Everything in Its Right Place


House Rules by Chloe Neill: A VERY Spoilery Review



by Zee the Terrible and Barbara Bones


We are not shy about our love for Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series. We have gushed about how much we love the characters, how perfect the story has been so far, how much we can’t wait to discover the answers to questions that have been building over several books. We loved Biting Cold, and told you all about it here. While House Rules did not have an epic return to bask in, we were still incredibly excited for it because, well, because it’s a Chicagoland Vampires book! So we’re going to tell you all about it, in detail, and what we thought of it.

But first, we want to take a moment to talk about the creator, Chloe Neill. Specifically how amazing a writer she is. Chloe Neill is a reader’s writer. She truly understands what readers enjoy, what makes for a satisfying story, and she delivers. Every single time. Were we devastated by Hard Bitten? Of course we were. But she reassured us that it would be okay, and it was. She keeps us on our toes with new problems and interesting solutions to those problems. But what is amazing is that, while she keeps giving us exactly what we want, she also gives us things we didn’t know we wanted.

It’s no secret that we loved
House Rules, and we loved it because Chloe Neill built an excellent story, complete with three problems we were very invested in, two revelations about personal histories that we’ve been so curious about, and the fruition of the growth that one of our favorite characters has been doing for a long time now. She gave us exactly what we wanted, plus what we had no idea we wanted, and laid the foundation for more amazing story to come.



Bravo, Ms. Neill! You’ve amazed us again!

Click through to read the deets on
House Rules and our reaction to it!




Brave New World


Let us start at the beginning. From almost the very first page, we were hooked. Cadogan House is in a state of upheaval. Merit very aptly compares the situation to a divorce. Which it sort of is. A messy one at that. With more going on underneath the surface than you can tell at a glance. But, as always, Ethan is leading the House through it as gracefully as possible.

Allow us to skip to one of our favorite parts in the beginning. We already knew it was coming, because Ms. Neill is awesome and released the first chapter early, but it bears mentioning again. Merit and Ethan are in his office, working on dividing the books between Cadogan House and the GP. Not surprisingly, it is VERY dull work. And then Ethan says
“Come here often?”, and we swear we heard angels sing.

Ethan+Merit+Library

Pretty much everyone knows Zee wants them to do it in the library (since “Sentinel. Your library.”), and against the bookshelves in his office is an acceptable substitute. But after House Rules, I have a brand new #1 thing when it comes to those two. We’ll come to it soon enough.

The prelude in his office ends, and we move on to where the action kinda starts. Merit, the social chair, has finally thrown a mixer. All the Rogue vampires have been invited, and there is, obviously, a ton of delicious food. (These books always make us so hungry!) We also see how Mallory is doing, and how she’s handling Berna’s unique mothering. The Wenches haven’t been Mallory or Catcher fans for a while, but we think it’s safe to say they were a non-issue in House Rules. They were mild versions of their self-obsessed former selves, which we could deal with. Happily.

It’s amazing how you want to give someone a chance at redemption when they stop being self-righteous douchebags, ain’t it? And to think Zee had saved this gif to describe how she felt about Catcher.... (I’m not kidding, I named it FORCATCHER on my laptop!) But after this book, she did not feel the need to use it for that purpose! You are a miracle worker indeed, Ms. Neill. WE BELIEVE!


Another Chloe Neill miracle was allowing us to start forgiving Mallory. We have long been furious with her for her poor treatment of her “best friend”, and her double-standard where romantic relationships were concerned, as well as her constantly insulting Ethan to Merit and questioning the appropriateness of Merit’s feelings. But in a single conversation, Mallory defended Ethan, pointing out that Merit needed to simply give him time to deal, and convinced us to begin believing that she might not still be the raging bitch we had been looking to eliminate. She can stick around, but we’re still keeping our eyes on her.


Things Worth Fighting For


Now we come to the new story line that’s introduced in House Rules. We find out that two of the Rogue vampires known by Noah have gone missing after being seen at a vampire registration office. We find out pretty quickly what happened to them, and it isn’t pretty. We seriously love Sentinel Merit and Master Ethan at their investigative best. Move over Nancy Drew and Hardy boys, there’s a new sleuthing team in town! And they carry a few feet of steel.

Cadogan, “the House that listens”, is obviously willing to help the Rogues. Part of their motivation, we’re sure, being that they soon will BE Rogues. But other than that, the cruelty inflicted upon those young vamps would motivate anyone with a heart to help. But will they be able to handle the stress of seceding from the GP along with trying to solve these cold-hearted murders?

