Review: Gardella Vampire Hunters series

Gardella Vampire Hunters Book 1

Beneath the glitter of dazzling 19th-century London Society lurks a bloodthirsty evil...

Vampires have always lived among them, quietly attacking unsuspecting debutantes and dandified lords as well as hackney drivers and Bond Street milliners. If not for the vampire slayers of the Gardella family, these immortal creatures would have long ago taken over the world.

In every generation, a Gardella is called to accept the family legacy, and this time, Victoria Gardella Grantworth is chosen, on the eve of her debut, to carry the stake.

Thus teases the first installment of the Gardella Vampire Hunters series. And even though gutsy, genteel Victoria Anastasia Gardella Bellissima Grantworth is completely blindsided by this late-breaking addition to her already brimming social schedule, she not only carries the proffered stake — stylishly tucked into elaborate coiffures, frilly garters, and killer corsets — through the elegant ballrooms and gardens of Regency England. She raises all the stakes, with poise and panache, in the immortal battle between the forces of light and darkness. She also kicks ass frequently, fashionably, and with increasingly confidence and ferocity.

Victoria has lived a properly sedate and pampered life of luxury until that fateful day when she learns that vampires have been trying to eradicate mankind for millennia. And — surprise! — she has suddenly acquired the ability and the duty to track down and exterminate these threats. In fact, her genetic endowments position her to eventually inherit command of about 100 other Gardella Vampire Hunters around the world, the best only line of defense between clueless, gullible humans and an endlessly renewable population of vampires and demons.

Through five books, Victoria gamely joins the festivities of of husband-hunting and hoity-toitying among London’s wealth- and title-obsessed haute ton while secretly chasing down vampires and villains at every opportunity. Through crises of increasingly dire proportions, she grows stronger and more resourceful, evolving from frivolous debutante into fearsome fighter. Her bravery (or is it reckless spirit of adventure?), dedication, and plucky perseverance hone her into a savvy and capable leader who never loses her charm and humor.

I enjoyed this surprising little gem of a series quite a bit. After the jump I’ll tell you why, and I'll try not to spoil any surprises.

You’re just what I needed

Gardella Vampire Hunters Book 2
Ever have one of those weeks, when real life turns up all the dials, you desperately need some escape reading, but nothing lures you away from your to-do list long enough to hook you? That’s where I was when I stumbled across The Rest Falls Away on my e-reader. It had been an impulse buy, because Jeaniene Frost had recommended it, set aside for the right occasion. The fact that it intrigued me enough to not only finish, but take the whole series with me on a cruise to read before the one I’d already packed, has earned it a special spot among my vacation memories. (I love that I see myself relaxing by a pool every time I think of these books!)

This series is a raucous urban fantasy romp through the vibrant social swirl of 1820s London and Venice. It has been aptly described by its author as Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Pride and Prejudice. It ponders the titillating possibilities of what Elizabeth Bennett’s contemporary might do if she had to slip away from every social gathering to kill a few uninvited, undead intruders. If she were clandestinely studying centuries of accumulated esoteric knowledge at her great aunt’s side and practicing Asian martial arts with a trainer, right under the busy noses of her blissfully ignorant family and friends. If she couldn’t tell her Mr. Darcy the truth about her “night job” and the beasts that go bump in the night.

All the right friends in all the right places

Gardella Vampire Hunters Book 3
Book 1 opens shortly after Victoria’s great Aunt Eustacia has explained reality to her. Five dreams have signaled to Victoria that her powers have matured and it’s time to assume her duties as a Venator. Venators are “chosen” from among the ancient Gardella family bloodline to destroy vampires, and they are unaware of their destiny until their dreams reveal it to them, though a rare individual outside the bloodline can “opt in” by surviving a grueling Trial.

If they accept the Gardella Legacy, they are presented with a sacred amulet called a vis bulla (often worn intimately as a navel or nipple piercing), which helps to protect, strengthen, and heal them. If they reject the Legacy, their Venator skills revert to dormancy, all awareness of vampires is wiped from their mind, and they become a complete Pain In The Ass to any nearby Venator relatives, who must hide vampire-hunting activities and fend off annoying questions.

Victoria’s mother and grandfather declined the Legacy; therefore, she receives the cumulative power of three generations. And that’s a good thing for her, because her branch of the family descended directly from Gardeleus, a gladiator in ancient Rome, upon whom the burden of the Legacy was originally bestowed. When her childless great aunt dies, Victoria will take her place as Summa Gardella, to whom all other Gardella Vampire Hunters look for strength, guidance, and wisdom.

