Maria Lewis's debut novel is a smoothly-paced, exciting and refreshing urban fantasy with more emphasis on a coming-of-age journey than the usual crimMaria Lewis's debut novel is a smoothly-paced, exciting and refreshing urban fantasy with more emphasis on a coming-of-age journey than the usual crime-mystery sleuthing prevalent in the genre. The story introduces blue-haired, fun-loving, smart-mouthed Tommi Grayson, born in Scotland after her pregnant mother left her native New Zealand in a hurry. Eight months after her mother's accidental death, Tommi is finally ready to head off to her mother's homeland to try and find her father - not to meet him, just to see. After all, her mother had once confessed that her pregnancy was the product of a rape, so she hardly wanted to sit down to a cup of tea with the man.
Armed with a possible name, Tommi's search leads her to a large house on a quiet street at the end of town, where she learns a lot more about her father and his family than she ever wished for - and about herself.
The strength of this story is without a doubt Tommi herself, who narrates with humour, intelligence, compassion and strength. Due to her werewolf heritage, she has a temper and so was directed into martial arts, and her post-New Zealand training builds on that. But the other key character whom you can't help but love is Lorcan, the ex-Praetorian Guard turned Custodian for the Trieze, the 'rulers', if you will, of this new paranormal world Tommi finds herself well and truly caught up in. Lorcan reminded me of Joscelin from the Phèdre series by Jacqueline Carey - a bit of a romantic dream, to be honest, but such a good one! If you're not familiar with the series, think beautiful, noble (and rather sweet) man who is also a fierce and highly skilled warrior and, to top it off, devoted and protective but not domineering (that's it, right there, the romantic dream!). Lorcan is in that vein, and Tommi's relationship with him builds slowly and believably, adding that extra layer of tension that keeps you invested.
That isn't to say, though, that this is a romance, only that it is romantic with guts - the ideal kind for an Urban Fantasy. Speaking of, I was so relieved that Who's Afraid? didn't follow the usual pattern of Urban Fantasy novels: that of the mystery, detective kind. While dead bodies do turn up, it's always clear who is behind it, and Tommi is on no quest beyond mastering her werewolf self and training before the next full moon. Tension and suspense is maintained because you know something's going to happen, and it's also maintained by showing Tommi's normal days - normalcy always raises the stakes.
While the plot has its formulaic moments, especially in regards to the showdown climax with her insane young relative, Steven, it also surprises. Lewis takes the time to develop Tommi's character, to let you experience what 'normal' looked like for her, to meet her friends and come to love them too, so that your emotional investment is well and truly secured. And with Tommi narrating, I flew through my reading of this, easily glued to the page, and made a nice pile of soggy tissues at the end (really, Lewis holds no punches). Things have been set up for a clean sequel with a fresh new story, and Tommi is the kind of character you want to accompany for the long haul.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book....more
The thirteenth and final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series (originally called the Southern Vampire series) is rThis review contains minor spoilers.
The thirteenth and final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series (originally called the Southern Vampire series) is really about tying up loose ends and finalising Sookie's love life. For the last several books, she's been in a mostly-intense relationship with Eric, a very old vampire and sheriff of Area 5, a designation among the powerful vampire political structure in which the United States, along with the rest of the world, is divided into small kingdoms ruled by vampire kings and queens. The vampires aren't the only paranormal beings in this alternate world: there are also weres, shapeshifters, demons and various kinds of Fae (including fairies), as well as human witches. Over the course of the series, Sookie has discovered them all, not least the fact that she has a bit of fairy blood in her, that the ruler of the fae is her great-grandfather, and that here telepathic ability was actually a gift from her half-demon godfather (also a lawyer - oh the irony!).
The first half of the series was really very good, each book a sort-of standalone mystery that adds to a bigger kaleidoscopic picture in which Sookie is a sometimes key piece. Sookie went through quite a spread of supernatural lovers, but never seemed to settle on any one man until Eric. Yet the last few books, Harris has very clearly been driving a wedge between them, and making it clear that their relationship just can't work. The romance died in the 12th book, so it was no surprise that their relationship finally, clearly ended here. I'm more surprised that so many fans (who come across as a bit obsessive, frankly) declared feelings of disappointment and betrayal (Harris even received death threats). I always thought Sam would be the one she ended up with in the end - there was just something quietly solid and human-enough about him, waiting in the background. Plus, perhaps because he's essentially as human as Sookie is, he's of her 'kind', doesn't come with a host of archaic rules or (to Sookie) bizarre cultural expectations, like all her other lovers did. He's very much the 'boy next door' type, steadfast, loyal and clearly in love with Sookie. It just took Sookie a long time to work through the dazzle and excitement of vampires to realise that love doesn't need danger to be real. Works for me.
I've always enjoyed the steady pacing, quiet, almost matter-of-fact tone and Sookie's practical approach. The stories are well grounded in a fictional reality because of the time Harris spends creating Sookie's days - the uneventful ones, where she cleans and gardens and goes shopping. Such details help balance the supernatural stuff, and make Sookie a relateable narrator. Harris has maintained that tone and pacing throughout, though some books are more exciting and plot-driven than others. Perhaps Dead Ever After lacked a central plot to anchor it, perhaps it was a bit scattered - and forgettable. I initially rated this 4/5, but coming to write this review, I've realised I can't remember very much at all of what happens, only a few details here and there. There is, of course, a plot against Sookie's life - much more personal than before, and coming from two fronts. The revelation of who is behind it is both a surprise and a bit of a disappointment. But it makes enough sense that it works.
Dead Ever After is a merry-go-round of previous characters: almost everyone from past books makes an appearance here, if they're still alive. Her brother gets married. She renews her friendship with Tara. Quinn, the weretiger, comes onto the scene, as does Alcide. Good guys and the less-good. It's like a "This is Your Life" episode. By the end, we're left feeling good that Sookie's life will be much less chaotic or scary (or exciting) from now on, that she's financially stable and has a boyfriend who won't (or can't) change her very nature. All's good in Sookie-land. Isn't that what you want at the end of a series?
It's been a fun ride, with its ups-and-downs, its exciting books and its filler books, machinations, big plots and small, home-grown ones. Sookie's come a long way but she's still, at heart, the same woman she was at the beginning, just more confident, more knowledgeable, more at peace with who she is. They're good, fun reads that dabble with big themes of family, love, trust, racism, belonging etc., giving them plenty of meat to chew on. I'll miss Sookie, but I know I can always start again and enjoy the stories all over again. That, surely, is the sign of a good, long-lasting fantasy series....more
It's been six weeks since I read this and I'm struggling a bit to remember what it was about, so I'm just going to start writing and see what resurfacIt's been six weeks since I read this and I'm struggling a bit to remember what it was about, so I'm just going to start writing and see what resurfaces. Deadlocked begins with a dodgy party at Eric Northman's house where he's entertaining the vampire king of the region, Felipe de Castro, and his entourage. Considering Eric, Sookie and their cohort were directly responsible for murdering Victor, Felipe's regent, in the previous book, Dead Reckoning. Things get messy at the party: Sookie is delayed by Mustapha, Eric's shifter guard, and when she does arrive she finds Eric drinking blood from a drugged girl - and it looks like sex isn't far behind. After Sookie's evicted the girl from the house, she turns up dead of a broken neck on Eric's front lawn, and the police are called.
Things are messy for Sookie at home, as well. Her great uncle Dermot, a fairy, and her cousin Claude are still living with her, having been left behind when Sookie's grandfather, a patriarch of the fae, closed the doorways between the two worlds. When her grandfather, Niall, turns up unexpectedly and Sookie confronts him about his treatment of his son, Dermot, certain things come to light and Niall begins his own investigation into his family, taking Claude with him back to faery.
Without Claude managing the other strange fae in the area, they begin to get restless and Sookie isn't sure how long it'll be before they make a mistake and eat something - or someone - they shouldn't. The police are watching Sookie; her best friend Tara is about to have twins; her friend Sam's new girlfriend, a werewolf called Jannalynn, has taken exception to Sookie's existence; there's a robbery at the antique store selling some of her grandparents' old furniture; and it dawns on Sookie that others might be aware that she has a cluviel dor in her possession: a powerful magical artefact that her grandmother's faery lover Fintan had given her, which had been stowed away in a secret compartment in her grandmother's desk, which Sookie found.
I can't remember all the thoughts I had while reading this and directly afterward, but here are the lingering impressions (which are perhaps the ones that really count).
Like many Sookie Stackhouse novels, Deadlocked is busy and full of small details - which is just how I like my Sookie books (I've adjusted to the lots-of-little-plots over one-big-cohesive-plot that you get in this series, so now I just go with it and try to keep up). So far this is the only Urban Fantasy series I really enjoy, and the only one I've actually stuck with. Sookie is no detective, she just happens to have the tools - her telepathy and all the people she knows - to be in the right place at the right time and the smarts to figure things out. She's a waitress with only year 12 education, and no ambition, but she's comfortable with that and she's such a well-developed, enjoyable character that she carries the story well. There's just something about Sookie that I have always liked, even though if she were a real person and I met her, we wouldn't have anything in common and wouldn't be friends. I enjoy reading about her life, the mundane details as much as the exciting ones. The only trouble I have with her is that, lately, she seems a bit unemotional.
