Posted by: Sarah | January 19, 2011

Review of Katrina: The Beginning, by Elizabeth Loraine

This is another book I was given an opportunity to review.  I will not always be writing reviews of books I was sent by promoters or publishers, I plan to do some posts on books I’ve picked up over the years.  Anyway, the review begins.

Katrina:  The Beginning is a young adult historical vampire novel written and perhaps self-published by Elizabeth Loraine.  I would also categorize it as a young adult romance, because there certainly is a lot of “screen” time dedicated to the development of romances between the main female characters and several different male characters.  As a whole, I enjoyed reading this novel, but I do recognize there were a lot of issues that needed improvement.  The world building was lacking, as there were times when I couldn’t tell what time period I was in, and the country could have been any European country at times.  The novel is supposedly set in Europe (Germany and Austria perhaps?) during the colonization of the Americas, but we are never told just how much colonization has occurred, beyond the establishment of certain cities and the fact that tomatoes have been brought back to Europe.  The author never states that this is supposed to be an alternate universe that is similar to our own, so I am assuming that it is an alternate history where vampires are real.  The storyline and characters were likeable over all, but there were some problems that were repeated throughout the novel.  A very general problem is that there was a lack of urgency in many of the earlier “action” scenes, and there was no real suspense throughout most of the novel.  It would be like seeing that your house was on fire, saying “Help, fire,” and walking over to get a bucket and fill it with water as if you had all the time in the world.  The way many of the conflicts are resolved almost immediately left the book with a lot less suspense and excitement than it could have had, and that problem exists throughout most of the book.

Beware, spoilers ahead.

Our main character is Katrina Von Dracek, a young vampire noblewoman who is about to turn 18 years of age.  Early on, it is unclear as to what kind of special training (as compared to a normal human noblewoman) she has had as a vampire noblewoman, but that becomes more and more important as the story progresses.  She has had training in combat and in using her own special power, her ability to “see” things near and far through the use of her extraordinarily sensitive hearing and sense of smell.  At the beginning of the story, it sounds like all born vampires (as opposed to made vampires, aka “fledglings,” which are characterized as weaker and sometimes animalistic) have one special ability in addition to added strength, speed, and sensitivity of senses.  We find out later that Katrina is special because she has more than one power, although the author never comes out and says that she in particular is supposed to be extra special.  She is held over and above other characters repeatedly, even though she is supposed to be on a similar level to them, or should not be the leader when there are other, more experienced, vampires and Watchers around.

The story is also told from Katrina’s point of view and as such, we should be introduced to things as she is (which does not always happen, as she sometimes knows things about characters that are just then being introduced to the reader).  There is ONE scene told in the point of view of someone else and it does not really add anything to the story but a bit of confusion right out of the gate since there are no other scenes like that.

The story begins very shortly before a journey to meet with other vampire clans and nobility, including the daughters and sons of some of her father’s peers.  Katrina is shown as friendly, brave, and resourceful, but at times unbelievably perfect.  She’s always right in her assumptions and theories, and she’s too strong as a fighter in most cases to make some of the fight scenes even believable.  For example, she gets disarmed by a single untrained fledgling vampire, but can defeat 6 highly trained elite (born) vampire guards in full-speed combat in another scene?  It’s just not consistent, especially since it is not due to extra training resulting in improvement of her skills, since she regularly skips training in favor of hunting or trysts with one of her romantic interests.

Rosa (Rosalinda), El (Eleanor), Letta (Arletta), and Kate (Katherine, Katrina’s long lost twin sister) sound like they are meant to be equal members of the group with Katrina, but she is still definitely the leader and consistently considered better.  She has had more training than all of them, as their families seem to have really done them a disservice in that area, but none of them seems to bring their own special knowledge to the group.  Even Kate, as someone from a very distinctly different background, has not studied the other races that are barely mentioned in the book, nor the ways in which to safe guard against their powers – Katrina has to ask their Mother.  Katrina’s new found friends at least have powers unlike her own, except for Kate whose powers are very similar to her own (as repeated very often in the book, they are “mirror” twins, not identical).  These girls were completely unaware of their own magical abilities, and their combat skills had not been honed to the degree Katrina’s were.  Katrina basically does everything, and tells the other girls what to do.  They’re a lot more passive than I would have liked, considering how much stronger the book would be if they were all strong, independent, characters.  Kate especially seems to be a weak copy of her sister (oh, but flipped, because they aren’t identical).  The girls’ main purpose seems to be to act as sidekicks to Katrina’s superhero, as well as her posse of gossipy girly girls.  It is nice to see young women who are strong having fun, but it can get a bit annoying when they stick to the same topics all the time, and show little growth in how their minds work and how their interests have broadened.  Yes, by the end of this novel the girls have grown, but because their roles are so overshadowed by Katrina and her romantic interests (which I will discuss in a moment), the book suffers.

