By Paula R. Stiles
The Thirteenth is apocalyptic dark fantasy set in the End Times. The African-American and Hispanic heroes are the Neteru Guardian team, a strike force that works directly for Heaven. In this book, they’re on the run after their enemies in Hell successfully put the blame for a battle with demons in the previous book on their heads. The entire world is at stake when Lucifer breaks the Sixth Seal and all Hell literally breaks loose, which, in this book, means a plague of vampires. Very smart, very powerful vampires.
Oh, and the female half of the team are all pregnant, which does not stop them from kicking plenty of vampire ass. I’m not wild about the “women are only real women if they’re fertile” trope, but Banks does at least partially negate it by having the women rack up an even greater body count right before giving birth (it also sets up a creepy supernatural illusion attack on the women by the bad guys and a moving and unusual Rapture scene near the end). Is this realistic? No, not really, but neither are warrior angels or flying vampire demons, and I’ll take pregnant, ass-kicking black amazons over helpless, hormonal Mia Farrows any day of the week.
In contrast to yesterday’s entry, The Thirteenth is billed as the last in a book series. It is the twelfth Vampire Huntress Legend Tale. If you’re interested in the series, you might want to start with the first, Minion. The Thirteenth really jumps from incident to incident (the world has essentially gone to Hell in a handbasket) and there are a lot of established characters to meet. You’re definitely thrown in the deep end. I liked the smaller cast of characters and Egyptian mythology in Shadow Blade better, but that’s somewhat a matter of preference – and also probably due to the fact that’s a first book in its series.
This did not stop me enjoying The Thirteenth. The men are somewhat generic, it’s true (even the bad guys tend to blend together a bit), but that’s more than made up for by the women, on both sides, who are very strong and vividly described. I also like that even the bad guys really appreciate their women (pretty much everyone is paired off with their perfect mates), as well they should. They’ve got some doozies. Especially formidable is Damali, who never seems to have met a vampire she couldn’t dismember. But we also get quieter characters like Delores, who can’t kick demonic ass at all, but is fiercely loyal in her own way and has worries and insecurities the reader can relate to. And on the bad-girls side, you get characters like Lilith, who’ll happily feed her entourage, member by valued member, to her husband on one of his bad days to keep him off her back. She’s on a collision course with Eve, her ex-husband’s second wife, and let me tell you – this version of Eve can take care of herself. Also notable on the side of Evil are Lucrezia Borgia (that poor girl really gets some bad historical press), whose specialty is poisoning, mass and personal, and Elizabeth Bathory – yes, the one that liked to bathe in the blood of young virgins.
Banks has a knack for physical description of surroundings and characters (especially the monsters), then introducing bone-crunching action into them. The action itself can be generic in a military-special-forces, war-fiction sort of way, but it moves quickly and some of the scenarios descend into creepy horror or elevate into apocalyptic, Miltonian fantasy. Banks doesn’t leave the Apocalypse to your imagination. I quite liked this as, too often, apocalyptic fiction gets mired in the nasty, race-war fantasies of far-right-wing white supremacists (where, naturally, everyone who’s not Northern-European Protestant is eeeeeevil in true Reformation-Era tradition. Luther and Calvin, boys, you have a lot to answer for). Banks even acknowledges the perniciousness of this trope in a scene where a terrified Jewish couple is rescued from a carnivorous horde of rats by an African-American Guardian team, which then carefully explains to them that it’s a group of the good guys and not “terrorists”.
Lastly, the book has good-guy Templars. Yes, they’re minor characters (the good guys include holy people from all of the world’s major religions), but as you all know, already, any story that includes good-guy Templars (and isn’t called The Da Vinci Code) gets some extra goodwill from me.