Night’s Cold Kiss: A Dark Brethren Novel. By Tracey O’Hara. Eos. $7.99.
Model, Incorporated. By Carol Alt. Avon. $13.99.
There are dark fantasies, and then there are dark fantasies. Vampire fantasies are all the rage now, from the prissy and rather sweet Twilight series to much more adult fare – such as Night’s Cold Kiss, the first novel by Tracey O’Hara and the first book of what is sure to be an ongoing series. O’Hara writes a fast-paced, formulaic vampire romance with plenty of familiar elements (vampire and human vampire killer who are destined to become lovers as well as partners) and some cleverly offbeat ones (a school for vampire hunters that enrolls children as young as age six). The characters are just what you would expect them to be. When Antoinette, the star-crossed human whose mother was killed by a vampire (a typical back-story element), sees the vampire Christian, “His lean frame rested casually against the wall, hands in the pockets of his stylish dark Armani suit. Midnight hair brushed the collar of his red silk shirt, which lay open at the throat[,] and his pale skin shone beneath in shocking contrast. It suited him. Her gaze ran over the rest of him, sensing the power coiled beneath his casual demeanor. Like a cobra ready to strike. She raised her eyes to his and they stared back with a twinkle of amusement.” Antoinette is no slouch in the looks department herself, as Christian discovers soon enough: “A red and black dragon tattoo sat in the small of her perfect back, the tip of the tail disappearing into the crevice between her buttocks just beneath her panties. …He’d seen literally hundreds, maybe even thousands, of women in varying stages of dress and undress in his life time. But he’d rarely seen anything of such beauty. Antoinette was put together perfectly. Her muscles danced beneath her skin enlivening the tattoo dragon – he swore the beast watched him.” This slightly purple prose is the stuff of romance novels, which in many ways is what Night’s Cold Kiss is. But it draws equally on current takes on the supernatural, including both good vampires and evil ones (and of course good and evil humans as well); silver-nitrate-filled bullets as the anti-vampire weapon of choice; and a peace treaty between humans and vampires that is endangered unless the human vampire-hunters known as Venators can work successfully with the upstanding Aeternus vampires, such as Christian, against the evil rogue Necrodreniacs. The names and basic plot description make Night’s Cold Kiss sound sillier than it is: in fact, O’Hara does a good job of uniting her mostly conventional elements into a well-paced story that delivers considerable punch, even if nothing in it is exactly a knockout. But this is, after all, a first novel, and it will be interesting to see whether O’Hara progresses stylistically as well as in terms of plot and character development in future ones.
Model, Incorporated is a second novel – a followup to real-life model Carol Alt’s debut, This Year’s Model. This is a fantasy of a different kind, in which a basically good girl (Melody Ann Croft, known as Mac) gets swept up into the high-stakes modeling world and finds herself tempted by all the evils of fame. Having decided that modeling is just a step on her way to college, Mac discovers in Model, Incorporated just how big a step it is and how difficult it can be to avoid taking one step more…and one more…and one more…all in stilettos, of course. Despite her penchant for four-letter words, Mac is just too well grounded to be fully believable, with her small-town background, loving family and a head that is screwed on straight as well as being surpassingly lovely. It’s impossible to sympathize with her concerns about all the hard work involved in photo shoots, first-class world travel, a life in five-star hotels and oodles and oodles of money and fabulous clothes. Yes, she encounters some nasty people and has some disturbing run-ins with men who want only one thing – or maybe more than one, none of them being particularly upstanding – but it is clear from the start (as it was from the start of the previous novel) that Mac has the intestinal fortitude to make it through whatever life throws at her (which includes, among other things, being the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover girl). Even when accused of being no more than a high-priced hooker (“a cheap floozy,” as Mac puts it), Mac gets just the right advice at just the right time, from someone who has been there – or at least whose sister has: “‘My sister – sweetest girl in the world. Truly. The nicest. But these reporters, they have a knack for twisting up words and facts. They love to tear you down. If you’re prettier or richer or more successful or more talented – wham! That’s when it happens. …[But] it’s when they stop talking about you that you have to worry.’” Still, Mac worries about her clients and, worse, her parents seeing such terrible stuff, until she learns to ignore the bad things and just focus on all the good ones, of which there are plenty. Although there are surely elements of truth in Mac’s world – Alt has, after all, been there – it tends to come across as no more believable than one populated by vampires and vampire hunters, being just as over-the-top as a supernatural romance. That’s part of the charm of Model, Incorporated, of course: pure escapism. “Who says I can’t have a little fun?” Mac asks herself at one point. She is talking about relationships, but her question could just as easily be posed by readers of this book. Why not have a little fun here before returning to your real reality?