I hate to say it, but despite some flaws and occasionally wonky writing, Pettersson's second outing in the series is marginally better than the first....moreI hate to say it, but despite some flaws and occasionally wonky writing, Pettersson's second outing in the series is marginally better than the first.
I'll admit it, even I was rather taken aback by my urge to read this book when I wasn't all that enthused about the first one. Perhaps it's my insatiable curiosity: I had to know if Pettersson did a better job of things the second go 'round than she did in the first. Well, to that I have to say 'Eh.' Some things were improved, but some of the same issues I encountered in the first book popped up again in this book. Not to mention the mystery wasn't all that mysterious and anyone with half a brain could figure out the identity of the enigmatic woman who shows up in the narrative and is revealed early on to be the mastermind of the troubles in which Kit and Grif get embroiled. Yet, for all that, I still have a weird compulsion to read the next book when it comes out. I can't chalk it up to a “So bad it's good” compulsion, because the book is just good enough to ease out of that category, yet I can't call it a “Must read” compulsion either. My guess is because the second book is slightly better than the first book, by the time Pettersson gets to the sixth book in the series, it'll be so good my socks will be knocked off. Whatever the case, the series and the characters have sunk hooks into my psyche.
In The Lost, Kit is still the same incessantly positive, spunky, stubborn, foolhardy-disguised-as-brave, so-upbeat-you-want-to-beat-her-over-the-head-with-a-baseball-bat rockabilly chick we met in The Taken. However, this time around, her rockabilly schtick seems less of a veneer as it was in the first book (which led to the awesome and apt term Rockabilly Barbie. Sadly, I can't take credit for inventing that; instead my friend came up with it in her fabulous review). We're given a better explanation as to why Kit has gravitated towards this lifestyle and why she dresses the way she does and why her house is decorated the way it is, giving Kit more substance than what she had in The Taken. What hasn't changed is Kit's insistence on running straight into a dangerous situation, especially right after someone (usually Grif) tells her not to. I get that Pettersson is trying to show Kit as fearless, but there's fearless and then there's just plain stupid and lacking the basic sense of self-preservation. During the climax of the novel, Kit does this over and over, running into situations most people would look at and think, “Um, you know what? I like my skin just where it is. I think I'll call the authorities and let them handle it.” Frankly, it's a toss-up between this behavior and her insane chirpiness over which makes you want to punch her in the face more.
Grif is little better. Once again the now half human-half angel P.I. is obsessively hung up on his ex-wife Evie and with solving her (and, by extension, his) half-century-old murder. The only difference between this novel and the previous one is that in The Lost, Kit finally starts to get a bit more ticked off with Grif on the subject, especially when he keeps calling out Evie's name in his sleep (which finally makes her seem a bit human--after all, what woman would like having her lover call out another woman's name in his sleep?--instead of some doll programmed to be chipper and optimistic 24 hours a day). The thing is, though we're told over and over that he's a P.I., both in his former and present life, he seems to really suck at it. Whenever he runs into a roadblock in his Evie investigation, he basically gives up until the next lucky hint/tip/clue falls into his lap. He does nothing active to move the investigation forward. For example, Grif has been looking for a woman who might have information pertaining to Evie's murder; when he goes to his source, he discovers that the woman has remarried (several times) and has moved away. So he basically gives up that lead as dead. The stupid thing is, he knows the woman's name and he knows where she's moved. So, in this day and age of Google and other public information sources, not to mention the fact that Grif is sleeping with a reporter who has access to even more information and contacts, to just give up on a witness because she's moved away is just.... brainless. Worst. P.I. Ever.
