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It's interesting how re-reading a book can change your opinion of it as well as reveal elements you were blind to on your first read-through. When I first read the novel, I was primarily absorbed in Ramona's journey through the troubling world of Kindred society. For me, it was an action-adventure novel where a Kindred without knowledge of the Traditions, Clans, Camarilla, Anarchs, or Sabbat did her best to navigate an impossible situation. Ultimately, the book culminated in her confrontation with the newly-transformed Leopold and indirectly led to the events that caused the Gangrel to depart the Camarilla. I was focused on Ramona's status as a Neonate vampire and her journey into becoming a more rounded (anti)heroic figure. Basically, the Heroes' Journey as defined by Joseph Campbell.
It's only now, twenty years later, that I re-read the novel and realize the first half is actually an LGBT romance. I feel like kicking myself for not realizing this and I'm actually quite interested in the storyline presented within. Zhavon is a young African American girl who is out meeting her boyfriend when she's nearly raped and murdered before Ramona comes to her rescue in a decidedly undead Punisher-esque way. Ramona proceeds to start stalking Zhavon afterward as the young woman struggles to process what she witnessed.
As the fact I didn't realize this was a romance originally indicates, this is not a traditional love story. Zhavon and Ramona don't even share more than a few words throughout the story. It certainly does not end with them riding off into the sunset (spoilers). No, it is actually a character exploration of Ramona becoming fascinated with a woman who makes her feel human again. It is love for a woman who reminds her so strongly of her mortal self that there is a deep desire to become closer. A desire that can only end in Ramona either turning her or killing her. Except, Ramona doesn't know how to turn a human into a vampire yet.
The first half of the novel is easily the best part and I wish we could have gotten more of Ramona and Zhavon. The real heart of the story is Ramona trying to get back in touch with her humanity and what reminded her of it but being tempted to destroy that very thing. The Beast only sees food where Ramona sees what she wished she could be. I think Twilight would have been a pretty good horror novella if Edward had eaten Bella in the woods because he couldn't control himself. Stephanie Meyer wouldn't be able to buy her own moon-sized battle station but I think romance, death, and self-destruction are themes V:TM can do well.
The other half of the book is a monster hunt after an initial encounter with Leopold the Toreador turns into a massacre. I actually regret some of the deaths in the book and that's a sign the author has done a good job in establishing the characters they've chosen to kill off.
Basically, Zhavon is kidnapped for somewhat contrived reasons by Leopold (his insanity has made her his "muse" and at this point I can only assume it is Hazmiel screwing with a couple of Neonates for the evulz). Ramona attempts to rescue her and things go from bad to worse, getting Xavier the Justicar to go after Leopold despite the vampire having the power of an Antediluvian in his "Eye of Vecna"-esque artifact. It's basically a monster hunt with everyone severely underestimating what they're facing.
The book gives an excellent view of how Gangrel society functions with Ramona being forced to survive on her own while her sire stalks her. It's probably the same relationship she has with Zhavon, only he had the knowledge to make a Gangrel from the person he loved from afar. The supporting cast do their job and it's nice to see Xavier presented as an initially heroic figure only to show the dark underbelly that all Justicars possess.
In conclusion, this is easily my favorite of the Clan Novels so far and one of my favorites in the series as a whole. It's really two different novels, though with the character study of Ramona's hunger to be and be with someone she cannot touch without destroying as the first part while the second is a attempt to destroy the monster Leopold has become. As a teenager, I was much more interested in the second but as an adult, I'm much more interested in the first.
What this book does with the series is incredible. It shows one of the clans in a deeper light. It also does a great job with Ramona, one of the more influential core characters of the novel. Things are escalating nicely for the series.