After threeorso books in which Kitty Norville was getting her ass handed to her in an increasingly distressing fashion, Carrie Vaughn...moreWhat a relief.
After threeorso books in which Kitty Norville was getting her ass handed to her in an increasingly distressing fashion, Carrie Vaughn has returned the character to what made this series really kick in the first place. Kitty's makes a good werewolf den mother for the same reason that she's an excellent self-help talk-show host. It's not that she's physically the toughest, nor that she (mis)uses sexual allure to get her way (ahem, lookin' at you, Kresley Cole). It's her rock-solid strength of character, a reliable moral compass that tells her what the right thing to do is, even when it's tough.
The problem in recent books in the series has been that while Kitty may know what's right, she's been thrust into situation after situation in which 'right' simply isn't an option. That's bleak territory. To Vaughn's credit, the difficulties Kitty has found herself in have been completely logical developments in the diagesis of the novels. As one of the very first openly declared supernaturals in the country, Kitty has put herself in the front lines of fire from both other supernatural entities that want her (a) to shut up, or (b)dead, as well as humans who see her kind as a scientific curiosity to be vivisected, or a challenge to human supremacy. The parallels to actual human conflicts, from suffrage to the feminist movement to the gay rights movement, are both conscious and cogent.
But logical as such stories are for this point in the series, they make it difficult for the character to really shine as she ought. Finally, in this novel Vaughn returns Kitty to where she belongs, in a fairly stable environment, with threats that are very real, but which are as much about Kitty's helping people to do the right thing as they are about simply surviving physical attacks on her person. That's the Kitty Norville we fell in love with in the first book in the series, and it's a relief to remake her acquaintance. (less)
This suffers a bit from the 'sophomore slump' that is typical of series fiction, and perhaps most particularly in series fiction which is coming from...moreThis suffers a bit from the 'sophomore slump' that is typical of series fiction, and perhaps most particularly in series fiction which is coming from a vein which is being particularly richly mined right now, the urban paranormal second wave.
That said, this was still a remarkably fun entry into the sub-genre. Eventually. The prior book in the series felt somewhat rushed at the ending, as the supposed fight-to-end-all-fights was crammed into a few pages, and characters were suddenly dropping plot resolutions left and right. This one tries to slow that breakneck pace, and for the first half of the novel, not much happens.
However, once the protagonist hits the road (literally) in the second half, we get both more rollicking action (including some *very* spooky fairies I wish I'd written) and more interesting character development. The romantic sub-plot is pushed a bit more forward here, which is a touch unfortunate since it's not the strength of this series. We're given little reason, other than sexual desire, for our heroine to pursue this union. The friendly relations she has with the variously psychologically damaged side characters are much more satisfying. Happily, there's plenty of opportunity for that here during the second act of the novel, and I look forward to even more in the inevitable sequel. (less)
Shawntelle Madison's debut urban fantasy novel is enjoyable for reasons which have, interestingly, very little to do with the urban fantasy genre.
Sinc...moreShawntelle Madison's debut urban fantasy novel is enjoyable for reasons which have, interestingly, very little to do with the urban fantasy genre.
Since Joss Whedon rewrote the landscape for UF with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I think it's been pretty clear that the paranormal functions for us here circa the turn of the 21st century just as it did for the Victorians at the cusp of the last fin de siecle...that is, it's a convenient shorthand for talking about what's *actually* bothering us, a way to give concrete shape to our anxieties. Fear that bad guys lurk amongst us? That's your werewolf trope right there. Fear of subtly invasive disease and sexual promiscuity? Vampires. Worry about our relative powerlessness? What urban paranormal book *isn't* about that?
The neat trick which Madison pulls in Coveted is that while yes, our protagonist is a werewolf whose clan is about to go to war, and sports the usual suspects (vampires, warlocks, even the fae courts), it's not really about that at all. This book is about Natalya, the person, not Natalya the werewolf. She's deeply, deeply messed up. Anxiety-ridden, insecure, suffering from hoarding tendencies and obsessive-compulsive disorder...the fact that she happens to be a werewolf is practically an afterthought.
And yet, as an afterthought, the supernatural backdrop throws Natalya's real problems, psychological and otherwise, into stark relief in a way which simply wouldn't happen if the book had been written in the more straightforwardly "literary" realistic drama genre. It would still be edible, but not nearly so tasty.
Also, can I say kudos for not heavily pushing the romantic sub-plot here? Too many authors in this genre fall into the "fated love" trap, and simply ram their protagonists together, without much emotional cause (Kresley Cole, I'm looking at you; I love you, but I'm still looking at you). It's so much more realistic here, in which Nat's fumbling attempts at emotional connection reflect the reality of dating among the damaged.