The main thrust of the story revolves around the deaths of, let's say undesirable members of the population, from a new drug, krokodil, which hooks a user after one trip, but is made of such awful stuff that it actually eats the person alive from the inside so you start dying the moment you take it; however, if a user tries to stop, the withdrawal is so bad, you can also die from it. So you're pretty much damned if you do and damned if you don't with the drug. Again, I have to give props to Pettersson for coming up with yet another despicable plot as she did with The Taken. However, as I mentioned earlier, the mystery behind who introduced the krokodil and why isn't as convoluted as one would hope and is fairly easy to figure out. A secondary plot involves a fallen angel called Scratch, who is having a grand time seeking out those who find themselves Lost (hence the title, see?) and taking their souls. Of course, once Kit gets introduced to Scratch, she has to get all righteous and shake her fist at it with a “I'll fight you, you evil thing!” attitude; naturally, Scratch becomes enamored of Kit's purity and vows to corrupt her, so throughout the book, the two engage in a tug-of-war, with Grif standing on the sidelines, wringing his hands and telling Kit (futilely) not to engage with Scratch and, most importantly, don't let Scratch get his hands on Kit's tears, which contain all her emotional history along with her goodness. As you can probably guess, Kit ignores every single thing Grif says. And, of course, the third plot line is the one about Grif and Evie, which is basically more of the same from the first book, though it does lead to a denouement at the end in which Kit has to make a difficult choice about whether to stay with Grif (having to do with her being mortal and will age and die, and Grif isn't, so he'll have to stand around and watch her age and die). The climax of the book somehow manages to use all three plot threads to make for one big showdown between all the different participants involving a lot of action and a lot of blood.
In the end, there was just enough improved in this book from the first to keep me interested in the third book (dammit!).(less)
I liked this book, I really did. After all, the story is completely unique and one of the most ingenious I've read (and this is coming from someone wh...moreI liked this book, I really did. After all, the story is completely unique and one of the most ingenious I've read (and this is coming from someone who's stuffed herself with the likes of Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett). In fact, I'm sure O'Malley has probably stuffed himself with a couple of these authors as well judging by some of the humor and situations I encountered within the novel.
Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in a London garden in the pouring rain surrounded by a ring of unconscious bodies, all wearing latex gloves. Oh, and she has no memory. In her pocket is a letter from the body's previous occupant which begins with the words “Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine.” Guided by further letters written by the previous Myfanwy, Myfanwy #2 discovers she's an operative, a Rook, in a secret government agency dedicated to protecting the country from supernatural threats of all shapes and sizes, and that someone in that agency is trying to kill her (or, rather, Myfanwy #1). Seeing as every high-level operative possess a supernatural power and they along with all other members of the agency, known as the Checquey, are highly trained in methods of subterfuge and defensive arts, Myfanwy has her work cut out for her. Relying on the information provided by the first Myfanwy, Myfanwy #2 explores her new job and life, not to mention her own, very powerful supernatural power, and discovers there's more afoot than either Myfanwy could've imagined.
Yet with the many story elements in the novel and the undeniably creative plot, there's something which made the whole thing miss out on being a genius-level piece of work by a hair's breadth. Mostly because of Myfanwy #2. This may sound weird coming from an American, but Myfanwy did not strike me as being particularly British. She came off like an American ex-pat who was now working in London. Yes, Myfanwy the second's personality is different from Myfanwy the first's: Myfanway #1 was pathologically shy, a wallflower, deferential and demure in her uniform of black, white, and grey clothing which allowed her to disappear in a crowd. The new Myfanwy, though retaining many of her predecessors quirks, was a bit more brash and outspoken, a bit more assertive and willing to try new things. I get that. But she can still be those things within the framework of a British character, yet not once did I get a sense of "Stiff upper lip, mind the gap, keep calm and carry on" British-ness. Not to mention her behavior, her speech patterns, and occasionally her humor made her seem incredibly juvenile and underdeveloped at times. Not that there aren't Brits who behave in a juvenile manner (there are and I've met them), but for the character O'Malley was trying to create, those mannerisms were inconsistent. Honestly, the effect was rather jarring at times. Secondly, Myfanwy the first provided a purple binder filled with information about her life, the Checquey, the operatives, basically every single aspect of her universe to assist Myfanwy the second in adapting to her new life. Every time Myfanwy #2 runs into something, she pulls out that purple binder so she (and, by extension, the reader) can figure out exactly what she's dealing with. That's all well and good, and certainly prevents any missteps on Myfanwy's part, allowing her to pick up her predecessor's life with nary a stumble; not to mention the gimmick gives O'Malley an easy way to introduce back story. However, she often pulled out this binder in the company of others, which seemed extremely blatant; I kept waiting for someone to ask her why she had the binder, what was in it, why it engrossed her so much in the middle of a crisis. I can see close associates of Myfanwy's, who knew she was little more than a glorified accountant, ignoring the binder, likely assuming it to be part of whatever project she might've been working on at the time, but outsiders would be ignorant of her position and most likely, I'm sure, be curious as to why she kept pulling out that binder. The biggest peeve I had, though, is the humor. I don't know what it is, but British writers, even ordinary Brits, seem to have such an easy wit; they just open their mouths and gems just falls out. Even the most unimpressive of Brits come up with brilliant one-liners (Noel Gallagher about his brother, Liam: "He's like a guy with a fork in a world full of soup." Come on, that is freaking hilarious while being disparaging at the same time!) Yet the wit in The Rook never seemed easy; at times it felt a bit forced, as though O'Malley really wanted to be like Terry Pratchett, but struggled with it and so fell just short of the mark. That's not to say there aren't moments of outright humor in the novel, there are, just not as many as you would like. The one thing he does do well is explain exactly why using a chess analogy to run a super-secret government agency doesn't work, especially in a country with a monarchy. In fact, his little dissertation on the subject, in the voice of Myfanwy Thomas #1, is his most inspired piece in the novel.
