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Review: “The Calling” by M. D. Neu

The CallingTitle: The Calling
Author: M. D. Neu
Genre: Paranormal
LGBTQ+ Category: Gay
Publisher: NineStar Press
Word Count: 108,300

Being a nobody isn’t Duncan Alexander’s life goal, but it’s worked for him. He has a nondescript job, a few good friends, and overall he’s content. That’s until one fateful trip to San Jose, California, where he is “Called” to meet the mysterious Juliet de Exter. Juliet is a beautiful, wealthy, powerful Immortal who is undertaking The Calling—a search for a human to join her world of Immortals. Inexplicably, Duncan’s calling is more dangerous than any of the Immortals, even Juliet, ever thought it would be.

There is more to this nobody, this only child of long-deceased parents, than anyone thought. When Duncan experiences uncontrollable dreams of people he doesn’t know and places he hasn’t been, Juliet and the other Immortals worry. Soon, his visions point to a coven of long-dead witches. The dreams also lead Duncan to his one true love. How will Duncan navigate a forbidden romance with an outcast Immortal? How will he and the others keep the balance between the Light and Dark, survive vicious attacks, and keep the humans from learning who they truly are? More importantly, who is this implacable foe Duncan keeps seeing in his dreams?

Review by Andrew

Vampire stories seem to never go out of style; or you could say, and I’m afraid I will, they are as immortal as the reputed nature of their subject. With The Calling, M.D. Neu puts his stamp on the tradition in a sure-footed, highly readable series opener.

It is not an easy task for an author to take readers on a truly different journey within a well-trod fantasy domain, and in that regard, The Calling sticks to trusted and familiar turf. Duncan Alexander is the story’s “regular guy” who finds himself seduced by a mysterious, glamourous stranger named Juliet. He is in the rare position of having nothing to lose by forswearing his family-less, nearly friend-less, lackluster life in favor of joining a hidden society that survives on human blood.

That may sound like a hard sell even for a guy who lost his roots in the world and wants a chance to make something of his life. But one of the story’s surprises is vampire living is rather approachable and domesticated. At moments, for my personal taste, situations felt a little too carefully engineered for a HEA romance audience; though that could be something that makes the story perfect for a different reader.

Vampire-kind, known as Immortals, have essential natures: Light or Dark, which are fairly equivalent to lawful-good and chaotic-neutral respectively. They’re altogether cooperating through a representative Council, and they’re living quite well in mansions and penthouse apartments, and wearing the latest luxury designer clothes, while they manipulate the minds of humans so no one is aware of their existence.

Human blood is manufactured as a product called: “Red,” which is enjoyed like a fine vintage of wine and has pleasant flavors like vanilla and cinnamon. For fun and to blend in, vampires mix red with fondue and chocolate cake and go to co-mingled restaurants where they can order off the menu while enjoying the company of their human friends.

Though they use their powers to coerce humans, Juliet explains to Duncan they would never coerce anyone who didn’t want to be coerced. For example, their human ‘keepers’ are happy to have been chosen to be part of their carefree, extravagant lifestyle. Vampires, both Light and Dark, love throwing fancy parties and even celebrate Christmas.

Duncan earns his fangs through a set of trials (“Marks”), which unexpectedly unleash disturbing visions. He has psychic abilities never seen before, and his visions foretell a doomsday for Immortals. Along the way, Duncan falls hard for another vampire. But Duncan is Light, and Kirtus is Dark, which makes for something of a social taboo.

Neu is a capable writer who approaches backstory and world-building economically and keeps the pacing brisk. The result is an easygoing narrative that builds interest.

In Duncan, Neu has created a solid and appealing narrator that should serve his series well. Duncan is an earnest, thoroughly unpretentious, salt-of-the-earth guy who likes to see the best in everyone. If he happened to be your neighbor, you would want him to get your mail and keep an eye on your pets while you were out of town, and you’d want to take him out for a beer afterward.

Duncan is not completely without flaws. Besides being a bit naïve, he’s got that strident why-can’t-gay-people-just-be-people-first thing going on. But overall, the fact that Duncan is so well-meaning and just wants to find a place that feels like home makes Neu’s vampire tale hard to resist. Duncan surely deserves to find his home and a nice fellow with whom to share it. Maybe his attitude toward gay empowerment will evolve. I guess the lesson here is that vampires aren’t so different from the rest of us.

Andrew Peters is an award-winning author, an educator, and an activist. His novel The City of Seven Gods won the 2017 Silver Falchion Award (Best Horror/Fantasy) and was a finalist in the 2016 Foreword INDIES (Best Sci Fi/Fantasy). He is also the author of the Werecat series, Poseidon and Cleito, and two books for young adults: The Seventh Pleiade and Banished Sons of Poseidon.

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