Biting the Bullet, by Jennifer Rardin (Orbit, 2008)

Jaz Parks is back, and she’s brought the rest of her team with her. The vampire Vayl, technogeek Bergman, former private investigator Cole, and psychic seer Cassandra are ready for whatever action lies ahead, especially when they learn that the next mission may actually give them a stab at the Raptor, the terrorist who’s been giving them the runaround and thwarting their attempts to stop him for months now. Targeting one of his associates, a nasty piece of work named the Wizard, Jaz’s team joins up with a larger group of Special Ops lead by her brother, Dave.

Things don’t go according to plan, naturally. Vayl gets distracted by a personal mission that could either be a wild goose chase, or a recipe for certain disaster. A mole is discovered within Dave’s unit, and they’ll have to figure out just who’s sold out to the bad guys without tipping their hand. And a band of nigh-unstoppable reavers has targeted Jaz for death. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether any of the team will survive this particular job and make it home from the wilds of Iran intact. To accomplish their goals, they’ll have to team up with a very powerful local who wants nothing to do with the fight, avoid a dangerous breed of spiritual parasite attracted to bloodshed and violence, and battle the undead hordes of a psychotic necromancer. No problem, right? This is Jaz Parks we’re talking about. Vampire hunter, secret agent, chosen by a higher power to save the world, she’s just the woman for the job. Even if it kills her.

Rardin offers up an exciting blend of action and intrigue in Biting the Bullet, the third in the Jaz Parks series. I have to say, this book, like the ones before it, stands out in a number of ways. Compared to the people she keeps company with, Jaz is almost normal, despite her awesome fighting skills and minor-league special abilities and magical talents. Once you’ve got a vampire and an oracle on your side, it’s easy to seem like the mundane one, I guess. Despite this, there’s no doubt that she’s the heart and soul of an eclectic team, keeping them together through sheer force of personality and tough girl attitude, and it’s nice that Rardin doesn’t feel the need to jack up her main heroine’s power level to compensate for those around her and the enemies she faces. (Mind you, this is just how I see the situation.)

I also like that the plot takes our heroes to Iran, a setting that’s definitely off the beaten path, and vastly underused by most urban fantasy authors. It’s a bold move, placing the action so far out of the average reader’s sphere of familiarity, but Rardin makes it work, taking advantage of the exotic, unfamiliar location to help enhance the fish out of water, odds against the characters feeling. It’s not something you generally expect from this sort of book, and it works. She’s found something new to say, and it helps the story greatly. The plot might be a little convoluted at times – they’re fighting reavers, and the undead, and ferreting out a mole, and stalking terrorists and necromancers with comic book codenames – but it’s full of action and suspense, and Rardin keeps the surprises coming.

At the same time, she doesn’t skimp on character interaction and personality clashes. From the cats-and-dogs spatting of Bergman and Cassandra, to the alpha-male jockeying for position between Cole and Vayl, to the sibling bond/rivalry between Jaz and Dave, to the unexpected romance that develops between two unlikely characters, it helps to keep things moving in interesting directions, making for a likeable bunch of misfits and oddballs, which as anyone knows is the key to success when fighting overwhelming forces.

Biting the Bullet is a whole lot of fun, a spy thriller with bizarre magical elements, set in the sort of distant locale that the average reader associates with danger and intrigue. It’s not your average urban fantasy…. heck, let’s call it paranormal adventure, or a supernatural Mission Improbable, which is closer to the truth. I really liked this book, and I’m eagerly awaiting the fourth in the series, because there just isn’t enough of its kind on the market.

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