Live, die, repeat? …Not exactly. Let’s almost cross a line, then slowly back away and walk off whistling while pretending it never happened with Better Off Undead, by D. D. Barant.
Dark magic, unknown enemies, monsters of every stripe—FBI profiler Jace Valchek has seen it all. In this bizarre parallel universe, shape-shifting werewolves and blood-thirsty vampires don’t even warrant a raised eyebrow. That is, until Jace has to face what life might look like as one of them …
It starts off as just another run-of-the-mill assignment: to track down the rogue don of a mafia werewolf family before he upsets the delicate balance of the underworld. But Jace wasn’t counting on being bitten…and soon she’s fighting the growing wolf inside her with a startling antidote—vampirism. Stopping a bloody gangland war won’t be easy when Jace is feeling some new, and very inhuman, desires …
The Bloodhound Files series has passed the midpoint, and that means it’s round about time to introduce a big shakeup to the status quo. Some big, irreversible change that emphasizes the narrative’s forward motion. Well, after the first three books in the series had titles consisting of two-word puns, the latter half has switched to a different naming style which incorporates the word “undead”, so it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen. There’s only so long Jace could get away with being a vanilla human on a world filled with vampires and werewolves, two supernatural races known for the contagious nature of their conditions. She already had two close calls in previous books, and escaping a third time is too much for her to hope for. Injured by a werewolf while carrying out a mission, and afterwards bitten by a vampire to counteract the effect, Jace is forced into the position of choosing which type of supernatural to transform into…
…aaaaaand then the narrative decides that oops, no, wait, it changed its mind; having built up a whole story around the dilemma of Jace’s transformation, it’s going to back out at the last minute and punch the ole reset button to keep Jace human. Nothing to see here, nothing important happened today, move on.
Well. On the one hand, Jace’s overarching goal and character motivation is still to leave Thropirelem and return to her own, non-supernatural Earth, and acquiring a supernatural condition would have made that a very complicated prospect. But that’s exactly why it was so interesting. To tease such a major upheaval to the status quo, something which would have such a huge impact on all the characters’ goals and interactions and very natures, and then to just to abort at the last minute: that’s just jerking the readers around. Better not to raise the issue in the first place and just leave me happily assuming that Jace has your standard-issue protagonist Plot Armor than to make a big production about exploring the idea of Jace becoming a werewolf or a vampire only to abruptly kick me back into the status quo. “Wondering how Jace would deal with becoming a supernatural?” the book asks me. “Wondering if she would still want to return to her own Earth, or if she would decide that she belonged in Thropirelem now? Wondering how it would affect her relationship with her friends, her colleagues, her co-workers, and her human-supremacist nemesis Aristotle Stoker? Well, you can go ahead and keep on wondering forever, sucker.”
Given how much I disliked that particular bait-and-switch plotline, it’s hard for me to disentangle it from the rest of the book enough for me to judge the remainder on its own merits. If I’m honest, I have to say that the rest of the book was actually very good. Were it not for the magic reset button return to status quo ending, I really might have enjoyed the book. I certainly did enjoy the story while I was reading it, right up until near the end when I realized that it totally was going to go for the cop-out ending.
In final summary, Better Off Undead ends up being more-or-less decent. It’s just that it had the potential to be so very much more, and the book we actually did get pales in comparison to the hypothetical book we could have gotten where Jace would have ended up as a vampire or a werewolf.
Final Rating: 3/5