L.A. Banks,
The Awakening
(St. Martin's, 2003)

Damali Richards is a vampire huntress, the Chosen One (or Neteru) who fights vampires and demons with a crack team of slayers at her back. Unfortunately, The Awakening, the second book in L.A. Banks' Vampire Huntress Legend series, has surprisingly little hunting or slaying.

Damali is on the cusp of 21, a former ghetto urchin who made it big as a spoken word/hip-hop artist. Her vamp-hunting teammates are also her band, which is convenient, since I can't imagine many people have honed such diverse skills so fully. Damali is also a virgin, a fact that becomes increasingly important as the story unfolds.

Our heroine (whose many Buffyverse similarities are described in my review of the first book in the series, Minion) might be the kickingest fighter on the planet, but she's also dramatically melancholy and very much in love with her growing sense of love and very intense lust, and she spends most of her time in this book hiding in a well-fortified Los Angeles compound and torturing herself over the details. Of course, her romantic leanings have a target, her unflagging obsession with Carlos Rivera. The Awakening is dominated by long, mostly tedious scenes that exhaustively describe just how badly Damali wants Carlos, interspersed with exhaustive scenes that tediously describe just how badly Carlos wants her.

Carlos is a 23-year-old L.A. druglord and was her big squeeze in Damali's middle-teen years. Apparently destined to be her lover and A-1 guardian, he instead chose to walk on the Dark Side and sundered their paths forever ... until he's bitten by a master vampire, recruited by the vampire council to betray his sire and entreated by a cadre of warrior monks to betray the master and the council. This thrusts him back into Damali's world, particularly since Nuit, Carlos's master/sire, wants her as his bride.

Oh, did I forget to mention this? Upon turning 21, Damali will enter a fertile period when she might give birth to the next-generation Neteru or, if taken by a strong enough vampire, spawn a generation of daywalking vampires who could conquer the world. By coincidence, her birthday falls on the same day as a global "Raise the Dead" concert, with telecast performances spread across the world in a pentagram pattern that could foment vast upheavals in the vampire realm and signal bad news for us humans. Damali and her band, of course, headline the show.

All of these numerous plot elements are revealed through long, cumbersome blocks of text. Sometimes, characters discuss with each other facts they both should already know. Sometimes, facts hidden from Damali until the last minute are explained. Either way, I found myself wishing desperately that she and her gang would just shut up for a while and throw down with some undead thugs, just to give the book some excitement.

The climactic battle, when it does come, is concluded so fast I thought it might be a feint; it couldn't be over already, could it? Why, yes, it could.

Banks has created an alternate world with potential, and her African-American heroine can stand toe-to-toe with Buffy, Blake, Blade or any number of modern vampire nemeses. But her story needs more action, less exposition and a big bad foe who's a little less of a pushover. Still, despite its failings so far, I am moved to continue on with the series to see how Damali develops, and whether Banks will worry less about who she might have sex with and more about where she's sticking her stake.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 23 April 2005

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