Perhaps there's just so much going on in her world, and she's had to face the loss of loved ones, a load of violence, torture and betrayal, that she's a bit numb now. It's just that, she says she loves Eric (and he says he loves her) but I just don't believe it. The book where Eric was bewitched and forgot who he was and charmed Sookie by being a sweetheart was probably my favourite in the whole series, but the chemistry between the two of them has vanished in the last couple of books. It's also been dulled by the clear fact that there's no future for these two. Sookie has no interest in becoming a vampire. And she seems to be sacrificing a great deal of her own morals, or principals, merely to remain in the vampires' social circles, and that does seem to be affecting her, even if she hasn't realised it. So the way this one ended was both a pleasant surprise and a bit of an "a-ha!" moment, though I rather hope that things aren't going to be that obvious.
There are a couple of different strands to the plot of Deadlocked, and they both come to fruition at the end - only they didn't quite make sense to me. I had a great many interruptions while reading this, having started it in Canada while surrounded by movers, and finishing it here in Australia days later. I did enjoy it, it was much stronger than the previous book or two which were rather boring, but my increasing sense of despair for Sookie's personal life spoiled it somewhat.
Still, things have been put into place to make the next book (the last one I think?) a solid finale. I hope. I'm looking forward to reading it, because having got to know Sookie as a fictional character, I so want to see her happy - and safe - because I don't know that I really understand her anymore. She's not the person she was in the beginning, which is understandable, and I don't think she likes herself as much anymore. You can actually feel the mild depression coming off the narration (I have to wonder how much of that is Harris being tired of Sookie and her story, too). She was often grumpy, upsettingly small-minded, begrudging, angry, and so on. She doesn't seem to have anyone to really talk to, and Eric has become a pretty useless boyfriend. The last book has a lot of work to do, is all I can say....more
Howard Barr is, as his name would suggest, a bear shifter. He's long been mesmerised by a television personality, Elsa Bjornberg, a physically strong,Howard Barr is, as his name would suggest, a bear shifter. He's long been mesmerised by a television personality, Elsa Bjornberg, a physically strong, big woman who hosts a home renovation show and handily wields a sledgehammer. Knowing how alone Howard is, Shanna arranges for Elsa's team and TV crew to renovate the gatehouse to her large property - and for Howard, who runs security during the daytime - to supervise.
That is, literally, all that I can remember of the plot - and I needed the blurb to help me with that much. I liked Howard and Elsa and the premise seemed promising, more in line with some of the funnier, sillier instalments such as Vamps and the City, but it didn't really deliver. There is a side-plot involving Howard's family and the bear-shifter community he is originally from, and a connection the Rhett, the werewolf alpha who tried to marry Bryn in the previous book. Yes, he turns out to be a very bad man indeed, and you'll enjoy the revenge Howard metes out for what Rhett did to Howard's girlfriend many years ago. (Really, what this series seems to come down to is all the ways men - specifically men - can be utter bastards and harm others, yet I would never call it a feminist series.)
So it was okay, but I don't have much to say about it. Moving on....more
Only fourteen years old, Sophronia Temminnick is well established as the troublesome child in her family. She likes to take the mechanicals apart to sOnly fourteen years old, Sophronia Temminnick is well established as the troublesome child in her family. She likes to take the mechanicals apart to see how they work, and her adventurous spirit and complete lack of interest in the latest fashions or appearances in general are a trial for her mother in particular. Desperate to get her daughter on the right track and "cure" her of her failings, her mother enrols Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
It all happens rather fast, and within an hour of learning about the school and her mother's plans, Sophronia finds herself in a carriage with Mademoiselle and two other children: Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott and her brother, Pillover. Their parents have great hopes of them being evil; Pillover is going to Bunson and Lacroix's Boys' Polytechnique, the sibling school, to learn how to be bad, but looking at Dimity's pretty face and fancy clothes, as well as her friendly, rather naive manner, it's hard to think of her as at all bad. Sophronia is starting to wonder just who these people were and what was going on, when their carriage is accosted by flywaymen and Mademoiselle Geraldine is revealed to be an older student in disguise, sent on a mission not only to collect the three new students but also a prototype, in order to graduate.
The prototype is not in the carriage and the girl masquerading as their headmistress, Monique, refuses to tell anyone where it is. She also takes the credit for their escape from the flywaymen. Once at the school - three huge, connected dirigibles perpetually floating through the mist - Sophronia quickly comes to realise that this is no simple school of etiquette: the girls here are being trained to spy and kill. She just as quickly comes to love it.
With the help of a nine year old inventor called Genevieve, a boy from the boiler room called Soap, and her friend Dimity, Sophronia is determined to figure out where Monique hid the prototype - something that the Picklemen are after and have already attacked the ship for - and who she's planning to sell it to. Little does she realise just how close to home the answers really are.
Set in 1851, approximately twenty or so years earlier than the Parasol Protectorate series, Carriger has set her new YA series in the same world as Alexia Tarabotti's. Werewolves and vampires are a part of society, as are mechanicals - coal-fired servant bots and handy gadgets. The link between the two series is Genevieve, the inventor, who is a youngish woman in the Parasol Protectorate. The key difference, though, is in the writing: while I struggle a bit with the slightly forced, "upper crust" style of speaking and describing used in the earlier series, this book is written for Young Adults, and is very smooth and fast-paced in comparison.
Carriger has all her much-loved trademarks out: a predilection for tea, good manners and parasols; a wry, often ironic sense of humour; and a flamboyant imagination. I'm not supposed to quote from an ARC but I just have to include this snippet (and I can't see it being changed or scrapped for any reason!):
"I'm sorry you're going to miss the theatricals." "In Swiffle-on-Exe? It could be worse." "It is worse: all the boys [from Bunson's] will be attending. [...] Some of the girls even keep score. They use what we learn to make as many boys as possible fall in love with them." [...] "Isn't Bunson's training evil geniuses?" "Yes, mostly." "Well, is that wise? Having a mess of seedling evil geniuses falling in love with you willy-nilly? What if they feel spurned?" "Ah, but in the interim, think of the lovely gifts they can make you. Monique bragged that one of her boys made her silver and wood hair sticks as anti-supernatural weapons. With amethyst inlay. And another made her an exploding wicker chicken." "Goodness, what's that for?" Dimity pursed her lips. "Who doesn't want an exploding wicker chicken?" [pp.162-3]
The plot is simple enough but the story keeps itself busy by introducing Sophronia to a whole new world - and the readers along with her. It's not necessary to have read the Parasol Protectorate in order to understand the world here, though if you have you'll pick up on little inter-connecting characters and details and understand what's going on a lot more than Sophronia does. Carriger keeps the tone light and even slightly frivolous throughout the story, lending it a cartoon-like quality that serves it well. This isn't a serious story, though it does touch on class snobbery and hints to the darker side of supernatural-human politics.
Mostly I enjoyed the concept of the espionage school disguised as a finishing school, a fact that the real Mademoiselle Geraldine is completely ignorant of. Sophronia is intelligent, adventurous, strong and courageous and makes for a great heroine and a solid role model. There's no real romance going on here - she is only fourteen after all - though there is the start of something with her friendship with Soap, a black boy whose real name is Phineas. I'm still curious about this whole other side to Victorian England that Carriger has created, the idea that there are people - upper class gentry, no less - who are part of a secret evil society and want their children to follow in their evil footsteps. Not sure where that's going or what that looks like; Dimity certainly didn't have an evil bone in her body, and it makes me wonder what her parents are like - and what they actually do.
This is such a fun read, though I struggled with the first couple of chapters which had some awkward turns-of-phrase that had me confused for a bit, but when in the mood for a light-hearted, silly and imaginative adventure story you can't go wrong with Etiquette & Espionage.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via the Ontario Blog Squad. ...more
I'll say this upfront: Firelight is not good. An interesting premise - a species descended from dragons who live in tight-knit, protected communitiesI'll say this upfront: Firelight is not good. An interesting premise - a species descended from dragons who live in tight-knit, protected communities and who are hunted by small groups of well-funded humans (we're talking helicopters here) - is made humdrum and clichéd by the plot and the rather dull, annoying protagonist.
Jacinda is a draki; her true form is her dragon one, and as a dragon she can breathe fire, making her rare amongst her kind. When the draki elders want to force her into a marriage that her mother strongly disagrees with after Jacinda is nearly caught by hunters, Jacinda and her twin sister are taken by their mother out into the human world, to live as humans. While her sister was born human (since they are meant to be a different species, how this possible is never explained), living in the human world will turn Jacinda human in time, as her 'draki' fades (this, too, isn't adequately explained - it's like saying, Okay, you were born gay, but if you go and live amongst heterosexuals all that gayness will just slowly disappear entirely! You could exchange 'gay' with 'black', 'Chinese' - take your pick).
And of course, biggest cliché of them all, at her new all-American school (as every high school in every YA novel is: I could predict the arrangement of desks, the ridiculous teaching pedagogy and the cliques) Jacinda meets the hunter, Will, who nearly caught her but let her go, who is of course her own age and very attractive. And his cousins, also hunters, are mean thugs, bullies and sinister. And, of course, Jacinda just has to get involved with him despite the danger, and despite him saying - another cliché - that he's too dangerous to get involved with. I'm not sure how I made it through this book, probably just because I hate leaving things unfinished, but suffice it to say I won't be continuing with this series. Oh yes, there are more books!...more
Phineas McKinney hasn't been a vampire for long - a petty drug-dealer who was attacked by Malcontents only several years ago, he was saved by the goodPhineas McKinney hasn't been a vampire for long - a petty drug-dealer who was attacked by Malcontents only several years ago, he was saved by the good Vamps. He now works for Angus McKay's company, which provides security and bodyguards for the Vamps and their businesses, as well as hunt bad vampires like the Malcontents. Now he's staged a convincing fallout with Angus on live TV (the vampire network) and bringing his younger brother Freemont in on the secret of what he really is. All so he can go into hiding to chase up on a lead that Corky Currant is in Wyoming, rallying the Malcontents to her by self-styling herself as their queen.
