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A change of heart by Mark BenjaminA Change of Heart is set in a standard Urban fantasy milieu where vampires rule in the shadows and humans are largely unaware of their existence apart from a few who are in the know – either because they serve the vampires or are actively trying to destroy them.

The central tale of this novel follows the story of Gabriel, a geeky university student who gets caught up in the hidden supernatural world when he is bitten by Lucas, a vampire Royal. You follow the changes that  occur to him as he transforms  – improved strength and speed, better night sight and all the other benefits of immortal blood, including a psychic link to a ‘dark beauty’ who is actually Lucas’s sister, also a powerful vampire. How he copes with this and how it affects his day to day life makes an interesting story, albeit one rather tropetastic with themes that have already been explored to death in other settings, including Peter Parker in Spider-Man (with the compulsory ‘weedy hero beats up the bullies’ scene in there for good measure). This thread is entertaining despite being heavy on the cliché – basic geek wish fulfilment stuff – and would make the basis of a strong novel by itself.

However, that strong story is  somewhat swamped in the rest of the novel which is overambitious in its attempt to encompass the entirety of the world building. There are chapters and chapters in which many PoV characters weigh in, most of them with very little to actually contribute. Each of the main vampire characters, many more minor vampires, some of the human servants of the vampires, each of Gabriel’s friends, several of the modernised Knightly order of Vampire hunters and many other characters all get a shot in the spotlight and most of them waste it without actually progressing any of the plot. Some of these sections are very short – a paragraph or two – and if those chapters had been removed I do not think anyone would have noticed. At most, this needed four characters in the spotlight (Gabriel, his mortal love interest, the ‘dark beauty’ and the leader of the vampires) and could have done very well with only Gabriel’s point of view – allowing the reader to explore the mystery of the new world he has fallen into. A whole novel could have covered the transformation of Gabriel, the effect this has on his life and relationships and ended with him and his friends meeting the Knights (something that occurs about half way through the book) and leading into a second book where more of the politics of vampire society and the nature of the knights is revealed. Pared down like that, cutting out the extraneous fluff and pumping up the scenes with Gabriel, this could have been a great YA urban fantasy novel with a lot of potential for sequels.

I guess the issue here is the author is trying to portray a complicated political situation with conspiracies and secrets and is making the mistake of thinking that the reader needs to see all that immediately. As a writer myself I know the temptation is there when faced with this and I think the solution is to strictly limit point of view – the reader sees what the character sees and therefore may well be oblivious to the plots in the background but will see evidence of it in other character actions. It is a hard trick to pull off well (and I am by no means an expert at it myself).

Overall, a good story that manages to entertain marred by an over ambitious plot that needed a subtler approach to manage well.