The humor which lards the book isn't terribly deft, but it doesn't need to be. The scenes in which Natalya goes to group therapy with a bunch of other supernatural misfits (a hydrophobic mermaid, a kleptomaniac djinni) are like Woody Allen material back when Woody Allen was funny. I'd happily sit through a whole book of nothing but those scenes. As it is, they're more than worth the price of admission by themselves. (less)
I'm so pleased that Ms. Briggs has returned to this series, if only for a moment. I know she has her hands full with other writing, most notably the M...moreI'm so pleased that Ms. Briggs has returned to this series, if only for a moment. I know she has her hands full with other writing, most notably the Mercy series (to which there are significant allusions in this semi-crossover volume), but I've always been charmed by her twists on the urban-paranormal werewolf sub-genre. When I saw this, amazingly available on my library's shelves, it was a no brainer to snatch it up and waft it home.
The plot is fairly standard paranormal fare: a rogue supernatural, a wary truce between various mystical factions and a government agency or three, some fight scenes, some bar hopping. But Ms. Briggs' unique addition to the genre, the 'Omega' werewolf who, contrary to her savage packmates, can calm and soothe their messed-up psyches is utilized more fully here than perhaps anywhere in her previous entries into the series. If the villain, when finally revealed, is somewhat underwhelmingly handled, the journeyto that point in the narrative makes me say "who cares."
There is one glaring, GLARING flaw in the development of our empathies as readers: the werewolves in this series are afraid that they'll be classified as animals, no longer under the protections of US Law. But at the same time, they reserve the right to judge and execute 'criminals' and 'traitors' to pack law in a completely vigilante fashion, with no legal recourse. Can't have it both ways, folks, and their desire to do so made me long a little bit for the slightly more politically consistent Kitty Norville novels, with which Briggs' shares about 95% of its DNA.
Still, this is fun stuff, and one of the series I happily can keep up with while The-Smartest-Person-in-the-World has left me in the dust in practically every other series we read together. So there's that. (less)
I've found Kresley Cole's IAD series to be one of the most reliable in the Urban Paranormal Romance sub(sub)-genre. If she's...moreWell. That was disturbing.
I've found Kresley Cole's IAD series to be one of the most reliable in the Urban Paranormal Romance sub(sub)-genre. If she's writing the type of thing you like - and millions of fans and sales suggest she is, for a lot of folks - then she's doing it time and again by relying on a carefully balanced formula of Forbidden-Yet-Destined love, with a modest amount of kinky foreplay preceding some quite graphic sex scenes. Beyond that, I think Cole's real appeal has been her world-building which strongly resembles that of Joss Whedon's Buffyverse inasmuch as we have a consistent mythology, a quirky cast of returning characters, and enough new blood each title to provide continuing interest, formula or not. I like it, and I've read each installment in the series with the same sense of revisiting old friends I used to get every Buffy season premiere.
That's why I was more than a little perplexed at the stern warnings I got from some people about this title. I ignored them of course, but I understand entirely why so many readers had reservations.
The sexual tension devolves here from the merely kinky down to territory which looks a lot more like torture porn. In previous IAD books, Cole's characters have to indulge in lots of foreplay and double (and single) entendre because they are unable to consumate their relationship for some external reason. Here they can't consumate because our male lead is intent on torturing and vivisecting our female lead and she, inconsistently enough, is unwilling and later unable to convince him not to. Ladies and gentlemen, these are your protagonists.
Cole almost salvages the situation in one scene involving a bubble bath, and its interruption is not just a narratorial annoyance, it nearly breaks the whole novel because it's such a heavy handed, contrived interruption in the characters' developing relationship. It's like Cole looked up and went "cripes, gotta stretch this one for another 30,000 words," and decided to undo all the plot and character development we'd achieved thus far.
I think she manages to pull the disturbingly violent story off, *barely*, due to a few scenes at the end in which the psychological damage of the male lead is semi-justified, and due to a quirk of her mythology. Yes, the "hero" here is a guy who has tortured and sliced up a number of other people. But (a) as far as we know, he has only personally sliced up really evil people we want to slice up anyway and (b) this is a *ROUGH* universe. I recall in one earlier book, some guys were simply playing soccer and one of them ripped an opposing team member's arm off. It grew back. At one point our heroine is smugly recounting how she made another guy eat a lobster trap. The victim of this treatment laughs along with her. The inhabitants of this universe are physically not human, and maybe at that scale, vivsection is the equivalent of a fairly rough interrogation. Unjust, abusive, but not a matter of life and death.
