When Maria and Clay leave Rio De Sangre one jump ahead of a deadly order of holy warriors, they must strike east to buy each day anew by their wits and the strength of their bond. A sinister band of vampire hunters stalk them up and down the Mississippi, led by an ancient being of immeasurable power. A honeymoon spent on the dodge is no easy thing for the newlyweds, but Maria's growing thirst for blood presents problems all their own. Our hero and heroine find themselves with a mysterious invitation to the most exclusive card game in the world. Clay will need to use every trick he's ever learned in a smoky saloon or on the hoot-owl trail to take the pot, and going bust is not an option. This time, the stakes are higher than ever, and they aren't playing for money. They are playing for their very souls, and playing for keeps.
Note: Even though this is Book 2 in the series, it stood well on it’s own.
Clay and Maria are newly weds and they are being constantly attacked as they travel up and down the Mississippi. Maria is a newly minted vampire and still getting use to her powers and how to control her thirst for human blood. Clay turned over a new leaf with his marriage, trying to earn an honest living (usually via gambling) instead of robbing trains. They have a pet vampire horse that was a pretty cool addition to the story. The Order hunts them with priests and guns; a stone angel wants Maria destroyed; and Clay has been invited to an exclusive (and shady) riverboat poker game.
This books starts off with action (a hunt through a moonlit graveyard) and only lets up well past the half-way mark when Clay and Maria are tricked into a deadly game of poker. Maria sleeps buried in the earth (snuggling her pet vampire horse) while Clay roams around buying new clothes, drinking whiskey, gambling, and usually trying to get himself killed. A rather spooky young priest leads the charge in hunting them down, flinging insults at them along with deadly knives. Just when it looks like the two newly weds will get in some quality marital bliss time, the stone angel Michael finds them and attempts to destroy Maria (and Clay along with her since he is deadly earnest in defending her). While each action scene was well written, I found myself in a battle fatigue well before we get to the poker game that takes up the last third of the book. It started to all blur together for me.
The poker game itself had an interesting twist to it that I enjoyed even while the game itself lacked the intensity of the previous obstacle course of gunfights, knife throwing contests, and stone angel evasion. I am not much of a card game player myself, so I think some of the nuances of the poker game were lost on me and that another reader who enjoys poker games would take more enjoyment from these scenes.
The story was full of western cliches and stock idioms. At first, this helped set the scenery and gave me the impression that Clay was not from the Mississippi area (and later we find out that he is from the desert Southwest). But after a while, with repetition of the cliches and idioms, I was a bit dulled by them. Maria herself is from Mexico. She does fight hand to hand several times in the book, but later has to ask what to do with a gun (which might have been in sarcasm but it was unclear), has to be protected and rescued more than once, and doesn’t know how to play poker. I felt that her character was underutilized; she definitely played second fiddle to Clay. In fact, we didn’t have a single other female character until the poker game at the end of the book. So I guess there are know knife-wielding, vampire-arse kicking nuns out there to help out The Order.
The book was mildly entertaining though I can see how the author has left the door open for both character and series growth. There is potential for it to get better as the series continues.
The Narration: Hubert Williams has a deep voice that I enjoyed listening to. However, his accents came and went and were often muddled. Sometimes he seemed to get into a reading rut himself and there was no emotion to the performance. Also, several times throughout the book there was an odd background sound and I think it was the sound of rustling papers as he read.
What I Liked: The setting was fun; plenty of action; the zombie horse was an excellent little addition; the stone angel was worriesome!
What I Disliked: The story was cliched to the point of being predictable and repetitive; I got battle fatigue from the gamut of fights; Maria’s character was underutilized.