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Dark Debt (Chicagoland Vampires) by Chloe Neill
Cover Artist: Tony Mauro
Review by Drew Bittner
NAL Trade Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451472328
Date: 03 March 2015 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Read an excerpt / Show Official Info /

Merit and her love Ethan Sullivan, Master of Cadogan House, never lack for adventure. Ethan's long-lost creator returns, even as the vampires of Chicagoland are caught up in an underworld conspiracy of epic proportions. Two problems individually might be a challenge; both together might destroy them all.

More Chloe Neill:
Chicagoland Vampires:
* Some Girls Bite
* Friday Night Bites
* Twice Bitten
* Hard Bitten
* Drink Deep
* Biting Cold
* House Rules
* Biting Bad
* Wild Things
* Blood Games
* Dark Debt
In Dark Debt, Merit is concentrating on training when an untimely arrival shatters the calm of Cadogan House. Balthasar, who made Ethan Sullivan a vampire nearly four hundred years ago, is not dead as Ethan had believed; incredibly, he is quite...well, undead and eager to get revenge on his wayward child. Very quickly, Balthasar's attention rests on Merit, as she might well be Ethan's Achilles heel.

Attending a gala at the invitation of Merit's real estate tycoon father, in order to curry favor with the fabulously wealthy Adrien Reed, Ethan and Merit are on hand to prevent improbable assassins from killing a human miscreant. Unfortunately, this spirals into a disaster for the troubled Navarre House, whose Master (Morgan Greer) is widely seen as weak and ineffectual.

Why is Navarre House embroiled in this kind of trouble? It goes back to a profligate former Master and some very bad decisions, which have led to the House being at the mercy of a very powerful criminal enterprise. Merit and Ethan offer their help, only to find that matters are far worse than they could have imagined, even as a devastating psychic attack opens a schism between them.

It becomes clear that Balthasar will be content with nothing less than Ethan's destruction, with Merit's subjugation to follow, even as Navarre House is ensnared more tightly and must fight its way free.

Whatever happens, Ethan and Merit are headed for a fateful reckoning with Balthasar--one that will settle who is truly the greatest Master in Chicago.

Chloe Neill delivers yet another strong entry in her Chicagoland Vampires series, evolving the relationship between her two leads even as she throws a terrible curve-ball their way. That relationship is at the foundation of the series and it has rarely been tested so severely.

Merit is much the same as always, forthright and a bit snarky and learning how to be better every single night. However, one of her best defenses is broken in this story and she must cope with that, leaving her uncommonly vulnerable and afraid when she can least afford it. Seeing her recover from a horrible attack echoes the plight of many women, and Neill handles this aspect of the story with frankness, honesty and compassion for her heroine.

Ethan likewise has evolved, as the contrast with his earlier self could not be presented more starkly. Balthasar and Ethan were horrors back in the day; that Ethan is now a more empathetic figure is amazing progress, which is showcased nicely. Merit has done more than bring out his good side, she has bolstered his most human qualities, and that can only be a good thing. With her at his side, he has become heroic.

Mallory, Catcher, Chuck Merit, Luc, and even Joshua Merit (her disliked and distrusted father) all make formidable appearances as well. Neill has constructed one of the most interesting and fully developed supporting casts in current urban fantasy and she uses them with masterful skill. It would not surprise me in the least to see one or more of them spun off into their own stories at some point.

The reckoning reaches an appropriate crescendo, as the heroes' plans seem to misfire and the villains are more prepared and resourceful than expected--but that's the nature of heroism. It needs an overwhelming challenge or the victory won is too easy. And nobody would ever accuse Merit of winning easy victories.

Yet another winner from one of urban fantasy's most enjoyable writers.

Recommended.

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