Long running series can be a problem for the reader. Jumping into a setting late can be rather difficult, and jumping into a series late even more so. Chloe Neill gave readers the Chicagoland Vampires series years ago, and its spinoff Heirs of Chicagoland gains it’s second book with Wicked Hour. A special event leads to tragedy, and a couple in love has to deal with the consequences.
The line between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance is quite thin, and Chloe Neil’s Wicked Hour is an illustration of the reason why. Our lead is Elisa Sullivan, who was born and grew up as a vampire in a world where such a thing was previously believed impossible. She is also in a romantic relationship with Connor, a childhood friend who happens to be the heir apparent to rule werewolves across North America. The two go on a trip, and find themselves in rural Minnesota dealing with impossible monsters, isolationist werewolves, generational struggles, and many additional complications. The two story threads are linked very closely, and which takes primacy will likely depend upon the reader.
This is an excellent example of how to write a book that is easy for new readers to get into without being familiar with the series. There are many references to setting details, such as the public knowledge of the supernatural. Character relationships, such as Elisa’s childhood platonic relationship with Connor growing into an adult romantic one. The fact that werewolves and vampires have a cultural dislike for each other is discussed, although it has become so common in horror, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance that it is assumed as a detail. Similarly the idea one must ask permission to create a vampire is a common feature in many stories, although less than the previous issue.
The characters share a certain cheekiness and are written broadly enough to be understood quickly without becoming quite flat enough to bore. The villains are believable enough, with both generational struggle and politicking coming into play. Vampires live relatively near the werewolves, and have peaceful if distant relations. Given that some of the same problems are implied to exist in Chicago this helps the reader gain an understanding of the material.
There are political issues at play in the small community relate generally to the problem of generational misunderstanding, although playing into this is the classic problem of simple desire for political power. The older generation keeps power in spite of disagreements and dissatisfaction, and a combination of the wrong people desiring power and intergenerational tradition prevents it from resolving.
The supernatural mystery is quite entertaining, with a strange occurrence and series of clues teasing out to the reader that something might be wrong, and various characters explaining their different theories about the problem, from bear to werewolf to cryptid. These possibilities are discussed, and experts called in. They are slowly but steadily narrowed down as new evidence comes into play and the nature of the threat, as well as the cause, come to light.
As urban fantasy, there is much that is unexceptional about this volume. The glimpses of the setting are not particularly innovative, but use ideas that have lasted a very long time. This is not entirely a bad thing, as using mostly expected details make the changes all the more apparent. Werewolves being naturally bad at magic is such an example, as it is a minor detail that proves most interesting narratively.
Overall, Chloe Neill’s Wicked Hour is a rather good volume. It tells a complete supernatural mystery where the rules are fairly straightforward and motivations are understandable. The romance is believable and the interactions between the loving couple appreciated. If one likes Eileen Will’s World of the Lupi or Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, this work might appeal.