(Article first published as Book Review: Fangtastic by Lucienne Diver on Blogcritics.)
Gina Covella, the Macy’s-worshipping teen fashionista from Ohio turned vampire after an imprudent neck-nibbling, is back for a third adventure, and it’s a delight. Author Lucienne Diver improves with each new book, and her characters are growing and becoming more real and likeable as the series continues. There isn’t the slightest hint that Diver is starting to run out of ideas for adventures. Fangtastic (Flux: 2012) pops out some very imaginative plot devices, and the little clan of vamped friends whose undead escapades began in Vamped (Flux: 2009) take several right angle turns and head off in a whole new direction by the end of this fast-paced story.
In ReVamped (Flux: 2010), the second in the series, Gina, her boyfriend (and “sire”) Bobby and several of their friends had been tapped to work as supernatural secret agents for a covert Federal agency. By the end of that story, Gina has learned that the vampire council whom she helped foil in Vamped has a “Kill or Capture order” out on her. But this makes her somewhat valuable as a negotiating tool. Even more than Gina herself, Bobby has “special” qualities which the vampire council is dying—er, very anxious to get their hands on.
Fangtastic launches right into the action one week after the conclusion of ReVamped, during which the young vampire team have been recuperating with spa treatments and pedicures (well, Gina and her friend Marcy, at least, Bobby not so much). They’re yanked out of their R&R by news reports of a grisly multiple murder of a family in Tampa, Florida. The Feds who “handle” the young vampires tell them that the chief suspect in the murders is a seventeen-year-old high school student who hangs out with the “vampire community” in the area.
By that, they don’t mean undead vampires like Gina, but, as one Fed explains, “people who behave like vampires—both energy vampires and bloodsuckers with prosthetic fangs” who frequent a Goth club in Tampa. The twist is that the club itself is owned and run by real vampires, the ones who are so interested in Gina and Bobby. The Feds tell the V-team that they have two objectives: catch the perpetrators of the murder, and infiltrate the group of vampires running the club. To do both, their plan is to have Gina get in to see the vampires and promise them that she’ll persuade Bobby to join them if they’ll cooperate with her.
In short order (no offense intended to five-foot-tall Gina), the team and their “handlers” are all down in Tampa, with false names and identities and a rockin’ Goth wardrobe to get into the club. Gina quickly hits it off with some of the “human vampires,” but within minutes she’s been spotted by the real vamps thanks to not showing up on security cameras. She makes her scripted proposal only to wind up locked in a cell in the club basement.
The plot from here is almost as complicated as the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and readers are advised to stay alert. You probably won’t be surprised that the Feds end up not being what they seem, and the V-Team is in one big world of trouble. They get some help from an unexpected source, however, and Gina discovers some vampire talents that she never realized she had.
Diver mixes some factual detail into her fictional story and obviously did some research. She describes the real-world “vampire community” fairly accurately (at least the clubbing segment of it) and treats it with far more respect than most writers who have tried to do the same thing. She even includes a glossary at the front of the book explaining terms like “Black Veil,” “Sanguines,” “pranic vampires,” “Elder,” and “fledgling.” Since this is a subculture with which I am extremely familiar, I appreciated Diver’s deference to her subject. I didn’t have to wince even once (although I got a chuckle when Gina refers to the Black Veil as “the vampire Magna Carta.” …okay, I admit it’s an in-joke).
The murder that launches the V-Team on their mission was obviously based on the real-world Rod Ferrell case, with a little Charles Manson blood-writing-on-walls thrown in. But the alleged “vampire community” member suspected of the crime is not only repudiated by the entire community, he had already been banished for going off the deep end. Even then, as with several other things in the book, he turns out not to be what everyone assumes.
Although this book, like the first two, is YA, Diver dials up the heat level a bit with more directly suggested (although still off-screen) romantic activity between Gina and Bobby, as well as Marcy and one of the Feds who gets attached to her. While it makes sense for the characters as their relationship evolves, Gina does get just a bit obsessive over Bobby and all his wonderful qualities, and the atmosphere sometimes thickens toward the steamy side.
Fangtastic ends with all the characters and the plot very much in motion. I’m intensely interested to see what happens next.