Sunday, August 25, 2013

I Reads You Review: L.A. Banks' MINION

MINION (Book 1 of The Vampire Huntress Legend Series)
ST. MARTIN’S PRESS – @StMartinsPress

AUTHOR: L.A. Banks
ISBN: 978-0-312-98701-5; mass market paperback (May 4, 2004)
320pp, B&W, $7.99 U.S., $9.99 CAN

Minion is a 2003 dark fantasy and vampire novel from the late author, L.A. Banks (the penname of Leslie Esdaile Banks).  A paperback original, Minion was first published in a trade paperback edition (2003) and later, in a mass market edition (2004).

Minion is the first book in Banks’ series, The Vampire Huntress Legend Series (VHL).  This twelve-book series centers on a young woman born to fight in a never-ending struggle between good and evil, the most constant and dangerous evil being vampires.

Twenty-year-old Damali Richards is a spoken word artist and the top act for Warriors of Light Records, but there is more to both Damali and her record company.  Damali hunts vampires and demons, and Marlene Stone, the owner of Warrior of Light Records, is Damali’s mother-seer, protector, and part of Damali’s Guardian team.

At night, Damali and the Guardians do their best work, but lately, times have been difficult.  A new group of apparently rogue vampires have been killing Guardians and artists associated with Warriors of Light, and Damali and her team know that these killings are out of the ordinary.  Instead of neat puncture marks on the neck to show where blood was drained from the body, these bodies have been mutilated, with the throats ripped out.

Blood Music, a rival organization, has also seen some of its artists killed.  Blood Music’s owner, Carlos Rivera, a rising young crime lord, comes to believe that the attacks are personal when some of the people closest to him are found savagely murdered.  Damali decides that she must infiltrate Blood Music in order to get more answers about the attack, but her mission is complicated by the fact that she and Carlos were once engaged in a serious romantic relationship.  The force behind these attacks, however, is a seductive vampire with a connection to Damali’s past.

I was walking around a local Dollar General store when I saw a spinner rack of paperback books.  Dollar General and other discount stores sell “remaindered books,” which are books steeply marked down from their original cover price by the publisher, distributor, and bookstore as a way of liquidating them.  I was shocked to see a mass market edition of Minion.  I had first learned of L.A. Banks several years ago in an article about African-American authors of fantasy (or fantasy authors of color), and since then, I wanted to read something by her.

Well, a dollar store bargain gave me my chance, and I’m glad I read Minion, although I was sad to learn that Banks had died since the time I had first heard of her.  Minion is more than simply an imaginative story.  Banks practically creates a new mythology of the vampire, connecting that monster of our nightmares to a larger evil called The Dark Realms.  Considering the well-worn sub-genre that is vampire fiction, Minion comes across as fresh and new.  It is probably one of the most inspired vampire novels since Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire was first published in 1976.

However, Minion is not a self-contained novel, so much as it is a primer into the world of Damali Richards (who is “The Neteru,” a human who is born every thousand years to fight the Dark Realms).  In a way, Minion is the first chapter in a dark fantasy serial.  There are many fantasy book series, such as the Harry Potter books, but each Potter novel is a self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end, while also being part of a larger narrative.  Minion is the novel as an out-sized first chapter in a serial that happens to be comprised of books rather than episodes.

That makes Minion kind of strange.  It has a beginning, but after that, the story just moves along, with Banks introducing all these crazy, but interesting ideas.  After awhile, I got the idea that Minion was entirely about the beginning, and no middle, let alone ending was in sight.

But I’m ready to read more.  Banks’ colorful prose, peppered with “urban” idioms and sparkling African-American sass and vernacular, is a candied treat.  Her inventiveness, however, takes Minion beyond being a “Black thing.”  Banks seems to have taken New Line’s Blade movies, the Buffy the Vampire television series, and Anne Rice’s gothic fiction and blended them into a new thing.  This new thing takes place on the streets, in the back alleys, and in clubs and other venues of live music (like raves).  Minion opens a new place for lovers of vampire fiction to play, and I want to be there.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for syndication rights and fees.

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