It’s my stop on the Grave Secrets blog tour today, and I’m thrilled to introduce you to this funny mystery full of sexy vampires, dark humour, and croquet!
Book: Grave Secrets by Alice James
Read before: No
Publication date: 3rd September 2020
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Rebellion Books. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Misogyny and sexual harassment by side characters towards the main character and others; gore and blood; zombies/necromancy; murder/death. All of this is mostly played for laughs rather than dwelt on.
Let me be upfront about something: I hate zombies. Loathe them. Depending on the style of the zombie book, I usually find them either a) disgusting, b) upsetting, or c) both. Luckily, this is NOT that kind of book. Grave Secrets is the story of Lavington Windsor, a necromancer who has spent most of her life practicing raising zombies, but there’s no focus here on decaying flesh, or shooting your loved ones, or indeed shooting your decaying loved ones, oh no. Toni’s brand of necromancy leaves her zombies hale and hearty, as they pictured themselves in life, and sure, they’re hungry as hell, but they’re perfectly happy with several bags of crisps and a few dozen sandwiches. They’re also, mostly, rather sweet. So any fellow zombie-phobes, fear not; this is about as safe as you can get!
Toni is only a necromancer by night – by day she’s an estate agent, unless her clients are vampires, in which case that starts cutting into the night too. In a world where vampires exist openly, and are more-or-less accepted (if looked at a little askance), when vampire Oscar asks her to find him a house, the only reason Toni bats an eyelid is because he is so attractive. Their chemistry is immediate, and soon she’s fully entangled in the vampire world, with her life under threat. The only trouble is that vampires and necromancers are ancient enemies, so she has to keep her talents a secret while navigating the difficulties of being a mortal with a vampire boyfriend…
When I was a teenager I loved Mary Janice Davidson’s Undead and Unwed series, which follows a woman who accidentally becomes Queen of the Vampires, has to marry the King of the Vampires, and handles various dramas and vampire politics while still coping with her former life and interests. They’re extremely tongue-in-cheek, and in places (mostly the various vampire sex scenes!) uproariously silly. What I was hoping for here was something similar, but a little more modern and a lot more British, and I was delighted to find that this hits just the same tone. Grave Secrets is campy and fun, with plenty of dramatic action and classic vampire trysts. The writing can be a little clunky in places, particularly the dialogue (every character sounds extremely formal all the time – I’d expect it from the undead, but not the humans!), but it’s really pacey, and hugely entertaining to read. Plus, I really enjoyed how casually British it was. It’s like an Agatha Raisin mystery mixed with a sprinkling of horror and paranormal romance tropes!
Toni is a really fun heroine to follow. She’s stubborn, genre-savvy, and sarcastic, and watching her butt heads with the vampires (who’ve never quite been stood up to like this) is great, especially when she tries to knock domineering vampire leader Benedict down a peg or two. I did enjoy her interactions with her boyfriend Oscar, who is quite sweet for a vamp, but perhaps a little dim, but what I really wasn’t expecting was how cute her relationship with Oscar’s other human partner, Peter, would be. Vampires aren’t huge on monogamy, apparently, and Toni is at first very affronted by Peter’s existence, but Oscar being forced to sleep all day means that Toni and Peter have a lot of time to get to know one another. Their friendship (platonic partnership?) ended up being one of my favourite parts of the whole book, and I look forward to seeing how the three of them get on in future books! My other favourite, completely surprisingly for me, was Bredon Havers, one of the zombies Toni raises! Buried since the eighteenth century and raised in unexpectedly great condition, he is a total gentleman and I really ended up looking forward to his appearances. I also hope that future books give us a little more of Toni’s brother, as he and his boyfriend were also highlights among the cast.
Overall, this is just enormously good fun! It’s about as light-hearted a romp as you can expect from a book about zombies, vampires, and murder – definitely one to read if you love a knowing nod at genre tropes, or like a dose of humour with your horror. I really enjoyed it – four out of five cats!