Title: Last Blood (House of the Comarre #5)
Author: Kristen Painter
Paranormal World Building Rating: 4.5/5
Release Date: July 30, 2013
Publisher: Orbit and imprint of Hachett Book Group
ISBN: 0316200182 Continue reading
Q. As a writer do you think it is the harder or easier to write urban fantasy/paranormal fiction?
Yes. Hah! Actually, it’s both hard and easy. Easy because there are really no boundaries. Hard because the more complicated your world and plots, the more there is to keep track of it. (Which might be easy for someone who’s organized, but my idea of organization is, well, not that organized.)
Q. When you are not writing what do you read?
Graphic novels, comic books, cookbooks, YA, biographies, research books, the occasional historical romance.
Q. Which one of your House of Comarrè characters is your favorite, and why?
I call dirty pool! That’s like making me pick a body part I’d least like to lose. But okay. Mal. He’s just such a delicious mess.
Q. Who is your favorite author, and why?
Again, that’s a crazy hard question. And I refuse to answer it on the grounds that it may cause me to angst for days.
Q. Of all of your books which one was the hardest to write?
Flesh and Blood, the second book in the series. I wrote Blood Rights to entertain myself, then all of a sudden, I was writing with an audience and an editor. Played some head games with me for a while.
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One of the questions I get asked most often is where the idea for the comarré came from, these hybrid humans bred to be blood slaves for the vampire nobility. Usually I say that I’ve carried the idea of Chrysabelle around in my head since college, which is true, but that was just a blurred image of a woman in a slinky white dress dipped low enough to reveal a gold tattoo on the small of her back. It wasn’t the comarré, exactly. More like the seed that grew into Chrysabelle.
First, a little background. My heroine, Chrysabelle, is a woman torn between two worlds. She was born to serve, trained to be a companion, full of grace and charm and propriety. But underneath that beats a heart that longs for a very different life. A life where she is not property, where her very existence adds nothing to another’s social standing, where she is not a symbol of her patron’s wealth. (There are other depths of her I’m not going to talk about here because I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read Blood Rights yet.)
The comarré life is all she’s known for the past one hundred fifteen years. Her first fifteen years, before her blood rights were purchased by her patron, were spent in the Primoris Domus. This place is more than a house or a school or a training facility. From the moment a comarré is born, it is their entire world. They live here, grow up here, get educated and trained here and keep rooms here even after they’ve moved into the home of their patron. Some return to work here and eventually, when they are without a patron long enough, die here.
Comarré don’t know their parents, so they consider all older comarré as aunts and uncles, all their peers as siblings. In this way, their world is filled with family, but Chrysabelle’s never felt close to anyone. Early on it’s determined that her blood is some of the purest ever produced in a comarré. As a way of finding solace, she also submits to numerous signum (the gold tattoos all comarré get) making her that much more desirable. This results in her blood rights being purchased at a young age, and her spending the next hundred years in service to a vampire she feels nothing for other than a sense of duty.
So back to the question of where did I get the idea for the comarré? I knew Chrysabelle was going to be a representation of lightness, from her coloring to her clothing to the way she’d been taught to act. I also needed Chrysabelle to be a counterpoint to all of Mal’s darkness and for the comarré to balance the heavy weight of the vampire world in general.
I started by thinking about the idea of geishas and courtesans, then the idea really began to grow. I wanted them to be more than that. Beautiful, delicate life-giving creatures who were also something…else. They had to have a high tolerance for pain and a quiet strength to endure the lives they’d been born into. But I also wanted them to have a greater purpose and a touch of the divine. Almost like a religious order. Not exactly sword-wielding, vampire-feeding nuns and monks, but that’s not a bad rough sketch.
And now you know. From those thoughts and ideas sprung the comarré.
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The comarré are a specially bred human hybrid whose sole purpose is to provide blood and graceful companionship to the vampire nobility. Think of them as blood geishas, if you like. Male (comars) and female all look very similar – blonde hair, blue eyes and carmine lips. Their appearance is designed to recall some of the things vampires gave up – sunlight and blue sky – and to remind them of what they desire most – blood. To a vampire, the comarré have a glow about them much like sunlight. They are drawn to it like moths to the proverbial flame. And the perfume that surrounds the comarré is sweet and seductive and utterly intoxicating.
But most noticeable about the comarré is the scrollwork of signum that cover their bodies. These gold tattoos aren’t ink, they’re patterns made by having sacred, liquid gold stitched into the comarré’s skin. And they don’t just mark the individual as comarré, but also serve to purify the blood further. Only through ritualistic preparations and deep, trancelike mediation are the comarré able to handle the intense pain of the signumist’s needle.