Or maybe I just want to justify Cole's book because I really, REALLY like some of the other works in this series, and want to see what happens next. (less)
If H.P. Lovecraft and Neil Gaiman had a love child... Wait, they're both dudes. And one of them's dead.
Okay, if Michael Scott Rohan and Terry Pratchet...moreIf H.P. Lovecraft and Neil Gaiman had a love child... Wait, they're both dudes. And one of them's dead.
Okay, if Michael Scott Rohan and Terry Pratchett...oh, no wait, both dudes again.
Okay, if Carrie Vaughn read the Cthulhu mythos as bedtime stories to Ray Bradbury's young clone, and then if somehow Clive Barker crawled in an open window at just the right moment...
If you're getting the idea that this book invites a lot of comparisons, you're on the right track. What it doesn't seem to really resemble is much of Mieville's other work. Admittedly, Mieville is an author I'm deficient in, but that's because the samples I've assayed have been so wordily dense that they discouraged further reading. I am no enemy of words. I likes 'em. But there is a time when an author has just used several six-syllable neologisms to explain what could have been covered in a single, common two-syllable word that just makes me want to rap their jeyboarding knuckles. "Stop that! Write better!"
Kraken doesn't suffer from that problem nearly as much. Yes, it's too long for what it is, and there were plenty of times I wanted to grab a red pen and scratch out half the lines, but those errors of overwriting are at the sentence level this time, not the word level. And there's humor enough to mitigate the offense. Despite comparisons to everything from Good Omens to The Great and Secret Show, this book is its own devil. I suggest giving it a three-chapter head start. If you're not sold by then, or if you still find Mieville's infamously prolix voice too off-puting, go grab Rohan's Chase The Morning and enjoy that one instead. (less)
This is, for my money, the best of Kresley Cole's IAD series. The central conceit -- that the two fated lovers are unable to physically touch, or even...moreThis is, for my money, the best of Kresley Cole's IAD series. The central conceit -- that the two fated lovers are unable to physically touch, or even to communicate very clearly with one another -- succeeds in creating sharp romantic tensions. Like a classic 'lifeboat' movie, almost 90% of the book takes place in a few rooms in a single old mansion, haunted in various ways by our protagonists and their variously failed relationships. Cole's male protagonist is much better, here, than in some of her other works in the series, vulnerable without being the slightest wishy-washy, and one of the best examples of the 'conflicted vampire' since Anne Rice's first two novels.
Kresly Cole pulls off a neat trick in this paranormal romance by giving us a male protagonist who is an active sonofabitch, not merely a grandstanding...moreKresly Cole pulls off a neat trick in this paranormal romance by giving us a male protagonist who is an active sonofabitch, not merely a grandstanding jerk but a pretty villainous fellow, and makes us empathize with him almost completely. The heroine is no slouch either, and this is one of the best in this series for filling in the blanks of the complex paranormal world Cole's in the process of creating here.
If there's a flaw, it's in the romantic relationship between these two, which isn't quite as convincing as in some others in the series. Cole's universe is full of lots of supernatural explanations for why this is ok (various mythic races, it turns out, have 'fated' Significant Others which can't be avoided, no matter how personally you might hate them). It's a little contrived. But, then, that's what makes this particular entry in the series work: one large chunk of the plot is the degree to which the various paranormal characters have bought into this idea of fate and doom and predestination, and to what degree they feel comfortable, or even able, resisting it.
This was a cynical damn book. It has made me a more cynical human being.
As a scholar of supernatural literature (see my dissertation) and teacher who...moreThis was a cynical damn book. It has made me a more cynical human being.
As a scholar of supernatural literature (see my dissertation) and teacher who needs to find metaphors that work for the young adults they send to my university, I felt a professional obligation to try and get through this thing. After the third try, I gave up. Trying to care even one iota about these (and I'm stretching the word here) "characters" actually made me less capable of giving a damn about actual human beings. I sprained my empathy.
Look, I get exactly why urban paranormaism is all the rage, from the fin-de-siecle anxieties we last saw at the end of the Victorian period to the Harry Potter effect. Well and good, and there are plenty of authors working in the genre with great success, because they're writing good books.
I get that there are going to be cheap cash-ins on that success, know-nothing hacks who figure they'll sell because there simply aren't enough books even in that crowded genre for the voracious readership out there.
But cripes, does it have to be so *obvious?* Must it treat readers with such contempt?
