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Once Bitten Twice Shy is the first novel in the Jaz Parks urban fantasy series. Jaz is an FBI agent whose job involves assassinating people (often vampires) who threaten the nation and the world. Her boss is a vampire called Vayl. Together they travel around doing their job, saving the world. In this novel Vayl and Jaz are trying to bring down a terrorist organisation with supernatural links.
I started reading this novel when I was finishing my dissertation because I needed something to read that wasn't related to social work and I didn't want to read a book that would really grip me because I didn't have time to read more than a chapter before bed each night. For some reason I had decided that this book wouldn't be particularly good. I was wrong and I found this book really difficult to put down.
The thing that gripped me immediately was Jaz. Like most novels in this genre this one is written in the first person and so the main character tends to be a huge factor in how much like the novel. It's difficult to like a novel written from the perspective of a character that you don't like! I loved Jaz. She just had so much attitude. I think that Jennifer Rardin really managed to develop the character well and in particular I liked the way that she adds so many details to her life that Jaz really did feel like a real person.
This book is really funny and unexpectedly so. There were times when I actually laughed out loud but this humour is necessary in this novel because there are a lot of really dark elements to this book. Rardin doesn't shy away from the darker side of being an FBI agent at all. Although I did find some parts of the book disturbing I don't feel like any of the violence was gratuitous. This novel deals with terrorism, I think it would be wrong not to portray some of the horror that terrorism involves. The humour does make it easier to read and actually I think without the humour I couldn't have read this book and enjoyed it because it would have been too heavy.
The plot of this novel was pretty good. I loved the way that she took a very current issue and put a supernatural spin on it. There isn't really much in the way of mystery in this novel, you're never really wondering whose involved because that information is just provided for you but there are so many unexpected twists and events that you just don't see coming. This novel was certainly not predictable and there were a few times when I was quite surprised about what happened. I think the main thing that keeps you reading, other than the pure enjoyability of this novel, is the mystery surrounding Jaz. I'm not going to give anything away here because I feel it's a major part of the novel and I don't want to ruin it for anyone.
A whole cast of characters are introduced in this novel and they're all really interesting. We have a psychic, a wannabe detective, a paranoid inventor and of course a vampire. I finished this book feeling like there was so much more greatness to come, in part because Rardin has introduced so many characters who we never quite get to know enough in this novel. I hope that she explores them further in the other novels in this series.
Once Bitten Twice Shy has left me wanting more of this series and I can't wait to get my hands on the next novel. I was sad to read that Jennifer Rardin died last year. Although she did finish this series I think it's so sad that she won't be writing any more books. This novel was great and I feel that the world has lost a great talent.
Following the unprecedented, and it could be said, largely undeserved, success of the Twilight books, there is a plethora of urban fantasy fiction on the market these days featuring vampires, werewolves, fae and other weird and wonderful creatures of the paranormal world. To my mind, much of this fiction is often poorly conceived and some of it very badly written, so finding a new writer of decent urban fantasy can sometimes be like looking for a needle in a haystack. I think with Jennifer Rardin, however, I just might have found a good one.
About the author
Jennifer Rardin was an American writer based in Illinois. She had her first urban fantasy novel featuring Jaz Parks and her partner, the vampire Vayle, published in 2007 which was an immediate success. She went on to write and publish a further six more books in the series. Very sadly, Jennifer Rardin died unexpectedly last September at the age of 45 shortly after completing the eighth in the Jaz Parks series which is due for release in 2011.
Jasmine (Jaz) Parks has been assigned by the CIA to work in black ops alongside Vayl, an enigmatic and lethal Rumanian vampire who is nearly 300 years old. Ostensibly Jaz is Vayl's bodyguard but why a lethal vampire would require protection is something Jaz can't fathom. It soon becomes clear, however, that she's been drafted in to help Vayl foil a plot to release a soul-eating demon who has the capability to destroy the world if she falls into the hands of the Sons of Paradise, a vile organisation bent on world destruction. And as if that wasn't going to be hard enough, Jaz has a problem she's unwilling to share with anyone. She's having blackouts and the things that happen during that time may mean she loses not only her CIA contract but her life.
Price and availability
This book is currently available from Amazon for £4.89 although used copies can also by bought starting at a price of £1.40 plus P&P.
I've now written several reviews on urban fantasy and make no bones about my enjoyment of this genre which marries reality with fantasy making for a much more believable world than the more accepted forms of fantasy fiction. I know that many people feel that the vampire has been overdone in fiction these days and that there's nothing original about them anymore but Jennifer Rardin has produced in Vayl, one of the species who earns his living doing what vampires do best: killing and also displays characteristics which I feel are more in keeping with someone who's been alive for approaching three centuries.
Of course, Jaz and Vayl don't kill goodies only evil people who are trying to destroy the world and, as Jaz says, "If you think that makes me a bad guy, that's your problem." At the beginning of this first book of the series, we meet Jaz, who is the first person narrator of the story, and Vayl as they attend a party incognito in an attempt to discover the whereabouts of a deadly virus the terrorist organisation, the Sons of Paradise are planning to release upon an unsuspecting world.
As with all first books in a series, there is a certain amount of character introduction and world building which can sometimes slow down the actual story but this isn't the case here. Jaz manages to convey exactly what's happening as well as bring the reader up to speed on previous events and all without slowing the pace one iota. We therefore learn very early on in the book that Jaz is a kick-ass kind of person with a smart mouth who is a modern woman with a strong independent streak but that she has a problem she's trying to resolve without Vayl or the CIA finding out.
Jaz and Vayl make a great team and this is an action-packed and frequently violent urban fantasy with the added attractions of elements of the spy thriller about it and in many ways it's no more fantastical than a James Bond adventure. Jaz is a likeable heroine with a wry sense of humour, who's constantly battling authority which usually comes in the shape of her boss, Pete, a penny pincher if ever there was one. Jaz is always concerned that she may lose her job, especially as she seems to have a habit of totalling her cars and generally creating havoc wherever she operates. This is the first book in the series and I get the feeling that there is still a great deal of Jaz's back story still to come out which is certainly an incentive to keep reading the series.
Vayl on the other hand is a vampire with a difference because he's a wraith. This means that not only does he have the usual attributes of a vampire but also has the capability of freezing his victims to death. Despite this ability, he's rather likable too and the chemistry between him and Jaz is almost palpable giving a foretaste of a romance to come, I think. What I really like about Vayl is that he has a certain world-weariness, which I'm sure is how someone would be after being alive for nearly three hundred years. You must have just about experienced everything by then and keeping interested in the world around would be quite tough at times. Vayl also has a certain old-world charm about him, despite living in the modern age, again which seems much more in keeping with how a 'real' vampire would behave.
The secondary characters are all as well drawn as Jaz and Vayl although the terrorist group are perhaps just a little bit too stereotypical to be believed at times. However, fanaticism comes in many guises and it isn't too difficult to suspend belief.
This first adventure has really kick-started what promises to be an excellent series and it's certainly left me wanting more. I've already bought book two, 'Another One Bites the Dust', which is in my waiting to be read pile and if that turns out to be as good as the first, I'll be looking to read the remainder of the series.
The books in the series are:
1. Once Bitten, Twice Shy
2. Another One Bites the Dust
3. Biting the Bullet
4. Bitten to Death
5. One More Bite
6. Bite Marks
7. Bitten in Two
8. The Deadliest Bite