Slayed, by Amanda Marrone (Simon Pulse, 2010)

Daphne Van Helsing has been part of the family business of vampire slaying for as long as she can remember, traveling with her parents around the country, taking on the messy job of staking and beheadng misbehaving bloodsuckers. Also for as long as she can remember, she’s wanted to settle down somewhere and have a normal life, with friends, boys, and maybe even a prom someday. Unfortunately, it’s hard to have a social life when you’re armed with a fake ID and a stake, and your parents send you out to troll the bars as bat-bait. The latest gig, taking down an unusually active nest in South Bristol, promises to be more of the same. That is, until the Van Helsings run into a rival father-on team of hunters, the Harkers, with whom they have a messy history. If Daphne wasn’t so busy feuding with the son, one Tyler Harker, she might even stop to realize how cute he is. To really put the frosting on the cupcake, Daphne gets saddled with Kiki Crusher, a former child star who’s grown into a bored, buxom, bleached blonde bimbo living high on the family credit cards … and who’s decided her new calling is that of vampire hunter. With a rival she can’t trust and a sidekick she can’t stand, Daphne’s at her wits’ end. The vampires are meaner and stronger than ever before, the stakes are higher, and something nasty’s coming to South Bristol. And maybe the rival’s not so untrustworthy, and the sidekick’s not so bad after all….

In Slayed, Marrone puts a new and entertaining twist on the usual genre conventions, giving us a vampire hunter who yearns for the most basic things of a mundane life, even as she leads a life of danger and adventure. The vampires themselves are just window dressing in this story of a girl who’s ready to get away from it all and seek out the life she wants for herself. There’s plenty of supernatural action, some mystery, and some nifty bits of not-so-obvious mythology thrown in, but the real strength here comes from the honest emotions that shine through in the narrative. However, there’s another element which makes this story funny, warm-hearted, and captivating, and that’s Kiki Crusher. Kiki’s a scene-stealer, whose bouncy, bubbly, irrepressible nature can’t be dampened down by anything short of a full-on nuclear explosion. From taking a limo to a hunting job, to ordering custom unicorn horn shaped stakes (don’t ask) to blackmailing her way into becoming Daphne’s sidekick, she’s both foil and friend, cheerful nuisance and sympathetic sounding board, highly relatable and laugh-inspiring. Kiki keeps this from falling into the “guy and girl argue before falling in love” trap that loves to hide in this sort of book.

There’s a lot to love here. Daphne’s a character worth rooting for, whether she’s pining for a prom dress or stuffing garlic in a decapitated vamp’s mouth, and Marrone has done an excellent job of adding something new to a crowded genre. Definitely worth a look.

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