It's hard to say exactly what I felt for this book without rambling. First of all, let me say, I think this book has one of the most tormented heroine...moreIt's hard to say exactly what I felt for this book without rambling. First of all, let me say, I think this book has one of the most tormented heroines I've ever read about, both in adult and young adult literature! How much crap can one girl go through? As I listened, I kept thinking how morose this story was. But I had to keep listening. Hoping that Plain Kate would find joy and a place to call home.
This is a novel that shows the destructive effects of prejudice in an interesting way. In this book, anyone who is different or odd has to be a 'witch.' Everyone is so busy blaming everything that goes wrong around them on witches (who are more than anything just anyone who sticks out), they don't even have the sense to go after the real cause of the problem. Even those who are outsiders don't show nearly the amount of tolerance that they should. That makes for a very bitter pill to swallow.
What I loved about this story, what kept me reading was Kate. It was not easy to walk alone, and to keep walking after all she had lost. But she does. And I admire her for that. Also her cat, Taggle. Talking about a scene stealer. I loved him. The author knows cat behavior very well. I would laugh at Taggle's antics and what he would say. He's charmed so that he can talk, but he expresses himself in very much the way I can imagine my cats talking. I definitely give the author brownie points for that.
Although it's never stated, the setting is very Russian. Even the folkore gives this story an indisputible Russian stamp. Russian elements always work for me!
The tone of this story was hard to handle at times. It's very grim in a way. There are spots of brightness and joy like a ray of sunlight shining through a cloudbank. But for the most part, this story has a very downcast feel to it. That sadness that permeated this story grabbed at me. I was glad that Taggle was there for needed comic relief. As an optimist, I looked for evidence of hope for Kate, another thing that kept me reading, even when one event had me sobbing out loud. I mean really crying. I was thinking how much can this one person suffer?
Although definitely the most depressing young adult book I've read in a long time, Plain Kate was a very good book. It's not one of those books that you put down with a smile, though. Instead, you feel a sense of moody reflection. If only to convey how ugly prejudice is, this book succeeds on that point. Substitute any class of people for the 'witches' as the persecuted group and you have a powerful story told in an imaginative way, and the lesson will get transmitted to an audience who I hope will take this lesson very seriously. I think that one should think hard about these issues. Thinking clearly might help a person to see that hatred of others because of their differences is just wrong. And a world that condones that kind of injustice makes for a cold, cruel world for all of us. If I have to read a book that's not so sunny and happy to get that message, I guess that's a good thing in the end.(less)
Last year, I picked up a book called Devil’s Kiss on impulse. It sounded good, with a story about a girl who is the daughter of the leader of the mode...moreLast year, I picked up a book called Devil’s Kiss on impulse. It sounded good, with a story about a girl who is the daughter of the leader of the modern day Knight’s Templar. I read this book, and I loved it. So, I was definitely going to continue the series. And Sarwat Chadda has continued the excellent writing in this next installment.
First of all, he writes a character that is complex and surprisingly likable and identifiable. Normally, authors bent on crafting realistic characters will give you a character who is so flawed that you can’t like them. They make bad decisions so they seem more human, but their bad decisions only show the bad of humanity. You need to see the good, too.
In Devil’s Kiss, Billi was rebelling against her legacy. I understood why, even if I didn’t always agree with her actions. In this book, she has taken up the yoke of duty in the Knight’s Templar. She’s hardened by the loss of her dearest friend. Now, she is all about duty. Her duty requires her to make tough decisions on a regular basis. Billi doesn’t have the life of the average teenager, and she never will. But the world needs her sacrifices to be protected from the Unholy, monsters who prey on humans. In this book, she might be forced to make the toughest decision of all. If she has to kill an innocent child to save the world, can she do that?
Mr. Chadda manages to write this teenage girl in an amazingly convincing manner. He doesn’t forget what and who she is, but he endows her with a maturity that is realistic, given her relentless upbringing and the burden she carries in her life. I love young adult fiction, although there are some books that I can’t get into because they don’t have the complexity I like in a story. This is not one of those. If there were more YA books like this one, I think that many adult readers would stop looking down their noses at YA and calling it infantile. This book is mature and challenging enough to keep any fan happy, and done in such a way as to contain suitable and interesting subject matter for teenage readers.