A vampire is no good during the day, so accompanying Phineas is the wolf-shifter, Bryn - and it's to her alpha-father's ranch that they are headed. As Phineas learns more unsavoury truths about life in a werewolf pack, especially for the daughter of an alpha, he comes to see Bryn in a whole new light. The two work together as a team, utilising each other's strengths, as they hunt down Corky's whereabouts while evading the man Bryn's father has picked out for her husband.
Wanted: Undead or Alive (we're entering into a phase of the series in which movie-title puns are common titles) was quite enjoyable, and a bit heavier than usual: the way the werewolf pack operates will make you cringe, and what happened to Brynley years ago by her father's own men is horrific. Countering that is Phineas, who is the self-styled "Love Doctor" - a cheesy moniker that always made me pity him. I'm not sure why he's been white-washed for the cover: Phineas is black, and the only black vampire character in the series (so far). It's a shame he's been white-washed; you'd think the States had stopped doing that.
This instalment focussed on the role of tradition and the oppression of women, which is perhaps another reason why I liked it more than the ones that stereotype other races. It's easy for me to hate the characters I'm meant to hate, because the threat is more real and valid to me, personally. Also, Bryn is lively, fiesty and felt more real than a lot of the other heroines - plus she's a shifter and so has her own strengths. And the ending was a bit of a surprise, in terms of what happens to Phineas. As I've said before, I do like it when authors play around with the formula. ...more
It's no coincidence that Sookie always seems to be around when trouble strikes - these days, it's coming after her, specifically, even when she doesn'It's no coincidence that Sookie always seems to be around when trouble strikes - these days, it's coming after her, specifically, even when she doesn't realise it at the time. First a fire bomb is hurled through the window at Merlotte's during her shift, then a gang of men turn up hyped up on vampire blood. Turns out Debbie Pelt's insane younger sister Sandra is out of jail and gunning for Sookie with everything she's got, and there's no one around anymore to hold her in check.
Meanwhile her vampire boyfriend Eric, the Sheriff of Area 5 in which Sookie lives, continues to have his own problems with Victor, the vampire who manages the whole state and more, a regent for their king. Victor's doing everything he can to squeeze Eric and make life difficult for him - to provoke him, ideally, into an attack so Victor can get rid of him altogether. Now Victor is refusing to let Pam change over her lover, Miriam, who's dying of cancer and has little time left.
And Sookie's newest housemates, her fairy relatives Claude and Dermot, seem to have an ulterior motive in moving in with her, and Sookie's not entirely sure whether she should trust them or not. With Eric and Pam now seriously plotting a way to kill Victor for good, and Sandra sending people to kill her, Sookie's got her hands full. Worse, Eric's keeping a secret from her which could change everything for Sookie, as she learns about a new queen and an old promise. With all these new complications, Sookie still manages to find time to clear out her attic, discover an old letter addressed to her from her grandmother, and host a baby shower.
Wow are we really up to book eleven in this series already?! I would never have guessed there were so many - perhaps because some stand out a lot more than others. This wasn't quite a stand-out novel but it was much more exciting and interesting than the previous book. I always enjoy them regardless, because I love Harris' style - Sookie's voice - and the combination of daily routine, paranormal politics, danger, mystery and romance. I find it very easy to settle into Sookie's storytelling, her narration, and there's so much going on in the details that they're much more satisfying books than a lot of other Urban Fantasy.
While this had more plot than the previous book, Dead in the Family - which was one of the "filler" books - it still lacked one of the high-octane plots of some of the earlier books. I actually kept forgetting about Sandra - in fact I couldn't remember her at all, from previous books! - but I mean I kept forgetting about the danger she posed. I just couldn't quite take her seriously, even though I should have.
I was more tense about the situation with Victor, who's a real bastard and definitely a serious threat. But as far as plots go, it wasn't really central to the story. In fact, nothing was central, it is a story made up of smaller plots, side issues, more character development, and a progression of on-going plot lines. This isn't a negative, just an observation. It doesn't mean it lacked cohesion, tension or excitement - Harris is good at keeping things tight and on track. She doesn't seem to forget details or contradict herself. Yet there was also a lack of energy in this instalment which isn't typical of the series. Could Harris be winding down?
In particular, I found the romance between Sookie and Eric to be, well, not really there. Where was the passion of previous books? The tug-of-war that was always so entertaining between them. Sookie says she loves him - and does something rather serious to find out the truth of those feelings - and yet I didn't feel it. She came across as almost indifferent, and her tendency to treat Eric as an irritating young relative wasn't funny anymore, just ... off. Likewise, what with all the problems in Eric's life, I didn't buy into his feelings either. Sure he's a kind of alien and I don't expect him to behave like a "regular" romantic hero, but the chemistry that's usually between them just wasn't there. It was hugely disappointing, and rather sad.
As a story that continues to flesh out this interesting world that Harris has constructed, it's a good one, and there is some excitement and one very tense, danger-riddled scene at Fangtasia; it opens some new doors and closes others. But in terms of characters and the "human" side of the story, it wasn't Harris' best. I still really enjoy the books, and this was no exception, but it didn't really go anywhere - except, maybe, in the Victor storyline - and the "Bill spectre" loomed large again. I just would have thought that by now, eleven books in, I would know Sookie better than this, and have an idea of what her future goals and plans are - does she want a full-time relationship? Marriage even? Kids? Her life seems stalled at the moment, especially dating vampires and other supernatural creatures, and it starting to feel a bit depressing. I'd like to see her progress in her life, in some way - rather than see her constantly be a kind of plaything for vampires or a useful tool for the "supes", I'd love to see her do something for herself, something that shows how she's grown and what direction she wants to take her life. Because loving a vampire, that's a life that really isn't going to go anywhere. ...more
This review contains minor spoilers for the series to date.
Alexia Tarabotti, now Lady Maccon, is eight months pregnant and reinstated as mujah in QueeThis review contains minor spoilers for the series to date.
Alexia Tarabotti, now Lady Maccon, is eight months pregnant and reinstated as mujah in Queen Victoria's Shadow Council. Attempts against her life because of her "unnatural" unborn child continue, until her husband, the Earl of Woolsey and alpha werewolf of the Woolsey pack; vampire rogue Lord Akeldama; and her husband's Beta, Professor Lyall, come up with a solution: let Lord Akeldama adopt the baby, and the vampire hives will cease thinking of the baby as a threat, as it will be raised by another vampire.
As a compromise, Alexia insists she and her husband live with Lord Akeldama too, and as a cover to disguise the fact that Akeldama's second closet has been turned into a bedroom for them, they lease the house next door and create a bridge between hidden balconies.
The vampire threats to her life successfully ended, Alexia now finds herself on a new case: a rapidly disintegrating ghost has warned her of a plot to murder the queen, and with few leads to follow, Alexia starts investigating the last major but unsuccessful attempt on Queen Victoria's life - twenty years ago, when her husband's former pack, Kingair, plotted to do her away. She enlists the aid of her friend, Ivy Hisselpenny (now Tunstell), by faux-swearing her in as a secret spy. Meanwhile, her other close friend, the lesbian inventor Madame Genevieve Lefoux, is preoccupied and acting rather strangely, but Alexia is too preoccupied herself - and too polite to ask questions - to worry about it much.
With her frivolous sister suddenly in residence and pack secrets and politics getting in the way of her investigation, Alexia waddles around London doing what she does best: being invited in for tea and sniffing around for the truth. But will she uncover it in time?
I continue to be somewhat on the fence with this series. It has much to recommend itself, but other elements become sticking points for me. The tone is witty and ironic, intelligent and sometimes silly - fun and charming, in other words. But the stiff Victorian tone taken in the narration makes it read surprisingly slowly, so that it takes me seemingly forever to read one of these books. That alone can be enough to make me weary of the story overall, not to mention the fact that mystery-detective type stories just don't hold my attention. I'm not sure why, but I always find myself a bit bored by them.
My other challenge, with this particular volume, is Alexia herself. I like her, and she makes for a great protagonist, but I did find her situation unrealistic. Eight months pregnant and doing all this? I know every pregnancy is different and there are no rules, no "right" way of being pregnant, but it just didn't seem realistic to me. Even allowing for the fact that she's one of those women - or it's one of those pregnancies - where she feels great and full of energy (!!) and the pregnancy hasn't, miraculously, given her baby brain, what about all the physiological details, like constantly needing to go to the toilet, or aching feet (even if not swollen, they still hurt!) and back. For me, my biggest thing was fatigue. By the time nine months came around, I didn't want to do anything. But there are other women who keep working right up to the day before they give birth. It's all different. But the only reminder we get that Alexia's even pregnant is how awkward she now is, having trouble getting up. That's it. Otherwise, she may as well just be carrying a large bag everywhere. I couldn't relate.