As for Katrina’s aforementioned romantic interests, Quinn and Damien, one is a human and one of her Watchers (basically specially trained guards for the vampiric nobility) and the other is a fellow vampire noble.  Much of the story is focused on these two young men and their relationship with Katrina, and some of it is done very well for a young adult novel and some of it is not.  What is done well is the sexual tension between the characters, but what is not done well outnumbers that in issues if not page count.  What I mean is that many of the passages dedicated to developing the relationships between these characters involve making out or gazing into each others’ eyes, and other such romantic behavior.  The bad part is that the relationship with Quinn goes from 0 to 60 mph in the space of a page or two;  he goes from being her guard and friend, someone she grew up with, to the love of her life.  She discovers this in that short amount of time; before that it seemed they had an entirely platonic relationship.  She states repeatedly that it’s forbidden for her to have a relationship with him but leaves the explanation of why until much later in the book, and even then it’s not well explained.  The relationship with Damien is also started as a somewhat abrupt thing, because she barely knows him and has no reason to trust him, considering the circumstances in which she has known him up to that time.  There is a large part of the book where she seems to be juggling her two boyfriends, seeing them both and not wanting to give either up for the other.  This is not fair to either guy, and they are both not happy with this arrangement, showing jealousy as well as hurt feelings at times.  I do not like characters who cheat on their significant others, emotionally, physically or both.  This is an example of both, and it really hurt Katrina’s character appeal for me.  At times, I actually hated her for this behavior, along with the fact that she continually abandoned her newly regained mother and newly discovered sister (she thought her mom was dead and didn’t know about her sister at all!) as well as her friends, which she claims to consider as sisters, in favor of going to flirt with her boyfriends.  There are also times when it seems like she is entirely over Quinn and is only in love with Damien, then later she goes back to being in love with him again.  It is very wishy-washy to me, and I can’t tell if it’s just supposed to be showing how a young hormone-ridden vampiress would act or if the author couldn’t decide what she was doing.  The other young vampire noblewomen do not do this type of man-juggling, they all either stick with one man or do not get too involved with anyone, preferring to stick to simple flirtations.

In terms of the story, at least when Katrina isn’t off romancing her boys, there are a lot of uncomplicated conflicts that are resolved very quickly and tidily.  A lot of things are just too convenient, and it goes back to that fact that Katrina is always right.  She doesn’t seem to have to do a lot of thinking, research, or work in figuring things out, she just knows.  This problem is even further added to with the development of her powers, which takes up another large part of the storyline.  And she has a lot of powers that just pop up over the course of the story, which just make things way too easy.  If I wanted to read a series about an overpowered, super perfect, too popular person, who never has to struggle with anything, I’d go back to reading the Anita Blake series.  Very late in the book, there are some conflicts that develop that are (thankfully) not resolved within a few pages, and these are the only places in the book where we have any true suspense or lasting conflict.  These conflicts are setting up the next book, and so we end on a cliffhanger (I hate cliffhangers, very few authors can do them well without making it seem like the book was chopped off).  The conflicts are really still not that suspenseful, due to the sheer amount of power all the girls have, and the “convenience” that they can strengthen each others’ powers through being together and concentrating.  It’s an annoying deux ex machina because of the reason that is given for this kind of power sharing/influencing – all the girls were born within days of each other, and since they were born under the same sign, they can do what they do.  Does this apply to all people with the same sign, or just Katrina’s group?  If so, it wouldn’t be so rare, unless it has to be within the same year of birth as well.  I can’t decide if this is a characterization problem or a world building problem.

There are also issues with secrecy in the novel.  The vampire race is supposed to be a secret from all the humans that do not work for them, but there are times when Katrina and whoever is with her at the time do inhuman things right in front of humans, and yet they seem totally unaware of the potential to unmask what they are or at least the fact that they aren’t human.  In this world, apparently vampires can run so fast they can cover hundreds of miles in mere seconds at full speed.  If this is so, then even half-speed vampires would still be inhumanly fast and fighting in half speed would not mask that they aren’t human.  This also brings to mind questions about the need for horses, as well as how any human could ever actually hurt them.  I guess the horses are for pleasure and camouflage, but that still doesn’t explain how any human could kill a vampire (vampire hunters are called Volator in this world).

