Billie Young is a city guard from Pinton with a troubled past – she was kidnapped, tortured and almost murdered by vampires. Though she managed to survive her attack, it’s left her scarred and damaged. Now, she wants revenge.
Vere Radcliffe is a vampire spy who answers directly to the king. Recently returned to the city, he’s stuck living with his family – a fate almost worse than death. But trouble is brewing in the streets of Pinton, and Vere is asked to investigate the abduction of a city guard and the murder of several other humans.
Can Vere and Billie work together to find the killers, before it’s too late?
A copy of this novella was received from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Disclaimer: I consider Amanda Pillar a friend and colleague (and have been published in anthologies edited by her), and I will do my best to provide and unbiased review.
This review may contain spoilers for the previous instalments in this series.
Survivor is the second novella released in Amanda Pillar’s Graced universe (following on from the original novel, Graced, which I reviewed here, and a previous novella, Captive, which I reviewed here). The world of the Graced books is dark fantasy/urban fantasy/paranormal romance; it is populated by humans, Graced (humans with psychic abilities), vampires and weres, all living in a complex society.
Survivor takes the focus away from the Graced, and is centred instead upon the City Guard of Pinton (who are mostly human) and their interactions with vampires. Specifically, we follow Billie Young, a Guard who was captured, tortured and left for dead by unknown vampires. By chance, she survived, albeit scarred and with injuries which have left her physically disabled and in chronic pain. As she discovers that her abduction was only one of a series of such incidents in Pinton, her path crosses with that of Vere Radcliffe, vampire and King’s spy. As they both investigate the crimes, their paths are drawn together in more ways than one.
I absolutely adore the Graced universe, and I believe that the world Pillar has created is one that is unique and fascinating, even when it draws on well-worn tropes. This novella doesn’t expand overmuch on the universe as established throughout the previous instalments, but for those who have read the previous novel and novella, you will find as much to enjoy here as you did in both of them. I was particularly pleased by the appearance of several characters from the previous works, most particularly by Alice the human coroner, who remains one of my favourite characters.
Billie, to me, was the most interesting viewpoint character. She deals with physical limitations and chronic pain due to the injuries she sustained during her abduction, and yet she still continues to try to do her job as a Guard. Of particular note to me as a reader and person who deals with a chronic pain condition, Pillar never presented Billie as any kind of “inspiration porn” or someone to be pitied, but simply as someone who was trying to live her life as she wanted.
Vere is the other viewpoint character, and for me, he didn’t come across quite as strongly as Billie (which may, of course, have a lot to do with my own personal empathy and resonance with Billie). I was interested in learning more about his story, especially his work as a spy, and found that this novella didn’t delve as deeply as I would have liked into this. This, of course, is likely due simply to the length constraints of working in the novella form, and I hope that we’ll get to see more of Vere and his story in future instalments. I especially liked the fact that Vere in particular, never pitied Billie for her injury or pain, but always let her take the path (literally and figuratively) that she wanted to – I wish there were more relationships in fiction like this that dealt with disabilities and chronic illnesses.
There were two main aspects to this novel: the mystery of who abducted Billie, and the romance between Billie and Vere. As with Vere’s story, I found myself wanting more of both of these story threads. The romance moved just that little bit faster that I would have liked as a reader, and the mystery felt as though it was solved just that little bit too easily. Again, this is likely just a result of the format, and not any real criticism of the work. Both storylines are resolved in a satisfying manner, despite the rushed nature of it.
There is one aspect to the storyline late in the novella which some readers may find problematic (I don’t want to go into specifics, but I does relate to the trope of magical cures). For me, it wasn’t a problem, specifically because of the general attitudes that Pillar has written in her characters in relation to how they deal with disability and chronic illness (and it’s also made clear that the cure wasn’t necessarily the intended effect). It’s worth noting, however, since some readers may want to steer clear because of specific issues with reading that kind of storyline, no matter how well written).
Overall, my main complaint with Survivor is the same as what I had for Captive, in that I wish that it had been expanded into a full novel, simply because I would have liked more time in this world, and specifically with Billie and Vere. If you haven’t read Graced and Captive, I believe that you could easily read Survivor on its own, since it deals with vampire tropes that many readers of speculative fiction won’t have any issue with, but I believe that in order to get more enjoyment out of it, you would do well to read the previous two instalments first. Pillar, an award-winning editor, has created a fascinating urban fantasy world in the Graced universe, and I hope that her fiction starts to get the attention that it richly deserves.