My thoughts then move to the whole "Alexia is preternatural and there's a lot of emphasis placed on her not being quite human", but because this is the Victorian era (1870s) and no solid scientific or other reason behind her state has been put forward - I don't buy into the soulless thing, something about the way it was put forward has always made me think it's just the only way they can understand it, based on their theory of excess soul, not a reason I'm supposed to take seriously, as a reader - I don't think that is a reason for her having such a tickety-boo pregnancy, or not needing to rush to the toilet every thirty minutes (it's like that when you're as mobile as Alexia is). She's still a woman.
And the other thing related to her pregnancy that made me screw up my face was when she goes into labour, in the middle of the big action-packed climax. Narratives like films, books and TV shows are notorious for misrepresenting labour and childbirth for the sake of the medium, but personally, I'd prefer a bit of accuracy please. I'm not saying it isn't possible - at this point I think we'd all agree that anything's possible when it comes to labour and childbirth - but there is such a thing as the "flight or fight" response that is, again, physiological: labour isn't triggered by extreme situations; on the contrary, the body recognises it's a really bad time to go into labour, and will do the very opposite: leave it for a better day. So sure, I can see that all that exercise and excitement and the jostling of a speeding coach could start contractions - they do advise exercise for that purpose, after all - and it's true that Alexia was perfectly calm in the midst of it all, so maybe her body didn't recognise it as a perilous time to go into labour, but I doubt it.
These things are minor details in the plot, but when the plot feels a bit hole-y and the main character a little too superwoman-y, it just adds up to a story that rubs you up the wrong way. There were things I liked about it, things that are present in all the books: the humour, the over-the-top Victorian politeness and sensitivity, Lord Akledama (though his italics do get a bit much), and the inventiveness of the steampunk aspects, and it did have a solidly-constructed plot (much better than the previous book, which I found hard to follow). This remains a series that I like but can never relax into, and really love. My enjoyment is always tempered by niggling quibbles and a difficulty in following the train-of-thought, plot-wise.
There is some fleshing-out of Alexia's world (on a side note, I find it hard to believe that she was "allowed" out in "her condition" at eight months pregnant - don't quote me on this, but I had always understood "confinement" to begin pretty much when a woman started "showing"), and she finally learns that Ivy isn't the twit she's always thought of her as (just mostly a twit!). In fact, Alexia learns just how much she underestimates others, especially her friends and close acquaintances. The title of the book, heartless, is apt, not only because at the beginning she agrees to let a vampire adopt her baby, but also because she takes a decidedly pragmatic, politician's view to Madame Lefoux's problem (which I won't give away, as it's key - which isn't a spoiler, as it's pretty obvious that whatever's wrong with Genevieve is going to be important to the plot). I think this is another reason why I find it hard to relate to Alexia - she's an interesting character, and I love her, but I just can't empathise with her seemingly heartless view of children. It did alienate me, I have to say.
So yes, I'm ambivalent, both pleased that it was a more cohesive and interesting story than the previous one, and peeved at how many things distracted me from enjoying it - and they do outweigh the positives. In the end, the baby stole the novel, because it's not your average baby, and with its arrival, I found I forgot pretty much everything that came before. ...more
It's hard to write reviews for books that are so far into a series, there's no hope in hell of not spoiling previous books, even just a little. But IIt's hard to write reviews for books that are so far into a series, there's no hope in hell of not spoiling previous books, even just a little. But I did decide years ago when I started doing this that I would review every book I read, and I'm going to stick with that. Besides, I've been careful not to give too much away, though there are a few details that spoil the end of the previous book.
This is the tenth book in a series that you do need to read in order. If you're unfamiliar with the series, in book or TV format, it is set in an alternate-present day America where vampires have come "out of the coffin" so to speak, and aren't secret anymore. Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress in a small town in Louisiana who is telepathic; ever since meeting her first vampire, Bill, in the bar where she works, she's enjoyed their company because she can't hear their thoughts. Her telepathic skills are useful to the well-organised and powerful vampire community, though, and so she becomes quite deeply embroiled in their politics and hostile take-overs.
There's more to this urban fantasy world than just vampires, though: other supernatural/paranormal beings live beneath human society and off our radar: weres and shifters, witches and fae among others. Sookie's world has become rather more complicated than she could ever have predicted, and her life is often in danger, but she's a friend to many and helps where she can.
That's the world; now onto the tenth book. The previous story ended in a violent war between two faerie factions that saw Sookie's fairy godmother (literally), dead and Sookie herself scarred from torture. Nightmares haunt her and even though the gates to the Fae world have been closed by her great-great-grandfather, her fae cousin Claude comes to live with her and a strange fairy is detected lurking in the woods around her house. The ramifications of the weres and shifters coming out into the open are still being felt, and a national call for a were registry causes heated feelings on both sides of the fence. And then there's her relationship with vampire Eric Northman, who's a possible political target for an ousting by the vampire who keeps tabs on him and may be looking for territory of his own. It's a messy time, and Sookie's life is still under threat due to her association with so many supernatural beings.
Every few books in the series there's one that feels like filler, but while they may be slower and less focused, I still enjoy them to varying degrees. This would be one of those. What we get is Sookie's life story, really, in the series as a whole, and after something like the fae war and being seriously tortured, you can hardly launch straight into another life-or-death situation and not see Sookie completely crack. I love that she gets some downtime, and we get more opportunity to spend time with her - because she is a great character. I've never found her annoying, even though we don't have much in common and she says "y'all" quite a bit. There's just something so steadying about her, something calming even. She doesn't have this need to prove herself tough and macho like so many urban fantasy heroines, she's not "kick-arse" but neither is she sweet and vulnerable. She can hold her own. And the fact that, while there are noticeable differences between her world and ours, it's still our world, and recognisable, makes her world more tangible and believable.
I also enjoy the characters. Being set in a small town called Bon Temps, there is a firm supporting cast and you get a chance to get to know many of them, without ever feeling overwhelmed or like they're not fleshed-out enough. You get a real sense of a real life going on, Sookie's life, and having grown up near a small town (of about 6000) myself, I know the feeling - pretty much everyone knows everyone, and like with an extended family, there are many you simply have to put up with. Friendships come and go, there are perceived slights and real ones, people change, and yet you know their history and went to school with them. I find that the Urban Fantasy books I've read that are set in big gritty cities feel hollow and empty, especially compared to Sookie's world which is at once so much smaller and yet so much bigger for being full of characters you grow to know and love, and a geography that you feel like you've travelled yourself.
So a quieter book every now and then is not as lacking as it might seem. There's still mystery, danger, relationship development, and upheaval. One of the interesting themes in this novel was the proposed were registry. Unlike the vampires, who never seem quite human or like they once were, who have lived for centuries and travelled all over the world and owe allegiance to no one but their own kind, the weres and shifters are largely born citizens of the country now suddenly facing persecution because of the matter of their birth. The parallels between their situation and the classics cases of Jews in Europe or the Japanese in Canada, for example - not to mention indigenous populations - is stark and painful and very effective. People fear what they don't understand, as much as they fear sudden change (which is linked to not having enough time to fully grasp what's going on, so it's really the same thing), and there's an increased feeling of Us versus Them. It's in the background here but it's very telling.
All in all, I definitely enjoyed Dead in the Family. I don't know where it's going from here (I never do) and I like that. There was some clear personal growth in Sookie, and while her relationship with Eric still feels unpredictable I love seeing them together. I love sinking into Sookie's world, especially as a summer read - I've read so many at the cottage in Muskoka that the books will forever carry that vibe of cool breezes, vivid blue lake, peacefulness and relaxation for me, even though the cottage is no longer in the family. I just hate having to wait an extra year for the paperback of the next book to come out - I could get Dead Reckoning from the library, maybe, but I hate having to return books!...more
I think the gloss is falling off this series for me. I had fun with the first one, and I do still enjoy the stories and the characters, but they are bI think the gloss is falling off this series for me. I had fun with the first one, and I do still enjoy the stories and the characters, but they are becoming more annoying and I'm finding myself less and less patient with Carriger's style and tone here. It's so exuberant and so determined to be silly. She rather belabours the point, especially in her trying "Britishness".
This third outing follows on from the dramatic ending of book 2, Changeless - which I won't spoil, not to worry! But it does see Alexia on her own, back living with her odious mother and half-sisters, dismissed from her job on the Shadow Council, and with the cause of all her troubles unescapable. (That's vague, but if you read them you'll know what I mean.) With her friend, the inventor Madame Lefoux, and Floote, her butler (and everything else), she leaves the now unfriendly England for Italy and the Templars, who have a long history of association with Paranormals like Alexia. Hoping to find answers, she's also trying to escape threats on her life from the vampires, who seem determined to off her now that the unthinkable has happened.
It's rather impossible to give a decent summary without giving things away (I can't understand why I try except it's a habit), but considering this book took me a sporadic month to read - I just couldn't get into it for any length of time - it's a wonder that I can even give a summary. It was overall quite disappointing, one hurried flight after another, one attempt on Alexia's life after another, that I got quite tired of it all. Alexia is separated from her husband, Alpha werewolf and leader of BUR, Lord Conall Maccon, so there's no fun to be had there, and Alexia on her own can begin to get pretty tiring.
Still, knowing me I'll probably read the fourth one, Heartless, due out in July 2011. 'Cause there's some pretty cool stuff going on here and let's face it - they have great covers....more
One of the previous books in this series, Burning Wild, is still the one and only Feehan book I've genuinely loved. Naturally, I wanted to read more iOne of the previous books in this series, Burning Wild, is still the one and only Feehan book I've genuinely loved. Naturally, I wanted to read more in this series of people who shape-shift into leopards, but Wild Fire was a huge disappointment - not a surprising one, though, as it's just like all her other books. Plot holes galore, lengthy tangents into the characters' feelings (especially right in the middle of some dire situation), and a cookie-cutter heroine.
