The Cursed Ones
Nancy Holder and Debbie Vigue
Simon Pulse 2010
In Jenn's world things are much like they are they are in Sookie Stackhouse's – but less sexy. Yep, vampires have come out of the coffin, so to speak, and have been wreaking havoc on the world ever since. Jenn can remember when head vamp Solomon took to the world stage to announce that vampires just wanted to live peacefully, man, existing on animal blood and extending fangs of friendship to all who were willing to accept. Except Solomon wasn't telling the entire truth – in fact, he wasn't telling the truth at all. Jenn now lives in a world where vampires have fought and effectively won a war on humanity, leaving said humanity living under a truce. In this case, a truce by any other name would still be an, er, militia state with the vampires being the militia. While much of the world, including Jenn's own family, live in a state of truly unhealthy denial there are individuals such as Jenn herself who have taken up arms, joining resistance groups or training to be Hunters. The Hunters are basically small teams of Buffys trying to make a difference wherever they can. Jenn's team is based in Spain at the Salamanca Academy, a church run training school and they've just stepped up to the front line.
Jenn and her crew of not so merry men are some of the most interesting characters I've met in recent vampire fiction. Jenn is, ironically, the least interesting of the bunch – probably because she is the most ordinary. Her back story is compelling, as is the interplay between her and her father but her woe-is-me stance became a little tiresome over the course of what is a fairly long story. However, in order for her character to develop it was absolutely necessary for her to have little confidence to begin with and while I didn't really feel that her confidence grew over the course of the book, the ending does promise improvements on that score. While Jenn herself edges in as main protagonist there are sections from multiple other viewpoints, allowing the reader to get to know each character from the inside out. And what a mucky crew they are. From Irish Jamie, with his IRA roots and temper issues, to Buddhist Eriko who doesn't know quite why's she's there any more, they are all fascinating. Wiccan Skye has a dark secret that is literally stalking her and werewolf Holgar is desperately lonely without the company of a pack. Then there is Antonio – resident vampire-with-a-soul (maybe) and love interest of Jenn. He could have been a fairly predictable character but his religious background adds depth to his story and raises interesting questions for later installments.
What is by far the most interested aspect of The Cursed Ones is the interplay between the group members and between the group as a whole and their mysterious mentor Father Juan. Each member of the group was drawn to Salamanca for their own personal reasons and Father Juan seems to have styled himself as a kind of Catholic Charles Xavier meets Giles, albeit overseeing a group far more dysfunctional than either Buffy's Scoobies or Wolverine's X-Men. No member seems to entirely trust the rest – in fact, most of them seem to only barely trust Father Juan. They all arrived at Salamanca carrying their own prejudices and continue to carry them even while working together. The inclusion of vampire Antonio is an obvious source of rancor but none of them seem 100% sure of friendly werewolf Holgar either, particularly Jamie who has good reason to dislike him on principal. Add to that the fact that this lot were probably never going to get on anyway and you have a grouping that is satisfyingly fractured. It is also great to see a group that represents nationalities other than Americans – Irish, Japanese, English, Spanish and Danish nationals make up the Salamancan hunters, along with American Jenn and it was nice to see the “world” part of “world conflict” acknowledged. My only issue with the interesting group dynamic would be the relationship between Jenn and Antonio – it's seemed trite, having been done before so many times and had it been removed entirely would have left little to miss.
The plot itself is at once simple and also fairly complex. The basic story is that the group are required to undertake a rescue mission in New Orleans but the over-arching story line focuses more on the history of this group of hunters, the basis on which the Salamancan Academy was founded and the larger world at war. These two aspects don't always sit together particularly well, with the rescue mission probably being the weaker side of the story. However, I cannot fault the world building – the vision that the authors produce of a world overrun by the undead is pretty excellent. The writing is generally decent although I could have done without the, quite frankly, awful vampire propaganda poetry that headed up many chapters. Finally, it is a completely refreshing pleasure to read about a world where vampires are (with the exception of the God-fearing Antonio, satisfyingly wicked. The Cursed Ones is the first in a series and I'm pretty curious to see where the authors take the story – at the end of this book things are looking increasingly hopeless with the fight against the vampires looking unwinnable. I assume a twist is on its way along the line – but I like that it could go either way and appreciate a a book that is brave enough to suggest that a world where vampires exist may not all be romance and sparkles.