As if that weren’t daunting enough, there have been only three other female Venators in recent history: two died quick, “hideous” deaths, and the other is Aunt Eustacia, so the male Venators are probably placing bets on Victoria’s life expectancy as well as snarking behind her back.

“It is no more than I suspected when she was first called — she would find her role exciting and exhilarating for a time, and then become bored with it ... And then she would want to return to her simple world of poetry-spouting beaux and pink furbelows and dance cards. This is precisely why women should not be Venators.”

“Not to mention [her] distraction of being In Love. Have you seen how love-sopped people look at each other? And at no one else, and nothing around them?”

No pressure! She has to validate girl power in general plus fill some formidable shoes, with not much time to get up to speed before she’s smack in the middle of vampiric subterfuge.

She kills her first vampire on the same night she is presented to London society as a debutante, and thus sets up the tightrope she must walk between parading herself demurely around the sumptuously styled gatherings of eligible bachelors and chasing vampires through London’s seedy bars, back alleys, and sewers. It isn’t long before she’s being pursued by almost as many suitors as vampires, but in particular by three very different men with tantalizingly diverse charms.

Victoria does an admirable job of stepping up to her duties and growing into her new role. Her bravery is exemplary. Her stubbornness is a hair short of stupid sometimes, but she’s so endearingly tenacious, spunky, and funny that I can’t help but cheer for her. She enthusiastically tries to reconcile the requirements of her different lives, plot defensive strategies and daring rescues, keep her priorities straight, and juggle a whole lot of secrets, all while enduring the scrutiny and judgment of ardent suitors, self-appointed matchmakers, and snarky co-workers with dubious faith in her abilities.
“Whether they exist or not, you cannot hunt vampires, Victoria. You are a marchioness. You are a pillar of Society. I forbid it.”

“I do hope you will find time between filling your dance card and selecting your ball gowns to help us.”

“Is it possible you could perhaps adjust your schedule so I could pick you up at midnight? So too many people aren’t killed before we arrive?”

Gardella Vampire Hunters Book 4
Victoria forges ahead to face off against a frightening barrage of evil entities: greedy humans with nefarious agendas and humans who are too stupid to know danger even when it bites them on the neck, megalomaniacal demons and dark armies of demon drones, elite Guardian and Imperial vampires who protect their insatiable queen and lead her armies, and Lilith the Dark herself, savoring her moment in the moonlight while her brother is imprisoned. Victoria survives all manner of attacks — from within and without, by glamour and seduction and combat, in ballgowns and breeches and cleverly customized couture.

She throws her whole heart and soul into her new calling, but predictably there is a steep learning curve and an imminent threat looming just over the horizon, so time is of the essence. Fortunately, she’s a quick study, though sometimes even her best intentions can lead to peril and heartbreak. For a while, she wrestles with what some saucy readers refer to as a dreaded triangle, but I don’t mind triangles that serve a useful purpose, which this one did. I couldn’t decide which of her suitors to pull for, because they both could be irritatingly obtuse and magnificently endearing:
“I don’t plan to be a gentleman about this Victoria. He doesn’t want you — he doesn’t want anyone — and I do.”
~ A Suitor

“I’ve changed my mind, and when we’re finished, Victoria, you won’t remember your own name... let alone [his].”
~ Another Suitor

I couldn’t really blame Victoria for taking a while to sort out her feelings. This didn’t impede the action, because the focus is at least as much on her kickassing as her romancing. For me, the dynamics amongst these characters were ultimately very satisfying and the resolution was NOT AT ALL what I expected. I’m still sort of blown away by it.

All the right moves and all the right faces

Gardella Vampire Hunters Book 5
Author Colleen Gleason creates an entertaining world in which the Austen-style classical heroines I admired in my Lit classes by day co-exist alongside the monsters I hung out with in the closet by night. Despite her sheltered upbringing, the beautiful, brave, and fiercely independent Victoria was easy for me to relate to and cheer for, though there were quite a few nerve-wracking times when I desperately wanted to knock some sense into her fool head. Through her, I sprinted with abandon through Austen-esque locales, jostling pretentious partygoers and brandishing pointy objects — if only in my imagination.

Gleason also brings to life an engaging assortment of main characters who complement, clash, and generally complicate things for feisty Victoria.

  • Golden, lush-lipped sensualist Sebastian Vioget, with his questionable motives, knack for steaming up carriage rides, and possibly sinister connections to vampires.
  • Darkly brooding, arrogant Max Pesaro, master vampire executioner, Aunt Eustacia’s trusted confidante, and her oldest and strongest Venator.
  • Besotted, gallant Phillip de Lacy, Marquess of Rockley, quick to offer assistance and oh so patient every time Victoria leaves him holding the lemonade.