This one is set in Panema, South America. Isabeau Chandler recruits a team of ruthless men, most of whom are leopard shifters, to rescue some village children from a depraved but powerful drug dealer, Imelda Cortez. One of the hired killers in the group is the man she loves who betrayed her, Conner Vega. Thinking he's baseless for seducing her to get close to her father, who was then killed (she thought by him), she hires him to seduce Imelda only to realise, now back in Conner's company, that nothing's that simple.
For a Feehan novel, this one has a rather complicated plot which I won't go into in any more detail than that - it'd take up too much space. Suffice it to say that it's got some classic black-and-white topes: all the good people, including villagers native to the area, have distinctly "white" names, while the "bad guys" have Spanish names. Just, you know, in case you get confused. One of the "good guys" is called Jeremiah Wheating, and we're told he grew up in the jungle. Uh-huh. Unless he's the son of a white American missionary, which he's not, what on earth is he doing with a name like that? It doesn't end there, but the list is too long to repeat. I just loathe that kind of cheap stereotyping. It's tacky and offensive and unconvincing.
I also didn't care for the main characters all that much, and the plot seemed so convoluted at first I was grateful when it eased into something simpler as circumstances conspired. Still, it was all rather ridiculous. And why did Feehan's descriptions of the jungle sound awfully like a typical American hardwood forest? With no undergrowth - really? I've seen enough David Attenborough documentaries to know by now that that's not a jungle (and consider the word "jungle" which implies a great deal of foliage all tangled together).
Feehan's good books make for a pleasant change from the atrocious ones, but they're thin on the ground. I could go on and on about all the things I had issues with here, but honestly I don't want to waste any more of my time on it. She gets brownie points for writing about big cats, which I love, and attempting a more original plotline, but ultimately the execution fell short.
On a side note, I noticed that they've changed the male model used on the front cover - can't blame them, because I do not like the one I have. He may have a slight Guy Pierce look to him but it's not the right look, and with the hair... ugh, he just looks like a male model, not a hired killer raised in the jungles of South America. The new guy does too, of course, but he has a darker, more rugged look that makes more sense. ...more
There was a time when I had real enthusiasm for these books; now, I can barely summon the energy to write a review of one of them. That's the problemThere was a time when I had real enthusiasm for these books; now, I can barely summon the energy to write a review of one of them. That's the problem with genre fiction. The first few that you read are great, and then you read a few more and the formula starts to smack you on the head. Which ones you love just depends on which ones you read first. This is especially true of Fantasy fiction, but even more so for YA Paranormal Romance. If I was a graph nerd, I could show you on a daggy graph how my enthusiasm has petered out the more of these I read, each one getting less and less, the excuses I make for them getting fainter and fainter, the gaps between reading them longer and longer.
But I also want to be fair, and give a new author a go. You never know, do you, what the next book you'll love will be. And I DO enjoy some good ol' paranormal romance, I truly do. I'm just becoming disillusioned with the whole - not genre, but formula. Even when authors try new things, it still feels like the same formula to me. I don't even mind the formula, if the characters are strong enough and have enough chemistry to carry it. If I care. It seems like such a small thing to ask for.
This one was purely a whim purchase; that, and I'd left my book at work and needed something to read on the subway home, so I stopped in at the bookshop to get one. And thought, why not? Let's try another one. Are you familiar with the formula? No? It's quite straight-forward: New girl/boy in school with a mysterious past and a Big Dangerous Secret that's oh so obvious from the beginning (is either a vampire, a werewolf or has some other supernatural power). Romance and sexual tension between Protagonist (often with some tragedy in their past) and Newbie begins suddenly but hits snags of Hesitation, Mystery, Poor Manners, Miscommunication, Rivalry and whatever else you can throw in. Toss in some third party that's out for blood and there you have it: yet another Young Adult Paranormal Romance.
Yes, I know, you can hear my jaded cynicism (yes even my cynicism has become jaded); like I said, I don't really have the energy to dust it with sugar. It's not that the formula is particularly bad, even if it is repetitious and tiring; worse than that, it feels like all these new YA authors are reading each other's books and learning bad habits from them. They all feel like they're written by the same author. The style is the same. The characters are the same, or could be.
The story in 13 to Life is much the same as all the others. Jess is the Protagonist With Some Tragedy in her Past: her mother died in a car accident a year ago. She lives with her father and younger sister, Annabelle Lee, on their property outside the small railway town of Junction, where Jess has taken over her mother's horse stud. She's moderately smart and works on the school newspaper, and has been spending a lot of time researching reports of mysterious wolf prints in a neighbouring town (I mention this specifically because I will come back to it).
She's assigned to show a new boy around the school. Pietr is an instant hit with all the girls in their classes, but Jess has eyes only for popular Derek who plays on the football team. But having Pietr around constantly, sparks begin to fly. For some reason that wasn't clear, Jess pretended not to be interested. Her best friend Sarah latches onto him instead, and because Jess has made it her mission to help Sarah ever since Sarah was in an accident and "changed", Jess tells Pietr to go out with her. That's essentially the plot for most of the book.
(As I'm writing this, it sounds stupid and ludicrous and all my nagging problems with the story are only becoming stronger. It doesn't help to learn that Delany originally wrote it as a "cell phone serial"!)
I honestly don't know how to summarise this book to make it sound like it has a plot, or a plot that isn't entirely predictable, or just not ridiculous. Pietr's a werewolf, and it's blatantly clear to us from the beginning - but for some reason Jess, who narrates, can't see it. Even when he tells her. She's very good at not seeing, at not thinking.
You know what else she was good at? Manipulating people. I sort of liked her (although she seems to have been written as the antithesis of the Bella Swan character who comes across as passive and sweet to many people), but I really hate people who try to fix other people's lives, who make projects out of other people because they want to help them. I know people like that - you probably do too - and they're bossy, patronising, emotionally manipulative, superior and repressive. I can't stand people who "only mean well" - it's no excuse! In fact, people who "only mean well" often do more damage than good, because they're really doing it for themselves.
Well, Jess was one of those. Sarah was her pet project, and I don't know what was scarier: Jess or the truth about Sarah.
I'm holding back that "truth" because I don't want to spoil everything (other reviewers have spilled the beans, if you really want to find out), but it does bring me back to the mysterious wolf prints I mentioned earlier. What was Jess's interest in the crazy wolf stories anyway? I mean, originally. What was she looking for? She seemed to be following a very specific train of thought, but it never materialised. And when or how did Pietr know about this? Maybe I just missed that detail ... It was all rather disjointed. The story read fine at the time, but trying to think of it as a coherent whole after having finished it just doesn't seem possible. There are way too many plot holes and inconsistencies in this book. There are too many things that aren't explained - not things that are deliberately not explained because it's Heavy and Deep and part of the Big Plot; but things that are minor yet necessary to the overall forward momentum of the plot. Like the "mysterious" wolf prints. It begins by the author wanting to set up a bit of mystery, not give too much away all at once. It ends by them forgetting to clarify things, and if there's enough of these little holes, the whole plot starts to look moth-eaten before we've even reached the Big Reveal (i.e., the climax).
I won't list them. I didn't take notes while I read. But I did notice them. The story rushed on, heedless, and littered along the way. I don't know why Pietr fell for Jess, what he saw in her, or what "triggered" it. Just, all of a sudden, he became interested in her. I didn't find Jess's attraction for him convincing either, and I didn't get why she kept stringing Pietr along and being such a cow (another sign of her manipulative behaviour: you only realise she's a cow later, upon reflection). There were lots of things that didn't really make sense to me. I don't get (and maybe am not meant to) what the title refers to (except for some comments towards the werewolves' life spans). That annoys me, because it's the title AND the title of the series. So it is rather important.
There is some good humour here though. Amy, Jess's other best friend, is the "wise cracking" character; I couldn't help but wish that she were the protagonist, though: she was the only person to tell Jess that what she was doing to Sarah was wrong, and many other bits of wisdom, and I lost respect for Jess the more she stubbornly held onto old decisions that no longer applied. It became hard to feel sympathy for her - which is a big problem. I did like Pietr though. He was sometimes a bit wooden, and I don't know what he saw in Jess, or why he would go out with Sarah at all - and then be snogging Jess in the barn! (Yeah Delany skimmed over those scenes!)
And then we came to the climax, and it got really ridiculous. I won't tell you what it is because that would spoil the fun - seriously, you'll laugh. You're not meant to laugh, but it's hilarious. (I'm dying to make a snarky remark, but I'll refrain.)
