I don't give star ratings in my book reviews.
Star ratings are entirely typical of the modern education culture of targets, evidential assessment, big folders full of meaningless reflection and an obsession with statistical quantification.
None of it matters to me.
For a writer, there is just one dimension worth caring about: did you, dear reader, finish my book?
If you finish one of my books, I love you, even if you detested every sentence.
If you think about it, what does a 5* rating mean, exactly? It's the qualitative assessment that's important. Never mind the quantity - feel the joy!
Why not a 6* rating? Why don't reviews go up to 7*? Heller's 22*? Douglas Adams' 42*? King's 247*? Just make a number up and go for it...
The amps that go up to 11
I loved reading Sanguinary.
And I have to say I loved reading the sequel, Imbrued.
Slain by wooden stake, one of the Erebis band is found speared outside a nightclub. Angel, the unhinged, alcoholic, feisty, sex-crazed, Ash-besotted heroine of the first book, now off the booze and on the case, realises that there is a slayer on the loose, a zealous Van Helsing, whose psychotic, obsessed mission is to torture and destroy blood drinkers whereever they are.
Cue Cat's house; For so long a sanctuary, the haven becomes a prison. Lead singer Ash - vain, pathologically angry, jealous, self-obsessed, boorish, stalks the corridors, raising the temperature inside the house to boiling point.
The questions hover like last night's cigarette smoke.
Who is the slayer? Who is next on his infernal list? And how come he always seems to be one step ahead? Can Angel solve the clues? Can she find the slayer before its too late? And can she stop the blood drinkers from turning on themselves?
All the characters are there from the first book. Angel, a twenty-something cocktail of narcissism, aggression, wit, balls-pounding rebellion and anything goes sexual liberation, makes me glad I'm not twenty five again, yet there;s something softer about her this time. After her struggles with drink in the first book, she manages to stay away from the demon whisky and she's a more rounded character for it, acting as conscience, guide and mother hen for the confused, sometimes vulnerable vampires she finds herself living with.
Except Ash of course, the muscular, lithe, sex-God cock-substitute lead singer of Erebis with whom Angel has a love-obsession-hate relationship.
No one guides Ash.
Ash is his own man and won't listen to anyone and in many ways, his narcissism is much worse than the first book.
Women love Ash, apparently, yet I have to confess I'd quite happily go toe to toe with him on the steps of the Domain.
Both Ash lovers and detesters will enjoy his antics in Imbrued. He's well over the top.
The gang's all here. Jay moons over Angel; a Caliban, upstaged and sexually usurped by the arrogant Ash every minute of his life. Cat hates Angel with a passion - nothing new there! Mike broods, either because brooding is what he does, or he has nothing to say, and the gorgeous, vulnerable Celeste glows with quiet dignity, absorbing the problems of the world, the moonchild rising.
You really do become involved with Emma;'s characters because they are so richly drawn. If you're expecting non-stop action, you will be disappointed. This is a baroque piece, an old fashioned relationship tome, where the characters are paramount and it seems that action occurs in real time.
This is quite a trick to pull off - Peter Carey, the Australian genius behind Illywhacker and Oscar and Lucinda expends entire novels purely on character - and you suspect this is Emma's interest.
They grow, develop lives of their own at their own pace and their personalities are sumptuously drawn and written. This is everyday British life. You sometimes have to pinch yourself, reminding yourself that Emma is writing about possibly insane people, who live in the dark, and who need to drink blood to survive.
There isn't as much sex in Imbrued, though it happens off-camera - notorious rabbit impersonators Angel and Ash being in dire need of a dose of bromide and a healing tube of petroleum jelly, natch - Emma deciding to go inside heads rather than panties in the sequel, which adds to the complexity of the piece.
But the highlight of the book, for me, is the Slayer.
He is worth the eight quid or so it will cost you to buy this book all alone. From his first appearance, he steals the show.
Emma has managed to pull another bunny out of a hat in a vampire-obsessed marketplace - a completely original villain! I rolled with laughter when I discovered who he was: Emma had definitely tickled me under the chin here.
Picture the magnificent Peter Cushing in Hammer's Dracula.
Picture the vampire slaying bishop warming his rump against the fire in Prince of Darkness.
Picture Hugh Jackman in silly CGI overkill flick Van Helsing.
You're not even close.
Not everyone will like the book. It is very character based. Fans of bangs-per-buck might be frustrated as the plot is a definite second best to the observations of normality, and the deep character sketches Emma does so well.
Yet its funnier in parts too, at times laugh out loud funny. It's noticeable that Emma (wisely) decides to focus on the blood drinkers instead of the annoying norm bit parts (Angel's irritating sister, Coral, for example, who wants the door shutting in her face permanently), while introducing some excellent new characters who add to the context.
There is a brilliantly observed subplot involving Angel and her best friend Minnie which shows that Emma really does know what she is talking about, has clearly been there, and can write about it acerbically and with poignant pause. I winced. Twice.
I'm a big fan of Emma as a writer. Beware though - this is an old fashioned book and I can see all the ivory-tower based MA fiction theorists tutting in parts at the density of the writing. However, for me, that's a strength: somehow, Emma has managed to merge an urban tale of real people in Cardiff with the vampire genre and miraculously ensured that the reader suspends quite natural disbelief.
That's no mean feat.
There's a third part on the way and I am queuing overnight for the launch ticket. Buy this book. It's worth every penny.
Contact (including Amazon Links, reviews etc)
Emma discusses Imbrued
Top reviewer for the Cross Plains Examiner, K-Trina Meador, reviews Imbrued