Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: My Blood Approves #1 by Amanda Hocking

The first in what may be a five book series, My Blood Approves is a remarkable debut for an indie author.  Teen vampire romance fans will love this one.  Hocking manages to sidestep many of the mistakes associated with first-time self-publishing.  She solidly grounds her novel in a popular, well-defined subgenre of the exploding YA/teen market.  This allows her strenghts, namely characterization, setting, and dialogue, to shine, since readers will already have a rough template for plot.

Her crowning achievement is, by far, vampire Jack.  Alice Bonham's love interest is FUN.  He's like the opposite-sex best friend, perfect in every way, except getting involved with him doesn't ruin the friendship.  Not the dark and brooding type, Jack has great taste in music and fashion.  He manages to stay plugged into popular culture while staying solidly grounded in his own era: the eighties.

This yet another strength of Hocking's.  She manages to evoke two different time periods and weave them seamlessly into a well crafted setting: modern urban Minnesota, with echoes of an eighties pop scene.  The romantic tension between the main characters is complicated by a love triangle, also a conventional device.  Here her characterization stumbles; Alice and Peter's attraction, supposedly fated, lacks depth and passion.  However, the triangle presents a thought-provoking choice for Alice.  Should she fight for a relationship grounded in friendship, mutual attraction, respect, and, most importantly, choice, or succumb to a love-hate relationship forced on her by fate?  It's a real breakthrough for a genre that all too often depicts 'true love' as a relationship in which the characters are doomed to suffer.

 On the downside, the novel suffers from the same issues that plague indie writing in general:  a slow start, problems with pacing, and mediocre editing.  It takes Alice much longer to catch on than it should.  Given that the audience knows Jack's "secret" before they start reading, it makes it all too easy to feel contempt for the main character.  Readers may find themselves wondering about her I.Q., or fighting the desire to reach into the pages and shake her.  Hocking suffers less in the editing department than do other indie writers, but there are still places where a more experienced editor or proofreader would have caught mistakes or tightened sentences.  Sending the manuscript through two or three more critical self-revisions would have sufficed as well.

Besides Hocking's considerable strengths as a writer, she shines in perhaps the most important aspect of indie writing: self-presentation.  Hocking's website stomps those of more established, major press authors.  Stephanie Meyer, Melissa Marr, and others could take a lesson on web design and layout from her. 

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