Despite the murders, and the impending arrival of Darius, Cadogan House has a lot of other stuff going on. We really liked seeing how Cadogan works so well together, GP or not. They really are a family, and we love how Merit has become an integral part of that family. Even the very serious (and awesome) Malik has been touched by her awesomeness.

Ethan winced at the title. “Please stop calling me that. You’re still officially the Master.”
“Oh, I know,” Malik said. “But much like Merit, I find it amusing to irritate you.”

We know Malik and Ethan have been friends for an eternity, but loved seeing this lighter, teasing side to them.

Speaking of old relationships: Lacey. What a fucking gem. But we have to say, as Wenches who hate it when their favorite couples can’t communicate with each other on page (ahem... looking at you, Eric and Sookie), we did not have a single problem with these two in the communication department. We loved how Ethan TOLD Merit about Lacey showing up to help with the GP. And we loved how she handled it like an adult, instead of a hysterical, sobbing, screaming banshee.


Lacey. Showing up at your ex’s house, dressed like the woman he gave his life for, trying to win him back? Have a little self-respect, woman. That ship has sailed. That plane took off, got lost in a storm, crashed into a mountain, no survivors found! LET.IT.GO. We cannot even begin to tell you how many times we were shouting obscenities at the book, telling her to go jump off a cliff onto a million aspen stakes. Add to that her spying on Merit, her belief that Merit failed to protect Ethan in Tate’s office, and her refusal to see what is so blatantly obvious to everyone around them — that Ethan would die again for Merit, for love — and she was a pain in our asses.


A Delicious Surprise 


Okay. You know when someone gives you something AMAZING for your birthday? Something so great that you didn’t even realize you wanted it until you had it? And then you wondered how on earth you ever lived the past however many years of your life with out it? Yeah? Well, Chloe Neill did that. With Ethan. Dominant Ethan. Primal, alpha male. Ethan has always been such a smooth operator, a seducer of the highest skills. His sincerity and words have usually been enough to make the Wenches’ knees wobbly. And those silvering eyes.... But then this happened:

“I suggest you return to our apartment; otherwise you’ll be ravished here and now where you stand, and the door is open.” {{snip}} “Take off your shirt.” {{snip}} “Look at me. Merit. Look at me, goddamn it.”


The most awesome Ethan/Merit surprise was the make-up sex. We’ve seen an absolutely stunning seduction and love scene in Twice Bitten, and hawt returned-to-life sex in Biting Cold, but the make-up sex in this book was something completely different. Make-up sex is always hot. But this — this was something else. Ethan has always been crazy sexy. This just turned the temperature up way higher. Ms. Neill really outdid herself. It was unexpected, and H.O.T. Did we suddenly want to go outside and make snow angels in our pajamas to cool off? Yes. Did we spend most of our “Let’s talk about the review” time talking about Dominant Ethan? Maybe. Is there anything in the world hotter than alpha Ethan? NO! It was the ONE time throughout the series I wanted Merit to shut up and just DO WHAT THE SEXY VAMP SAID!! Even thinking about it curls our toes and makes us tingle. There’s a whole new reason to call him MASTER Ethan, IYKWIM! *wink wink nudge nudge*

While on the topic of Ethan.... Anyone else notice how he was absolutely fucking AMAZING in House Rules? Chloe Neill outdid herself. We have been impressed by everything Ethan since Some Girls Bite. Is there anything that man/vamp can’t do well? So we figured, yeah... he can’t get any better than this. And then House Rules happened. Ethan is the stuff of freaking legend (and fantasy) in this! The way he handled EVERYTHING! We kinda felt like we had been comfortable in this relationship for a while and suddenly discovered new and exciting things about our partner. The library/office role playing, the seriously sexy alpha-ness, the lantern ceremony for his vampires, handling Merit’s RG membership revelation (took him a while, but he did it), handling Lacey’s crazy (and defending Merit and the RG in the process), dealing with the GP, not being Darius’s bitch, and just being all-around awesome! Who knew he had ALL that and then some up his perfect sleeves!


And the award for best performance by a supporting character goes to...


Jeff Christopher! From the phone call where he asks Merit if she has “finally decided to ditch the zero and get with the hero” (not realizing that Ethan could hear him. *maniacal laugh*), Jeff steals the show in House Rules. We’ve long known that Jeff was funny, crazy smart, and that there was an indefinable something about him, but that something comes front and center finally. Jeff’s stint as Merit’s backup when she goes to confront McKetrick hints at delights to come:
“If I’m not back in an hour, call someone.”
He chuckled and pulled off a surprisingly cocky expression. “Mer, if you aren’t back in half an hour, I’m coming to get you myself.”

