Review: Red-Headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells

October 27, 2009 Review 7

Red-Headed Stepchild (Sabina Kane, Book 1)
by Jaye Wells

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Book Description: In a world where being of mixed-blood is a major liability, Sabina doesn’t really fit in. And being an assassin – the only profession fit for an outcast – doesn’t help matters. But she’s never brought her work home. Until now. Her latest mission is uncomfortably complex, and threatens the fragile peace between the vampire and mage races. As Sabina scrambles to figure out which side she’s on, she uncovers a tangled political web, some nasty facts about her family and some unexpected new talents. Any of these things could be worryingly life-changing, but together, they could be fatal …This time, it’s personal.


Review: My criteria for liking a book often comes down to liking the main character. After reading the first chapter of Red-headed Stepchild, I was ready to streak my hair red just so I could look like Sabina Kane.

“Digging graves is hell on a manicure, but I was taught good vampires clean up after every meal.”

When we first meet Sabina, she’s in a graveyard digging a six foot hole for her latest meal (a kiddy drug pusher–Sabina gets a bite and cleans up the neighborhood in the process: everybody wins). An orphan raised by her mother’s family, Sabina Kane is a vampire. Well half vampire, half mage. The product of a forbidden love affair, Sabina is forced to wear the stigma of her illegitimate birth literally on her head (the aforementioned red streaks).

In the world created by Jaye Wells, vampires (or Lilim, as they are called) are the offspring of Lilith and Cain and therefore they all have red hair (their inherited ‘biblical mark of Cain’). In fact all the dark races are in someway the descendents of Lilith: Demons, Fey etc.  The world-building was definitely a strong point in this book:  The politics of the various races are believably nuanced and have a real feeling of history behind them. There is the Dominae, a trio of female vampires (headed by Sabina’s grandmother) who govern over the vampiric race, and the Hecate Council that rules the Mages (or Mancies), and the Sellie Court of the Fey.  The genesis of Vampires are also fully explained in a new and unique way.  Along with a sense of mystery regarding Sabina’s mixed heritage which promises to be more fully explored in future books.

There is a lot to like about this book, but sadly with each increasing chapter, my affinity for Sabina,–and by extension this book–decreased. Chip nothing, Sabina had a boulder on her shoulder. I almost cheered when different characters called her out as a bitch.   This is more of a personal pet peeve (but, hey, this is my blog): barely a hundred pages into the book Sabina had already commented twice that some guy made her panties/crotch get wet. I hate that phrasing; I just find it crass and vulgar.   Big turn off.  But the biggest obstacle I had with Sabina how she really skirted the TSTL [to stupid to live] line throughout this book (especially the first half).

It is abundantly clear almost from page one the the Dominae have been using and lying to Sabina practically from birth, yet whenever someone tries to point this out to her, we get half a page of inner monologue where Sabina can’t believe someone would expect her to believe such lies, because, of course, she’s way too smart for anyone to deceive her.  And even when she finally sees proof for herself of the Dominae’s duplicity, she still won’t believe that their lies extend to other extremely obvious areas.  I understand that Sabina would be reluctant to cast her grandmother, the woman who raised her, in the role of villain, but there comes a point when reluctance must give way to reality.  Sabina consistent refusal to acknowledge what was right in front of her was extremely frustrating.

The tone of the book was also problematic for me.  Some chapters indicated that the author was going for a lighter, more humorous tone:  like the scene with Gilguhl (Sabina’s demon sidekick) dressed in a pink kimono and indulging in his infomercial addiction.  But  then basically on the next page, a darker more gritty tone has Sabina in a nightclub walking  in on a guy giving oral sex to another guy.  Back to the demon who can now turn into fuzzy kitty, then off to a creepy sexual cult.  Light or dark; funny or gritty.  Both have there place.  I would have preferred consistency one way or the other.  The author was clearly going for a hilarious meets horror blend, it just wasn’t entirely successful for me.

Sabina’s first outing, like her hair and nature, is a bit uneven to say the least.  But I’m not giving up on this series.  The premise and world Jaye has created  is too intriguing for that.   Ultimately, I think there is enough promise here to warrant checking out The Mage in Black when it comes out in March of 2010.

Sexual Content:
Some crude language, a man performing a sex act on another man.

Read Chapter 1 of Red-Headed Stepchild here.

Buy Red-Headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells at:

7 Responses to “Review: Red-Headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells”

  1. ParaJunkee

    Great review. The book does sound interesting, yet a bit on the amateurish side. I find some authors hide behind crude humor and sarcasm to mask a mediocre writing abilities. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

  2. Patti

    Nice review. I thought this book was pretty good but did have some issues with it as well. I'm looking forward to the 2nd book.

    (BTW – I had the same problem with Kim Harrison's first Hollows book -the first book had to "build" the world and characters, etc and now I love that series. I'm hoping the same thing will happen here)

  3. Brenda

    I agree with your review. I think I wanted to like this book more than I actually did, and the main character, for me, was always too ready to resort to violence. Like you, I'll continue the series, hoping it'll get better.

  4. Andrea

    Interesting review. I liked the book and am looking forward to the next one. This book falls in my light reading stack.