I don't envision this novel, which I enjoyed, will have many negative reviews around, and I'd hazard a guess that this one will be one of the more critical ones, and that's a good thing... I think. Full Blooded by Amanda Carlson is as close a sure thing debut as any I've read in the urban fantasy genre. It's appeal will make it a fan favorite right off the bat, and a novel that will surely charm its way to be among the favorites of the year for urban fantasy enthusiasts, particularly those that enjoy some kick-ass action accompanied by a small dose of the sexy.
It's just an ordinary night for Jessica McClain, waking up in the middle of a nightmare as she's turned into a werewolf. Completely normal, happens to everyone, wouldn't you say? Problem is that she's an impossibility, something that could never be; a female werewolf. Throughout all her life she's been subject of prophecies that indicate that she'll be the destruction of her race, which doesn't bode well for her now that she's turned. What follows is a story about how she, her family, and her friends will handle keeping her secret in the midst of traitors, of clan members that want her dead, and an overzealous detective that suspects her of being in league with the criminal underworld.
Full Blooded was an interesting novel, as far as plot structure and pace. As for plot, I felt it was a bit unfocused, something that I'd consider a big negative just about any read I'd stumble upon. In this case, I more than welcomed it. Will we be dealing with a traitor? Will we be focusing on the police that's out to get her? Will have to be concerned with keeping her new werewolf self a secret? Will we be dealing with the investigation aspects of her workplace? Will we be trying to figure out who's trying to kill Jessica? As the story went along I really didn't know where Carlson was heading with this story, until it clicked for me. It doesn't matter what the plot focuses on, when one considers it's really about Jessica's life and how she deals with the suddenness of her situation and adapting her life accordingly. And the answer is pretty much "yes" to all the above, which leads right into the interesting pace.
Pace was what I can only describe as patiently fast-paced. Patient because the scenes themselves took a bit to develop, and where at times lengthy. Fast paced, because not only does it have a lot of badass action, but because it deals with all the plot issues above in a timely and efficient manner. Some of the plot points could've easily been stretched and milked for all its worth in a span of several books, which is a tendency I find becoming more common as of late. Instead Amanda Carlson tackles all those situations without missing a beat, promising a fresh set of dilemmas for the sequel. I really enjoyed this aspect, no stringing the reader along with a lot of bullshit to avoid issues that can be dealt with in the present.
Jessica McClain was a fun character. Not only was she strong physically, she's had to live through a shit plate of a life, and she's faced her problems head on determined not to become a victim. She's constantly positioned herself to improve her quality of life. Now that's she has turned into a werewolf, you can tell that she might be enjoying how the tables might be turning a bit... of course, when she's not worrying about those that are trying to kill her or undo all the life she's built for herself. She's a fun character and an energetic narrator. If you've ever had the chance to interact with the author, you can tell that the enthusiasm she seems to have in real life has influenced Jessica's persona.
Jessica is accompanied by a decent cast of side characters. Still am unable to commit fully to them, but I see two of them that I'll be looking forward to seeing more of. The main overall problem for me were that about three of Jessica's closest confidants were hard to distinguish from one another, they had similar voices. By the end of it though, they started to stand-out a bit more, so will be looking forward how Carlson further develops them. That said, I really enjoyed how they all interacted and I think most will find Jessica's relationship with her She-Wolf quite amusing.
I won't lie though, Full Blooded was a tale of two halves for me. And I won't lie either about how it was the promise of kick-ass action which attracted me to this novel in the first place, so that perspective influenced majorly on how I perceived the novel. In all, loved the first half, but I encountered a few issues in the second half that prevented me from enjoying this novel as much as I could have. Some of it are issues that I think the author can address and improve on, other have more of a personal taste nature (though I still think it can be handled better).
Let's start with the most obvious one as it concerns me, how the sexy, erotica, lust scenes were handled. Just to be clear, there was only one sex scene here, and all that went down was appropriate as far as I'm concerned. In the first half, there really wasn't anything that I found problematic on this regard, some great banter among friends and some good humor flirting which I could identify with as it resembles just fun dialogue between friends. At times surprisingly refreshing. The aforementioned sex scene was a bit awkward as it came about, but fitting with the story, so even then not much of a problem for me. The problem came in the second half when Jessica became isolated with certain character, after avoiding an action scene that had the making of being awesome, in favor of 26 or so pages I didn't handle well. It was filled with a lot of ogling and descriptions of how sexy this dude was, how the sweat was dripping off him, description of his muscles, etc. There was an amusing side to all of this with Jessica interacting with the wolf inside her, but just too much for me during this span. What made it worse was that it all occurred during a long trek which really interrupted the great pace the story had to this point. And of course, we had to go through a body of water, so an excuse to get wet and partially undressed so the characters could leer at each other a bit more.
Then there was the action, which is the aspect where I hope Carlson can improve on in the future, which is certainly doable. The evidence is in the novel itself. By this I mean is that in the first half, the action was some of the best I've read this year, and probably ever in this subgenre. It had all the elements I look for: limited dialogue, fast, hard, and violently detailed. It became even better with the good energy and excitement of Jessica's narration in a setting that was blissfully silent, except for the screams from pain. Also, surprisingly graphic which was great. So it came as a bit of a disappointment when some of these attributes were dropped in the second half. The major problem was the dialogue, it became quite obtrusive to the action and plagued with characters cursing at each other that came off as a bit immature shouting and uninspired. I had made this observation previously in my Blooded novella review, and was encouraged by how well the action was handled in the first half of Full Blooded, so it was a bit of a shame that these problems crept back into the narrative as the climax to this novel was unfolding. That's not to say that the action was bad, it was still hard and awesomely violent, but these other issues prevented me from enjoying them to its full capacity despite how action packed it was.
All this said, I really enjoyed the novel and the above shouldn't be used to discourage interested readers from trying it. They're merely some areas I think could be improved on and could have made this novel much better for me personally. As mentioned, the first half was really good for me, and the second half shouldn't have bothered me as much as it did. Regardless of all this, I'm of the opinion that this is a well balanced novel that the great majority of urban fantasy readers will get a kick out of. Full Blooded fulfilled it's promise with a main character that kicks major ass amid a fun and energetic narrative, and I invite others to give Amanda Carlson's debut a shot. I know I'm just about ready for the sequel Hot Blooded, but it comes out during Spring next year.
Buy Full Blooded from The Book Depository.
For more information about the author and this series, please visit Amanda Carlson's website. Also of interest is my interview with the author from earlier in the year.