Oh really, Mr. Christopher? What have you got to back up that cockiness? Turns out, quite a bit! And we’re not talking about his computer skills. We meet Jeff’s animal form as he helps take down the bad guy, and while we’re going to leave some mystery in the book, let us tell you it.is.bad.ass!




“Goose bumps lifted on my arms. And then, in only a moment, the *beep* shape-shifted. I’d seen it happen before, but that didn’t make the visual any less amazing. A flash lit the night as magic swirled around him, changing the massive predator..... into Jeff Christopher. {{snip}} Not that I’d had any doubts, but Jeff Christopher was a marvel.”


We will admit to having had a crush on Jeff for a while, but in House Rules, he actually made us sigh, with the “coming to get you” line. We always knew Jeff could hold his own. Seeing the real extent of his kick assery though, was EPIC.


At last...my love has come along


Our very favorite thing about House Rule was seeing Merit and Ethan together: a couple, a team, a partnership. Even when things got tough, feelings got hurt, or tempers flared, we still didn’t doubt the love that has blossomed between them or the commitment they’ve made to each other. But the banter and friskiness was a delightful surprise! From Ethan initiating a flirtatious library fantasy (Zee is still pretty disappointed that didn’t come to fruition!), to Merit demanding that Ethan impress her during a sparring session, to Ethan slapping Merit’s ass during a run, they were teasing and playful, which was a joy to watch! We loved Ethan making fun of Merit’s appetite, and Merit making fun of Ethan’s pompousness. Their meal at the diner was blissful, and when they exchanged plates we sighed out loud. This is what we’ve been waiting six books for!

But it wasn’t just playfulness for Merit and Ethan this time around. Their relationship may be new, but the weighty responsibilities they both carry mean that they rely on one another for support and comfort.
“I walked into his arms, and he embraced me with relief, as if the act of touching me removed the weight from his shoulders. That might have been the most flattering compliment I’d ever received from him, non-verbal as it was.”

Merit and Ethan together as a couple is something we have been waiting for since, what seems like, forever. And boy, was it worth the wait! They work well together on every single level. As lovers, as friends, as colleagues, as Master and Sentinel. It just works. THIS is the true measure of what they are together (to paraphrase one of our favorite quotes!). Even when they fight because Lacey spills the beans on Merit’s meeting with Jonah, it makes sense. You respect each side of the story. We understand Ethan being furious, especially about Jonah. But we love that Merit will not compromise her integrity for anyone. How can you not respect someone like that? It takes time, but Ethan comes around. He realizes that she uses her best judgment, and that this is the right thing for her. He places his faith in her (and through her, in the RG), and he accepts it. Albeit, reluctantly at first. But he comes around. And they are stronger for it.


Master of Ceremonies


Chloe Neill is a master at writing ceremonies, and she dazzles us again in House Rules! We got teary when the vampires of Cadogan House relinquished their medals, cheered when Malik returned its Mastership to Ethan, felt the full weight of Merit being inducted into the RG, and had chills when Ethan symbolically set free the fears of an independent Cadogan House in the form of a lantern taking flight.


“We place our worries and our concerns inside this lantern,” Ethan said. “We give it the weight of our fears...and we set it adrift.”
{snip}
“Our fears fly,” Ethan said into the quiet that had fallen. “We face them and then we set them aloft until they are extinguished.”



We felt something powerful when Merit and Jonah took part in the RG ritual that bound them as partners. It meant something. We have nothing against Jonah; you can’t hold the fact that he isn’t Ethan against him! Is it too much to hope he finds happiness with Lakshmi? We also wonder, IF that happens... can you change RG partners? Lakshmi and Jonah... Merit and... Ethan? Maybe? Someday? Who knows...


Random Awesomeness 


There were several moments in the book that we simply loved. Ms. Neill, as always, gives us quotes that will satiate and stay with us until Biting Bad debuts, and also several moments of pure, simple delight. These are just a few:
  • “I am your Master and your servant. Just tell me how to please you.”
  • “I will have you. Body, mind, and soul, And I won’t share you with anyone else.”
  • “So you traded up?” I asked, walking toward the car and opening the door. “Do you treat your relationships in the same way?” “Yes,” Ethan gravely said. “And I spent four hundred years shopping before I met you.”
  • Hot shifter poker. Gabe (although he was barely present and really needs to DO more).
  • Ethan saying “fuck” (in any context) tickles us way more than it should!
  • “You want me,” he said. “I don’t stop wanting you. Not since the moment I walked into this House all those months ago.” (We have been waiting for Merit to admit this for four.freaking.books! This is a HUGE “finally” moment for us!)
  • Ethan. Dancing. For any woman, this would have been worth a full-on swoon. But for a woman who loves dancing, that smooth bastard effortlessly doing a swing/tango hybrid with the woman he loves was awesome. Pure awesome.
  • “I believe you’ll want to go next door,” Lindsey said. “Ethan and Jonah are sparring.” H.A.W.T. So hot, we forgot how to spell.

