This “duology’ is easily one of the most interesting concepts for a series I’ve heard of recently. Teel McClanahan has created a universe with his own brand of vampires and has told two heart breaking and challenging stories in it. One thing you need to know is that this isn’t a series in the traditional sense (or in any sense really). The stories take place in roughly the same time frame and in the same location. There’s a little overlap, enough so that whichever story you read first will be referenced in the second.

Yes, I said “whichever story you read first”. See, you can read them in either order. In fact, and I know this from the author, they’re written in such a way that you wonder about the perspectives of the point of view characters and how that colors how the reader sees the world. So, on to the books. (Beware, thar be potential spoilers ahead. Yar.)

Emily is the book I read first and is, in part, a love story, a very dysfunctional one to be sure. The titular character is a fifteen year old human who becomes enamored of Nicholas, a revolutionary who preaches against the evils of their vampiric “overlords”. Vampires, you see, came out of hiding thanks to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Once humanity saw the benefits that these creatures had to offer, they began to work together. Eventually, according to Nicholas, the blood suckers insinuated themselves into human politics and society in a more public way and have enslaved them in a fashion too subtle for most people to notice. Humanity has traded its freedom for stability, health care, and leaders who have a longer view. Emily joins the revolution, in part because she begins to see things his way, but also in hopes that he will return her affections.

I really enjoyed this one. It’s intensely political at times, which isn’t always my cup of tea. It’s also very teen-angsty in spots, which is absolutely appropriate and something that usually makes me break out in hives. It hits some very right notes though. I love his fairly traditional treatment of vampires, and watching the rise and struggles of the underground movement is incredibly entertaining. The notion of vampires coming out as the saviors of humanity and our reaction to them also strikes me as spot on and something fresh in the genre.

There are some off notes for me. Nicholas is a bit two dimensional. We never get to see inside his head really. Most of what we know is filtered through Emily’s experience of him and how we as readers view the decisions he makes. I would have liked to see him fleshed out a bit more. There are also a few chapters where things happen in a way that is a little too “convenient”. Characters meet at just the right time, for example. This happens in fiction all the time and may just be a pet peeve of mine. This is also a dystopian tale. I don’t think that’s spoiling anything. If you’re expecting a happy ending here, there won’t be one. That’s also not a real spoiler since some early chapters clearly set the stage for ending. In a world where there are more than enough dark, angsty vampire books perhaps I’m just overcome by them.

Having said that I wouldn’t want to drive anyone away from reading this. As I said, I enjoyed it, and reading this made me appreciate the effort Teel made in this endeavor and made me enjoy the follow up read even more. It’s very thought provoking and I give it a solid four stars (as a stand alone book, more on that in a bit). It is available from Amazon, Smashwords, direct from the author, and other fine e-book retailers.

I read Sophia next. While certainly more of a Utopian look at the same society Emily lives in, this is not a book full of butterflies and happiness. It made me the most uncomfortable of the two books. For that reason and a few others I enjoyed it more than I did Emily.

Where Emily is human, Sophia is a vampire. In Teel’s world, people who have life threatening illness or injuries are given the option of becoming a vampire. When she was seven years old, Sophia came down with just such an illness and her parents made the difficult decision to have her turned. They raised her in a sheltered and very religious home, keeping her away from society for a variety of reasons. Her body stopped aging, but her mind continued and when she turned eighteen she was granted adulthood and given all of the advantages vampires in this society have.

Emily deals with politics and what a world with vampires would look like in that arena. Sophia is a look at religion and how that would be affected by creatures with “eternal” life. Those of you that know me, would know that this is precisely my bailiwick. Sophia is a devout Christian and believes that her vampiric state is blessed by God and she’s to use it in the same way humans would use theirs. Vampires can regenerate organs, so she enters the donor program, giving large parts of her body to human children who are in need of transplants. She also donates her blood so that its healing properties can be used in medicines. In addition to serving humanity, Sophia also wants to go to college and finally get a chance to grow up.

Sadly for her, happily for us, things rapidly get complicated. She discovers that while she has access to a vast wealth that has been building throughout her life, she also discovers that being an adult trapped in a child’s body increases the number of complications she faces a hundred fold. One of the primary ways that surfaces is in her relationships. Sophia’s sex drive blossoms (though I find myself asking why that didn’t come up earlier, perhaps due to her sheltered life) and this results in two scenes that made my skin crawl. I won’t go into detail but one is physically painful for the protagonist and is somewhat explicit, and the other explains the pedophilia tag on Smashwords (though nothing graphic is portrayed/described). Yup, when you’re a vampire in a kid’s body you get to looking for love in some VERY wrong places.

Watching Sophia grow as a character and come to terms with her various natures was fascinating. Along the way, she meets one of her Kindred that physically walked with Christ, makes some reals friends, and in the biggest crossover between the two books, meets Nicholas. We see a different side of the anti-vampire zealot and that’s interesting too. To me, this is a far more interesting book that Emily was and kept me hooked in the entire time. For that, I’m awarding it five stars. It is available from Amazon, Smashwords, direct from the author, and other fine e-book retailers.

I can’t leave it at that though. Teel wanted to do something really interesting with these two stories and he succeeded. Part of me wishes that I could erase my experience, go back, and read these in the opposite order to see what difference that makes. WIth time, I will go back and do just that. I take these two works as a whole. This is one instance where the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. So, in spite of Emily’s shortcomings (few though they were) I give the whole five stars as well. I urge you to pick both of these books up and read them in the order of your choosing. Either way I think you’re in for a great read.

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