For all the above, Delany's 13 to Life is not the worst in the genre that I've read. It's got lots to offer those new to the genre, and I can see where the author tried to do new things. It can still be a fun read, but what kept me reading to the end was that I was waiting for something to happen. It might have been better if Delany had gone the way of Twilight and built up the relationship between the two main characters earlier, instead of the Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side route whereby the main characters seem to hate each other until the very end (why is that fun?). Instead I kept reading and wondering when Jess would finally find out that Pietr is a werewolf, and when it did happen it was quite the let-down. If I'm going to read a cheesy book, I'd like some cheese please! Overall, it just wasn't very satisfying....more
The sequel to Carriger’s debut, Soulless, Changeless picks up three months into Alexia Tarabotti’s marriage to Lord Conall Maccon. Alexia is “soulleThe sequel to Carriger’s debut, Soulless, Changeless picks up three months into Alexia Tarabotti’s marriage to Lord Conall Maccon. Alexia is “soulless”, otherwise known as a preternatural – in an alternate Victorian England where vampires and werewolves are out in the open and more-or-less accepted into polite society, Alexia can revert a vampire or werewolf back to mortal human with just her touch. Since the cause of vampirism etc. is understood to be due to an excess of soul, the newly minted Lady Maccon is their direct opposite. Still, that didn’t stop her from marrying a werewolf - the Alpha of the London pack, no less.
Armed with her trusty parasol, Alexia is also Mujah to Queen Victoria – completing a triad council of vampire, werewolf and preternatural. When a large area of London is suddenly afflicted with a state of mortality, several eyes look to Alexia as the cause. But the afflicted area is on the move, heading north to Scotland – where her husband is headed to deal with his old pack’s alpha-less state.
Alexia decides to travel – by dirigible – to Scotland herself and discover what’s causing the problem. Intending to travel alone, she is finds herself suddenly burdened with not just her insufferable younger sister Felicity, but her best friend Miss Ivy Hisslepenny as well – not to mention Ivy’s hideous hat collection. Her entourage grows even larger when she finds that a cross-dressing Frenchwoman and inventor, Madame Lefoux, is on the dirigible, where it becomes clear something is going on between her and Alexia’s maid. Mystery abounds.
The Kingair pack in Scotland is hostile to their presence, to say the least, but Alexia is sure they’ve brought something with them back from Africa that is causing the vampires’ and werewolves’ reversion to mortality. But someone is trying to kill her, maybe more than one person, and the vampires are up to something that Alexia is determined to foil. Thank God she has a new, reinforced parasol with some deadly secrets hidden in it!
There’s lots to enjoy with this series – it has a wonderful flippant sense of humour, lively characters and some neatly paced action. It also makes for a nice blend of steampunk and the supernatural, in an alternate-history Victorian England. As a result, it has some very funky inventions! It’s marketed as Fantasy/Horror, but it’s very light on horror. It’s more like … Historical Fantasy.
As fun as the dialogue and narration is, it does tend to belabour the quaint Englishness a bit. Carriger is, as far as I can make out, English by default (one parent being an ex-Pom), but it sometimes reads as trying too hard to sound English, and overdoing the expressions. She also uses “bollix” as alternate spelling for “bollocks” – I hadn’t seen that spelling before so I looked it up, and found that the change was “to make it appear less vulgar”. Spelling it that way also alters the meaning, to refer to something being messed up. In the book, “bollix” was used as “bollocks”, as in, “damn!” I know, I get hung up on these details – mostly I just find it interesting, but I do find that historical romance authors don’t research very well and even though this isn’t technically historical romance, I do find myself looking out for mistakes. (Dialogue is always a toughie, since so many expressions – the way we say things, our word choices and speech patterns – are fairly modern, including, don't get me started, the word “gotten”.)
I did love the ending though. I have to question the intelligence of most of the characters in their reaction to the news, since they all know that Alexia’s touch turns a supernatural being mortal - with that comes hair growth, slow healing and bodily fluids. Sorry, am trying not to spoil the ending for you but I still wanted to say that. It made the titles of books 2 and 3 suddenly make sense – well, 2 should have been obvious from early on except I wasn’t thinking about it, but 3 - Blameless - became clear. I’m quite looking forward to it, even if it is a bit of a cliché!
Ivy Hisslepenny provides quite the foil, being completely blind to what's going on around her, but Felicity was a largely forgotten character altogether - which wasn't a bad thing, as she was drawn to be as snide and selfish as could be. There wasn't much of Conall Maccon in this one, and when he did appear he alternated between single-minded forgot-I-was-married to very sweet and attentive. If you don't mind your characters a bit cardboard from time to time, you shouldn't have any problems here. I guess it goes hand-in-hand with the tone of the novel, which conjures up the word "buffoon". It made it hard to start, but if you can sit down with it for any length of time you can get back into the swing of things. A bit less re-capping would have been fine by me though. And a bit less pointing-out-the-obvious-irony too.
I'm still enjoying these, complaints aside. Alexia is a loud, strong-minded, decisive heroine who doesn't beat about the bush, which is refreshing, and I do find her sympathetic. Especially now. Looking forward to Blameless, perhaps because of the personal angle that's been set up for it. ...more
When it comes to Kresley Cole, there's no such thing as "too much of a good thing". In fact, it only gets better and better. I love Cole, I love thisWhen it comes to Kresley Cole, there's no such thing as "too much of a good thing". In fact, it only gets better and better. I love Cole, I love this world she's created, I love her characters, she always cheers me up and makes me laugh, makes me feel, and has me on the edge of my seat.
Pleasure of a Dark Prince begins at about the same time as the first (full-length) book does, A Hunger Like No Other. It's been a few years since I read that one but Cole artfully slips in enough details of that parallel story that you don't feel lost and confused. Nicely done. While Emma and Lachlain run around Europe together in that book, Lachlain's younger brother Garreth MacRieve, the "Dark Prince" (he's a bit of a lad - no, that's not a euphemism for "gay"), has had to take up leadership of the Lykae - a responsibility he doesn't really want. Besides, he misses his brother, whom he hasn't seen in a century.
Living next door to the Valkyries, when he first sees Lucia the Archer he knows instantly that she is his mate. But, knowing that she might run, he pretends otherwise. Lucia was gifted with her ability to shoot true by a goddess, and if she misses she experiences agonising pain. She will also lose her ability if she has sex, and she needs it more than ever during the Accession, when the god Cruach rises: it's Lucia's job to shoot him and stop him from meddling with the mortal world.
This time around, she and her sister Regin the Radiant are determined to kill the god for good - only they need a dieumort, a god-killer. Nix sends Lucia to the Amazon with the one thing she'll really need: Garreth. For Lucia must find a temple that no one has ever returned from - except Garreth. Determined to win Lucia over and protect her at the same time, Garreth makes a deal with her. As the time for Cruach to rise grows closer, their perilous trip through the Amazon becomes ever more fraught with dangers - one of them being the danger Garreth poses to Lucia's celibacy, and, consequently, her one chance to be rid of Cruach for good.
As "plot-devices designed to keep lovers apart" goes, this one isn't as corny as you'd think. It was actually quite perfect, and really added to that conflicting feeling you get, where you want a happy ending but you don't see how. Cole does this to me every time: creates an inescapable situation, lets her characters really suffer until it seems like there will be no happy ending at all, and then comes up with a very neat solution in the nick of time. Nice. The further along you get in this series, the more intertwined the stories become, the more detailed the world, the better the adventures.
Because the stakes are so high - life or death high, often with chained-to-an-evil-god-for-nefarious-purposes thrown in just to make me bite my nails - I find the suspense especially thrilling, and the sexual tension thrums. Then something'll happen, someone will say something, and I'll just start laughing. (Am I repeating myself? Tough titties.) If I had to give a definition of FUN, I'd say "Immortals After Dark".
The over-arching plot-line (you really do need to read these in order, the full-length novels anyway) gets a new layer here and you can really feel the build-up as Something Big brews. I can't wait for more. These are real comfort reads for me, books where any flaws simply don't bother me, where I'm happy just reading. Offer me a choice between this series and a year's supply of chocolate and I'd pick the books. Hands down. Who needs chocolate when you've got these steamy sex-on-legs men and kick-arse women? Mmmm chocolate.... It goes well with sex-on-legs and strong women doesn't it?...more
This review contains spoilers for the Night Huntress series.
You need to be familiar with Jeaniene Frost's popular Night Huntress series - the one starThis review contains spoilers for the Night Huntress series.
You need to be familiar with Jeaniene Frost's popular Night Huntress series - the one starring Cat, the half-vampire vampire hunter, and her "other half", Bones, the vampire bounty hunter - before digging into the Night Huntress World spin-off series. The Night Huntress series is easily one of my favourite paranormal romance/urban fantasy series, but I didn't have particularly high expectations of First Drop of Crimson, the first spin-off novel in a new series that focuses on the other characters from Cat and Bones' world.
The first "minor" characters to get starring roles are Spade, Bones' best friend and fellow Master vampire, and Denise, Cat's human friend who lost her husband in one of the Night Huntress books. It's been a year since Randy died in the zombie attack, and Denise wants nothing to do with the supernatural world. She's even lost contact with Cat, though she knows her friend is in New Zealand somewhere. When her family members start dying, she doesn't see anything strange about the manner of their deaths - heart attacks, in people so young and healthy - but mostly because she doesn't want to. Her cousin Paul tries to convince her something's wrong, and that he feels watched, but by then it's too late: Denise watches a man who is not vampire, not anything she's familiar with, induce a heart attack in her young cousin, and then turn into a dog and disappear.
There's no denying that the supernatural has forced its way into Denise's life again, and this time, she desperately needs help before anyone else in her family is killed. In the end, the only person she can turn to is Spade. Before he can arrive at her home though, the man turns up first. And he's no man: he's a demon called Raum, and he stinks of sulphur. He makes a deal with Denise: find her ancestor, Nathaniel, who made a deal with Raum to get powers and then double-crossed him, and hand him over. In exchange, Raum will let her family live and lift his touch from Denise herself.
