Cruising for Blood

A Review of Tanya Huff’s Blood Price
By Derek Newman-Stille

Tanya Huff’s books never disappoint me. I am always impressed with her ability to work in multiple genres of Speculative Fiction from hard Science Fiction to High Fantasy, to Urban Dark Fantasy and Horror.

Blood Price, the first of Huff’s Blood Books is perhaps one of my favorite books of all time, so it took a long time for me to develop the courage to review it. One of Huff’s protagonists in the series, Vicki Nelson, is a strong female detective character, willing to take risks to get the job done. She doesn’t rely on preternatural strength or dark magic but instead counters these in her opponents with her own gift at detective work. Huff uses this character to undo the notion of ‘female intuition’ that often pervades urban fantasies featuring female protagonists. Instead, Vicki’s intuition often leads her away from the truth, and it is only through solid detective work and a mind that is open to far-fetched possibilities that she is able to uncover the root of crimes.

Vicki is also a character who is going blind due to retinitis pigmentosa and has already lost much of her night vision. Unlike the disabled characters in many novels, this does not create a sense of vulnerability in the representation of Vicki. If anything, Vicki feels the need to take greater risks and be stronger and more self-reliant than all of those around her to compensate for her own issues with her reduced vision. Vicki is a figure at the intersection between her identity as a former female police officer (who therefore has to prove that she is more ‘ballsy’ than the male cops around her), and her new identity as a disabled person (which she frequently sees as a personal vulnerability that she needs to compensate for by being confrontational with the forces of darkness around her).

Huff’s other protagonist, Henry Fitzroy, is the vampire bastard (i.e. illegitimate) son of Henry VIII. He has become a romance author in the series because of the ability for romance authors to pass as eccentric and therefore explain his late-night hours, his unpredictable personality, and the frequent male and female visitors to his apartment (all for research, of course). Henry shows a sexual interest in both men and women, and, unlike the portrayal of many bisexual characters, his sexuality is not formative to his identity, it is merely another part of his character along with his authorship, his vampirism, and his advanced years (none of which show on his frozen-in-time face). He is arrogant, self-assured, but also incredibly likeable and human, and willing to accept diversity.

My favorite Henry scene involves him waiting for unspeakable evil in the park and getting distracted when he is cruised by a man who assumes that he waiting for something else in the dark. This scene aptly captures Huff’s sense of humour and the need for interjections of joy in the depths of the darkness of her plot.

This first of the Blood Books series primarily focuses on misunderstandings and misinterpretation of the facts. Characters are led to make assumptions about the nature of crimes that have been occurring in Toronto and have to face both their own limited ideas about the nature of the world, while similarly battling a dark force that relies on this misunderstanding and confusion to achieve its goals. It is only through challenging assumptions and developing a more complex and diverse understanding of the world that Vicki is able to approach an incomprehensible darkness that is spreading through the city.

Huff’s Blood Books were made into the Lifetime series BloodTies, and the television drama was not able to capture the richness of Huff’s characters or the depth of her storylines. Unlike the TV series, which often perpetuated rather than deconstructed stereotypes, Huff’s characters defy stereotypical or limited portrayals. The Lifetime series actually got rid of my favorite character, the homeless, gay friend of Vicki and later lover of Henry, Tony. Tony’s potency as a character was that he was able to show the reality of queer existence for many men – he was forced to be homeless (there is an inference that this may be due to homophobia he experienced), had to engage in risky activities due to his homelessness, but is ultimately a good person who wants to have a long term, positive relationship and get off the streets.  Huff illustrates that understanding and giving someone a chance can be formative in their identity and provide a chance for them to contribute to the world around them.

My only desire for a change with this book series… is that I wish I had purchased the books now with their new, impressive covers instead of years ago when they had the terrible “TV tie in” covers. Huff’s characters and narrative style create a direct line to my heart…

To explore more about Tanya Huff, visit her site at http://andpuff.livejournal.com/ .

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