There are sets of signum, some the same for male and female, some specifically for each. The individual signumist, the comarré equivalent of a tattoo artist, interprets the sets in their own way and renders them with their own flare. Despite the sets, only one signum is required – the phoebus or sun signum – and it always goes on the same place on the body, the back of the neck. Other than that, the amount of signum each comarré bears is up to them, but the more signum, the purer their blood and the greater their worth.
Chrysabelle, my heroine, has an extraordinary amount of signum, but like other comarré she kept getting them even after her blood rights were purchased for one simple reason. The time required to heal meant time alone. Time away from her patron, time away from the requirements of a life lived for someone else’s pleasure.
Comarré live by many rules. No alcohol, no drugs (even painkillers, hence the need for deep mediation when getting their signum) and the utmost respect for their patrons. Likewise, their patrons are expected to treat them in a similar fashion. The taking of blood occurs through a bite on the wrist, never the neck, which is seen as too intimate. In exchange, the comarré receive the input of vampire saliva and the power that comes with it – enhanced senses, greater strength, relative immortality. But unlike the vampires they serve, these attributes only last as long as the bites continue. Lose your patron, lose your power. This is the life of the comarré.
I’ve been a writer since a very young age, but when I started writing with the goal of publication, the first full length book I produced was a fantasy romance featuring a half-elf merc and a fire-wielding mage. I loved that book. It poured out of me in a way writing never had before, but that was long before I’d been weighted down by the rules of writing. No matter what genre you’re in, there are rules and people who will eagerly tell you about them and when you’re breaking them.
After years of trying to write within the confines of those rules and construct a book that fit the wants and desires of the romance publishing industry, I burned out. The broken promises and the inability to write without those rules in my head pushed me to a breaking point. I started to question why I was even writing if I no longer enjoyed it.
I reverted to my angsty high school self. The me that used to get lost in comic books and fantasy novels and autobiographies of Isaac Asimov. I got mad. Anger is an emotion I don’t do often but my Sicilian bloodlines allow me to tap into it pretty well.
All of that pushed me to write something new. Something that wasn’t for anyone else but me. This story, this book, this character sketch (I really didn’t know what I was writing, just that I was writing) became the vehicle for all my dark and twisty emotions. I poured everything I felt into those pages. I affectionately termed whatever it was that I was writing my Screw You book. Screw the rules, screw what anyone said I could or couldn’t write, I just wrote to make myself happy.
People died in that book. Horrible things happened to my characters. I gave them issues that would send a normal person into a life of therapy. Or possibly cause them to kill their therapist. Or themselves. I wrote with what I’ve come to call The Path of Least Saneness, and by that I mean I made the worst possible choices for my characters and the situations they were in.
Out for Blood is the fourth book in the House of Comarrè series written by Kristen Painter, a paranormal and urban fantasy author. It should be noted that a novella is also included in the series. I was first introduced to the writing of Ms. Painter by way of Twitter. A paranormal author that I follow, Jeannie Frost, who writes the Red Reaper series tweeted that she was reading Ms. Painter after hearing her give a reading at the Authors After Dark convention in New Orleans, L.A. I ended up heading over to Amazon and purchased the first book in the series, Blood Rights. I was a quarter through that book when I purchased the remainder of the series.
In that first book, Blood Rights, you are introduced to a world that Painter builds. It’s in the not too distant future, a future that is not that far removed from our very present. This enables the reader to slide right into the world of the Comarrè, a race of both women and men who are bred to provide their superior blood as food for vampire nobles. They have been bred and trained to serve the noble vampire needs, whom they call patrons. Enormous sums of money are paid to acquire these unique individuals for their blood. What this money is used for remains a mystery, as the Comarrè appear to no more than blood slaves, well taken care of slaves but slaves none the less. Their skin has been gilded with sacred gold tattoos called signum that purifies the blood further and has magical properties. Their blood is so unique it can make a dead vampire’s body come alive for a brief time. The exchange is not without benefits to the Comarrè as it extends their lives, youth and increases their strength. A Comarrè because of this exchange of saliva can live almost forever.
In the world that Painter builds, the reader finds out that not all vampire are created equal, some are nobles (comprising five houses), some are fringe (those born of non noble blood lines) remnant (little more than animal) and anathema (those who walked away from their noble lives or were cast out). The world is also inhabited by fae, varcolai (animal shape shifters) and a whole host of otherworldly individuals all living in society unbeknownst to regular humans. The humans that actually know about the otherworldly species are called kine, they live to provide domestic help for the vampires.
