**spoiler alert** I must start off first and foremost by saying that this was a brilliant world with supremely well-crafted characters, the best closi**spoiler alert** I must start off first and foremost by saying that this was a brilliant world with supremely well-crafted characters, the best closing line I think I've read in years (I mean seriously, that could NOT have been more perfect), and enough emotional punch to leave me in tears. I was literally crying hard enough to make reading the last few pages a challenge.
I also want to applaud Andrea Speed for having the courage to end the book the way she did. When you create such lovable characters, treating them like she did can get you lynched by your readers. But this ending was truest to the story and served it best. I think a lesser author might have whipped up a miracle to avoid the hard choices.
For me, this would have been 5-star read if not for craft issues, which were fairly significant in some places. As with Infected: Prey, Infected: Bloodlines has some serious flab. Literally not one meaningful thing happens in the first 16% of the book; it was all backstory and setup, clumsily done and not interesting at all. Had I not already been so invested in the characters, that beginning would likely have led me to put the book down and not pick it back up. And of course there were also the paragraph-long physical descriptions of every character to wander onto the page, no matter how minor, that tighter editorial control would have caught and cut. There were also some strange POV shifts, where she'd head-hop into a minor character for one or two paragraphs in the middle of the scene, and then hop back out again; and some fairly stark factual inaccuracies that I felt there were no excuse for in a book about cat shifters (cougars can't roar, and boy how did that throw me out of the story when one of hers did, but I'll concede that probably not too many people know that). It's hard to reconcile all these craft issues in the beginning and middle with the ending, which was sleek and elegant and beautiful; I'm not sure how they came from the same author.
Despite these things, this was a brilliant, affective read. I recommend this series quite highly, and I look forward to seeing Andrea's next work. (I'd especially like to see her publish at a house with a deeper editorial touch; hands-off editorial can be a joyous thing for those eagle-eyed writers who can really cut their own works to the bone, but most of us can't, and need the editorial assist. I think if she had that oversight, her work would be masterful.) I hope she revisits Roan, because after leaving him bleeding and broken at the end of Bloodlines, I'm desperate to see him find some semblance of happiness again.
And now I need to go watch kittens playing, or something, because this book basically punched me in the solar plexus and then killed my dog. Which is an amazing thing, to be moved like that. But it also kinda sucks :-p
Thanks, Andrea, for such a powerful, captivating read. This one will stick with me for a good long while....more
Duck! is, hands down, one of the sweetest and most insightful explorations of 24/7 total power exchange that I have ever read. It's also one of the moDuck! is, hands down, one of the sweetest and most insightful explorations of 24/7 total power exchange that I have ever read. It's also one of the most highly recommended books I've ever read, and though I didn't quite understand why at the beginning, it was perfectly clear by the end.
There are a lot of amazing things about this book. First and foremost is the way the TPE relationship is handled--how it begins, how it develops, how it ends, and most especially the thought processes of both the Dom and the sub. The two POVs complimented each other to perfection in this book, soothing any--ahem--ruffled feathers the reader might ever have about their situation. Not, mind you, that I think that will come up often; Dare sets the stage with so much patience and reflection that even an uninitiated reader with no understanding of what drives Doms and subs would likely find themselves nodding their heads and saying, "Ooooh, I get it now." That's quite the accomplishment.
Another tick in the "quite the accomplishment" column was Dare's concept of avian shifters. Truly creative, and the hierarchy amongst them felt natural, borrowed neatly as it was from real life. There was some uneasiness about this in the beginning when poor Ori is still in the Nest, before he's discovered by his new master, but once he's in his master's hands, the picture of the world Dare painted becomes clear and even kind of reassuring.
So, why not five stars? Two big things. First, the writing's a little rough. Tons of misplaced commas--and not so much proofing errors as grammar errors--that often threw off the rhythm of a sentence or a scene. Also an absolutely endless use of epithets ("the younger man," "the older man," "the bigger man," "the smaller man," "the hawk," "the duckling," "the submissive," and on and on and ON), a dozen or more on the average page, sometimes two or three in a single sentence! My guess is that this stemmed from the author either worrying about repeating the characters' names too often (which is silly, names are as invisible on the page as "said"), and/or from her being unsure of how to handle pronouns in an M/M story without confusing the reader (which is admittedly not easy but still something I expect a published author to manage). One or two epithets a paragraph is usually enough to make my eye twitch, so this was pretty tough for me to get over and definitely took away from my enjoyment of the story.
The other issue was the pacing in the middle third of the book. The first third of the book had a strong hook, drew me right in, made me care intensely about Ori and his master and want to know everything I possibly could about the brilliant world Dare created. The last third was heartbreaking, sad, sweet, beautiful, engrossing . . . I seriously lack the adjectives to describe how compelling and wonderful and emotional the last third of this book was, or how satisfying the ending was. But the middle third (after Ori had settled into his master's home but before he completes his full shift) really began to drag, enough that I began to think about not finishing. If you find yourself in the same position--STICK IT OUT! The last third of the book will carry you away, keep you up half the night, and you'll be glad for every second of lost sleep because it meant you got to read act 3.
