Hemovore by Jordan Castillo Price

Rating: 8.5/10 ★★★★★★★★½☆ 
Title: Hemovore
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Genre: Paranormal (vampires), mystery
URL: Samhain Publishing
Price: US $5.50
Other Information/warnings: Gore, violence, explicit m/m, animal abuse
Summary [from the publisher]:
Ten years ago, the Human Hemovore Virus blazed through the world, and left the few victims who survived unable to eat, allergic to sunlight and craving the taste of blood.
Mark Hansen used to think V-positives were incredibly sexy with their pale, flawless skin and taut, lean bodies. Not anymore. Not since he’s been stuck procuring under-the-counter feline blood for his control-freak boss, Jonathan Varga. Why cat blood? Mark has never dared to ask.
It’s not as if he’s usually at a loss for words. He can dish an insult and follow it with a snap as quick as you can say “Miss Thang”. But one look at Jonathan’s black-as-sin gypsy eyes, and Mark’s objections drain away.
So he endures their strange, endless routine: Jonathan hiding in his studio, painting solid black canvases. Mark hurling insults as he buffs the office to a shine with antiviral wipes and maps out the mysterious “routes” he’s required to drive.
Then a blurb in Art in America unleashes a chain of events neither of them saw coming. As secrets of Jonathan’s past come to light, it becomes clear all his precautions weren’t nearly enough.

My review: Ms Price is well established as the creator of some of the most intriguing vampire yarns in an overcrowded genre, and she also has a reputation for her damaged, fascinating characters. In Mark, she doesn’t disappoint – lovelorn, OCD, paranoid and entirely too bound up in his irritating, mysterious boss, the HHV positive artist, Jonathan. She gets right inside his messy head and lets us see his peculiar world from his own peculiar vantage.

Jonathan didn’t intrigue me quite so much – he’s not so much hard to understand as completely opaque. Apart from his fabulous looks, it’s difficult to see what, other than proximity, draws Mark to him. But if you want tall, dark and confusing, Jonathan’s your man.

These two, and a host of colourful, somewhat deranged minor characters, populate a remarkably rich and all too credible world dominated by the presence of created vampires and the dangerously infection virus which kills almost all its victims, and changes the survivors’ lives forever. It’s a universe where whole aisles in the supermarkets are aimed at the V-positive market (flavoured water and oils being the only things apart from blood vampires can digest) but access to real blood is ridiculously restricted, and prejudice against the positives is rampant. Any story set in this world would be interesting, so vivid and well laid out is the environment, but Ms Price then overlays it with a dark, dangerous and fast-paced chase which has our two guys running for their lives, while their pursuer deprives them of connection with all that makes survival possible, killing and threatening all who stand in his path.

And therein, unfortunately, lies the main problem with this book. There is so much going on, that the characterisation in this book starts to wobble. While Mark is OCD on steroids, and Jonathan is a mystery, it’s gripping, and you wonder how the hell these two can ever overcome the phenomenal obstacles the author has set up to keep them apart. But once they do that, and once the secret behind Jonathan’s extreme oddness is revealed, it becomes…less fascinating. They become entirely too normal for a Castillo Price novel, and so what starts out as incredibly intriguing just isn’t so much by the end.

Which is not to say this novel sucks. I don’t think Ms Price could write a bad book if you put her on megadoses of Valium and forced her to write for Ravenous Romance. Her less than usually brilliant is still 90% better than 90% of most authors’ best efforts ever. Her writing is tight, evocative, and rich, and the concepts and themes in this book will linger in your mind long after you finish it. It’s only the characters which may not stay so long in your thoughts, but they are memorable for all that.

Hemovore is recommended simply because as speculative fiction, it’s superb. The apparently doomed romance is the icing on the cake.