Hunter's Moon

Moon's Web

Touch of Evil

Touch of Madness
by C.T. Adams & Cathy Clamp
(Tor, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-765-35663-5
After Touch of Evil comes Touch of Madness. In the second installment of the Thrall, Kate Reilly continues to hold her own against parasitic vampires. Strict romance readers should probably avoid it. Those who enjoy mystery adventures set in complicated parallel universes might look into it, but only after weighing the drawbacks.

Adams and Clamp's alternative Denver acknowledges and contends with the existence of the Thrall. These hive-like collectivities answer to vampire queens and communicate through psychic mumblings. They rely on human blood for food and on human bodies for hosts. Needless to say, Non Prey such as Kate are hands and fangs off.

When the story opens, Kate is at a meeting for Non Prey. Events quickly take a turn for the worst, and Kate, along with other Non Prey, must stand trial for murder. At the same time, the Thrall hires her to recover some missing vampire eggs. She soon realizes they are with a former enemy, now back with a vengeance. Kate also has a number of personal issues to deal with, including holding on to her werewolf boyfriend despite strong resistance from his pack. The girl has only three-hundred pages to work through these problems and come out smiling.

Touch of Madness suffers from two major problems which are opposite sides of the same coin. On the one hand, there is too much information. Kate has such an annoying tendency to repeat details that I began to wonder if she was suffering from short-term memory loss. Then, there's the fact that her story is filled with irrelevant anecdotes that don't lead anywhere. At one point, Kate devotes several pages to how she hides from television reporters out to get an exclusive. I kept waiting for her to get to the point and explain why this incident mattered. She never did.

On the other hand, Kate holds back on highly relevant information. Despite the lengthy descriptions, it took me more than half the book to understand some of the intricate details of the strange new world she lives in. The question of human hosts, which is a fairly integral part of the plot, isn't clearly spelled out. Instead of enjoying the story, I found myself puzzling over some of the background.

Kate is already in a fairly secure relationship, so there isn't much of a romance. Tom Bishop, her werewolf fireman, is supportive, helpful and hunky, but a little too wonderful to be real. He is there at all the right moments, and yet he has as much presence as wallpaper. In fact, were it not for the steamy sex scenes he could easily be replaced by a loving pet, a weapon of choice and a pair of warm, comfortable slippers. To make matters worse (at least where romance readers are concerned), the romance conflicts take the backseat to Kathy's lengthy squabbles with her family and friends.

Touch of Madness isn't all bad. In fact, many of its flaws could also be considered its biggest assets. The well-written first person narrative makes Kate a far more interesting heroine than most I've encountered in paranormals. At least, she's the center of the story and not just the love interest for the tortured warrior. She inhabits a more complicated universe than the average paranormal world (even if it is also harder to navigate). Finally, her adventures take her through more twists and turns than most (even if they don't always led somewhere). Readers who are after something a little more complicated than good vampires v.s. bad vampires won't be entirely disappointed.

 -- Mary Benn

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