Why you gotta hate, Stephanie Meyer, huh? Who kicked your puppy? Why must you take your revenge out on all of us?(less)
This was the last decent Anita Blake novel. Thus endeth what could have been a really good series. From here on out, it's all Laura Hamilton's persona...moreThis was the last decent Anita Blake novel. Thus endeth what could have been a really good series. From here on out, it's all Laura Hamilton's personal sex fetishes of having group-gropes with catmen. Ick.
Welcome to the Anita Blake series! I will present you the short version of the tour: this is a great book, one of the best takes on that sub-species of...moreWelcome to the Anita Blake series! I will present you the short version of the tour: this is a great book, one of the best takes on that sub-species of urban paranormal in which the magical world has been 'outed,' and everyone is aware that vampires and werewolves, etc., exist. Our heroine is just the right sort of plucky-with-hidden-vulnerability, and Hamilton conveys that with almost Dickensian flair (the stuffed animal collection, in particular, becomes a running gag which is worthy of a Mr. Micawber or Barkiss characterization). The tensions are real, the threats, emotional and physical, are well delineated, the plotting is outta sight. Yay.
Then on to book two, which is....not *quite* as good, and maybe our heroine is getting a little cavalier with her affections, but then again, we'll excuse that because hey, she's in weird circumstances.
Book three in the series, alright, some significant romantic complications, plotting taking a little bit of a backseat, but still a good read.
Book four....uhm, this is the same series, right?
Book five...why is everyone suddenly wearing leather pants and grope suits?
Book six...Erk. Can I get off this ride, I'm starting to feel a little sick..
Books seven and onwards: what the hell happened to this series?
I didn't encounter the Immortals After Dark series until my wife left one of them around at a moment my phone's...moreI'm glad I didn't read this one first.
I didn't encounter the Immortals After Dark series until my wife left one of them around at a moment my phone's battery was dead, and I was in need of a dead tree book. The one which I read (Dark Needs at Night's Edge) was very, very good, and so when it came time to fill in the backstory, I gravitated back here to catch up with the ongoing plotlines and characters.
I'm awfully glad I didn't read these in order. This, the 'first' in the series, is by no means the strongest entry. While this one partakes of all the tropes of the series, they're not as well established as they would be by book 3 or so. As it is, the romance plot left me kind of 'meh,' and the adventure elements seemed a trifle clumsy at times. While this work is a good filler while you're waiting for Kole to pick up the pieces of the main series in the later books, there's no need to start with this one. (less)
If you’re in a pessimistic frame of mind, try “The Hellbound Heart.” The story was released as a stand-alone work, but was later bound up with expand...more If you’re in a pessimistic frame of mind, try “The Hellbound Heart.” The story was released as a stand-alone work, but was later bound up with expanded editions of the Books of Blood, which is where it is easiest to find it today. It’s a straight-up Faust story of a jaded man, Frank, who bargains his immortal prospects away to some very unsavory inter-dimensional beings who promise him in return an eternity of sensual pleasures and pains. The human characters are classic Barker, inasmuch as their motives are more patently “evil” than those of the supposed demons, and sure enough our Frank has soon decided he wants out of his bargain, even if he has to sacrifice everyone he has ever known in order to do it. Bloody havoc ensues.
“The Hellbound Heart” was adapted by Barker himself into the feature film “Hellraiser,” which went on to spawn an entire line of sequels, graphic novels, comic books, collectable action figures, and Halloween costumes. The original film and its first sequel have the dubious honors of being the only movies my father, a physician with years of real-life surgical experience and a fan of slasher-flicks, swore he could not watch without cringing. They are not for the weak of stomach. The novel is, of course, a lot less visceral, but it still gives you an adequate understanding of how willing Barker is to throw his readers down a rabbit hole lined with razor blades, while still delivering a conclusion which feels like justice. (less)
The Dresden Files are a touch unusual in the urban fantasy genre, since they're written by a guy, and much has b...moreI wanted to like this more than I did.
The Dresden Files are a touch unusual in the urban fantasy genre, since they're written by a guy, and much has been made of the protagonist's (and sometimes the author's) gender politics. I could see why some people have those criticisms, but since I'm already suspending the bejeebers out of my disbelief by swallowing the whole magic-is-real business, making allowance's for the arguably sexist perspective seemed kind of small potatos. Maybe that's justhow wizards are in this particular fantasy universe.
What I had a harder time with was the slow pacing of the central mystery itself. I couldn't help but compare it to, say, Clive Barker's Harry D'Amour stories, which work the magical bits into a much swifter narrative. While I enjoyed this book well enough, I haven't gone out of my way to track down others in the series. Maybe that says something.