Russia and its Folklore: This reader has a fascination and a love for Russia, its culture, and its folklore. I was overjoyed to see how well Chadda writes about modern Russia. I felt as though I took a tour of the Moscow of today, and he even takes us to the barren wasteland of Chernobyl, twenty years after the nuclear meltdown that made it uninhabitable by humans. Each scene gives a full picture of Russia, how the past, future, and present mingle in a Gordian fashion. On top of that is his use of the old folklore of Baga Yaga and Vasilisa. Baga Yaga scared me in the folk stories I read. She’s even more scary in this. In this story, she is the Dark Goddess, with a whole pack of ruthless female werewolves dedicated to her service. I loved how Chadda took this folklore and made it such an important part of his story.
Action, Danger, Interpersonal Relationships and a Bit of Romance: I tell you what, I am glad I am not Billi. Facing the situations she does would be way too much for me. But it’s real life for her, whether its saving a young girl from ravenous wolves, or dealing with corrupt humans. Operating on little to no sleep. Trying to find the way out of seemingly impossible situations, only to do it again the next day. And facing a formidable witch who has the power to end the world. This book is action-packed. The storyline twists and turns, and the sense of risk never abates. I loved seeing the characters fight their way through one situation to another, and the sense of family between the Templars. These guys are seasoned, hardened warriors. Mr. Chadda does a great job of writing about modern day warriors and their weapons, and doesn’t result to info-dumping to show just how knowledgeable they are about their weapons.
I am glad to see that the relationship between Billi and Arthur has improved. Arthur trusts Billi to do to the right thing, gives her a lot of autonomy in doing it, and listens to her advice. He realizes that she has earned his respect the hard way, and that she’s an incredible asset in their battle against the Unholy. I loved the daughter/father relationship in this book, because Arthur isn’t only Billi’s father, he’s also her commanding officer, which takes precedence most times, but it’s clear how much Arthur cares about his daughter, and vice versa.
After the last book, in which she is betrayed by one love interest, and ends up losing another who was an important part of her life, Billi isn’t exactly looking for love, and she doesn’t have time for it even if she was open to it. Nevertheless, sparks fly between her and Tsarevich Ivan Alexeiovitch Romanov, the surviving heir to the Imperial Romanov dynasty. Yes, that could have come off as a cheesy, over the top touch, but it did not. In a story in which Russia is an intrinsic part of its fabric, it totally made sense. I liked Ivan. He had the arrogance and regality I expected of a young heir to the Russian Imperial throne, but he was also tough, adaptable, and good-hearted. I liked that he respected Billi for the strong young warrior that she was, as well as seeing the beauty in her. I liked seeing their relationship bloom, in the most adverse of circumstances. It added a nice touch of romance to this dark story, but it didn’t inappropriately take over the story, as both know that there is not much time for snuggling and flirting.
Oh, the Horror!: This author writes horror so well. He does the atmosphere beautifully, with just enough violence to make the reader shudder, but not over the top. The menace of Baga Yaga, the werewolves, and humans who seem to lack any semblance of humanity. And yet, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and the good guys, not all good. It’s all about motives, isn’t it? That sense of ambivalence takes a horror novel to the next level.
Final Thoughts: I loved this book. I devoured it, and wanted more when I finished. I wish Sarwat Chadda would write faster, because I can’t wait to read his next book about Billi and the Knight’s Templar! (less)
About twelve years ago, there was a little girl named Danielle who read a book called Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton, and was seduced into th...moreAbout twelve years ago, there was a little girl named Danielle who read a book called Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton, and was seduced into the dark, enchanting world of urban fantasy. She went on to read more urban fantasy than she could shake a stick at. Over the years, she lost touch with Anita Blake, and mourned the loss of a tough-as-nails, kickass, urban fantasy heroine to join for exciting, dangerous, and magical adventures.
