June 2, 2009

Book Review: "Red-Headed Stepchild" by Jaye Wells

Title: Red-Headed Stepchild
Author: Jaye Wells
Publisher: Orbit Books
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 325

While it was on television, I was a dedicated fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And unbeknownst to me, the whole concept of vampires and slayers in a modern urban settings is a sub-genre in fantasy literature called "urban fantasy". There are scores of the stuff littered on bookshelves. Why was I not informed?

Well, chalk it up to casual ignorance on my part. I'm aware of urban fantasy now, and my second official taste of it (the first being Cassandra Clare's City of Bones) came in the form of Jaye Wells' debut novel, Red-Headed Stepchild. I have no real frame of reference to other authors of her ilk, so I don't feel compelled to compare her to other writers of UF. Frankly, I'm not a loyalist to any specific genre--I love horror, but I read plenty from other genres and don't place it on a pedestal above everything else.

So, Buffy's gone, and now I have the lead character in Wells' work, Sabina Kane. For me, I'm unconcerned with how many vampire/vampire slayers dominate urban fantasy, as I find Wells has done a heck of a job in creating a compelling and sympathetic character in Sabina.

Long story, short: Sabina is a brooding assassin under the rule of her maternal grandmother, Lavinia, who is a queen of sorts. After obediently killing one of her best friends for treason, Sabina is sent on a secret mission to infiltrate the very cult her friend was to have been in league with, led by a mage named Clovis. With each step she takes to learn more about her enemies, hell is unleashed in various forms of suspense and humor.

To be honest, if not for the sense of humor this novel carries with it, I would have found the story much less appealing--wit and satire were the dominant factors in my enjoying Buffy so much. The action is carried out well enough, and the layered mystery of who the real villains are is achieved nicely, but the cast of supporting characters is what really held this novel together for me.

A particular treat was Giguhl, a demon summoned to "test" Sabina's abilities by trying to kill her. After his attempt fails, they become a bizarre odd couple through the rest of the story. Heck, the scenes with Giguhl transformed into a talking cat are worth the price of the book, alone--Don't ask, just read.

Now, die-hard fans of UF are already aware of this title and have made up their minds about it, stacking it's merits against those of other books in the sub-genre. Me? I'm not well-read in UF, so I compare it to the library of titles I've read in every other genre. And, I say it passes with flying colors.

If Red-Headed Stepchild is emblematic of what to expect from urban tales of vampires, mages, and demons, then Jaye Wells makes a heck of an ambassador. I'm not sure when the sequel, Mage In Black, is due to be released, but I'm certainly looking forward to it.

And, if you're interested in reading another review on this title, to get another reader's opinion, check out Jo's review over at Ink and Paper.


  1. Great review! I really liked this book, it was so funny! Giguhl is just awesome, he cracked me up!

    I have reviewed this book too, so I'll link to your review from mine :)

  2. Ah, thanks, Jo. I'll return the favor and add a link to your review in mine. :)