WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Solis Burkes, the protagonist of R.L. Sloan’s San Antonio-set novel of vampire romance, Embellish, was raped as a child by schoolmates, who bullied her for being overweight and African-American in predominantly Latino SA. This is her secret. Enter Nacio, who appears out of the mist and knows everything about her.
Nacio and Solis are connected through history by Priestess Auldicia, who terrorized their families several centuries ago, turned Nacio into a vampire, and so happens to be ancestress of the same bullies who raped Solis. When they come together, revenge and love begin.
THE GOOD: Nacio’s backstory — that of a centuries-old Canary Islander vampire and former slave during San Antonio’s infancy — shows a fresh approach to the increasingly ubiquitous vamp-lit genre. Nacio, as a character, fits the neo-vampire mold: He’s gorgeous, boasts impeccable manners, walks around comfortably in broad daylight without spontaneously combusting, feeds only on bad people (Cannibals for a Cause!), sips animal blood from crystal goblets, drives a Lexus, and lives among tasteful religious art in storied King William. He’s fairly laid-back, too, until forced to bare his fangs, and it’s refreshing to meet a vampire who’s neither intense nor angst-ridden (I’m not talking about you at all, Edward Cullen). Honestly, Nacio would be perfect if only he weren’t so inexplicably in love.
Also, Sloan deftly weaves elements of Louisiana voodoo — spells, curses, chicken bones —into the story as the continuing legacy of Auldicia. What’s more awesome than hexing your parole officer?
But if it weren’t for the ruthlessly, madly evil Childress Treemount, I’d have ditched Embellish early on. This jail-breaking, over-sexed offshoot of Auldicia is so awfully badass, and her goony henchmen brothers add comic relief. Childress knows what she wants and what she’s capable of.
THE NOT-SO-GOOD: Protagonist Solis, while not unlikable, comes across as shallow, uninteresting, and slightly trampy. A favorite passage: Matt and I were always meeting up to indulge our bodies in ecstasy until I found out he was cheating on me with some tramp that was as big as a cow. . . His country bumpkin ass will live to see the day he regrets that move. Nacio is so multi-dimensional that you wonder what he sees in Solis; it’s not like he hasn’t had 257 years to find his one true mortal love.
Solis does grow up a little during the course of the story. By novel’s end, she focuses her “gift,” passed down each generation to the women in her family, and does cool things like levitate the dining table with her mind. And luckily, the page-turners in Embellish involve characters besides Solis, including some interesting folks who pop in later in the story.
CONTEXT: Embellish is a work of paranormal fiction with an element of romance. What’s so paranormal about it? The lure of the unknown, the fascination exerted by characters who transcend the boundaries of everyday life. Embellish contains just enough of it to pique vampire-lovers’ interest.
As fiction, however, the writing is not so great. Sloan’s style often reads as trite and awkward. She unfolds the story in alternating past and present tense, at times in the same sentence — annoying. Grammar and spelling errors appear repeatedly: Editing, anyone? (A fight with swords is a duel, not a dual.) I couldn’t figure out Solis’s fascination with the exclamation point, either.
THE END? (Spoiler Alert) There’s a final conflict wherein Childress and co. confront the Vampire Gang, featuring parallel instances of dissent among ranks; someone on each side deviates from the plan and throws a kink into the whole thing. The bad guys steal away, and the good guys are left battered and broken (but still undead). And then ... that’s it! The book just ends and we’re left with that “Crap, I just wasted two hours reading this” feeling. It’s not that I expect a Happily Ever After every time, but maybe tie up some loose ends, please. Oh, wait, there’s a two-and-a-half-page teaser for the sequel, Embellish 2. Dear God, help us.
Two MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: San Antonio was not necessarily known to have a large population of slaves in the 1730s, but, hey, creative license.
Teleportation, one of Nacio’s vampire abilities, allows him to appear and disappear at will. Sloan equates the experience to flying leisurely through the air (Solis even dreams of having sex with Nacio someday while flying through the nighttime sky, like an al-fresco undead mile-high club.) But Nacio’s floaty mode of teleportation is confusing; isn’t teleportation supposed to happen more or less instantaneously? To wit: “Beam me up, Scotty.” Whatever. •