Book Review: S.M. Stirling’s A Taint in the Blood

Posted May 18, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
Book Review: S.M. Stirling’s A Taint in the Blood

A Taint in the Blood


S.M. Stirling

horror, urban fantasy in Hardcover edition that was published by ROC on May 4, 2010 and has 432 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Council of Shadows, Shadows of Falling Night, Dangerous Women, Dies the Fire, The Protector's War, A Meeting at Corvallis, The Sunrise Lands, The Scourge of God, The Sword of the Lady, The High King of Montival, The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth

First in the Shadowspawn urban fantasy series revolving around a twin rivalry. Primarily based along the California coast.

The start of this story is the blip in which Stirling’s short story, “Pain and Suffering” (P&S) begins.

My Take

This is seriously creepy! I got turned on to this series by a short story I caught in Down These Strange Streets: “Pain and Suffering”, and it sounded intriguing. I never expected a character like Adrienne. This woman is seriously evil. It’s just incredible how well Stirling writes the evil of the Shadowspawn. They’re terribly intelligent vampire-like beings who are also staggeringly self-absorbed with very sensitive tastebuds which makes some aspects of their eating behaviors a gastronome’s delight. But they swing back — often — to their discussions of their ruling the world, and I wanna get off!

Stirling provides a very subtle tell as Jose, Peter, and Monica try to put a good face on the state of their lucyhood in their informal meet-and-greet between Ellen. It’s just gut-clenching how horrifying that subtle is. The backstories Stirling created for them were interesting, and something of an indictment against our world.

Ick, there was something morbidly fascinating about Dr. Duggan’s clinical observations of Homos sapiens nocturnus as well as her practical instructions on surviving a feeding…double-ick.

I’m clueless about the whole “I driiiink youuurrr miiiiilk shake” routine…

The truly scary part is that Stirling compels you to feel sympathy for Monica, even as she terrifies you. He’s almost as bad as she is in appealing and repelling you from paragraph to paragraph. It’s almost impossible for Ellen to guard her thoughts, and I shudder with Adrienne’s responses to those thoughts. She’s so happily accepting of anything — and I mean anything — Ellen thinks.

“And it feels nice when she drinks from me, really. It’s…natural. Like the way flowers make nectar for hummingbirds. It’s what we human people are for.”

There is plenty in here for the foodies who enjoy good food and the subtle pairing of wines with it.

I do wish Stirling had been more clear about the differences between the Brotherhood and the Council. At one point, it sounds like they’re mortal (so-to-speak) enemies, and at other times they sound like they work together.

The intellectual side of it is fascinating. It’s like going to a party with other Mensans and discussing art, history, politics, science, all within one conversation.

The Story

Ellen has broken up with Adrian Brézé, but on her way home, she’s waylaid by Adrienne, his evil twin, who loves to torture mentally and physically, using sex to tease and humiliate, as it amps up the blood.

For Adrienne wants something from Adrian. Mostly to hurt him.

It’s within the many “adventures” Adrian experiences in tracking Ellen down that he learns of plots within plots that could take down the world.

The Characters

Ellen Tarnowski, a submissive, has a BA in Art History from NYU and has been working at Giselle Demarcio‘s gallery, Hans and Demarcio, in Santa Fe.

Adrian Brézé is the Shadowspawn dumpee. He’s battling his species’ natural proclivities, trying to stay under the radar. He can also pull you into his dream world, and he has talent for foretelling. Harvey Ledbetter, a field team leader for the Brotherhood, is an old friend whom Adrian wishes had stayed away.

Shadowspawn and their people
Adrienne Brézé is Adrian’s twin sister. Where he struggles to retain his goodness, Adrienne wallows in the pain and suffering of others, doing her best to make it worse. A telepathic psychopath. And, oh brother, she’s good. She gave me the creeps so bad, that I kept checking under the bed! Leila and Leon, Weasels One and Two, are her twin children. And I have a suspicion as to who the father is. More ick.

Adrienne’s people at Rancho Sangre — her lucies and renfields
David Cheung is a lucy. Theresa is a renfield, Adrienne’s household manager; generations of her family have served Adrienne. Captain Harold Bates is a Gurkha and in charge of Brézé Enterprises’ site security forces. Dr. Fiona Duggan plays doctor for the “herd”. Monica Darton has two children, Josh and Sophie, and is going slowly insane with the fear and the need to be bitten while projecting a fierce acceptance — and she loves cooking. Jose Villegas is Theresa’s cousin and keeps trying to find positive reasons for his fate. Dr. Peter Boase is a scientist with an MIT degree; he insisted on questioning his results. Jamal was take — I get the impression he’s of the streets. The others don’t think he’ll last long. Then there’s Police Chief Mendoza.

“Monica…” she said. “Monica’s completely insane, isn’t she?”

Peter shrugged. “I prefer to think of it as excessively well adjusted.”

Jules and Julianne Brézé are Adrian and Adrienne’s parents. They’re body-dead — killed by Hajimie, but not dead. I don’t quite understand this one. Jeanne and Jacques are more siblings.

Tōkairin Michiko would prefer it if Adrian and her grandfather, Hajimie is the head of the family, were dead. She’s also a sibling-of-blood with Adrienne — they’ve shared kills and sex. Wayne Jackson was an epidemiologist at Stanford before Michiko forced him into being a lucy. Bad blood exists between the Tōkairin and the Brézé.

Dimitri Usov is in exile in Siberia and panting to get out. Gheorghe Brâncuşi is one of them and was assassinated a short while ago. Dale Shadowblade is the Council assassin; Kai is his blood-bitch — and it doesn’t begin to describe her. Wilbur Peterson is a recently deceased Shadowspawn whose DNA will come in very handy. Master Mthunzi is head of the Council’s breeding program.

Sheila Polson — is she ever uptight! — is the chief of the Brotherhood. I get the impression they are enemies of the Shadowspawn. But they seem to employ some as well. Anjali Guha and Jack Farmer will help Adrian infiltrate the Prayer for Long Life party.

Jean-Charles is a clothing designer in San Francisco. Paco is a coyote — although Adrienne refers to him as being more of a jackal. Bit rich, coming from her! Eusebia Cortines — she’ll get luckier than the 80-some other “snacks” delivered for Adrienne’s little party.

The Council of Shadows is Shadowspawn, immortals who require blood to survive and can’t step into the light of day or tolerate silver. They all have a talent for magic and prefer blood that’s been “stimulated”. They can also shapeshift into any DNA they can swallow. And they are the true masters of the world. I think the Order of the Black Dawn is separate from the Council. Or that the Council evolved from it. Mhabrogast is the language spoken in Hell. A renfield is a human who voluntarily chose to serve the Shadowspawn, while a lucy is involuntary. The Alberman Scale is a test for nocturnus genes, a test of power levels in humans. Wreaking is what they call magic. To Carry is to soul-eat, when a Shadowspawn kills you and takes your soul into his or her body. The Brotherhood evolved to battle the Order, witchfinders.

The Cover and Title

It’s a dark and murky cover with a hot guy in a black leather racing jacket, leaning back against an adobe building. Right around the corner is his motorcycle. I suspect it’s the same artist as does Seanan McGuire’s October Daye covers.

I suspect the title is a reference to the addiction long-term exposure to biting has on humans, A Taint in the Blood.