So, this one's a definite "recommend" for me--READ IT!--and I'm looking forward to picking up the next Kim Dare book in my TBR :) ...more
First, a couple clarifications. This is actually two novellas, Infected and Prey, rather than one long novel. Also, there is no sex in this book (thouFirst, a couple clarifications. This is actually two novellas, Infected and Prey, rather than one long novel. Also, there is no sex in this book (though it's very much M/M), but that didn't actually bother me at all.
I spent most of my reading time with Infected: Prey thinking about how great it almost was but wasn't quite. I actually put it down for a couple weeks in the middle of the first novella and felt no particular compulsion to return to it, though in the end I'm glad I did. Andrea crafts a fascinating world, and though I've not read too many shifter books, I've seen enough of it in pop culture to say safely that her concept of the shifter felt quite unique to me. The infecteds live a brutal and unglamorous life and constantly battle both the impression that this isn't the case, and widespread hatred. Shifting is a disease spread by sexual or blood contact, much like AIDS. Also much like AIDS, it's an eventual death sentence (the stress of shifting eventually kills people), it carries a huge social stigma, people blame "the gays" for it, and children can even be born with it via infected mothers. It's a wonderful social commentary, subtle enough not to leave you feeling bludgeoned over the head, clear enough that you can't miss it.
My single biggest issue with these novellas was the writing itself. The author could really have done with a stronger editorial hand, for while her writing in general is solid, she is also extremely prone to tangents and repetition. I actually came to dread the introduction of new characters, because every single one, no matter how minor (random prostitute on the street, random barista behind a counter, you name it), got full descriptive treatment, generally several sentences long and almost universally pointless. I don't need precise physical descriptions of every person to wander on and off the page. And it happened so often that it really killed the pacing. I also thought the intro to the first novella was pretty weak (it was told from the POV of a minor character and meant to set up the mystery, but failed to draw me in), though by the end of the first novella, I didn't want to put it down. The weaving of the mystery in Infected was beautiful, the ending perfect, and the character development for Roan left me hungry to see what would happen next.
Prey starts off much stronger than Infected did, drawing me in right away. Again, it was told from the POV of a character about to be murdered, but it was much smoother, and even in her few short pages of life I was made to care about her. The pace of Prey was also much smoother and faster than Infected, the writing overall felt stronger, and while the glut of character description was still there, there were fewer random tangents where the author just went off and wrote a page about something completely irrelevant to the story. Overall I enjoyed Prey much more than Infected from a craft perspective, as if the author had really grown as a writer between the two pieces. Alas, I did have trouble keeping all the names straight in Prey--there was a big cast of characters involved in the unfurling of the mystery, and the author used their first and last names interchangeably, which made it very hard to keep track of who was who; just when I thought I remembered who one guy was, she'd call him by another name and I'd have to flip back and figure it out all over again. Still, there was a very satisfying conclusion to the mystery in the end. Despite that, the book ends on a distinct downer--an HFN at best--that felt kind of unnecessary to me, a bit like the author made the conscious decision to kick us in the teeth at the end. I respect that, from a craft perspective, it's not always realistic to have an HEA, and presumably the author made a conscious choice to remind us that even with the mystery solved it's not all rainbows and puppies. But in this particular case, I don't personally think that an HEA or an unblemished HFN would have affected the integrity of the story, and the ending as it's written left a very sour taste in my mouth.
That being said, if she writes more of Paris and Roan, I'll be reading it. The worldbuilding was wonderful, the characters multilayered, and Andrea makes us care about them deeply. Though there's quite a bit of ugliness in her world, and reasons to be depressed, there's also the kind of loving relationship that we could all only dream of, and some really fabulous humor, especially from Roan, the super-cynical detective at the heart of the books. (Favorite line? "There were so many good reasons for hating people on an individual basis that mass, generic hatred seemed idiotic. Hate a person for who they were, God knows he did, but for what they were? Moronic and lazy.")
If GR had half stars, I'd have given this one 3.5. If the editing had been sharper, I'd have given it 4, maybe even more; it's hard to tell how much more deeply I might have found myself sucked into the world if all the pacing problems hadn't gotten in the way, but I suspect the answer is "quite a bit." If you're not bothered by that sort of thing, and you love strong worldbuilding and strong characterization sexy shifters, you will almost certainly LOVE this book. Even if you are bothered by that kind of thing but love worldbuilding and characterization and shifters, you will almost certainly quite like the book. Read it and find out for yourself :) ...more