It's funny. This book shouldn't work; it shouldn't be readable, it shouldn't be entertaining, and it certainly shouldn't be so successful. After all, the book suffers from info dumps galore (in the form of that purple binder, as well as the frequent letters from Myfanwy #1), which often delay and even derail the action. It features a main character who's often immature, obnoxious, and completely unprepared to deal with pretty much anything popping up in the story line. And the ending is, well, flat and awkward, not to mention misleading, appearing to set things up for a sequel only to tie up the story line a few pages later. Yet, I think the reason the book does work, despite these flaws, is because it doesn't take itself seriously. It's tongue-in-cheek, but it's self-aware: it winks at you to let you know it's tongue-in-cheek, but do try to take it seriously anyway, alright luv? It sounds too precious to work and logically it shouldn't work, but it does. Besides, who couldn't find a little love for a novel in which the main character owns a pet rabbit named Wolfgang?
A cute, mostly forgettable PNR. While the story at the book's heart, the one actually driving the plot, is as dark and twisted as they come, the rest...moreA cute, mostly forgettable PNR. While the story at the book's heart, the one actually driving the plot, is as dark and twisted as they come, the rest of the book is fairly prosaic. There's the spunky heroine, Katherine "Kit" Craig, this time dressed up as an "I defy you to pigeonhole me" rockabilly Lois Lane, which, I'll grant you, is an interesting twist--I haven't seen too many rockabilly dolls in modern fiction. Then there's the deep and brooding hero, Griffin Shaw, with the requisite dark past, only this particular incarnation of the trope is a not-quite-fallen, more-like-demoted angel, who died in 1960 and has enough baggage to fill one of those brass hotel trolleys. Also shuffling in and out of the story are the other contract players whom we never quite learn much about, but are necessary to fill out the plot: the schmuck of an ex-husband (who is appropriately schmuck-like and, naturally, completely different to Kit's lifestyle, so much so it makes one wonder why the author had Kit married to him in the first place, other than to lay the groundwork for a future dramatic scene); the protective girlfriend (who can also create Kit's killer Bettie Page 'do); and the supportive cop friend (who we have to take on faith as being trustworthy as we're never really introduced to him beyond a superficial intro). Basically, nothing really original, except maybe for the Vegas location and the kitschy retro backdrops.
While I must say I didn't find Kit quite as annoying as many other PNR heroines, I don't feel as though I came away from the novel knowing who she is, what drives her, what's really underneath that rockabilly exterior. (In fact, the most annoying thing I ran into was everyone else's insistence on calling her 'Kitten' or 'Kitty-Cat'. How cute. And how so completely unoriginal.) Griffin Shaw, the angel/P.I., complains constantly about Kit's incessant talking, the fact that she's too cheerful, too stubborn, flighty, contradictory, cavalier, yadda yadda yadda, but we never learn why she's any of those things, most especially when it comes to her indefatigably upbeat nature, or if those mannerisms are merely a cover for deeper issues. (We kind of get a hint that it's the latter, but that hint is never fully explored. Perhaps Pettersson is leaving that for later books.) When it came to the rockabilly part, you can tell Pettersson is fascinated by the phenomenon and respects those who belong to that particular subculture, but it never felt fully integrated into Kit's character. At times, it felt as though she was almost too "kooky" or, as one character called her, "weird," as though she was trying to hard to be insouciant and one-of-a-kind. She wore the clothes, she talked the talk and walked the walk, but it still felt a bit like a little girl playing dress-up. Basically, she seemed...unfinished.
