Review of L A Banks' Minion -- from rambles site
- You can bet that, at some point in her life, L.A. Banks watched a few
episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Check this: Banks' heroine, Damali Richards, is a fairly average 15-
year-old when she discovers that she is destined to hunt and kill
vampires with the aid of several trusty sidekicks (some of whom have
special powers) and under the guidance of the Guardians, who have an
arsenal of mystical knowledge about the vampires and demons she must
face. TV's Buffy, as created several years earlier by Joss Whedon, is
15 years old when she discovers that she is destined to hunt and kill
vampires, which she accomplishes with the aid of several trusty
sidekicks (some of whom have special powers) and under the guidance
of the Watchers, who have an arsenal of mystical knowledge about the
vampires and demons she faces. Oh, and Damali and Buffy both have, at
some point, the hots for a vampire, although both fail to realize at
first that the object of their affections is, in fact, undead.
Notice any similarities?
But, while Buffy comes from Valley Girl roots and blends end-of-the-
world chaos with wacky hijinks, Damali is a girl from the ghetto, a
spoken-word hip-hop artist who avoids wacky hijinks altogether. While
Buffy lives in a normal, suburban home in Sunnydale, outside Los
Angeles, Damali lives with her team in a high-tech concrete bunker in
North Hollywood, outside L.A. While Buffy yearns for a real life with
a real job, Damali manages to run a fairly successful music career
Damali is also quite proudly and specifically black, a fact Banks
underscores often enough to make sure we never forget that this
vampire slayer has no blond roots. While the point might be
overstressed at times, it's nice to see a strong black character in a
role that, Blade notwithstanding, is more often caucasion in books,
TV and film.
Despite all the similarities, Minion manages to create a distinct
vampire mythos in the first book of Banks' Vampire Huntress series of
tales. More serious in tone than Laurell K. Hamilton's long-running
Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, it presents a real sense of
danger and mortality as Damali's team fights the evil undead and
races to identify a new threat before it's too late. Too, Damali's
internal struggle as she grows into her true powers makes for
compelling reading and should help to carry an interesting storyline
through into the next book.
Banks lost me on a few points, however, tying Damali's fate a little
too tightly to the movements of the stars and basing her vampire
council in the literal Hell. Grounding her story so deeply in
astrology and theology makes the plot harder to accept in a modern
setting. (Unlike the Anita Blake series, which occurs in an alternate
reality where vampires, werewolves and other fey creatures exist
openly, Banks' supernatural world remains hidden in the underground;
those average humans who learn of vampires' existence typically die a
few moments later.)
In more mundane arenas, Banks' characters often explain things to
each other that, really, they should already know -- there are better
ways of filling the reader in on important plot points -- while the
Guardians withhold vital information from Damali and her team that
makes no sense to conceal. The story's true villain remains somewhat
two-dimensional by book's end, while another character teeter-totters
between good and evil, seemingly noble in some ways while
reprehensibly immoral in others.
The slang that peppers the dialogue, while distracting to some
readers, assuredly helps to establish Damali's specific cultural
Minion in many ways seems to set the stage for the books to follow.
There is relatively little action; the book's primary purpose is
apparently to introduce the characters and settings of Damali's
world, to set events in motion that will develop later on. But Banks
has unquestionably hooked my interest -- let's face it, I like Buffy -
- so I'll be back to see where the story takes us from here.
written by Tom Knapp
published 2 April 2005