Johnson's debut deftly combines historical and fantasy fiction for a fresh and inspired take on vampires. Her heroine is decidedly and thankfully more like Buffy and Sookie than Bella. It may be a stretch to bestow one woman with so many talents -- she fights demons, she teaches, she belongs to countless activist groups -- but all these aspects become significant throughout this intriguing story. Johnson writes with great verve and wit, and readers will hope for many sequels.
In 1920s New York, vampires and other non-humans live, work and starve among the rest of the huddled masses in Lower East Side tenements -- impoverished, undereducated, politically marginalized. Zephyr Hollis has made it her mission to help the underprivileged, whether demonstrating for fair wages or teaching night school. She agrees to help an otherworldly student find a dangerous vampire mob boss, and uncovers a blood-based liquor circuit that threatens to take down the entire city. (THOMAS DUNNE, May, 288 pp., $14.99)