Blood Oranges, Kathleen Tierney

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. And I give absolutely no fucks.

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March 25, 2013

Blood Oranges, by Caitlín R. Kiernan writing as Kathleen Tierney

Blood Oranges, by Caitlín R. Kiernan writing as Kathleen Tierney

First things first: Kathleen Tierney is an open pseudonym for horror writer Caitlín R. Kiernan–this is important because while it is an urban fantasy, it’s not like any urban fantasy I’ve ever read. It’s what happens to urban fantasy when a horror writer gets her hands on it.

The protagonist of Blood Oranges is Siobhan Quinn, a foul-mouthed street kid junkie turned demon hunter turned werewolf-vampire hybrid–she trades her addiction to smack to one to blood, more or less.

This book is a gleeful takedown of nearly every single tired trope employed in paranormal romances and fantasies. It is delightful and if you’re as tired as I am of morally bankrupt characters kicking preternatural creature ass while wearing leather pants, well, this is the book for you.

Quinn is the most unreliable of narrators and she’s constantly breaking the fourth wall. She’s dirty, smelly, and often caked in blood–and yet her narrative voice is really wonderful and once I started reading I couldn’t put it down (this is a testament to the Tierney’s immense skill as a writer).

The story is also tremendously engaging and it’s refreshing as hell to see these preternatural creatures described and characterized as the monsters they actually are–the vampires are inhuman and totally freaky and I totally wouldn’t want to meet any of them in the night.

Basically, Quinn gets turned into a vampire-werewolf (a werepire? a vampwolf?) as an apparently indirect consequence of getting in the middle of a job gone bad and the entire plot flows from there. Quinn makes things up, revises her accounts of previous events in the book, and declares that since she finds action sequences in books boring that she’s not going to have any. It’s fantastic.

What I especially like is the way that Quinn doesn’t sugar-coat anything she’s done or try to make it more than what it is–she’s killing people in order to survive and there really is no excuse about it. She’s so up-front about being a monster in a way that I have often wished would happen in other novels I’ve read in the genre (coughAnitaBlakecough).

One of my favorite scenes is Quinn’s trip to the MAC counter at the Nordstrom’s. It is such a send-up of the heroine getting a makeover scene that sometimes happens in these kinds of books–you know, when the girl has a fancy box delivered to her from a fancy store and there’s some sort of impractical yet still wearable outfit in it that is perfectly tailored to her body and which will perform flawlessly during the upcoming bloodbath. In this scene, Quinn walks to the mall and gets some foundation and powder from MAC and gives the salesgirl a hilariously fake and contradictory story about why she looks so terrible. It’s a thing of beauty.

Also a thing of beauty is this:

Sure, I’m a blood-drinking freak and a loup, but I only prey on the dregs of society, so I’m just doing a public service, right? Bullshit. I called it bullshit then, and, two years later, I still call it bullshit, that attitude or mind-set or whatever it is. That belief that great swaths of humanity are disposable, just so long as no one gets wise to the fact they’re being disposed of.

And with this paragraph, Siobhan Quinn proves that she’s more self-aware than probably 95% of the urban fantasy protagonists out there and it’s just so damn refreshing.  One of my biggest problems with the genre is the romanticization of murder and mayhem and the glorification of monsters. They’re monsters for a reason.

Tierney mentions in her Author’s Note that this book is her taking back the language of the night, if only for herself. I think she’s taken it back for all of us who have been watching with a kind of despair as the power of these monstrous creatures has been gradually lessened and diminished.

I can’t wait to read the next one.

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