Ever since the Anita Blake series turned into bad porn, I've been hunting for a good urban fantasy series, with plenty of action, vampires and a likable yet tough female lead.
Well, I may have found what I'm looking for, in Jennifer Rardin's Jaz Parks. Her second novel "Another One Bites the Dust" has plenty of guns, gore, evil vampires and brewing world wars, but Rardin doesn't lost her grip on the inner intricacies of the characters, or the tongue-in-cheek way they do their jobs.
New target for the team: a Chinese vampire and his acrobat troupe, who are performing at the Corpus Christi Winter Festival. Even worse, he stole Bergman's invincible "dragon armour."
So while Jaz struggles with the prospect of public belly-dancing, she finds herself facing a crabby undercover team, soul-devouring reavers, religious fanatics, and a luxury yacht full of vampires consulting with Chinese generals. As if that wasn't bad enough, Jaz is being haunted by nightmares about her fiance and brother, which always end with her almost getting killed -- for real.
And it's getting progressively more dangerous to poke around the acrobats and their bosses, especially when Jaz finds that reavers are only called in for one thing -- to start world wars. The armour, reavers, and acrobats are all wound up in an international conspiracy -- and to stop the big bads, Jaz will need all her team's technical and supernatural skill.
That stiletto boot with knife in strap sort of suggests that this is some sort of vampire-slaying chick-lit. That's rather deceptive, because "Another One Bites the Dust" has none of that.
In fact, it's sort of a vampire-slaying secret-agent story, complete with dress-ups, romantic tension, lots of gory death and torn-up bodies, and a gloriously explosive, kinetic final chase scene that is worthy of an action movie. Rardin weaves in some enjoyably comic moments and entertaining dialogue ("It sounds like someone's seesawing dental floss inside her nose!" "Are you sure she's not our target?").
But she balances out the fast-bang action and international conspiracies with a healthy dose of Team Jaz exploration. Since all the good guys are crammed into a largish RV, we get to see how these guys operate when they're forced to spend a lot of time living together-- and it's a credit to Rardin that she keeps things from ever turning sitcommy. Blech.
But none of this would matter if Jaz weren't a likable, tough, believable heroine... and she is. She's smart, funny, a little too reckless, and acutely attached to all of her coworkers. But this time, she's forced to deal with her unresolved, guilt-riddled feelings about the death of her fiancee, and the source of her suicidal nightmares.
And her team is no less likable -- Vayl is one hot gypsy vampire, though I'm glad the smoldering tension between him and Jaz doesn't overwhelm the storyline. Cole, Bergman and Cassandra add their own quirky, sometimes dramatic edge to the story, and we get some very nasty villains, including a "Dragon Lady" vampire and a bunch of ravenous three-eyed reavers.
"Another One Bites the Dust" is a solid, enjoyable story for anyone who likes their vampire stories fast and witty, and their heroines strong and likable. Definitely an author to watch.