Answers Only Make More Questions


We got answers in this book to two rather sizable questions we’ve had about our favorite couple’s individual pasts. We found out a little more about Joshua Merit and his reasons for things he has done in the past when it comes to Merit. And finally, we learn about the original Caroline Merit. It was so sad, and did a little to redeem Joshua Merit in our eyes (like Barb had predicted). Although we’re still firmly on Merit’s side. One of our favorite glances into the past was Peter Cadogan’s story. It was such a tragic love story, but the story within the story had us entranced while Ethan told it. We’d been wondering about that Faberge egg since we first “saw” it.

We also feel some foreshadowing about things we’re pretty sure we’ll see before it’s all said and done. Some are comforting; some are freaking us out right out! We loved that Michael encouraged Ethan to fight dirty, noting that someone trying to kill him and those he loves are not going to consult The Canon about proper procedure. We’re looking forward to an even more kick-ass Cadogan Master. And, while we loved Gabriel showing up to consult on the transition team, we really want him to step up where Cadogan, and vamps in general, are concerned. We were a bit disappointed that, once again, he was unwilling to ask his shifters to help. We also think we’re going to meet Robert Merit soon, and we’re eager to find out which Merit he is most like.

The winds of change are blowing in Chicago; some of those changes are good for Cadogan, others, not so much. It was great that Noah was comfortable coming to Ethan and Merit about the missing Rogues, stating that Cadogan is “the House that listens”. That’s a good reputation to have among supes. And we were cautiously optimistic that some of Grey House’s vamps have been talking GP secession as well. They might be blustering now, but if Cadogan successfully stands on its own, we have no doubt that other Houses will follow.

McKetrick as the new Ombudsman is a troubling development, and we couldn’t beLIEVE that he blames Merit for his injuries, which does not bode well for Merit. He hasn’t finished being a pain in the ass for Chicago’s supernatural community, and he’s not holding office to help. That asshole is just going to keep growing like some toxic, malignant tumor. Now that he stands behind a veil of legality and thinks he can get away with pretty much anything, we shudder to contemplate what he’s going to try. And the Mayor needs to go yesterday. We much preferred Dominic.

The question that had us most freaked out by the end of this book: What exactly did the “eyes everything and nothing like Ethan’s” prophecy foretell? Some of us thought it referred to his resurrection; some of us had no clue. We don’t think any of us thought it referred to children, but after
House Rules we’re considering that. And, frankly, fretting a little bit. We are unsure how we feel about that development, mainly due to books which shall remain unnamed (and the crazies who loved the same development therein), but we are remaining cautiously optimistic because we truly do trust Ms. Neill to do what is best for Merit and the story.

We absolutely loved the ending of
House Rules, as once again Ms. Neill left us feeling content. No, everything isn’t perfect. There are many foreseeable dangers in the near future: Cadogan is vulnerable, our fave vamps are now Rogues, and hell hath no fury like a Lacey scorned (and since she’s clearly a moron to boot, she’s probably going to do something ridiculously stupid to Merit, or die trying). But still, with Ethan’s beautiful lantern ritual and his wonderful words, we have hope. We want to believe that the House will make it through this difficult time and be stronger for it.

There are still many challenges ahead for Merit, Ethan, Cadogan, and Chicago, but we are excited about the next chapter in their story. We know that they can conquer their challenges together, and it will be a terrific ride!

The Wenches rated House Rules:
Dominant Ethan alone deserves 5 stars!


Now it’s your turn, Saucy Readers, to tell us what you thought of House Rules! What did you love? What did you hate? Are you dying for Biting Bad now, just like we are? Share your thoughts below!

*All gifs from www.tumblr.com

Comments

  1. All I can say, and all I keep saying is .... "OUR HOME"

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  2. I've been reading this series for years, and it is easily one of my favorites. I got to meet her last year at a book signing in Houston and she is just fantastic! I'll definitely read everything she writes.

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    1. Oh wow you are so lucky you got to meet her! She seems AWESOME!

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  3. "The Wenches haven’t been Mallory or Catcher fans for a while..."

    Hey! I still love Catcher and Jonah! Ethan was pretty epic in this book, even I have to admit, but for me it's still Jonah, Catcher and (newly added to this list) Jeff that I prefer.

