I've got a bit of a problem, not that I think anyone is that interested, and it is this: I'm becoming addicted to Rachel Caine novels. It's a problem that creeps up on you. One moment you're looking at yet another cover that just shouts “I am far to young for you to be reading me” and cringing at the tag lines, the next you are drumming your fingers on the keyboard wishing your internet book store would hurry up and deliver volume three. Worst still you are cursing the fact that there are only three (oh, only...) further volumes and then you are going to have to find another even better novel to fill your vampire cravings.
I'm going to have to issue a spoiler warning here, in terms of both the plot for the first book and small details from the second, for the simple reason that Rachel Caine clearly does not believe in hanging around when it comes to plot. I can hardly reflect my criticisms regarding Twilight's lack of action on any of these books. Caine manages to get through twice as much plot (and pull it off) in 300 pages as Stephanie Meyer managed in 600.
So, fresh from the roller-coaster ride of Glass Houses, with Michael's life left in the balance on that fiendish cliff-hanger and Shane's Dad preparing to get medieval on all the vampires in Morganville, the stage is already set when we join The Dead Girl's Dance. Once again our heroine/nerd Claire Danvers is forced to take matters into her own hands and save her friends from vampires, hunters and the general populace of the most vampire-infested town in the world.
I suppose to some extent it's more of the same. We have new characters to enjoy, with the return of some very worthy veterans such as Amelie, Oliver and Monica. The geography and horror of the town itself is further established, as if it wasn't dangerous enough to start with, and as before Caine keeps us spinning from one side to the next as the plot weaves its way towards the dramatic climax. Yet, secure in the universe already created, the novel feels somehow tighter, more polished than the first. The dialogue grates even less than it did before, either that or I'm getting used to it, and while the plot is as action-packed and swirling as it was before I felt less thrown about by the developments as they appeared.
Another aspect I found myself really enjoying this time around was the increased threat posed by the human characters as opposed to the vampires (who are by no means impotent). In the first book this was limited to the vampire-wannabes but even excluding the vampire hunters there are more humans in the book that are just generally not safe to be around. Never one to shy away from the cold harsh realities of life, Caine's sub-plots in this occasion include suicide, molestation and an attempted rape. Humans seem to like to demonize the darker side of life, focusing so much on the enemy without that we forget the monsters we are all capable of manifesting. There is a sad and understated realisation for Claire at the point at which she realises that everyone can be evil, even if they are good people most of the time.
The more we see the darker side of human life in Morganville, the greyer the line between good and evil, right and wrong, human and vampire becomes and it is through this that Caine is able to deliver the cliffhanger for this volume because without it Claire's 180 degree turn in thinking would make very little sense.
I think my only criticism is probable the petty issue of the title, which seems to have little relationship to the content given that the dance referred to is largely inconsequential to the greater plot. Then again, if I'm picking holes in the title then you know I'm really groping for something to dislike.
There is far more in this little book than meets the eye. It is quite simply an astonishingly compelling read. It is one of precious few books I have seriously considered taking a day off work to finish and it may not win any prizes for literary flare but for good old-fashioned scary storytelling it is unrivalled. Don't hesitate, if the first sent a glorious shiver down your spine you will not be disappointed by number two.