Spade and Denise will have to immerse themselves in the vampire world to find him, before time runs out and Denise becomes a demon herself, corrupted by Raum's touch. But as they delve into the seedy, dangerous world of a vampire drug lord, the stakes become even higher, the repercussions more dire. For Denise can no longer let Spade risk his life for her, her family, her ancestor; cannot let him fight Raum. Her growing love for Spade, and his for her, will lead her to make the ultimate sacrifice.
This was a lot of fun, there's no denying it. Frost is very good at constructing a tight, deceptively simple plot and going hell-for-leather right to the end, leaving you a tad breathless. However, as much as I enjoyed it and as much as I came to love Spade and Denise, it was still somewhat lacking. The romance side of the plot was a bit forced, a bit by-the-numbers, a bit squished-in. It didn't feel terribly organic, just rushed. The problem mostly lies in the two main characters not spending enough time together, or rather, when they are together, the narrative glosses over it. I would have liked some slower, character-building, relationship-building scenes here and there. More than I got, anyway.
Denise was an archetypal character in paranormal romances, one I see all the time. The young woman (with great smell/perfume) who's both stubborn and vulnerable, who makes those I-stand-alone decisions that always make her look stupid (often, anyway), and allow the hero to swoop in and save her - literally, usually. She wasn't terribly original, is what I'm trying to say. She was different from how I remember her from the early Night Huntress books, but then she was happier then too, she didn't know about vampires and zombies and hadn't lost her husband, whom she didn't even have. It's bound to make you more serious and anxious and depressed. Change is good in character development. Here, Denise mostly gains confidence as well as demon powers. She does not get her sense of fun back. It was sad.
We get a bit of backstory about Spade, but he wasn't as fleshed-out as I would have liked - the downside of having a rip-roaring plot and cramming a relationship into one book. Cat and Bones had the benefit of a longer relationship story-arc that carried over several books; poor Spade got the short stick. He was never a character I took much notice of in the other books, to be honest, but I came to like him a lot. He was sympathetic, heroic, endearing, rose to the occasion nicely, was just as resourceful and intelligent as Bones, and basically ticked off all the right qualities in the supernatural heroes' checklist. Fun, but again, not very original.
I know I sound like I'm complaining, but I did enjoy the book and I do recommend it - though I also recommend you read the previous books first, because this follows on from them and you need the background to understand it all. ...more
What was that book where there's a rare female animal-shifter, who has a hottie guy-shifter practically obsessed with her who is convinced she'll evenWhat was that book where there's a rare female animal-shifter, who has a hottie guy-shifter practically obsessed with her who is convinced she'll eventually say "yes" to him and going all moody on her; who lives with a bunch of other guy-shifters in a pack, who enforce shifter laws in their area and who aren't to be crossed with - who gets kidnapped because of who she is and locked in a cage, and who throws a mean punch?
Yeah, exactly. It's Bitten by Kelley Armstrong (and the sequel, Stolen, for the locked-in-a-cage part). Not that I'm accusing Vincent of plagiarism, not at all - the publisher was wise enough to get an endorsement from Armstrong for the inside cover. But please, this story has already been written, and so much better too!
Let's try again: Faythe (I'm already cringing at the name and its spelling) is one of only eight female werecats in North America - single female cats, or "tabbies", that is. The only daughter with four older brothers (or was it five? Hard to tell, they were all pretty much the same), Faythe is resistant to her birthright: to marry a strong werecat male, and have lots of kittens. Her father is the leader of a territory and its Pride, and she grew up with her brothers and several Enforcers: other males who work as security and bodyguards and live on the main property. Faythe, though, is determined to have her own life and manages to convince her father to let her go to university.
On the same day that Faythe is attacked by a stray, one of her father's Enforcers comes to take her back to the family estate: one of the other tabbies has disappeared, possibly kidnapped, and the men are locking down the hatches to protect their own women. Faythe doesn't respond well to having her freedom curbed any more than she's happy to be in close proximity to Marc, one of the Enforcers and her ex-boyfriend. It's clear Marc hasn't given up on her, and it's just as clear her parents want her to pick him. But then there's hot Jace, and she wants a bit of him too.
Faythe has a history of running away, and it's this habit that sees her easily captured by the Bad Guys and locked up in a cage in a basement - along with her cousin Abby, who's also been abducted. Much attempted rape ensues before Faythe rescues herself and plots to catch the Bad Guys.
This is me sighing, long and loud. This is me, having sighed, launching into my mean and nasty bitch-moan-fest:
Strike #1: it's highly unoriginal. Aside from being a blatant rip-off of Bitten, it reminds me of several other urban fantasy series that feature weres. I enjoy them, because they each offer something new. Nothing new here, not a thing.
Strike #2: oh the soap opera, the self-indulgent, over-the-top melodramatics! PLEASE someone shoot me and put me out of my misery! No, better plan: someone SHOOT FAYTHE - before she procreates. I shudder to think of more Faythes running around.
Strike #3: Faythe. Oh MY GOD could there be any character in the world of fiction more annoying, more obnoxious, more selfish, more stupid, more self-indulgent, more ... there aren't enough of these words in the English language, we need more! Christ. I can't get over how much I want to slap her. How on earth anyone could be attracted to her, much less love her is beyond me. It certainly doesn't make sense. And what kind of idiot Pride leader would want her to take over from him? I'm not buying that bit of flimsy plot-device.
Strike #4: the plot. Aside from being HUGELY predictable, it's also incredibly boring. The first half of this way-too-long "novel" revolves around Faythe, back at her parents' home, taunting the boys; snapping at Marc; leading Jace on; explaining ad nauseam the history and backstory of the Prides and cat behaviour (which leads me to think Vincent doesn't know much about cats); trying to build up some kind of sexual tension between her and Marc; explaining Marc's past; shouting at people and interrupting intelligent conversations with inane, narrow-sighted and petulant comments; and resenting her mother. Later it tries to be hard and gritty but is just stupid - and still predictable.
Strike #5: how many stereotypes can I perpetuate? From the scarily obvious use of South America to explain away the Bad Guys (with obligatory traitors-in-their-midst so it doesn't look too much like racial (and political) profiling), to the Grown Men acting like fourteen-year-olds - how many brand names can we fit into Faythe's description of their abode, where they eat pizza, drink beer and play video games - and never clean up, of course, 'cause that's just not manly - except WAIT! They really can clean, when it's part of their job. This is me, rolling my eyes. Not to mention her mother, who's comical in her obviousness. Vincent doesn't even try to make that one remotely believable. This entire book is like a walking American cliché, and not the kind that I think needs any more books written about. You're Texan (or whatever), you drive Big Cars and Drink Beer and are Family Orientated and Don't Like Foreigners - I get it.
Strike #6: Why are they so white? Following logically from Faythe's explanation of where the werecats came from - that they arrived in North America long before the natives did - why are they white? Especially considering they turn into black panthers. Oh yes, I know, anyone can be "infected" and become a Stray, like Marc who's Mexican (just to prove that they do like foreigners - ha!), but the Pride cats are the "real" ones - there's a great deal of classism going on here - and they're all very white. The explanation doesn't really make sense, and the whole were-cat premise seems more like an excuse for the characters to have obsessive and violent behaviour. Lots of hormones running rampant, lots of beating each other up and punching holes in walls when they throw wobblies. Animals = primitive behaviour. I'm sorry, but animals behave with more reason and logic than this - there're reasons behind their behaviour, even instinctual behaviour. Have more respect for our fellow animals, please! This is more like stereotypical red-neck behaviour as far as I can tell.
Strike #7: the writing. I've read worse, believe me. One thing in particular made me grimace here: Vincent's habit of turning what's meant to be a strong, decisive or poignant scene into a deflated balloon. Her descriptions and narrative are belaboured and clumsy. This kind of thing:
A hand settled on my shoulder, heavy and warm. I looked up, fighting back tears. Marc stood in front of me, with a plate in his other hand and concern in his eyes where there had been only anger moments earlier.
Embarrassed by my near collapse and still furious with Marc, I slapped his hand away from my shoulder. The sound echoed throughout the room for much longer than I thought it should have. His eyes widened in shock as his arm dropped to hang at his side.
"Don't touch me," I whispered through clenched teeth, glaring at him. He had no right to try to comfort me after the stunt he'd pulled in the woods.
Marc's cheeks flushed with humiliation as his expression hardened into anger.
The others stared openly, their food apparently forgotten.
My chair made a harsh scraping sound as I shoved it back from the table. All eyes were on me as I stood. I turned away from them, letting my hair fall to shield my face. The only thing worse than having the guys witness my little breakdown would be having to accept their comfort. I didn't want comfort, I wanted solitude. I had to get away from them all, but especially from Marc. "Excuse me, guys," I mumbled. "I've lost my appetite." (pp127-8)
Way to make a scene lose steam! Aside from losing patience with Faythe, as usual, I felt like I was being sucked into a bog, reading this. Time ... suddenly ... moved ... very ... slowly ... and ... no ... detail ... was ... forgotten ... Sometimes there isn't enough detail in genre fiction, and you never feel like you've got a grasp of the world or characters. Here there was too much, and none of it useful. I still didn't feel like it was giving me a connection to the world or the characters. It was a struggle to get through. I really felt like I was wading through mud that tried to hold me back.
