Gay romance fiction

Review: Pack by Teya Martin

PACK by Teya MartinIt will seem hokey to say that this book has a helluva bite, but it is true.
I'm kinda over vampires. Thanks to La Meyers mawkish Twilit piffle, vampires are pretty much sparkly underwear models at this point. Most paranormal authors seem to have forgotten that they actually, uhh, drink BLOOD and attack people. It's a shame because since Mr. Stoker did his inventing a century ago, the Vampire has had a healthy unLife on the page and stage. But with the paranormal boom of the past decade, the undead have slowly devolved into a kind of broody cliche with the menace of a jar of mustard.
Not here.
Teya Martin's PACK does a pretty marvelous job of claiming the legend for new and nefarious purposes. This book is entirely about sex and death and blood and sacrifice. She embraces all those nasty, delicious things that make the vampire myth so repellant and fascinating. What's more, she makes them her own... reinventing vampires thoroughly and laying the groundwork for a series that has some serious teeth. In her world, Vampires are a kind of subspecies with some (but not all) characteristics of Nosferatu who refer to themselves as "Pack"... and the cumulative ideas pack a wallop. Here is a book abouit vampires that doesn't, uh, suck.
Teya Martin knows what the hell she is doing. To start with, this is an MM novel, and as such it is careful to establish two main characters whose desires and personalities are diametrically opposed and believably reconciled. Zacky starts the novel as an abused, repressed, churchbound near-masochist and over the course of 280 pages evolves believably into his own dark twin. The pain and anxiety are still there but because of the romance, his warped view of the world morphs to include sexiness and real intimacy and fierce loyalty. Martin works like hell to achieve this, and the effect is subtle and gratifying. Zacky's tenderness and fragility feel legitimate, not like yaoi-derived pedo-porno.
Tyler is another delightful invention. As the story's seductive, brooding alpha, He pushes every limit he encounters: sexual, social and otherwise. He is wildly appealing and beautifully anguished in exactly the way we want a romantic vampire character to be. And no delicate blood in bottles for him. He has teeth and he uses them. His aggression and pathos seem earned and critical to the story’s development. Again, Martin isn't just channeling Joss Whedon's schizophrenic televidiots or Meyer's whinging vegetarians or Rice's hysterical androgynes... Based on the novel she's written, I have a feeling she'd find those options dated and vaguely embarrassing.
Oh, and by the by.... the worldbuilding is fantastic. Martin has conceived a pretty fresh and intriguing take on the vampire/werewolf/nightwalker idea: genetic anomaly. What’s more she elaborates on the idea, considering the implications and complications and driving the story with them organically. These "Pack" members don't just sip blood from jugs or transform innocents easily... everything here has a cost and a history. I was especially intrigued at her idea of rogues being Pack members left to fend for themselves at the turning without their fellows to guide their steps. A VERY clever take and there are at least 4 or 5 books in that idea alone. Teya Martin is bringing some real guns to bear on an entire genre and the results are ridiculously satisfying.
But of all her many strengths, Martin has one thing in spades: the ability to establish and explore extreme conflicts that do not become repetitive or maudlin or sentimental. Her villains are motivated. Her conflicts are understandable and logical and believable. Many romances suffer from the "if only they had spoken" or "had I but known" mode of complication... unrealistic wrinkles keeping protagonists from the final clench. Not here: Zacky and Tyler come together painfully and inexorably; their road is a bumpy one and feels earned at each step. This means that in a 280 page novel I never feel like I'm stuck in an infinite loop of "I love you, but I can't" leading to a final clinch. She also sidesteps the "instant eternal love, just add hottie" problem that so much MM fiction slides towards. Both these men are sexy, but interestingly it is their flaws and habits that make them so suited to each other.
I have minor quibbles: At times I felt like sex could have been particularized; it's difficult to motivate blood in erotic play believably over long stretches. There was a unnecessary moment of freaky awkwardness when a literal child appears as a destined mate which gave me the willies, and that could have been solved by adding some years to the character. There were two moments where antagonists caved too easily, but then, I'm a hard bastard, and I want my MM heroes to SUFFER! :)
Bottom line: I fucking loved this book. I'd give it a 9 out of 10 and I am THRILLED beyond belief that it is listed as the part of "The Pack series." I'll definitely be at the front of the line for her next installments.
Bite down, bitches!