Friday, December 4, 2009

Dying Bites by DD Barant

I ordinarily don't read books written in present tense. I can think of only one book (Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman) where it worked for me. In the case of Dying Bites, the book is good in spite of being in present tense, not because of it.

Dying Bites is a richly layered book, just perfect to really dig into. It starts off fast and doesn't flag. Stuff just keeps happening, which I love--and it's not just action scenes that move the plot forward, but the interplay of characters and the slow revealing of background and history of this world. The downside to this is that the main character, Jace Valchek, seems to drop into the story with barely any past of her own.

Jace works for the FBI as a profiler, helping track down psychopaths, but she's pulled into an alternate reality where vampires and werewolves are common. There's a human serial killer murdering vampires and werewolves; since the supernatural species are mostly mentally stable, they don't know how to deal with the killer. Jace has been brought in to help track him down.

That alone would make for a fun urban fantasy, but that's just the surface. Jace has to get used a world in which humans make up only 1% of the population; she's got a golem for a partner, no one knows what guns are (and the bullets don't do much damage to the locals anyway), and as the book progresses, she becomes more and more certain that her new bosses are holding back vital information about what the serial killer is actually up to--and why.

The plot is solid and clever, and I love that Jace is an intelligent character. The writing is good too--despite its being in present tense. The present tense doesn't make the story more immediate, incidentally. It even seems to do the opposite: in several cases, important events take place offscreen. I don't have a problem with cutting away modestly from a sex scene (although I'd have liked at least some buildup so I wasn't so surprised, after the scene break, to find that Jace had indeed done the nasty), but it really feels like a cop-out when important conversations, fights, and explosions are treated the same way.

On the whole, though, the awesomeness of this book far outweighs the few drawbacks, even the present tense. But just think how awesome it would have been if it didn't continually draw attention to the mechanics of the writing.

B&N link


Jackie said...

I read, as a morbid teenager, a depressing true book written by a mother about her dying child, and the book was in the second person, which was most unsettling, particularly when the mother began discussing fatal symptoms: "You were twelve that November...."


Aside from the author and her publisher, I may have been the only person to read that book all the way through.

K.C. Shaw said...

Ick, second person dying-child books! Suddenly present tense doesn't sound so bad.