Gleason balances the generally brisk pace of her supernatural story lines by liberally sprinkling interesting side characters throughout the books.

  • Victoria’s beleaguered lady’s maid Verbena, continuously tasked with repairing the telltale signs of her mistress’s nightly escapades and hiding more stakes in her hairdo.
  • Victoria’s mother and her hilariously simpering and doting companions, plotting dalliances, planning marriages, and sticking their curious noses into lots of places they really shouldn’t.
  • Ethereal, enigmatic Wayren, preternaturally ageless curator of supernatural wisdom for untold generations of Gardellas and bearer of the bottomless book bag.

This is a fun, frolicking, highly entertaining blend of urban fantasy and period drama, led by a kickass Jane Austen-era debutante, and set in Regency England but somewhat modernized, slightly steampunk. Gleason puts her own twist on vampire mythology, which at times slows the pacing of book 1 a little just because there’s a lot to convey, but in general I flew right through these mesmerizing page turners. I read them on a vacation, when I needed something with enough action and intrigue to keep me riveted, not too much detail to keep track of after frequent interruptions, and lots of humor to make me laugh out loud. They were absolutely perfect on all counts! This is not a series for pondering the weighty mysteries of life — it is a series to kick back and have fun with!

Gardella Vampire Hunters Book 5.5
Gleason promised her fans that she would tie up the story in five novels and give them a satisfying ending. I think she delivered admirably. For those who like HEAs, there are some. For those who like things a little messier, there’s some of that, too. So all readers are happy! And in response to her fans, she also wrote a short story that checks in on some of the main characters about six months after the series ends. Gleason hopes to write new short stories occasionally, and I look forward to those treats, because I like these characters way too much to tell them goodbye.
  1. The Rest Falls Away
  2. Rises the Night
  3. The Bleeding Dusk
  4. When Twilight Burns
  5. As Shadows Fade
  6. Max Stops the Presses

There’s a free short story that takes place the night of Victoria’s debutante ball, Victoria Gardella: Vampire Slayer. You can read it any time after you’ve passed the point in book 1 where she kills her first vampire. In addition, book 1 is often free or deeply discounted in e-book form.

Gleason’s books kind of snuck up on me. They seemed like easily forgettable fluff as I read them, yet I couldn’t put them down. And I haven’t wanted to leave them. It’s only in retrospect that I realize how much I’ve come to enjoy them and how clever the author is to have hooked me like this. Her stories, characters, and world building are so captivating that I overlook occasional plot holes and happily suspend belief when needed (because, hey, vampires). I went poking around in book 1 again when I started writing this review, to refresh my memory, and next thing I knew I had reread the whole book. I could have reread them all right then if I hadn’t forced myself to pick up some of her other books instead. So I read Roaring Midnight, the first book in the Macey Gardella series, set 100 years later in 1920s gangster-infested Chicago, and featuring Victoria’s great-great-granddaughter plus a few familiar characters. And since I enjoyed that book so much, now I’m stuck waiting for the next installment to be published...and looking for more Colleen Gleason books.

I thoroughly enjoyed this world of villains, vampires, and Venators, watching Victoria grow into a powerful force and noble leader. She never cowered from her new life, she jumped in with both feet and gave it everything she had. Each time she mastered a new skill or thwarted another foe, I was quite proud of her stamina, strength, and steadfast resolve. My heart alternately applauded and ached for her, because her choices were often bittersweet: to save mankind from apocalyptic chaos, at the cost of so much she held dear. If she had the chance to go back and reject the Gardella Legacy, would she?

When I first accepted the Legacy, I did so innocently — but I did not truly understand. I thought it was fun — to be strong, to be able to walk the streets alone at night, and know that I could defend myself better than any man could. It gave me freedom that I had never imagined a woman could have! With the freedom, with the strength and power, comes pain and sacrifice. The impossibility of having a normal life. Responsibility.

Victoria’s story is ultimately uplifting and inspiring. I loved the way the series ended, though I’m not completely happy with everyone’s outcome. I will say that I didn’t see one big development coming, but it does set up some interesting possibilities for future stories in the Macey Gardella books, so I can continue to hope for one more HEA.

This Wench rates the Gardella Vampire Hunters series...

Have you read Victoria’s story? Or other books by Colleen Gleason? We hope you’ll share your comments with us!


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