Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Undead (Betsy Taylor) series (volumes 1-4) - review

Author: Mary Janice Davidson

Contains spoilers

Book 1: Undead and Unwed

From the blurb: “Betsy Taylor has just woken up in a morgue to discover she’s a vampire. On the plus side, being undead sure beats the alternative. She now has superhuman strength and an unnatural effect on the opposite sex. What Betsy can’t handle is her new liquid diet…

“And whilst her mother is relieved to find out that being dead doesn’t mean that Betsy can’t visit, her new ‘night-time’ friends have the ridiculous idea that Betsy is the prophesised vampire queen. The scrumptious Sinclair and his cohorts want her help in overthrowing the most obnoxious power-hungry vampire in five centuries. Frankly Betsy couldn’t care less about vamp politics. But Sinclair and his followers have powerful methods of persuasion. Not least of which is unlimited access to Manolo Blahnik’s Spring collection…”

Book 2: Undead and Unemployed

From the blurb: “Nothing can make Betsy Taylor give up her shoe fetish – even dying and raising as the new Queen of the Vampires. Only being royally undead doesn’t mean there aren’t still credit cards to be paid. Luckily, Betsy lands her dream job selling designer shoes at Macy’s Department Store.

“But then there’s a string of vampire murders in town and Betsy has to enlist the help of the one vamp who makes her blood boil; the oh-so-sexy Eric Sinclair. Only the last time she ran into Sinclair she accidentally fulfilled an ancient prophecy – and ended up married to him…”

Book 3: Undead and Unappreciated

From the blurb: “Undead shopaholic Betsy Taylor has found that being Vampire Queen has more problems than perks. It may be easy to find blood in the dark of night, but try finding a strawberry smoothie. And employees at her nightclub Scratch have been giving her nothing but grief since she killed their former boss. Some people…

“But Betsy’s ‘life’ takes an interesting turn at a baby shower for her wicked stepmother, who lets it slip that Betsy has a long-lost half sister. Now twenty years old, this girl just happens to be the devil’s daughter and destined to rule the world.”

Book 4: Undead and Unreturnable

From The Blurb: “Just when Betsy Taylor thinks she’s adjusted to her after-life as a vampire queen, fate intervenes. It’s bad enough having to view your own gravestone but now Betsy’s even started seeing dead people – an assortment of demanding ghosts who are determined to make her do their bidding. Betsy also has some personal stuff to deal with – not least of which is planning her Spring – and Midnight – wedding to Sinclair. Meanwhile her half-sister is starting to display some signs of inheriting her mother’s temper. And when your mother’s the devil, that’s cause for concern…”

The Review

I read the first in this series some time ago and have just bought and read volumes 2 - 4. My intention with books was always to review after reading, but there is a slight problem with that. Many vampire books are part of a series and by reviewing one later in the series you run the risk of revealing something that has not come to pass in an earlier book. Thus I hit on the (not too original) concept of quoting the blurbs to take care of the synopsis section and I shall try not to hit a spoiler for book 1 that is integral to the plot of, say, book 4.

The books themselves are fun. Betsy Taylor is a 30 year old shopaholic, shoe obsessed Republican who is fired from her job and then dies only to rise as a vampire. Not just any vampire, however but the Queen of all vampires. Being the Queen means that she has powers the others do not have. She is immune to holy water (it tickles her nose like pepper) and holy symbols, sunlight does not immolate her it only causes her to pass out and she can curse with holy names. She only needs to feed weekly, rather than nightly and we also discover, later, that she can see the dead amongst other powers.

The other vampires in the books are more your typical vampires, stakes and sunlight kills them, they must quench their hunger nightly etc.

I loved the concept of the fiends, newly turned vampires who are starved of blood until they go out of their minds and turn feral, nothing of the person they were remaining. There is a sub-story through these volumes of the attempt to rehabilitate one of these.

The books themselves are not heavyweight but are generally amusing and well-written, Davidson catches the valley girl attitude well and then juxtaposes it against the traditional sinister vampire in an amusing way. She also draws well rounded characters that we come to care about.

Davidson also makes a merger of the bizarre and normal amusing. Betsy’s mother is delighted that death doesn’t mean that Betsy can no longer visit, even if she is a vampire. On the other hand her father and step-mother, the social climbers, are abhorred that their daughter didn’t have the common decency to stay dead. Even more amusing was Betsy’s attempts to re-kill herself, at the start of book one, when she realised that she was dead but moving.

The books are easily devoured, I read two volumes in a day, which could be a criticism except, occasionally you just need something light to read rather than heavy-going, hardcore prose. That said, the story in book 4 was weaker than the other volumes and seemed almost tagged on as character issues were examined. For those interested, a short Betsy Taylor story can be found in the vampire compilation book “Bite”.

All in all these are an undemanding and yet satisfying read. For the series so far, as a set of fun distractions, I’ll score these at 7 out of 10.


Mateo said...

I recently bought Undead and Unpopular when it was released (I haven't read any of the others) and I really like it. It's rather witty, but not at all serious about the mythology. I've read about 1/3 of the book and only have picked it up for ten minutes at a time while waiting on something. Light, fun reading. Not sure if I'll make an effort to get the others, but if I see her future books when they ar released I might pick one up.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mateo, I don't now about in the states (though I assume it will be available) but the first four are certainly together in one single volume in parts of the world.

As you say, light, fun reading and not too demanding. Just the thing for a long train journey (which is where I found myself when I read part2 and 3 in a day!)

Mateo said...

How many volumes are there now? I'm not sure if Undead and Unpopular is the 5th or not. But i'd probably be interested in getting the first volume if I could find it for cheap used. I'll look into that.

Mateo said...

Also, are the first four books overly romantic? I had read in some of the reviews that she uses romance a bit. That's not the case in Undead and Unpopular,though. Overly romantic writing is one of the reasons I find it hard to read Laurell K. Hamilton any more.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

As far as I am aware there are five volumes so far, but more due.

I wouldn't say the books are too romantic. In the first book Sinclair tries to woo Betsy and their on/off romance continies through but is often used for comic effect. It certainly isn't as much of a focal point of Hamilton makes it and it certainly isn't as explicit (though there are some sex scenes) as later Hamilton.

Davidson has Betsy virtually irrisistable to the opposite sex but then makes it a source of Betsy's problems.