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House Rules: A Chicagoland Vampires Novel by Chloe Neill
Review by Drew Bittner
NAL Trade Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451237101
Date: 05 February 2013 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

You'd think Merit would have earned a vacation by now. The stunning resurrection of her friend and master Ethan, the fall of her friend Mallory to the temptations of dark magic, and a battle for the survival of Chicago itself have left her a bit wrung out. There's no rest for the Sentinel of Cadogan House, however, as her household is working to separate itself from the rule of ancient European vampires--and a vicious serial killer is on the loose, hunting and murdering vampires even in their homes.

No, rest is not in the cards…

Chloe Neill's newest Chicagoland Vampires novel, House Rules, follows Merit as she: helps Ethan figure a way out of serious trouble with the Greenwich Presidium (the vampires' ruling council); deals with her imminent initiation into the covert Red Guard, which watches the Masters of the various Houses to ensure they are acting honorably; investigates a string of murders; and tries to rebuild a relationship with her friend.

Before the ceremony that will separate Cadogan from the Presidium, Ethan holds a social gathering with the rogue vampires of Chicago. It is an overture and an attempt to cultivate an understanding with those who never accepted Presidium authority. Noah, who holds a position of respect in their ranks, confides in Ethan and Merit that two of his have been murdered…and he could use their help. Hoping an act of goodwill will strengthen their bonds, Ethan agrees and Merit goes to work. As Sentinel, this is entirely in her wheelhouse.

A startling breach of trust complicates things between Ethan and Merit at the worst possible time, with the murder investigation going nowhere and the Presidium's machinations barely begun. Forewarned by Jonah, Merit's partner in the Red Guard, the Cadogan vampires avert the worst possible doom they can imagine--only to face even worse when a theft fatally sabotages their security. Merit and Ethan must recover a missing object or see all they have struggled to protect be destroyed.

Merit also must deal with the irrational jealousy of Ethan's ex-girlfriend Lacey, which causes her serious problems, and the presence of outside consultant Michael Donovan. But her biggest challenge outside the House has to be McKettrick, an avowed enemy of all vampires, whose aspen-bullet gun might have contributed to the murders--and who now works for the mayor of Chicago as humanity's protector from the vampires, a chilling reversal of the Ombudsman role performed by Merit's kindly uncle and his team.

Surrounded by enemies and endangered by threats within the House, Merit and Ethan find their bond challenged like never before. If they want to survive, much less defend their House, they have to dig deep and figure out the rules of the games they're playing.

Neill's world and characters continue to evolve, growing in complexity and depth with every novel. Merit has come a long way from the unsure, uncertain young vampire she was at first, and Ethan has become more than the handsome, aloof master he seemed to be. Their relationship forms the core of the story, with the strongest pieces their light, flirty and ferocious courtship.

Embodied by Darius, Harold Monmouth (lackey of the dead and despicable Celina) and Lakshmi, the Presidium is cold and calculating, a worthy enemy for Cadogan House itself. They represent the arrogance of ancient power, willing to crush any they see as an annoyance and playing the game to win at all times. It is only help from a surprising quarter that allows Ethan and Merit a crucial insight and gives them the chance to win against the bigger of their enemies…and ultimately a chance to turn some tables when the murder investigation takes an unexpected turn.

Neill is at the top of her game with this story, juggling myriad dangers even as the emotional lives of her characters are turned upside down. She's proven herself one of the new masters of urban fantasy, and her legions of fans will only grow as she writes stories this good.


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