Amber Fang, Book 2: Betrayal, by Arthur Slade (40:00)

Today we see that playing to your protagonist’s strengths can inspire an engaging start.

What I gleaned about the story: Vampires are awesome in the cold. And a smart-assed AI can be an entertaining villain.

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Kudo #1: Clever story mechanic

Analysis: When it comes to showing vampires getting things done, many authors seem to limit themselves to strength, charisma, and blood-sucking as their chief basket of skills, so I appreciate it when an author finds a way to deploy other aspects of the undead toolbox.

In the opening scene, Amber is trying to get to a remote island in the frigid seas south of Argentina. But when she dives off the side of a carefully selected cruise ship that’s heading in the right direction and swims ashore, in her street clothes, I was initially skeptical. Then I realized that a professional assassin would be motivated enough to do such a thing, and an undead one would also be capable of doing it. (Even if she does work as a librarian by day.) The plan does have it’s drawbacks though, so even though I ended up enjoying her choice, I was also pleased to see that it didn’t play out as neatly as she had intended.

Kudo #2: Effective series refresh

The most delicate part of any Book 2 is the problem of how to refamiliarize your audience with essential facts from previous adventures. Some take the, “Previously on Buffy” approach and just straight up tell you, but that always feels a bit blunt to me. Effective, but inelegant.

Another technique is to create a situation in which explanations of recent history are essential to the plot taking place now. “In your own words, please tell the court exactly what the evil clown did with your gerbil on the night in question.”

My own favorite method is to have a new character reviewing or discussing information that isn’t an actual recap, but contains enough detail to call the memories to mind for readers who were there at the time.

But in Betrayal, Slade has chosen a method that I don’t see very often: he launches into a new adventure with the same characters, but one that doesn’t require knowledge of the history. It’s an interesting situation in and of itself, and can stand completely alone if the reader hasn’t read Book 1. That buys him time to feather in a few important back-references, so that when those historical facts do become important later, the new reader remembers the back-reference, while the returning reader gets that, plus whatever parts of the full story they recall from the earlier book.

This is by no means a new or revelatory technique, but it’s one that too many indie authors overlook. Book 2 will be a lot stronger if it doesn’t require rereading Book 1 to even get started. Come in from a new angle and buy yourself more time to reignite your readers’ old and tired memories.

Final note: After finishing the 40 minute treadmill test, I immediately found myself a comfy chair and continued on with Amber and her next mission. I was not disappointed.

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About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.