Author: Hannah Jayne (pseudonym for Hannah Jayne Schwartz)
Plot Type: Paranormal Chick Lit (CH)
In the opening scene, Sophie opens her apartment door to find werewolf Pete Sampson, her presumed-dead former boss, standing in the hallway. At first, Sampson doesn't give Sophie much of an explanation about where he's been, but he does ask her to help him hide out in San Francisco for a brief time. Sophie has always had a soft spot for Sampson, so she agrees to come to his aid. Meanwhile, as soon as Sampson arrives back in town, a series of mutilation murders begins, and Sophie and Alex visit one bloody crime scene after another as they try to decide if the killer is a human or a demon—specifically, a werewolf. The plot unwinds slowly as Sophie and Alex gather clues, argue about various topics (both personal and professional), and try to track down the villain.
There are so many holes in this plot that it's hard to know where to begin. First, Sampson tells Alex right from he beginning that Alex has been helping him since he disappeared. He tells Sophie, "I needed to know when it would be safe to come back again. And the only way I could do that...was to have eyes out here." (p. 6) So...Alex has known all along that Sampson was alive and has been in contact with him, but he has lied to Sophie about it. Sophie is furious about Alex's deceit in the scene in which she learns the truth from Sampson, but she never mentions it to Alex—not once—even when (much later in the story) Alex rages at Sophie because she didn't let him know that Sampson was back. This is the first major plot pothole. Then, moments after Sampson confesses Alex's involvement, he demands that Sophie keep his return a secret form everyone—even from Alex. Why wouldn't he want Alex to know that he's back when he's apparently been keeping in touch with Alex on a regular basis. Why doesn't he go to Alex for help instead of the ineffectual Sopie? That's the second major flaw in the plot set-up.
A secondary story thread has Will (Sophie's human Guardian) leaving town to visit his mother in England—presumably because there's no room for him in this plot. A silly story line involves the fact that the weather in San Francisco turns very sunny, forcing Sophie's vampire roommates, Nina and Vlad, to hole up in the apartment for days. As a result, Nina gets bored and addicts herself to the TV, ordering mountains of schlocky consumer goods from the home shopping networks. Apparently this is meant to be extremely funny, but it's just an annoying interruption in the already thin plot. In one implausible scene, Sophie whips open the blackout curtains in the living room to enjoy the morning sunshine and then is completely surprised when Nina accuses her of trying to kill her. Sophie has been living with Nina and dealing with vampires for years, so why doesn't she know that sunlight can burn vampires to ash? Why on earth do they have blackout curtains on all the windows if not to protect Nina and Vlad from the sun? It's a big "Duh!" moment.
I'm still not entirely clear about the mythology surrounding Sophie's position as the Vessel for human souls. Nothing Vessel-related ever seems to happen to her, at least not in this book. At one point, she describes herself as a gateway for souls, but if so, where are all of the souls that are supposed to be going through her gate?
All in all, this is a deeply flawed book in a series that is getting steadily weaker, both in its improbable, glitched-up plots and its shallow, one-dimensional characters. Although Sophie does pull herself together in the requisite showdown scene at the end, she is her usual useless self through most of the book. Here's how she describes herself: "In my life, I did a lot of crying. And sniveling. And falling down. For a girl whose CONTACTS list was loaded with the undead, the overpowering, and the often stinky, I didn't have a heck of a whole lot going for myself other than my near infallible ability to screw things up." (p. 12) For some heroines, this statement could be written off as just poor self-image, but in Sophie's case, everything she says is quite true, and these are definitely not the traits I'm looking for in a heroine. Why Sampson would even come to Sophie, rather than Alex, for help in the first place is a mystery to me.
"While I had gone for more than thirty-three years with nothing so much as an overdue library book to raise my eyebrows, in the last twelve months I had become involved in a gory murder investigation, been kidnapped, attacked, hung by my ankles as someone attempted to bleed me dry...And I had fallen in love with a fallen angel who had the annoying habit of dropping into my life with a pizza and a six-pack when things were supernaturally awful, and dropping out when things shifted into relatively normal gear." (p. 5)
In this book, Sophie has a reunion with her long-dead grandmother and learns some shocking information about her family history. She also picks up a Guardian named Will Sherman, who is just as hot as Alex—and he has the advantage of being entirely human. As usual, Sophie is in jeopardy during most of the story, getting bruised, banged up, and bloody over and over again. Not surprisingly, she also spends a great deal of time dissolving in tears. Although Sophie manages to win a crucial battle, she is definitely not an urban fantasy heroine, contrary (once again) to the cover art. This book, with its many fashion references, girlie moments, and too-soft heroine, continues to keep the series firmly in the chick-lit camp.
The primary problem with the plot of Under Attack is that it makes no sense for Alex to ask for Sophie's help because all that does is lead Ophelia to Sophie. After that happens, Alex pretty much leaves Sophie open to Ophelia's horrific mental, physical, and emotional attacks without providing any protection for her at all. This guy is a veteran fallen angel facing off with another of his kind. Shouldn't he have been able to predict exactly what Ophelia would do to Sophie? Shouldn't he have made sure Sophie wasn't wandering around San Francisco all by herself? Alex comes across as a big wimp with his own suspicious motives, and the Guardian sure doesn't do much guarding. To me, it's not very entertaining when the heroine bears the brunt of the violence while the big guys just offer her a cup of tea (p. 251), argue among themselves about who's watching over her the best (p. 271), keep saying things like "Be safe" (p 117), and then leave her all by herself to cope with whatever violence comes next. Alex's main response to Sophie's many beatings is to keep telling her that everything will be be "okay." (pp. 116, 126, 128, 261, 289, and more) The whole thing just didn't work for me.
Here is Sophie taking a look at the injuries resulting from her first beating by Ophelia: "...bald spot [from hair pulling] slightly visible, black marks already starting to blossom under each eye, blood caking and starting to dry at the corner of my mouth. I checked my neck and groaned at the constellation of tiny bloody pricks there [from strangulation attempt]." (p. 98) Moments later, Alex comes running in, takes one look at Sophie, and exclaims, "Are you okay? Did she hurt you at all?" (p. 100) Duh! Is this guy blind?