Recently, she finally picked up a book called Magic Bites, which had been sitting on her bloated, embarrassingly large tbr pile. She read it to find out who this mysterious "Beast Lord" was, and why everyone thought that Kate and Curran were the best urban fantasy couple. That young girl is a very happy camper.
Magic Bites is a hard book to describe. If you are a genuine, die-hard urban fantasy fan, you will like this book. At 260 pages, it appears deceptively slim. However, there's a lot of information, adventure, description, and incredibly good writing in that relatively small amount of pages. I will admit that this book made being confused and baffled fun for me. I had a lot of questions as I was reading. Still do. But that's kind of nice.
Kate Daniels is one of the best urban fantasy heroines I've had the pleasure to meet. I've said before that I don't care for arrogant, braggadocious, posturing characters. She doesn't posture. She simply is a bad-ass, but down to earth, at the same time. She doesn't run around in bustiers, low-riding leather pants, and stiletto heels, climbing out of bed with some random guy long enough to kick-butt. She wears clothes that facilitate her ability to kick ass and to keep herself alive. Being cute is all good and well, but in her world, being cute might get her killed. Her only vanity is her long hair, which she keeps in a braid most of the time. Lethal abilities aside, Kate is very feminine. She can appreciate a cute guy, and she had flaws and weaknesses just like the rest of us armchair kickbutt heroines. I like her no-nonsense view of the world, her snarky sense of humor, and the fact that she likes to pull the lion by the tail, sometimes literally. I thought she was an interesting character. She has some emotional wounds that she is dealing with, and tends to keep her own company. It's nice to see a thoughtful, almost brooding heroine in this genre.
Ms. Andrews earned my respect. The Atlanta that she has created is a very fascinating place. I still don't understand all of what occurred to make Atlanta very much like a dystopic wastleland, but I didn't have to understand that to enjoy this book. I do know that magic plays a huge hand in the catastrophe that hit this fair Southern city. It seems to surge and ebb, like the electricity brownouts that were hitting California when I lived out there. For all the importance that magic plays in this story, Ms. Andrews is never heavy-handed with the use of magic. In fact, she lightly and skillfully builds a storyline that is credible and interesting around the tendrils of magic power wielded in different ways by many of the characters in this novel. And better yet, she was able to create a female magic-wielder who wasn't a witch. I believe there are far too many witch urban fantasy and paranormal heroines. It's gotten to the point where it's almost cliche'. Her use of folklore is clever and well-placed. She takes a different direction with vampires, shapechangers, and mages. I must say I've never seen vampires described in the manner in which they exist in this story. They are quite gruesome and almost pitiful in Kate Daniels' world.
I have to say that Ilona Andrews writing is high class. She sets the scenes very well, using language in just the right way, to keep the story flowing forward. She employs the noir elements that I enjoy in urban fantasy and occult detective novels very well. Better yet, she treats the reader with respect, understanding that popular fiction readers like to be challenged and fully engaged. She seems to understand that just because we enjoy fantastic, escapist material, it doesn't mean that we want to read something meaningless and without substance. In fact, I felt as though I was reading a police procedural with magical and horrific elements (a sure sign of a good occult detective novel). I thought I had figured out who the killer was fairly early on (and was about to be disappointed), but I was way off. When the reveal happens, it comes at you in such a manner that you cannot help but admire how skillfully the red herring and clues were laid out.
As I read this book, my brain, which always tries to make order and sense of things, tried to think of a way to categorize and classify this book and the world within it. I never came up with a concrete classification. But that's a good thing. It's nice to find something new within a well-loved genre, and to encounter a novel reading experience at the same time. This book delivered that to me.
If I were to make any literary allusions, I would consider this book to have incorporated the story traditions of the tales of medieval knights, with a modern and often horrific spin. If I could describe Kate in any quick way, I would call her a knight-mercenary. She has the requisite sword, although she lacks the steed that usually goes with the package(To my pleasant surprise, there is quite a bit of horse-riding in this book, but Kate doesn't have her own horse). Unfortunately, we didn't get to see her wearing her armor. Maybe in the next books. Slasher, her blood-thirsty and sentient sword, reminded me of Stormbringer, the vampiric sword owned by Elric of Melniboné, written by Michael Moorcock, whom I became acquainted with earlier this fall.