I don’t know exactly where Mal came from (other than the twisty recesses of my mind), but I can tell you what his building blocks were – a host of dark emotions: disappointment, anger, impatience, bitterness. As I mentioned in my first post about the events that led me to write Blood Rights, that book started as an outlet for my frustrations – something I highly recommend to those of you feeling bummed at the way things are going with your career! And since the bones of my heroine, Chrysabelle, were already developing into something very distinctly bright and full of light, I knew I couldn’t pour all that darkness into her.
Mal became the perfect receptacle. He is, to me, the embodiment of the dark, tortured hero. He’s got soul deep wounds that aren’t going to be healed in four hundred pages. If you don’t already know, he’s also a vampire, but he’s so much more than that.
Let’s back up. Let’s start when Mal was human, before his existence fell apart. I decided as his back story to make him a headsman. The job of executioner in the late 1500’s, when Mal would have been alive, was one that both isolated and somewhat vilified the individual that held it. Superstition said that the executioner took upon him the sins of those he was paid to dispatch, the full weight of the souls of those rapists, murderers and thieves.
Because of this, the executioner was treated only slightly better than a plague victim. A special tankard was reserved for him at the village inn so that no one else would have to drink from the same cup as he did.
So this man whose job it was to snuff out human life had little solace. Undoubtedly the list of names of those willing to befriend him, to offer a shoulder for his burdens or share his bed was a very short one. Unless he found someone who couldn’t do any better. In Mal’s case, he finds that person in a gypsy woman accused of thievery and prostitution. He saves her from the gallows and takes her as his wife. But that leaves him with the ever-present question of why she stays – obligation? Or love?
As you can see, Mal’s mortal life isn’t so hot. Now let’s examine his vampire life. Within moments of being turned, he commits the cardinal sin. He drinks to death his sire in the process of being turned.
This act defines him as anathema to the rest of the nobility (a group he doesn’t even realizes exists until some years later) and damns him to forever take the life of any victim he drinks from. As time passes, he becomes more and more of a monster as the desire to kill rages stronger and stronger.
Eventually, he cuts such a bloody swathe through Europe that the vampire nobility feel he must be dealt with. (All those pesky villagers with torches and pitch forks.)
What the nobility does to him results in a second curse. This time the names of each of his victims appears on his skin and their voices come to life in his head – they taunt him mercilessly, urge him to kill more and berate his every decision.
When he does kill again, the second element of this curse is revealed. His victim becomes a ghost who haunts him. She tells him everyone he kills from that point on will join her in making his life more miserable than he’d ever thought possible.
This is my hero, Malkolm Bourreau. Torn, tortured, tormented and because he’s unable to directly consume human blood from the source, he’s unable to access his full power.
Fortunately—or unfortunately—the next person who comes into his life is comarré Chrysabelle Lapointe.
She’s everything he needs. Everything he wants. And everything he can’t have. I’ll tell you more about Chrysabelle and the comarré in my next post.
Q. As a writer do you write your books in scene format or do you write linearly like a movie?
I write like a movie, which is kind of how I seen scenes before I write them. I’ve tried writing scenes out of order and it doesn’t work for me. By the time I get to that scene, it’s not that scene any more.
Q. Do you use an outline? If so do you ever deviate from the outline?
I do a brief synopsis for each book because my publisher requires it, but when I write, I’m always open to possibility. I often purposefully try to write myself into corners. I feel like the most interesting stuff comes out of those desperate situations. I call this “the path of least saneness” – I always make the decision that makes things worse for my characters, not better.
Q. Will we ever find out why Chrysabelle has mini fangs?
I’ll tell you now! It’s just a side effect of her blood sickness brought on by the over abundance of blood in her system.
Q. Why have you chosen to end the House of Comarrè series with Last Blood?
Because it was time. I’ve never wanted to write a series that went on too long, you know? I’d much rather readers want more than have them think the last few books weren’t necessary. And I think Last Blood does a great job of giving the characters closure without completely slamming the door. That way, if I ever want to write another novella in the series, I can.
Q. Any hints on what is in store for Mal and Chyrsabelle?
Oh, you know, some bad stuff and then some good stuff. ;o)
7 Smooches Showdown
1. Favorite Ice Cream? When I eat it, chocolate peanut butter.
2. Favorite Drink? Seltzer with lime.
3. Favorite place to read? In bed. Or by a pool under an umbrella on a tropical island. So yeah, mostly in bed.
4. Favorite time of year? I love fall and spring. Those are the seasons when we can have our windows open here in Florida and it’s glorious.
5. Favorite book as a kid? All of them. I read everything. Even won first place for reading the most books one year.
6. Why do you love cats? They’re gorgeous creatures, but they’re also so full of personality. People think cats are aloof, but when a cat loves you, you know it.
7. Favorite Cake or Pie? I’m typically a cake girl, but I’m off sugar at the moment so let’s go with crab cake.