Destined for an Early Grave by Jeaniene Frost (2009)
Destined for an Early Grave is the fourth book in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series featuring Cat and Bones as the protagonists. I’m going to do my best not to spoil too much of what happens in this book, but if you haven’t read the first three books in this series, beware. I strongly recommend reading the books in this series in order; if urban fantasy is one of your preferred genres, then start with the first book in this series, Halfway to the Grave. Everyone else, read on.
To begin, a lot happens in this book. I’m going to try to avoid revealing too much because I really don’t want to ruin it for you if you haven’t read the book. Frost does an excellent job of building the tension throughout the book until it reaches its moment of crisis and the action heads into the final showdown. Oh, and there are really two moments of crisis–one for the plot that is the continuing love story between Cat and Bones, and the other for action/suspense plot that involves Cat and her new enemy, Gregor, the novel’s antagonist. Frost’s ability to manage both plot lines, get me invested in both and keep me caring about both, is refreshing because I find that the more I read and try to review here on my blog, the more books I find that can barely manage one plot, much less multiples. I say this because if you are looking for books that are well-written, this series has a lot to offer and I have not yet been disappointed by one of Frost’s books.
Destined for an Early Grave pushes the world-building Frost has been developing in a new direction, making sure that it doesn’t stagnate or get boring. It’s one of the things that makes it important to read the books in order (more on that later). At the end of the previous book in this series, At Grave’s End, Cat has quit her job with the secret department within Homeland Security that is headed by her uncle, Don. There’s a sense that Cat and Bones’ relationship is moving into a new phase, and Cat herself is starting a new chapter in her life. The change means that the framework of the last two books–with Cat commanding a team of secret government operatives to save innocent lives from vampire predators–has given way to the Cat becoming more entrenched in Bones’ world, the world of vampires and the rules and customs of vampire society. The change of framework works, especially in the way that it allows the vampire characters that have been introduced in earlier books to be further developed. We get more information about Spade, Mencheres, and Vlad, and no doubt this is done as a way of setting up those characters for to be featured in their own stories (and I’ll admit right now that I read the first two books in the Night Prince series featuring Vlad before starting the Night Huntress. That was a mistake in that I think readers will better enjoy the Night Prince series if you’ve read the Night Huntress/Night Huntress World books first.). While Cat understands the rules and ways of the human world and protecting humans, it becomes clear as the story unfolds that Cat has been straddling the two worlds, not fully in one and not fully in the other. By the end of the novel, she is firmly in the vampire world, and having to learn the rules of that society is a painful process that impacts many of her relationships. The change in the framework was needed in order for the series and the characters to continue to grow and evolve and gives a new momentum to what I’m sure will follow in the next books in the series.
One of the things I really enjoy about the way Frost’s structures the love plot is that she finds ways to continue to build tension and conflict between Cat and Bones without it feeling forced or manipulative or conventional. While it’s clear at the end of book three that they are solidly a couple, they still have things in their relationship to figure out. Evolving their relationship so that they are an “us” by the end of the novel is something that drives the love plot and “the path to true love never runs smooth” convention is at work here but it’s done in a way that only makes me care about the characters even more, and it also functions to further develop Cat and Bones as characters. They both have to give and compromise and recognize the other’s flaws and accept them. Although the story is told completely through Cat’s first person perspective, Frost does a really good job in delivering Bones’ emotions and thoughts through the dialogue. I am not as close to him as a reader as I am to Cat because of the narrative structure, but he’s not distant either. I get a deep sense of his struggles right along with Cat’s so that it doesn’t just feel like Cat’s story and Cat’s journey. In my opinion, so much of what makes a series success is the characters and character development. Cat and Bones are not the same characters they were at the start of the series, and I expect they will continue to develop and grow. Thus far, Frost hasn’t caused them to do anything that feels out of character for either of them, and the more I read, the more I want to read and see what happens to them next.
Like I said above, I would definitely recommend reading these books in order, particularly if you are interested in reading the books that feature Vlad (Once Burned, Twice Tempted, Bound By Flames, Into the Fire). He is definitely a supporting character in this book, but Frost does a lot of work in terms of developing his character. I can remember Cat and Bones making appearances in the first two books of the Night Prince series and I would have appreciated those appearances more if I’d read in chronological order in terms of publication. Take the recommendation for whatever it’s worth.
Ultimately, I find this series to be highly satisfying and I always get what I came for and then some. I read them typically in one day and once I start I can’t stop. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, First Drop of Crimson, which features Spade, one of Bones’ best friends. If you’re a reader who enjoys strong, well-developed characters, a well-crafted plot and subplots, and watching an imaginary world come to life, these books deliver in every way. Definitely one of my recommended reads of 2016.