Sabina Kane is a half-blood in a world where half-bloods are not allowed to exist. Raised by her cold grandmother, the head of the Dominae—the governing sect of vampires—who has filled her with a constant longing for approval, she does the only job that she’s qualified for: killing people who oppose the Dominae, whether they be friend or lifelong enemy of the vampire race.
When Sabina is asked to infiltrate a growing threat opposing the vampire race, she accepts, ostensibly to defend her race, but more in the hope of gaining her grandmother’s trust and respect. But when her beliefs are challenged, and when the secret of who she is comes out, she’s forced to rethink everything that she has ever known, and she eventually comes to a shocking conclusion that will change her life forever.
One thing that struck me about this book was the fact that all of these characters were new and interesting. When you deal with the generic supernatural creature story—vampire, mage, werewolf, or whatever— you have to either twist everything on its head so it’s utterly unrecognizable or make interesting characters who drive the novel from chapter to chapter. Jaye Wells has created exactly that driving force with her characters. The people in her novel are fresh and fascinating, and they are very well fleshed out as people. From the beginning I felt myself empathizing with Sabina as she is faced with difficult realities and shameful truths. Later on in the novel, when Adam is introduced, I felt even more strongly for him. I praise Jaye Wells for that.
One problem that I did have was how quickly Sabina started to grow fond of Gighul, the demon summoned to watch over her early on in the novel. One would think that having a demon invade your personal space and charge money to your credit card would make you want to get rid of him, but for Sabina it just made her grow fond of him, which is something that I just never really believed or got into.
There was never really a moment when I wanted to put this book down. Everything about this novel made me want to keep finding out the next bite of the story. Red-Headed Stepchild is definitely going on my ‘Book Porn’ shelf as a nice, quick read that doesn’t demand a lot from you intellectually but gives a whole lot in return.
Predictable at times
Unfortunately, this novel was a bit clichéd in how the plot progressed; in fact, it was almost painful at times. There are a few betrayals (which you can see coming from a mile away, or rather, fifty pages away), mistakes made that will obviously come back to haunt people, and pretty much everything in between. Very little of this book was a surprise to me, which is a huge let-down when reading something.
To somewhat make up for this, there are a few points that genuinely did surprise me, which is good. I’m not saying that this completely compensates for the rest of the novel’s predictable parts, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.
A lack of world-building
World-building is one of the most important things for a novel. In urban fantasy, where you don’t have an entirely new world to build, it’s important to flesh out the history of the fantasy aspects that you do have. That didn’t happen with this novel. There are four distinct ‘races’—vampires, fae, demons and mages— but there’s very little history given surrounding them, which left me confused at times and wanting more explanation.
I find the concept of all four of these races being related in some way interesting, but I’d really like a bit more information regarding where they came from, what they all have in common, what exactly it means for a vampire and a mage to mate or have children and why that is so strictly taboo. It is constantly mentioned that Sabina’s very existence is an abomination, but it never gives any reason other than the simple fact that she’s a half-blood.
Why should you read this book?
This is a very fun read if you’re not looking for a huge intellectual commitment in your reading. It’s perfect for casual fantasy readers looking for something fresh and interesting and for urban fantasy lovers. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and there are some original aspects concerning the vampire realm—which, let’s face it, has been overdone so much in the past ten years that it’s ridiculous. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel and am going to dive right into the sequel.