Any urban fantasy heroine has to have a potential spark, if you will. That's where Curran, The Beast Lord, comes in. He's impressive, let's leave it at that. He's not just a potential love interest, but a powerful ally. These two butt heads in the most delightful ways. As the Beast Lord, and a lion shapeshifter, Curran's used to being in charge, and Kate lives by the 'you're not the boss of me' philosophy. I look forward to more fighting alongside, and flirting with Curran in the next books.
This book is quite dark. Blood (and blood magic) and guts aplenty, dark deeds, dark magic, dark creatures. This is a book for a reasonably mature reader, in that regard. Being a big fan of Magic Noir (thank you, Brad, for letting me steal your fantastic term), I enjoyed those aspects. But I did wince at a few particularly gruesome scenes. The villain is a very disturbing individual, in more ways than one. Everything in this story has an edge to it. That's not a bad thing to this reader, since she enjoys a little darkness in her fiction. But if you tend to enjoy the lighter urban fantasy stories, you'd want to be prepared when you read this one. Now there is humor, but it's of the drier, more wry, and grimmer variety. If you like the hero to get banged up and injured quite a bit, you'll enjoy that about this novel. Kate definitely faces jeopardy, again and again. The stakes are particularly high in this novel, in ways that you need to read to find out.
So, after so much rambling, I have to say that this urban fantasy fan has found a new series of which she intends to fully avail herself. Kate Daniels is my newest knight in shining armor. Let the adventures continue.(less)
I love winter, and I was overjoyed at the prospect of reading a duo of paranormal stories based on folklore relating to winter. Even cooler, I read th...moreI love winter, and I was overjoyed at the prospect of reading a duo of paranormal stories based on folklore relating to winter. Even cooler, I read this in December, although in Texas, we don't exactly get much snow. It was chilly outside at least, so it added to the mood.
I enjoyed the lesser-utilized winter folkore in both of these books. In the case of the Michele Hauf story, A Kiss of Frost, it was Jack Frost. I never thought of Jack Frost as sexy, but Ms. Hauf really manages to make her version quite sexy. However, I had trouble with the fact that the heroine would essentially pick up strangers and go with them to a hotel and have fun sex with them like it was no big deal. I think that's very risky and scary behavior in the modern age of serial killers, stalkers, murderers, and sexually-transmitted diseases that can kill a person. I couldn't get past that to enjoy this story to it's full potential. It's a shame, because it really was a cool idea of having Jack Frost be an assassin for the Winter Gods and Goddesses. I didn't like the cold nature of the frost fairies, but that definitely is typical for the fae to be untouched by human emotions. Jack would have to try not to allow his human woman's passion to melt his cold heart, but he didn't do a very good part of it. I did like that the heroine's career was essentially as a snowflakeologist, for lack of a better term. She was a bit flighty for a scientist, but oh well. I'd give this story 2 1/2 stars.
I liked the second story by Vivi Anna, Ice Bound, very much. It utilized Japanese folklore of the Snow Maiden, who was forced to roam the icy roads and would often kill strangers with her icy kiss. She falls in love with a scientist and doesn't end up killing him, but takes him back to her icy prison that she has been cursed to exist in forever by her betrayed lover. The only time she can leave is when she goes out to lure an unsuspecting traveler to his icy demise. But in the case of the hero, love causes her to spare him, but he has to help free her from her icy prison before they can be together. This was a really cool story idea. It was also interracial, which was great. The heroine was a Japanese woman (or spirit if you prefer). The hero was an American White scientist, with just enough nerdiness to be endearing. He's not really a nerd, just had a cute nerd vibe to him. This was a neat story, so I'd give it four stars.
I find that these Nocturnes are just too short to give time to develop a really meaty story, which I have gotten used to with full-length paranormals. It was a little less obvious in this short story format. If I liked the first story more, this would have been a four star read all around. As it turned out, it's three stars.(less)