable to light. Naturally Damali hasn't told any of her teacher/guide/protector/fellow warriors of light about this, in part because her mentor hasn't told her that all the master vampires within psychic range of her would be compelled to do this, even one the time to try and get her pregnant is passed, because a mature Neteru gives off psychic pheromones that make vamps of the opposite sex go crazy trying to turn him/her... and maybe I should just stop now, even though I haven't even got to the point where the rogue master vamp Fallon Nuit owns one of the biggest urban music recording and promoting companies in the world and he's planning simultaneous concerts in five cities that will form a pentagram over the world and... do something creepy, I'm sure.
Now I'll admit that mob and gang-related crime is not something I tend to enjoy reading, and Banks situates the war between the vampires and the Warriors of Light in the interface between producers and creators of urban music and performance art and various gangs based on ethnic membership (black, Latino, Asian and Russian gangs are referenced at various points, and many of them work for Fallon Nuit). Hell, I didn't even enjoy Mario Puzo's The Godfather, one of the classics of the criminal association genre. So I start out struggling with the setting. But I could have dealt with that.
However, Banks has taken bits and pieces from almost every variation on the vampire story that I know of, from European, Chinese and African folk traditions though the early literary imaginings such as Dracula and Lord Ruthven, to modern media treatments from Anne Rice to Buffy, many of them not ordinarily compatible, and shoved them together with some strange mixture of Christian and New Age spiritualism (and some very dicey astrology), and tried to make a coherent mythos. It doesn't work, and it's way too complicated to permit the suspension of disbelief, For me anyway. Come to think of it, it's not all that crazier than the Book of Revelations, and lots of people manage to suspend reason as well as disbelief long enough to swallow that.
The structure reminded me of a bad police procedural, only instead of the cops going back to the same witnesses over and over again each time one of them changes his or her story (Cold Case is one of the worst of the current lot in this regard, I find), the Warriors themselves keep going back to their wisewoman/seer, Marlene, everything something new happens, only to find that she knew about it all along but couldn't tell them because the time was not right, and even though she's telling them something now, there's still shit she's not sharing because the time still isn't right. Like warning Damali to watch out for vampires invading her dreams.
There really wasn't much plot for the first nine-tenths of the book, just exposition of the complicated mythos and setting and the backstories of the characters, much of the former extracted slowly and painfully from the seer Marlene. The characters talk a lot, and have lots of internal monologues, and that actually assists the one good thing I found about the book - one does get a good sense of the characters, their stories, their motivations. And I liked many of those characters, especially Damali. She's a young woman on the verge of a terrifying destiny, unsure and over-confident by turns, eager to do what she's been trained to do but at the same time, rebellious and loning to be like every other young woman who gets to go hang out with her friends at clubs and meet boys.
If someone out there could assure me that Banks manages to tone down the overblown and ritualistic origin stories and slayer mythology and just tell a story, either in the later books of the Vampire huntress series, or in any of her other urban fantasy books, I'd be willing to try her stuff again, just on the basis of the strong characterisation - because all of us need to be reading more books about strong women of colour, and that's one thing that Damali surely is.
But they've got to be better written than this.