A review of Blood Oranges, by Kathleen Tierney

READ May 2014

ONLINE BLURB: My name’s Quinn.

If you buy into my reputation, I’m the most notorious demon hunter in New England. But rumors of my badassery have been slightly exaggerated. Instead of having kung-fu skills and a closet full of medieval weapons, I’m an ex-junkie with a talent for being in the wrong place at the right time. Or the right place at the wrong time. Or…whatever.

Wanted for crimes against inhumanity I (mostly) didn’t commit, I was nearly a midnight snack for a werewolf until I was “saved” by a vampire calling itself the Bride of Quiet. Already cursed by a werewolf bite, the vamp took a pint out of me too.

So now…now, well, you wouldn’t think it could get worse, but you’d be dead wrong.

MY REVIEW: Holy cow! Or, maybe, unholy werepire. (Or vampwolf. The author can’t decide either.) Anywho…

Since Kathleen Tierney is actually Caitlin Kiernan — and it doesn’t get much more Irish than either — I’ll say Blood Oranges is, without reservation, “dead fockin’ brill!” I’ve seen some vicious reviews of this novel, and in my never humble opinion, to continue the hibernian theme, they’re after missin’ the p’int altogether. This is no more dark urban fantasy than Kiernan’s works are horror (to which genre they’re usually perforce  relegated); what it is, I think, is a deliciously wicked pastiche, as evinced by its intentionally over-the-top style, as well as a kinda unconventional character study. It’s also an absolute riot. Or, to borrow from the Buffy canon, “a hoot and a half.”

Warning: Those of you looking for sympathetic vampires or wolfies à la Angel or Oz, seek elsewhere. Quinn, our protag, once she vamps out, doesn’t leave “two little, little holes in his neck,” pace Buffy. In fact, she doesn’t leave any neck. She’s foul-mouthed, self-absorbed, a junkie (even though her addiction changes from skag to something more hemoglobin-laden), definitely not PC, and a few other things not so admirable. I’m not sure even “anti-hero” is the right word; the closest somewhat comparable character I can come up with is Burgess’s Alex in A Clockwork Orange, the difference being Quinn’s gruesome actions are forced on her by circumstances beyond her control, thus making them grisly but not malevolent, while Alex commits utter evil because he delights in it. Whatever. I totally loved Quinn from the get-go. Note — she does have redeeming features, too. For example, she cares about her (few) friends, and she’s implacable in pursuit of whoever set her up.

Warning the second: If you’re looking for the lushly evocative prose of Kiernan’s novels such as The Red Tree, you’re gonna be disappointed. Some have commented negatively about the style she uses under the Tierney nom-de-plume, even suggesting a lack of effort on the author’s part. Again, I think they just don’t get it. Having been dazzled by the prose of Kiernan’s other works, I think she’s capable of writing any damn way she pleases. One person said the tale reminded him (her?) of Hammett structurally, but without Hammett’s gift for language. Bullshit! It’s imperative in first-person POV that the author write in the narrator’s voice, not adopt some unauthentic style simply for the sake of style. The narrative style of Blood Oranges perfectly suits both the narrator and the events of the book. What more can you ask?

I can’t help thinking of Harlan Ellison, whose style varies vastly from story to story. You could say Blood Oranges is to The Red Tree as “A Boy and His Dog” is to “When Jeffty is Five” or “On the Downhill Side.” Kiernan/Tierney is like HE in that every word, every syntactical construct is exactly as she intends it to be.

Others have pointed out that Tierney gives short shrift to action scenes, and I get it. But both author and narrator acknowledge this fact. Here’s the thing, though: action scenes are a plot device. The discerning reader of Kiernan’s novels, and by extension, Tierney’s, understands that plot is hardly the driving element in her work. But, the works of the author, under either name, are pretty loosely plotted because plot isn’t their raison d’être. It seems to me that the most important aspects of her work are character and mood, and the intent of her writing is largely to explore how words can be used to accurately portray the former and evoke the latter.

All that said, Blood Oranges isn’t gonna be everybody’s cuppa. I loved the character, the acerbic wit, the not so gentle digs at romantic UF (no, dammit, vampires don’t the fuck sparkle), and, frankly, the writing. As the range of reviews for the novel clearly shows, though, your mileage may vary.

 

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