If I haven't got across the many flaws of this book and how much I despised it - yes, despised it; I came close many time to throwing it at the wall in disgust - let me just recap: this book is terrible. From what I understand, the series - and Faythe - doesn't improve. If you like soap operas, yeah you'll probably like this. If you've never read Kelley Armstrong (she who rules the Otherworld), you might find this to be original *cough cough*. But I don't know how you could ever, ever, get past how incredibly obnoxious Faythe is, how awfully tiring she is. She warrants numerous italics. And a kick up the bum. What a horrible person. What a stupid idiot! I can't get over it.
This is not a series I shall be continuing. ...more
Riley Jenson is a Guardian - a supernatural enforcer - and half-werewolf, half-vampire. As a dhampire, she's one of the few daytime Guardians the DireRiley Jenson is a Guardian - a supernatural enforcer - and half-werewolf, half-vampire. As a dhampire, she's one of the few daytime Guardians the Directorate has (whose ranks are filled mostly with vampires), and she's acquired some unusual extra skills along the way - like being able to commune with the spirits of murdered people, and being able to shift into a seagull. She's smart, sassy, a strong fighter, has an incredibly sexy and ancient vampire boyfriend called Quinn, and is finding it more and more easy to be monogamous with him. After all they've been through, Riley and Quinn have finally reached a stage where they're not fighting each other anymore, but are trying to make it work.
The big proverbial wrench in the works is Kye, a werewolf and cold-hearted assassin, who also happens to be Riley's soul mate - her werewolf soul mate, anyway. It's destiny, fate, an unavoidable pull, but Riley doesn't want Kye any more than he wants to be out of control around her. A double murder case puts him in her orbit once more, and the biggest problem Riley has is how much of herself she'll lose to him and his demands in exchange for the information he has that could save the next victims' lives.
There are actually, at one point, three cases on the go here, but one of them was partially solved early on and never referred to again. Here's the thing: the first three books (which formed a trilogy in terms of an on-going plot line) were excellent, I loved them. Then Quinn was absent for a few books and I struggled to maintain my interest, because without him I realised how little I cared for the stories. When he returned, it got better but by then I'd realised how shaky the actual mysteries/murder investigations were, and become shall we say disillusioned.
I don't read thrillers or crime novels, it's a genre that doesn't appeal to me - I have read a John Grisham and a Patricia Cornwell, and both bored the crap out of me sufficiently to put me off, aside from other flaws. I find the sketchy character development lame or painful, or both, and the mystery dull and flawed. What helps with the Riley Jenson series is that I've come a long way with Riley, and I know her well enough not to be constantly annoyed by her - though I find myself somewhat nostalgic for her earlier, carefree days.
The push-and-pull relationship between Riley and Kye invigorates the story, and creates one of the biggest dilemmas of the series - one whose fatal ending is rather predictable, because there's no other way out. Kye is a character who can never change who and what he is, will never be likeable or honest or at all deserving of Riley. You can hardly blame her for feeling betrayed by her werewolf half. She has yearned so long for her soul mate; but I confess I'm glad she got someone so crappy, just as she was owning up to the honest love she has for Quinn, because really it creates less of a dilemma. The answer of who she should be with is obvious. Quinn wasn't always as good to her as he could have been, but he's a character who has changed - or rather, stopped blocking Riley out because of past tragedy that has nothing to do with her. The resolution of Riley's relationships in this volume is what makes it a satisfying read.
My biggest grumble is, as with previous books in the series, the mystery side of the story, which struggles to hold my attention and often confuses me to the point of distraction. Since there's usually more than one crime going on at once, it's often hard to tell which case they're referring to, and I can't always keep up with the surnames involved. Also, there are often holes, details that are forgotten or just not referred to again - in this case, one of the big ones was the third, minor case of a vampire draining children at Luna Park. The culprit is found and dealt with, but reveals a bigger problem - one that isn't investigated further.
What gets me about crime investigations as frame and substance of a book like this, is that everything else gets side-lined. You never get to delve into the characters or the world quite like you'd like to. And that's one of the strengths of this series: it's present-day, alternate world was highly original at the time the first book came out, and is still relatively unique and very interesting. I suppose you could compare it to the world of Sookie Stackhouse, but it takes the concept much further.
The other big disappointment for me with this series is that, while it is set in Melbourne, you would hardly ever know it. Aside from a couple of references to places - suburbs, well-known streets, Luna Park (which I used to live near), there's nothing at all "Australian" about these books, and to me, homesick as I am, that's a big shame. It also makes me ask: "where is our pride?!" Why do we let ourselves be Americanised so easily? Is it really just because, like Canadians, we aren't obsessively patriotic and xenophobic? A topic for another day, perhaps.
I've said this is Paranormal Romance, but truly it's more Urban Fantasy - having read a lot of Paranormal Romance by now, the differences seem pretty clear, but it's still being shelved in Romance. The romance side of things is minimal - there's sex, but it's cursory or angry or mindless. There's some violence, not as much in this book as in others but still plenty. I would still recommend the series, especially the first three (if you don't like those three, you certainly won't care for the rest), and I'll keep reading, but my disappointment has too often outweighed my enjoyment for me to be overly enthusiastic....more
Aden Stone has never been a normal boy. Abandoned at a tender age into foster care and a string of psychiatric hospitals, he's learnt to keep his diffAden Stone has never been a normal boy. Abandoned at a tender age into foster care and a string of psychiatric hospitals, he's learnt to keep his differences to himself to avoid more drugs and therapy. And he is very, very different.
Four souls are trapped inside Aden. One, Eve, can time travel, sending him back in time and into his younger self, where the slightest change can affect the future. Another, Julian, can raise the dead. Zombies rise from graves if Aden steps foot in the cemetery. A third, Elijah, can tell the future - deaths, mostly, so that Aden knows how everyone is going to die, including himself. The fourth, Caleb, can possess another human being.
And yet, they're his friends, his only friends. Their chatter in his head can become deafening, until one day Aden meets a girl called Mary Ann whose presence sends the souls into a temporary void, giving Aden blessed peace. The mystery of Mary Ann is only the beginning - soon the mystery girl Elijah predicted enters Aden's life, a beautiful, enigmatic girl called Victoria who is the daughter of none other than Vlad the Impaler - otherwise known as Dracula. As a vampire princess, her bodyguard is a werewolf called Riley, who spends more time getting to know Mary Ann than he does keeping Victoria and Riley apart.
But the vampires aren't the only ones Aden's strange powers have called into the area. Soon the neighbourhood and nearby city are crawling with witches, fairies, goblins and other supernatural folk who want to capture Aden, learn his secrets, appropriate his power if possible, and kill him. Even if he weren't falling in love with Victoria, the vampires are his best chance of an ally.
As Aden, Mary Ann, Victoria and Riley delve into the mystery of the trapped souls, they discover a surprising truth - and the chance to free them forever.
As you can tell, this is a novel with pretty much every paranormal creature you can think of thrown in. It comes about fairly gradually, which makes it more believable than if they'd been thrust in your face from the start, but it also makes it incredibly crowded. Part of me would have liked it better if it had just been Aden and the souls (and their strange powers) who supplied the true, the only, supernatural "meat" of the novel. I also find it hard to pinpoint which genre it's mostly aiming for. The beginning was a classic horror zombie attack, but there's not much of that here really. It has an urban fantasy plot, with thick dollops of paranormal romance - too thick, I thought, and too convenient.
That was my main problem with the story: it was often too convenient. I don't mean that the characters had a smooth ride, that things always worked in their favour (except that, really, they did), but that despite the apparent messiness of the premise, it's incredibly neat. And the only reason this bothers me is because the romance side of things, especially, was too neat. Love and relationships are never neat - Romance novels in general take that way too far and create all sorts of ridiculous, real and psychological obstacles for the hero and heroine to clamber over. It's actually refreshing not to have that. But because there's so much crowded in, because it's also Fantasy and so needs to keep the Fantasy plot going, you don't get to spend much time with the characters as they explore their first real relationship. Since that's one of the big draws of Romance for me, it did make this feel a little rushed, a little paint-by-numbers.
But there was plenty to love. It is fast-paced, and Showalter has a firm hand on the various sub-plots, weaving them together like a skilled choreographer. Okay, yes, at times it was a bit rehearsed, sticking with that analogy, but it was also a lot of fun. The premise of Aden with four gifted souls trapped in his head is a good one - I haven't come across it before either, or certainly not to this scale. The voices were sadly a bit indistinguishable, aside from Eve being "mothering" and Caleb being vain and predictable. Mary Ann is a goodie goodie but I found myself liking her anyway - especially because of how firm she was when breaking up with her clichéd-American-football-boyfriend Tucker (seriously, what kind of name is "Tucker"? Ugh).
Aden started out charismatically, but after a while he became surprisingly ordinary. Not a bad thing in order to keep him from being too Other, and it allowed the strangeness to shift to Victoria. Let's face it, if Aden didn't have souls stuck in him he'd be perfectly ordinary. It's not him who has these powers but the souls. No souls, no powers. Although, he probably has something which we won't find out about until after he's freed them all. Seeing as how one soul is freed in this book, that probably allows for four books in the series: one for each soul.
I know I keep highlighting the book's flaws, but I gave it four stars because I did really enjoy it, I did get drawn into this world and I did care for the characters. I've read a few of Showalter's adult paranormal romance and some of them I really enjoyed - this YA novel is aimed at the 16+ teens who don't get embarrassed at French kissing. Or maybe I'm showing my age ... ...more