Red-Headed Stepchild
by Jaye Wells
(Orbit, $7.99, R for violence)  ISBN  978-0316037761
***
Sabina Kane's mere existence is forbidden: her mother was the daughter of one of the leaders of the vampire world, her father the son of the eldest of the mages.  In an alternate world where vampires and mages have just recently come to a truce after centuries of bloodshed, their union was a major no-no that had serious repercussions for all parties - most especially for Sabina. Denied entry into the vampires' sacred temple because of her mixed blood, Sabina was relegated to a career reserved for the lowest members of the society: assassin.  Now, her grandmother has sent her on a mission to destroy the cult leader Clovis, another half-breed, who is bringing together the various races, presumably to overtake the vampires.

Her inability to follow the Dominae's rules is primarily what landed Sabina this assignment, or so it seems.  The further she delves into Clovis' motives and his group, the more betrayals she uncovers, most of which generate with her grandmother.

Enter mage Adam Lazarus.  He's been tracking Sabina since before she headed out for this mission.  After he helps her out of a sticky situation, he insinuates himself more fully into her life by also joining Clovis' crew as well as forcing Sabina to start training and exercising her mage capabilities.

It turns out that Adam has more in mind than broadening Sabina's horizons.  There are two parts of his mission that he didn't tell Sabina about: rescuing the mages her grandmother is kidnapping for their blood; and to expose Sabina to the true nature of her conception, birth, and standing in the mage world.

Since Sabina is of the opinion by now that her grandmother is only out to restart the war with the mages, she doesn't mind Adam's help in rescuing the captives.  However, what she learns about her heritage stuns her.  Eventually, betrayed yet again from two of the three opposing forces, it comes down to Sabina and Adam to leap into action for the greater good - a very new concept for a certain orphaned half-breed assassin.

Wells has her own take on vampires, and introduces new verbiage and does away with some standard clichés.  Since Sabina doesn't get the chance in this first novel of her series to delve into her mage side, little is told about them, but that plotline is left floating for a future tale. Unfortunately for the state of the book, the most interesting character is the demon and Sabina's potential familiar, Giguhl.  He is originally sent as a test of her mage skills and, despite the fact that she hexes him into a permanent cat shape, becomes her friend.  Sabina, on the other hand, never really gains any dimension.  Even the telling of Red-Headed Stepchild in the first person doesn't give the reader much insight into Sabina as a person, unless she comes right out and says something specific.  The rest of the cast of characters is just as flat and often cheesy.

Though not very well organized, Red-Headed Stepchild (definitely one of the catchiest and most fitting titles I've come across in a while) does move right along, even if both Sabina and the reader stumble frequently.  It does leave room for improvement, but the circumstances of Sabina's life and the unfinished plotlines will make looking into the second novel agreeable and the reading of this debut novel interesting if not absorbing.

--Sarrah Knight


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