Ordinary Problems of a College Vampire by Matthew S. Cox

Front cover of Ordinary Problems of a College Vampire by Matthew S. CoxWith a title that is both descriptive and ironic, this novel blends the issues of attending college (and attending college as a vampire) with the decidedly not ordinary issues of being blamed for one’s maker’s actions and sharing a house with two ill-disciplined sources of magic.

This novel is the seventh in the Vampire Innocent series. Probable spoilers for previous volumes ahead.

Sarah Wright has not only adjusted to vampirism but also managed to—almost—overcome the difficulties of living with her parents and attending college while being a nocturnal predator. Unfortunately Dalton, her sire, has little interest in settling down or staying honest. Which isn’t an issue until a vampire gang he’s offended decide Sarah might have been involved, and even is she wasn’t is the best route to locating him. And, because they’re from out of town, they don’t care about the decree against involving Sarah’s family in vampire politics.

As with the previous volume, the plot is woven from a mix of supernatural and mundane threads: the struggle of any college student with essays, tedious lecturers, and self-doubt over whether one has picked the right course; the extra issues caused by even daylight tolerant vampires not being able travel safely if the sun is out; the ethics of feeding and using powers for gain; the non-vampire weirdness that has crept into family life; and a bunch of gun-toting vampire thugs set on kidnap.

While Sarah’s experiences in previous books have—plausibly—reduced the challenges of both home and college life, Cox skilfully shifts the focus to the nuances, thus maintaining tension. This allows a slower reveal of why exactly Sarah is being stalked by a vampire gang and what they’re abilities are without losing engagement or pace.

Where the book’s power might suffer is in the opening: rather than beginning with a present challenge, Cox has Sarah taking a long bath while mulling on her time since becoming a vampire. Although this does provide a reprise (or introduction) for readers without a good knowledge of previous volumes in the series, problems that have been overcome or are not being faced currently have less power to stir the blood and thus readers might find the initial scene feels a little slow.

In contrast to the haunted dolls, mystical realms, and other fantastical threats from previous books, this novel draws strongly on the visceral solidity of modern life: the gang hunting Dalton, and by extension Sarah, are vampires, but they are vampires who have integrated the power and society of the Twenty-First Century rather than dropping out or remaining archaic and mystical beings; thus, while they might be more intelligible to Sarah, their facility with modern technology and weapons removes any advantage her modernity might otherwise give in facing vampires.

However, this book is not solely focused on thoroughly modern vampirism. The powers awakened in Sophia when she was used as a vessel for a mage-spy continue to grow, causing further random effects; thus Sarah, as the family’s “expert” on weirdness, must both attempt to deal with magical accidents that she doesn’t understand and seek out training for her little sister without being sure what risks—mystical or mundane—that might involve.

As with Cox’s other books, he employs a mix of suitable humour. While this is entertaining for itself, the almost farcical trivialities of finding “personal” time while living with parents and young siblings and other new adult niggles both highlight how different vampire life is and show that—for all her new powers—Sarah is still at the mercy of circumstance.

Sarah remains a sympathetic and engaging protagonist. While she continues to feel guilt over the danger and difficulties that afflict her family because of her decision to remain with them rather than disappear into the night, Cox doesn’t allow this to stray into the territory of angst or decision-paralysis; thus it adds both a sense that she is still young enough to feel human love and misplaced responsibility, and an additional goad to keep her working on problems. She has, realistically, become less shy of using her powers at all after months of needing to feed and deal with the mystical; however, while this does give her more tools to solve challenges, it also exposes her to moral complexities that a blanket rule about never doing something avoid.

The majority of the returning cast are similarly both recognisably themselves and plausibly affected by prior events. This sense of even the most strong-willed or traditional of humans having been changed makes the lack of change in elder vampires all the more obvious.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this novel. I recommend it to readers seeking a perspective on a vampire living among humans that is amusing without being farcical.

I received a free copy from the author with no obligation to review.

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