Griffin Shaw is little better, as his main motivation is vengeance. His wife, Evie, was murdered in front of him, just before his own life was taken, and he was set up as the fall guy by whomever committed the murder. Once he returned as a Guardian (an angel responsible for ushering newly departed souls to the Everlast--which is just about the worst name for an afterlife, though highly appropriate for the book's Vegas setting, as every time I saw it mentioned, I thought of boxing equipment), he made it his mission to somehow find out who killed his beloved Evie. Or at least never stop thinking about her and her death. And believe me, for most of the first part of the book, he never does. Evie this and Evie that. It gets a bit tiresome after a while because you began to believe his memories of perfect Evie and their perfect, wedded bliss have become enhanced by the rose-tinted glasses of memory and Griffin's driving need for closure. However, it does make his gradual realization of his feelings for Kit feel a bit more realistic, even if I did want to hit Griffin over the noggin to speed up the process. For all the drama/trauma driving him, there's little more to Griffin's personality. He always acted the complete gentleman and from his actions it was obvious he had a strong moral center, but, like Kit, you never really knew what, if anything, was going on underneath that polite exterior. Once again, the word 'unfinished' comes to mind.
I think the most disappointing feature of the novel is the lack of spark. I'm not talking about romantic chemistry, which you can see between Griffin and Kit. No, I'm talking about a different kind of spark. After all, I figured with a rockabilly heroine and an authentically cool cat angel/P.I. there'd be some snappy dialogue, along the lines of the Howard Hawks/Rosalind Russell/Cary Grant type you see in His Girl Friday (the best movie of all time for that kind of one-liner repartee). Instead, the dialogue was pretty flat and occasionally awkward or forced. The book tries to strike a balance between funny and dramatic, yet usually only achieves jarring results when a scene can't decide which way it wants to lean. It wants to be noir, but can't achieve the necessary hard-boiled snappiness required to be good noir; it wants to be a romantic comedy, but can't achieve the light-hearted snappiness required to be a good romantic comedy. So it ends up being a slightly confused mishmash of all of the above.
About the only thing that makes this novel stand out is the plot line, which is dark, diabolical, and completely reprehensible. It makes you wonder if Pettersson has some issues with men or perhaps just Mormons and this is how she's working them out. While it may not be utterly believable, the plot did make me want to keep reading, just to see the villain get his well-deserved and inevitable comeuppance. However, a dark and disturbing story line does not a good PNR/urban fantasy make; it needs all the other parts to make it whole, which once again brings me to that word 'unfinished'. The book felt as though it was missing that one key ingredient which would've brought the whole mess together and made it into something spectacular.
I'm not sure I'm invested enough in either the premise or the characters to continue reading the series, mainly due to the disappointing execution of the tale. There are other authors out there who can do twisted suspense stories even better and without all the angel falderal (which is the aspect of the novel which really got on my nerves. Yes, yes, before ya'll start foaming at the mouth, I knew the book involved angels and I knew there would be some God talk, but it still seemed a bit heavy-handed at times). I don't know why angels are the new big thing lately in the PNR genre, but I think I'll stay away. They're really not my cup o' tea. And as far as Pettersson, I have the first novel of her Zodiac series sitting in one my bookshelves; I'm still interested in reading it, but I think I'll go into it a bit more reservedly than I would've before reading The Taken.(less)
There's a good book lurking somewhere in here; one just needs a machete, a weed-whacker and a couple of sturdy pruning shears in order to find it. Don...moreThere's a good book lurking somewhere in here; one just needs a machete, a weed-whacker and a couple of sturdy pruning shears in order to find it. Don't get me wrong, I like it when an author gets creative with certain stock genre archetypes and messes with the traditional mythology associated with said archetypes. I don't like it when authors then decide to cram every single item which pops into their head into one book. With Once Bitten we have shape-shifters, but not just of your lupine variety but also of feline, in the the shapes of lions, tigers, bobcats and, in the case of the lead character, a calico housecat. Okay, no probs with that, especially the housecat bit; that's rather amusing, once your brain stops trying to figure out the physics and logistics of squishing a human into a tiny cat form, complete with clothes, and just goes with the flow. Then you have vampires. Okay, sure, why not? After that, though, it starts to get a bit over the top, as you have a vampire "bringing over" a shifter (said calico housecat), a mage shows up with his demon hoarde, a fairy pops by (at least, I think she's as fairy; it's never clearly explained, another of the author's problems I'll get to in a moment), a vampire council is introduced, not to mention we have a rogue shifter who's the main thrust of the plot. It's exhausting! It's as though the author, in one of her brainstorming sessions, thought, "Hmm, what else can I add to make sure this book is as 'supernatural' as possible?"
