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by Barb and JC Hendee

(Roc, US $5.99 / Canada $8.99, 376 pages, paperback; 2003.)

Three stars.

Most contemporary stories about vampires and vampire hunters have been urban fantasy, set in some analog of conventional reality. This one isn't. It takes place in a world where superstition blurs the boundaries between cover scantruth and falsehood. Most contemporary stories are also about genuine vampires and vampire hunters. This one isn't. Or at least, it doesn't start out that way ...

Magiere and her half-elven partner Leesil have spent the last several years working as charlatans, fleecing ignorant villagers. Leesil pretends to be a vampire; Magiere pretends to kill him in a spectacular public fight; then they collect the money and skedaddle to the next target village. But Magiere is getting tired of this life. Without warning Leesil, she buys a tavern with her savings and intends to leave behind the whole "hunter" mystique.

The past, however, is not so easily set aside ... and there is more to Magiere, Leesil, and their dog Chap than any of them have told each other. More, in fact, than they may know themselves. Just when things are supposed to be settling down, life and death get a lot more complicated.

What do you do when a lie becomes the truth? This novel is a fascinating exploration of interpersonal dynamics. It takes a hard look at how people deal with each other's quirks and secrets, the process of personal growth and discovery, the ways in which we may disappoint ourselves or others. It ranges from internal debates to relationships between individuals to the more complex dance of fitting individuals into a town. The sociological and psychological aspects of this story are well-developed and fascinating, almost enough to overshadow the dark fantasy elements. But those elements are what throw the character changes into sharp relief.

Dhampir draws from diverse genres, giving it appeal for fans of dark fantasy, horror, even mystery. The romance thread is more subtle but still present. If you like things like Laurell K. Hamilton's "Anita Blake" series, you'll love this.

Review by Elizabeth Barrette.

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