Book Review: “Blood Oranges” by Kathleen Tierney

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Siobhan Quinn is a runaway, a junkie, and a tough chick, living by her wits in the streets of Providence, Rhode Island. Things start to get really dark for her when she sees her girlfriend being eaten by a ghoul. She kills it, of course. Under the patronage of a flamboyant character whom she calls “Mean Mr. B,” she soon sets out on a career as a slayer of nasties. Then one inadvertent slaying lands her in the middle of… well, I don’t want to spoil it. Before Quinn figures out what’s going on, she gets turned into a werewolf and a vampire—doubly cursed, doubly damned, an abomination to abominations, etc., etc. Worse, someone (or something) is pulling her magical strings, controlling her transformations, and using her to track down and kill everyone who crossed him or her. Or it.

So, basically, it’s a twist on a murder mystery in which the killer, or perhaps the weapon, is the one trying to solve the crimes. It’s a riff on the horror and fantasy genres too, with a vampire who can go out in sunlight without incinerating or sparkling. Who also happens to be a werewolf who can turn hairy even when the moon isn’t full. And all the other suspects are just as spooky and weird, if not more so.

Quinn narrates her own story in a style that I suppose may appeal to a certain set of readers, such as those who like their urban fantasy set to a heavy metal soundtrack (or whatever sub-style of metal may apply). It might not sit so comfortably with readers who are still comfortably locked in the groove of pop-culture fandoms such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which she puts down gently), Twilight (which she puts down hard), or Harry Potter (of which she opines that its action sequences flow like a pile of bricks).

I’m OK with authors using references within the genre to triangulate the coordinates of their unique fantasy world. What doesn’t thrill me so much is a book that is so aggressively badly written that it keeps making excuses for its bad writing. Sometimes this may be excused, or even made into a virtue, by verisimilitude to a tale being told by a character who is emphatically not a writer. Sometimes this may even provoke interesting thoughts about the ambiguity of dealing with an unreliable narrator—for example, one who repeatedly admits to being a liar. But I would also caution that, in a world abundantly supplied with well-written books, writing badly on purpose may not serve the author’s interests. And it may try a reader’s patience to the point where he or she says, “Is this almost over yet?”

A super-strength “adult content advisory” applies to this book, which swarms with depictions of extreme violence, IV drug use, lesbian snogging, and strong language. It drops enough F-bombs to wipe out a small country, and other equally incendiary words ensure that if there is ever a movie based on this book, it will be rated R. As to occult content, I’m not sure there is any more harm in it than your common or garden tale of the undead, but Christian readers and their parents may find the author’s anti-God attitude a bit abrasive.

It’s not an altogether unenjoyable novel. I laughed at some bits that were meant to be laughed at. I felt sympathy toward some of the characters, at times. And I totally got the horror part. There were a couple of points in the audio-book version, narrated by Amber Benson, when I found myself saying, “No, no, no…” and would have put my fingers in my ears, if I hadn’t needed to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel. In a starred review, I would give this book at least two stars, which admittedly is a pretty low score on the scale that I use; but I wouldn’t review it at all if I could think of no reason to recommend it. I imagine it would go over well with people who follow the modern faerie tales of Holly Black and Melissa Marr, or who like their vampires tattooed, pierced, and generally messed up.

Kathleen Tierney is a pseudonym of Caitlín R. Kiernan, an Irish-born paleontologist and award-winning author living in Rhode Island, USA. Specializing in creepy, dark fantasy and science fiction, her work includes the novels Murder of Angels, The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, and the sequel to this book, Red Delicious; as well as such short-story collections as Wrong Things and A is for Alien. While I’m not particularly eager to continue reading this series, I have not ruled out reading one or two of the titles published under her own name.

This book wasn’t very good at all. In fact, I had a hard time finishing it.
This book wasn’t very good at all. In fact, I had a hard time finishing it.