The following is a world-building problem:  the introduction of a way to feed the need for blood without having to hunt or to drink blood from humans; crimson, a mixture of blood with something that supposedly multiplies blood, while keeping it fresh indefinitely.  Considering this is available, there seems like there would be no need for normal fresh blood from humans or animals, especially since later this crimson is said as giving a longer lasting energy than blood from any hunt.  If this crimson is so much better than hunting or drinking blood from humans, why is it that they do not completely give up hunting in favor of drinking nothing but crimson?  Is the additive rare or expensive to make?  It would seem not, considering the sheer amount of crimson consumed by the many characters in the novel, so the continued need to feed from humans and animals is not explained.  If the author said they continued to hunt because they wanted to, or felt the need to keep up that set of skills and instincts, that would be at least some kind of explanation.  There is very little interaction with humans who aren’t in-the-know about vampires throughout most of the book, so really only bad vampires feed on humans, except for in cases of emergency where Watchers donate blood to a starving or almost comatose vampire.

As much as this book has problems, there was a lot of promise.  I believe this book was self-published, as there was no mention of a publisher in the copyright page.   There was also no mention of any editors or any other such staff, so I have to wonder if the author had any help writing the book in terms of editing or revising.  There are a number of technical aspects that could have been improved, along with the story and characterization elements I’ve gone over above.  If the author also made the cover, it feels like it’s an attempt to capitalize on the similar-looking Twilight series covers.  I mention Twilight here not just because the book cover looks like it’s trying to copy off of the widely read series’s covers in color scheme and dramatic lighting, but because the story itself has borrowed elements from it.  At least no one sparkles and the main character is at least special in some way (although she’s TOO special, argh).  Basically, the author needed to have at least one more run through editing and revising the book herself, but she truly would have benefited from having another person do the same.  It’s harder to find positive things to discuss than negative, so with this book as is, I have to give it an average rating of 2.5 stars out of 5.

I looked up Elizabeth Loraine’s website, and there is a link to buy this book and the next two in the series from Createspace and Amazon.  If you have a Kindle, or the Kindle app, you can get this book for $2.99 on Amazon.  The other books in the series are more pricy, going up to $8.99 for the newest book.  On Createspace, the first three books are all available for $14.99.  You may wonder why I’m going over pricing on a review of the book.  The reasoning behind that is because pricing does help people decide whether or not to buy books.  I liked this book to a point, even with all the problems, but I’m not sure if I want to continue with the series or not.  The promise of what the characters and story could be is almost as much of a draw to continue reading the series as an actual well-written and well-developed book would have been.  I have fallen prey to that kind of thinking before, and found myself burned by how the following books were even worse than the first one I didn’t fully enjoy, but occasionally this kind of promise is fulfilled in the sequels.  The Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton (an adult series, not young adult) was one of the series where I felt I was burned by the promise of what it could have been, and honestly, I can’t think of a book series where the first book was the worst at this time.  I’m drawing a blank.  I might have to get back to you on that.

You can find more information about Katrina:  The Beginning, as well as the author, Elizabeth Loraine, and her other novels at her website http://www.royalbloodchronicles.com/.

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Responses

  1. Thank you for taking the time to read some of my book! Since this series is for YA. I am sorry you didn’t get it. Most people do like the others in the series as well as Katrina. I designed the covers to be something someone would want to pick up nothing to do with other books. I did have trouble reading all of your review as it rambles a bit. I would be happy to answer any question your fan may have.

  2. I read the entire book – I chose not to spoil the ending when I discussed the cliffhanger – and I do read YA. One of my favorite authors is Tamora Pierce, who has only one series that was ever originally written for adults as far as I know. Her Song of the Lioness Quartet was originally one adult fantasy novel and was re-written to be four young adult novels from what I have heard. Being an adult or young adult novel is not a problem for me, as long as there is a good story and characters while still being written well. Katrina (the character) started off as a really fun character, but you gave her a lot of extra powers, even over her own twin sister. She’s just too “perfect.” The other girls were really likeable, so I hope you give them more important roles in the future books.

  3. Sarah,

    You brought up a lot of good points to consider for the storyline and character development! And, it sounds like you’ve read a lot of vampire novels in your time. It sounds like you’d be a good book editor–maybe even freelance–helping authors strengthen their works before they’re published.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I do like to read a wide variety of novels, and I’m hoping to get back into some genres I have neglected (mystery and science fiction), because I’ve read mainly Urban Fantasy books in recent years.


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