Has anyone else noticed that vampires these days all seem kind of…identical? Suddenly we’re inundated with one fanged-bad-boy with a heart of gold after another. They’re all stunning, ripped, loaded, strong yet vulnerable, and ready to settle down with that one special human lady. Their origins, if mentioned at all, are shrouded in mystery and magic. Don’t get me wrong—there’s something to be said for the fantasy potential of these tamed monsters. What woman wouldn’t want to spend some quality time with Buffy’s Angel, or a Salvatore, or Eric Northman (among many others)?
The problem is, vampires are supposed to be scary. They’re supposed to draw us in despite ourselves, not because they’re the perfect date. Which is why Christopher Farnsworth’s Nathaniel Cade has been long overdue.
Cade was introduced to the world in Blood Oath (and returns in The President’s Vampire) and from the start he was a breath of fresh air (not that he needs to breathe). Cade is heroic but isn’t a hero, and while he might look more or less human it doesn’t take long to figure out there’s nothing human about him. He thinks like a predator, has all the emotional range of your average sociopath, is motivated by a curse placed on him, and approaches sex as an instinctual necessity. Getting romantic with his prey is not an option, although he does hook up with fellow vampire, Tania. But he’ll probably end up having to kill her. As for being loaded, well, he works for the government.
But what makes Cade a vampire you want to keep reading about? He’s scary. Scary enough to make his new handler wet himself on first meeting him. Scary enough to make the casual observer back away without really knowing why. Despite the occasional noble sentiment, if he wasn’t forced by a unique vow to President Andrew Johnson to help the innocent, he’d be out there feasting on them. And while I enjoy reading about Cade protecting citizens and saving the day, he’s really at his best when let loose on enemies of the state. Even when Farnsworth doesn’t delve into details, all Cade has to do is flash his fangs and you can imagine what happens next. This is a vampire for true fans.
Both Cade novels are packed with historical and vampire facts without drowning the reader in exposition. That’s no easy feat, but Farnsworth does it well. And though this might not be important to every reader, I want to know the whys and wherefores of a character. Why do vampires move faster and fight better than humans? Why are the vampires in this mythology no good in water? Farnsworth explains and it all makes sense.
Not that Cade is the only reason I love this series (although obviously for me the vampires will always be the main attraction). Both of Cade’s handlers, Griff and Zach, are well-written, likeable, and very human characters. They’re a good contrast to their supernatural charge. The rapport between them and Cade (particularly with Zach, who is the main handler featured) is believable and—dare I say—touching. Not to mention that both civil servants kick ass in their own right. No sitting around waiting to be rescued by the big, strong vampire for either of them. You could take all the action out of these books and I’d still read them for the Cade-handler interaction. There’s a reason why buddy-cop movies are perennial favorites and these books take that standby and make it seem new (and way more fun).
Speaking of the action, there’s plenty of it. These books rarely slow down but not in a “oh great, something else is happening now” sort of way. Everything that happens is interesting and integral to the story. No guys blowing things up or torturing other guys just for the sake of filling pages. And I have to say, despite the male-oriented, political intrigue, and espionage of the books—a tone of which I’m not generally a fan—I totally got into these. Hell, I’m not even American, but the idea of the U.S. government having a vampire at their disposal for national security purposes is totally compelling. So much so that I’m actually a little disappointed that this isn’t how things really are. Or maybe that’s just what they want me to think.
You’ve got to give Farnsworth points for creative villains as well. Whether we’re talking terrorists assembling their own Frankenstein monsters from dead soldier parts, a mysterious organization steeped in the occult, or Lovecraftian lizard-creatures, you’ll never be bored by run-of-the-mill baddies in this series. And let’s face it—since vampires are the monster-of-the-moment—it’s nice that Farnsworth went outside the box for his other paranormal creatures. He even gave Cade an intriguing nemesis: the immortal and inhumanly evil scientist Dr. Johann Konrad. He might just be the most disturbing villain ever, not least because, despite his immortality, he’s a human being and not some supernatural nightmare. (His scenes are the ones that most merit viewer discretion.) How disturbing is this guy? Let’s just say that working for the Nazis was not necessarily the worst thing he’s ever done.
And last but not least—literally—Farnsworth knows how to write a satisfying ending. Having read far too many books (particularly series) that are incapable of a good finish, this is a feature of the Nathaniel Cade novels that should not be underestimated. The current storyline gets wrapped up, although the overall story arc, being a more complex animal, is treated with the respect it deserves. The bad deeds don’t go unpunished. And if you’re feeling anxious for the next Cade novel, it’s not because the last one left you hanging in a torment of loose ends and teasers. It’s because you really can’t wait to read what happens next.
Am I a Farnsworth fangirl? I would say so. After all I did just spend the last thousand-or-so words raving about him. But it’s well-deserved rave. The man writes compelling, well-crafted stories; memorable characters; properly villainous villains; creative paranormal elements—and there’s a vampire too. Seriously—what’s not to love?
When Aspasia Bissas isn’t gushing over Nathaniel Cade she’s usually reading about, writing about, or watching vampires. You can read some of her ramblings on her blog Blood Lines, including reviews of the Nathaniel Cade novels.