Basically, the story runs like this: We have our calico shifter, Kita (whom everyone calls "Kitten" even though she hates that nickname and, trust me, by the end of the book, you'll hate it as well), who's run away from her clan. Now, according to her, this clan lives in Firth. We don't know where Firth is, whether it's another city or country or dimension; we can kind of guess it's the latter, as a 'gate' opens up between the human world and Firth every full moon or so and apparently that's the only method of travel between the two places. But we're never told explicitly. And here's where we run into the information problem. I've been very vocal about my hatred of info dumps: they are poor excuses for exposition and world-building. However, the opposite, info droughts, are just as despised. Ideally, an author should sprinkle pertinent information, including backstory, throughout his or her novel, like a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar through a coffee cake: Little nuggets of extra information which add bursts of yumminess and dimension to the experience. Withholding information doesn't make you seem mature as a writer; it makes you seem even more inexperienced as, the further you go on not explaining your world, the more a reader believes you haven't taken the time to fully build it and its mythology. We are left to fill in so many blanks in the story, after a while it's easy just to give up and skim through the remainder of the book. After all, if the author didn't put the effort into writing it, why should we put any effort into reading it?
To get back to Kita, she's apparently run away from her clan because she's the next in line to be clan leader or Torin; she doesn't think she's powerful enough to take over, even though everyone else is seemingly okay with it (and once again we have another author falling prey to the tired PNR cliche concerning their female lead: "Ooh, poor me, I have no self-esteem even though everyone I know tells me I'm great, but I just can't believe it, woe is me, I'm so pitiful"). So now she's been on the run for five years and has hunters from her clan and others on her tail, so she's constantly on the move, changing cities quicker than some people change their underwear. The latest town, Haven, isn't turning out to be one; hunters have found her already, including one of her childhood pals from Firth, Bobby. To escape them, she hides inside a local rave. She finds herself roofied, on her way to crying out "Goodbye, cruel world!" only to be rescued by a vampire who has to turn her in order to save her life (which he endangered in the first place, as he decided to feed from Kita but found her memories and life force so interesting, he took a wee drop of blood too much; finding he couldn't let such an "interesting" creature die, he turned her instead. Nice, huh?) Waking up naked and chained to a wall, naturally Kita's a bit perturbed. Even more so when the mad vampire woman who's guarding her offers her a cup of warm cat's blood to drink. The vampire who turned her, Nathanial, finally releases Kita (who was chained for her own good; yeah, we've all heard that one before), who, quite naturally, tries to get as far away as possible. Just then, however, is when this mage pops up, who's apparently some kind of uber-judge for supernatural creatures, and sentences Kita to death for creating a rogue shifter who's been piling up the bodies in the local environs. Are you saying "Huh?" yet? Because I know I was. Who is this judge? Why does he have the right to sentence Kita? How does he know she's responsible, because, as far as I can see, there's no obvious evidence leading to a glaring neon sign of 'Guilt' over Kita's head. Why does he have demons doing his bidding? What the hell is going on? So, to try and wrap this up, Kita has two nights to find the rogue and kill it. She's helped in her hunt by Nathanial and Bobby (who, despite the fact he has a mate who's expecting a litter of his whelps, still pines for Kita's affection), as well as the fairy Gil, who tags along, studying Kita for some sort of interdimensional college doctoral thesis (or something like that; once again we're never explicitly told, leading to yet another round of questions: Who is this Gil? Why does she have the authority to study Kita? Why the hell would she want to? How did she know about the judge and Kita's case?)