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    1. Oh, Anne, you know that when we make generalizations about male characters, we can't speak for you. It's just much easier to say "The Wenches" rather than "The Wenches except Anne." ;) We do love your unique preferences, though!

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    2. Yeah, I know. I just like to show my support for the other guys. :-)

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    3. You know, usually I can get behind your side-character love. It's just Catcher. He actually wasn't a complete dick in this one, but I haven't forgotten or forgiven. I do enjoy Jonah, thought, and can't say enough how much I love Jeff!

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  4. Great review ladies. I just finished the book last night. Overall I realy liked it (and yes, dominant Ethan was majorly swoonworthy) but I have to say that I really hated that Merit joined the RG officially. Ethan is her partner and I've loved reading about them working together to solve the crisis of the day. Jonah just seems extraneous to me on that front.

    My biggest issue with the RG up to now has been that they haven't ever really seemed to DO anything. They have a nice platform, i.e. to keep the Masters and the GP in check, but there was never any evidence that they were actually effective. Take Celina as an example. She was a Master and yet she outed the vampires without anyone being ready for it. Then, just in the course of this series she has not once, but twice caused death and mayhem and the RG couldn't/didn't do anything about it. Then there's the GP itself. They not only made the decision to free Celina, they made her one of them. Then the GP sent ol' whats-his-face to put the House into receivorship and he put Cadogan through hell. Where was the RG on any of those occasions? How exactly have they been meeting their mission statement? During all of those events, it's been Merit and Ethan working in tandem who made any difference. So I fail to see why Merit needs the RG.

    Then, of course, House Rules comes along and suddenly the RG, as represented here by Jonah, is able to give Merit the big clue that can save Cadogan, thus ensuring that Ethan will have to accept both Jonah and the RG in Merit's life. This just seemed too tidy and suddenly convenient to me. I wanted more discussions between Merit and Ethan about why he felt so betrayed rather than have the quick solution that shoved it all under the rug. And of course, the tip has to come from a GP insider who just happens to have a crush on Jonah, one that he naturally can't return. Seriously, it is a law that once a male character falls for the heroine he can never show interest in anyone else?

    Anyway, sorry for the rant. I really do love your review and I love Merit and Ethan. I'm just disappointed over the whole RG/Jonah thing (Merit doesn't need another work partner, she HAS one already) and I needed to vent somewhere. :-)

    Veronica

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    1. Rant away, Veronica! :) The one reason I can't completely write off the RG is that they helped saved Cadogan at the end of Twice Bitten. If the RG hadn't shown up, I think the shifters might have taked the House down.

      That said, I can totally see your point. You are absolutely right that they should have been doing something about Celina if they exist to oversee Masters and the GP. And you're SO right about where the hell were they when Frank was on his power trip???

      As far as Ethan dealing with Merit's membership, I thought that it was obvious why he felt betrayed, he just needed time to work through his anger and accept that she was going to do it. Because she WAS going to do it. Jonah is a non-issue, and I'm sure he will get involved with someone else. I love Zee's speculation that Jonah could become partners with Lakshmi, freeing Ethan to be Merit's RG partner. Interesting...

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  5. Thanks Barbara. :-) yeah, I know that Jonah is a non-issue in the romance department. One of the things I love about Chloe is that she once said that she doesn't enjoy reading about love triangle shenanigans (Glory Hallelujah!!) so she doesn't write them. So I've always trusted that any Merit/Ethan angst wouldn't come from that department. I just don't think that Merit needs a new partner. She and Ethan have always worked well together doing whatever needed to be done. Now that Cadogan house is out of the GP, I see even less reason for her partnership with Jonah. I do like Zee's theory though. That's interesting.

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  6. Loved this review...and all the enthusiasm for Ethan! He was brilliant in this book. I felt that we finally really got to see why he is Masterworthy rather than (mostly)being told and I love him all the more. I haven't had a lot of love for this series since the end of Hard Bitten but House Rules has tentatively restored my faith in the series. I've been following it since the first book in 2009.

    I'm not convinced that Jonah is a non-issue though. I fear he may be being stealthed in there. I know that Chloe says she doesn't like love trangles but this could be resolved by breaking up Merit and Ethan. The ending of Hard Bitten makes me think that Chloe wouldn't hesitate to put Merit (and readers) through the wringer just to show Merit coming out stronger for it. Cue new man/zero love triangle. I am so not up for that. I like the mysteries and the politics but Merit and Ethan are the heart of the series for me.

    I also agree with the post re. the RG. We really should have seen them a lot more actively involved throughout the series whenever vampires were at risk or Masters and the GP were misbehaving. If they suddenly come to the forefront now, it'll be hard to swallow.





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