There is something a bit obvious, and ridiculous, about using “Amber Fang” as the name for a literary vampire character, especially if said vampire is trying to keep a low profile. But it does make a perfect title for a YA series: it’s catchy, punchy, direct, and fun, just like the eponymous new series by Saskatoon writer Arthur Slade.
Amber made her debut in April in Hunted, a powerful, pacey novel that both filled in her backstory and established the dimensions and directions of the volumes to come. Amber studies library science by day (“My skin didn’t burn with the sun’s rays. It wouldn’t. That is an old wives’ tale”) and does her vampire things by night. She also lives by a “moral imperative.” Amber has to feed on human beings in order to survive – and can go no longer than 30 days without nourishment, or she will, as her mother once described, “become mad as a hatter.” Yet, she’s only willing to suck the blood of those who’ve committed murder and who feel no guilt or remorse. The combination of Amber’s biological drive and her personal code often forces her to extremes, including breaking into a prison to feed during one crackling scene in Hunted.
Early in the first novel, Amber is recruited by a “guild of like-minded people who prefer to operate without government involvement for the betterment of the democratically elected world.” This noble group wants Amber to kill bad people. This sets her up as a touchpoint in an ongoing war between the guild and ZARC, a ruthless, international arms-trading syndicate. “You know Blackwater and all the other security organizations?” says Dermot, the handsome “new slab of male food” in one of Amber’s classes, who turns out to be a recruiter. “This one dwarfs their resources.”
By the second novel, Betrayal – released simultaneously with book three, Revenge, this fall – Amber is no longer working for the guild but is still being hunted by ZARC. She has spent the time between books using her research skills as a librarian-in-training to find food and track down her mother, who went missing while out on a feed when Amber was in high school. That latter search leads her to stow away on an Antarctic cruise ship and leap into the ocean in order to access a remote ZARC base where, according to the dark web, her mother might be imprisoned. There, she meets a supercharged ZARC operative named Naomi, a “freakin’ cyborg” who has “earned” a pair of lethal, metallic hands. And while Amber may not find her mom at the location, it’s the beginning of a new, globe-spanning chase, this time involving that tricksy cyborg, a murderous AI, and at least one unexpected – and unwelcome – branch from Amber’s family tree. The third instalment raises the stakes: Amber finds answers to some of her questions and suffers a loss that leaves her reeling. It’s called Revenge for a reason.
It should come as no surprise at this point in his career that master YA horror writer Slade can spin a tale; these books are top-notch supernatural thrillers, and Slade proves unafraid to go for broke when the story calls for it (including conjuring up a secret order of ninja librarians). These moments, which test the suspension of disbelief, are anchored in solid characterization and a buzzy, warm, occasionally caustic voice. Narrated in the first person, the novels keep the reader firmly connected to Amber’s thoughts and world view – she is neither monster nor superhero, and Slade does a remarkable job of infusing the character with a realistic, thought-provoking humanity.
The Amber Fang novels are an absolute hoot, relentlessly gripping, and genuinely surprising. While Hunted stands nicely on its own, Betrayal and Revenge are very closely connected, and readers will want to segue immediately from one to the next. Comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer have already been made, but for many readers, Amber Fang will serve as a midpoint between Disney’s Kim Possible and Kristi Charish’s Kincaid Strange. And not just young readers: Amber Fang will also satisfy adults looking for a thrill.