First Bite: A Limited Edition Vampire Romance Collection, (ed.) Kay Elle Parker & A.M. Olenick

Front cover of First Bite: A Limited Edition Vampire Romance Collection, (ed.) Kay Elle Parker & A.M. OlenickThis anthology collects eight novellas and one short story, spanning styles, time periods, and genres, each of which features some form of vampire romance.

  • “Quicksilver: A Hunter’s Mission”, April A. Luna: When Quicksilver finds herself urgently in need of blood, she is forced to hunt a human rather than rely on stored blood; unfortunately, Clive Hunter of the League of Immortal Hunters is currently keeping her under surveillance; but moments after Clive intervenes they are attacked by mutual enemies forcing them to flee together. The story opens with slight introspection but swiftly ramps up into an ongoing fight-chase between multiple groups; although unarguably fast and dangerous for the characters, there is little space for context which is likely to leave some readers wondering where druids fit into the fight between vampires, gargoyles, and hunters. As can be seen from a vampire hunter called Hunter, while Luna’s plot is violent her style is definetly not gritty. This quirkiness also appears in the extravagence of Quicksilver’s narrative voice, which—depending on reader preference—might either evoke age or pretention.

  • “At First Sight, I Just Might”, Ingrid Atwood: Pulled away from the warmth of hearth and marriage by war, Guiles stalks and is stalked by enemy soldiers through the forests; however, both sides have in turn attracted the attention of Cygna who seeks both blood and companionship. The setting is hard to place: Guiles’ narrative opens in a France that seems to sit somewhere in the 1100–1300’s, yet Cygna’s opens with her in a supernatural bar with a feel of the mid-Twentieth Century onward; the intersection of the two is therefore likely to jar with some readers. Atwood’s prose inclines more to the factual than the emotive, featuring a high level of descriptions in the form of “Character was strong so they could lift the weight easily”; this might summon a sense of reading a witness statement rather than an immersive tale in some. Where Atwood is more emotive, if still somewhat factual, is in the detailed extended description of sex that places this story deep in the erotic field.

  • “Must Love Humans”, Amanda Aggie: Having lost his one true love many years ago and believing vampires only mate once, Leo is shocked when Harper merely passing him in a bar unleashes the same passions. Unfortunately, as a human she couldn’t feel a supernatural connection if one existed and all she seems interested in is hustling people at pool; so, he bets a roll of cash against a date. Aggie’s characterisation is solid, creating two protagonists who are competent and assured, but also flawed in ways that both make them a good match and hinder them achieving it. This is given space to play out by a plot about dating as a vampire rather than the hidden war common to paranormal romances.

  • “Immortally Yours”, Lenore Danvers: When a mysterious tugging of his senses draws Roman to Aurelie bound in the forest, he not only rescues her but visits her at work whenever possible; however, while she was greatful to be saved, she doesn’t feel the same uncomplicated interest in him as a man or a vampire. Danvers intertwines Roman’s efforts to woo Aurelie with an investigation into her kidnapping, making this a romance with a thriller subplot rather than the more usual opposite. The use of flashbacks complicates the reader’s perception of events in a way that will either add to the joy of discovery or create a confusion that weakens immersion.

  • “Hello Brother”, Jennifer M. Miller: Although vampire and werewolf, Damion and Vance are friends; so when Damion recieves a prophecy that concerns a nearby pack, Vance uses his connections to get a meeting. However, not all werewolves are so open to friendship with vampires, especially when Damion attempts to romance one of the pack. Miller’s intertwining plots of a girl guarded by one supernatural group and sought by another for her alleged importance, and an interspecies romance opposed by prejudiced family members is filled with interesting moments; however, it has the scope of a novel and so trimming it down to a shorter form packs them tight in a way that some readers might find rushed or busy.

  • “Scarlet Fang”, Raja Savage: Forced to marry against her will, Princess Astrid Petrova flees the ceremony and reinvents herself as Scarlet Fang, a famed chef. Unfortunately, she can’t cook and the man her best friend hires to teach her turns out to be the first person her new identity had an argument with. Savage’s protagonist is supposedly a socialite-turned-resistance-leader; however, apart from fleeing her wedding, any resistance she has done occurs before the story starts and is not described except as another cool thing in her cavalcade of Instagramable moments and looks. Combined with her immense sense of entitlement, this causes her to seem bitchy enough that many readers might not care enough whether she has depths to read on.

  • “October in Elmdale”, Jordan Elizabeth: Although Meredith enjoys her job as a teacher, she feels she is only average at it—and at life in general. Which makes the sudden interest of Chadwick Stafford, newly returned brother of one of Elmdale’s leading figures, all the more suprising. A surprise that turns to fear when she discovers that not only might his interest not be romantic, he might not even be human. Elizabeth crafts a plausible and nuanced image of an ordinary young woman living in an ordinary small US town, then slips in hints of a supernatural presence that is hiding itself carefully among the populace. Thus, while the core of this tale is a classic paranormal romance trope, Elizabeth gives it the fresh spin of romance making ordinary people and their lives special to another rather than them being objectively more special than any other.

  • “Once Bitten”, Kathleen Ryder: As children, Amy and Josh were inseparable; until her father’s new job suddenly dragged her to another part of Australia. So, when she needs somewhere to hide out from a violent man, she flees to his family’s ranch, hoping he won’t turn her away. Unfortunately, Josh has a bloodthirsty secret of his own that explains why he didn’t try to keep in touch. Ryder opens with a slow reveal of current and past events from both protagonist’s perspectives, creating both sympathetic characters who the reader is likely to root for and a sense of tension. However, the gap between the revelation of their secrets to the reader and the final showdown is much shorter, creating a sense of jumping pace that could leave some readers feeling a sudden drop.

  • “Vampire Occupation”, Kat Parrish: Two decades after vampires seized control of the United States of America, society has returned to a sort of stability but every young person is part of a lottery to choose those who will serve vampires, as workers or food. Sarai thought she’d been lucky until a very rich and very desperate man noticed her resemblance to his daughter. Rather than the classic supernatural vampire, Parrish’s vampires are the result of a medical accident; sensibly, she neither has them displaying truly unfeasible powers nor attempts to explain the cause in detail, creating a balance between them being too implausible to be scientific and too mundane to take over a nation without opening them to a reader niggling over details. While the spine is a classic YA post-apocalyptic plot, Sarai is similarly balanced between plausibility and uniqueness, avoiding the sense of a superbeing-who-doesn’t-realise-it that occurs in some YA speculative fiction.

Although the vampire as romantic protagonist is only a subset of the vampire genre, the contributors each present a distinct perspective on vampirism that avoids over-repetition. As with any broader collection, the range of stories both makes it more likely a reader will find something they especially like and decreases the chances they will love everything.

As befits stories centred on a myth of feeding on humans, there is a physicality to the intimacy in many of the stories that is if not always graphic then certainly racy.

Several contributors embrace the ways in which supernatural powers can take romance tropes beyond their usual limits; thus there are protagonists who grab or kiss people because they “know” the other person likes them, or compel the target of their affections to accompany them. Whether these instances read as romance or sexual assault will depend on an individual reader’s opinion on whether the fact that the protagonists are meant for each other obviates the need for informed enthusiastic consent.

And some of these pairings are literally made for each other, being the fated perfect mates of paranormal stereotype; fortunately, it is the bare fact and not the details of execution that are stereotypical.

Overall, I found this anthology variable. I recommend it to readers seeking mostly classic paranormal romance with a few forays into adjacent areas.

I received a free copy from a contributor with a request for a fair review.

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