Published 2008 361 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
Recovering con artist Ciara Griffin is trying to find a (shudder!) real job. She takes an internship at a local radio station, whose late-night time-warp format features 1940s blues, 60s psychedelia, 80s Goth, and more, all with an uncannily authentic flair. It turns out the DJs are vampires, stuck forever in the eras in which they were turned. Unfortunately a communications giant Skywave wants to buy WMMP and turn it into just another hit-playing clone. Without the link that the station provides to their original Life Time - the vampires would “fade,” becoming little more than mindless ghosts of the past.
To boost ratings and save the lives of her strange new friends, Ciara re-brands the station as “WVMP, the Lifeblood of Rock ’n’ Roll.” In the ultimate con, she hides the DJs’ vampire nature in plain sight, disguising the bloody truth as a marketing gimmick. WVMP becomes the hottest thing around - next to Ciara’s complicated affair with grunge vamp Shane McAllister. But the “gimmick” enrages a posse of ancient and powerful vampires who aren’t so eager to be brought into the light. Soon the stakes are higher - and the perils graver - than any con game Ciara’s ever played…
Jeri Smith-Ready (author of fantasy novels Eyes of Crow and Voice of Crow) returns to a present day earth setting for her latest novel, Wicked Game. Wicked Game is a part of the increasingly popular urban fantasy genre, and like many of today’s urban fantasy novels, it is narrated in first person by its female protagonist (Ciara) and features vampires as the fantasy element of the story. However, Wicked Game is in no way your ordinary run-of-the-mill urban fantasy novel - it is both original and unique.
I have read a lot of vampire novels, some romance, some horror, some urban fantasy and some of just about every flavour in between. Some books have been so good I’ve spent the next week pimping the book to everyone I speak to. Some have been so bad I’ve wanted to bang my head (hard) against my desk and induce unconsciousness so I won’t have to think about what I’ve just read. A lot have been average, neither bad nor fantastically good, but a pleasant and entertaining way to pass time reading.
However, every once in a while someone writes a book that surpasses genre conventions and expectations, turning established ideas into something fresh and new. Books that have done this for me include J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire series and Laurell K. Hamilton’s early Anita Blake. All in their own way original or unique, some of them eventually being consumed and becoming part of the established framework for that genre. It is in this way that Wicked Game strikes me as original and unique.
The words different, original, unusual and unique are used a lot in reviews but hopefully I have managed to give some context of what I mean when I use them. It is hard to draw comparisons between Wicked Game and other vampire novels because nobody else is really writing like this at the moment. Probably the closest comparison I would like to make would be with Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty series. Both have music and radio stations, and both have realistic female protagonists.
Ciara is a likeable but complex character. She is completely human but in her own way she is another type of predator. Being a con artist is a part of her nature, not just a criminal career choice, and she finds the rush of the con hard to resist. This should make her a difficult character to empathise with but she is written in such a way that you can’t help but like her. Her voice narrates the story with a lively wit and just the right amount of humour.
The vampires in Wicked Game have most of the traditional vampire traits. Sunlight, religious objects, stakes and beheading can all seriously ruin their day (or night). They have vampire mojo that allows them to hypnotise humans with their eyes along with superhuman strength, both handy skills to possess when you need to drink human blood to survive. The most unusual aspect to these vampires is their OCD (obsessive behaviour.)
True vampire folk law would have us believe that you could stop a vampire from terrorising your village at night by throwing a handful of poppy seeds over its resting place. Upon rising the vampire would be compelled to find and count all the seeds which would take it all night and leave it with no time to feed before it had to return to its daytime resting place. This folk law is not often incorporated into modern day vampire tales (probably because it’s hard to make OCD seem sexy or cool) but the author has used it to her advantage and taken it one step further with the vampires not only having OCD but obsessively clinging to their own time era. To lose their connection with their own Life Time is to slowly fade out of existence before giving themselves a final death.
Ciara, determined to do something good with her “sales” skills, is desperate to see the DJs not lose the radio station which acts as both their connection to the past and their anchor to the present. Music plays a huge part in this book, from the playlist at the start of the story through to the song titles used as chapter headings.
The cover of the novel promises that Wicked Game is, “A novel of sex, blood and rock ‘n’ roll.” It doesn’t fail to deliver on any of those counts.
BTW, in all my excitement over this book I think I forgot to mention that it’s also a fantastically good read!
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