While there is some good writing in here, the book is clunky. I had a hard time identifying or even liking any of the characters. Kita is whiny and whimpy; most of the time I just wanted to punch her and turn her over to the judge. She's also a complete mess: she's feisty when she should be calm and showing some sense, and meekly docile when she should be kicking some ass. Bobby is underdeveloped, with little-to-personality; the most we know from him is that Kita and he used to be an item when they were kids, but, because he's a wolf and she's a cat, I suppose (although it's never specifically stated), he wasn't allowed to mate with Kita and instead was forced to mate with another, a female wolf from a different clan. So Bobby moons over Kita and bristles at any affection shown to her by Nathanial, but that's about it. Nathanial has the most potential for being a well-rounded character; although he's still slightly one-dimensional in the novel, things are hinted about him which could add depth to his story. I presume those hints are further explored in subsequent novels. And although you can sympathize with Kita's anger over being forcibly turned into a vampire and her reluctance to initially trust Nathanial, the way she treats him and her situation is more like a toddler throwing a temper-tantrum: "I don't like it, I don't wanna do it, you can make me, waaaaaaa!" Not to mention the many questions and inconsistencies throughout the book. For instance, in Firth, females cannot be hunters (why the hell not?), in fact females seem to be good for nothing other than breeding, yet there's no problem with Kita taking over as leader? That doesn't jive with such a seemingly misogynistic society. Why does Kita wear a necklace into which the finger bones of a human child and kitten (her own bones, taken when she was little) are woven? What does that signify? What about the number of bones, which is more than Bobby's, who, apparently, shouldn't even have the right to wear such a necklace, but petitioned the clan elders to do so and was allowed.
Frankly, there are too many questions, not enough answers and not enough sympathy or interest generated to make me care enough to read the next book.(less)
They often say it takes a certain mixture of acting and alchemy to make it on Broadway. In Esther Diamond's case, this is a literal truth. In a refres...moreThey often say it takes a certain mixture of acting and alchemy to make it on Broadway. In Esther Diamond's case, this is a literal truth. In a refreshing change of pace in the paranormal/urban fantasy genre, the lead character, Ms. Diamond, isn't paranormal. Nor is she supernatural, preternatural, or anything other than a hard-at-work actress, tired of waiting tables and ready for her big break, even if that break means she's the understudy to a bubble-brained pop princess in a magic-themed stage play. Things seem to be, if not looking up, no longer looking down, when said pop princess, Golly Gee, disappears during a performance. And not in the way the magician meant her to. What first seems to be a case of Golly simply walking away from her life turns into something completely different when other "beautiful assistants" to local magicians start disappearing as well. When Esther is introduced to the mysterious Dr. Max Zadok, Esther's sense of curiosity gets her deeper into the case than she expected, to her dismay and to the dismay of the handsome cop on the case, Detective Lopez. Throw in a few incantations, some illegal immigrant magic acts, and a gaggle of flamboyant drag queens, and you end up with a madcap romp through the underbelly of New York's theatre district. And what a delightfully fun romp it is, too.(less)
Okay, so I'm a flibbertigibbet; I'm wishy-washy, flaky. So sue me. I've been rethinking my original impressions of this book and came away with the aw...moreOkay, so I'm a flibbertigibbet; I'm wishy-washy, flaky. So sue me. I've been rethinking my original impressions of this book and came away with the awful realization: I got snowed by the bird. I was so entranced by Doc (who was the most well-rounded character of all) that I completely ignored the annoying flaws of this book, the most glaring of which was the idiotic foreign-speak of the love interest, Dr. Steven Sable. C'mon, the guy's supposed to be educated! You can be educated and foreign without sounding like a complete imbecile. His continual "How do you say this?" and variations on that theme became as irritating as a poison ivy rash after the first half a dozen times, not to mention M.J.'s nauseatingly girly (read: giggly) reactions when she corrects him.
The storyline, although not brilliantly complex, was fairly interesting; I did enjoy the whole 'ghost-busting' angle and the interactions between M.J. and the spirits. However, the characters were either so cliched (her gay partner who's terrified of the ghosties) or so bungled in execution (see complaints above), not to mention the author's infantile reactions to negative reviews (I'd like to see what she makes of mine), I have been completely turned off of reading not just the rest of this series, but her books altogether.(less)