This, friends, is the true heir to the Sookie Stackhouse throne. It’s funny, it’s screwball comedy, and even better, it’s magic is not only well crafted and just different enough to standout, but it’s magical allegiances are shifty and full of grey area pratfalls. For instance, our heroine’s loving cousin is also a telepathic killer who’s with the protag as much to prevent a killing spree as to provide girl time. The romantic lead, however, is less cool. Honestly, when it failed the sex in the first book test, I cringed, but the real problem is that he’s just not that damn interesting yet. Maybe in the next outing. In the meantime, I’ll root for the sex-crazed Tanuki, or the cute bakery boy as rivals. Yes, I ship bizarrely. So why is it still an A-? Because, dude, a TANUKI; also a metric crap-ton of international folktale beasties and a relationship with the word “monstrous” that is constantly fluid and surprisingly meaningful. The family supporting cast, seen only briefly, is terrific enough to inspire chants of “MOAR! More! MAOW!” and I cannot wait to see what they get up to. Oh, and the lead character is trying to make it in the competitive world of Ballroom Dancing. Seriously. While helping mythical creatures/people and working as a cocktail waitress at a supernatural strip club. It’s brilliant froth: snarky, silly, and still occasionally moving. As an anchor to what may well be a fantastic series, I have high hopes.
The problem with a truly great cast of character is that, eventually, they start to need/deserve their own little spin-offs to solve their own little issues without dragging down other peoples plot lines. The problem with these spin-offs? They’re never quite the real deal. In the previous Kate Daniels books, side character Andrea had a lot of plot shoved in her face, from romantic explosions, to professional crisis, to personal Gethsemane. This book is an exciting, not-quite stand alone addition designed to deal with all of that. It would definitely help to have read the whole prior series. The plot is brisk, and, dear gods, sensible and adherent to its own internal logic; the stakes are high and the risk feels very real. Also, I deeply love the different angles on the other series characters we've come to love. Always a treat. But the big problem is that Andrea is not Kate, and this is Kate’s world, her bombed out and magic eaten Atlanta, her magical detection/protection office, her sidekicks. So regardless of Andrea’s unique voice, or even her own viability as a series lead, I was always somewhat disappointed not to hear KATE’s voice. But if it weren't for that, this book would otherwise be a pretty much perfect example of how to make exciting, romantically immediate, and crisply well-written Urban Fantasy. A must for fans of the genre, as well as fans of the series.
I bought this because of the premise. A nurse—whoa-who, a new profession: detectives, mercenaries, and the magically gifted need not apply—takes a job in a crappy urban hospital to save her drug addled brother. The catch? This wing she works in caters to supernatural people/things and her job, even more so than the average nurse’s, is believably dangerous. It’s a full plate of dirty needles, cranked up werewolves, creepy shapeshifters, and neo-natal drama. And dragons. Because, hey, what’s not better with dragons? The main plot involves some full-on creepy vampires, who not only chart high in their yuck factor, but in their occasional humanity, that want to kill our heroine because she killed one of their own. The drug addled brother is a real standout, as the author nails the walking disaster of having an addict in the family. The romantic drama, however, is much less fun and why this one falls to a B+. I do not love zombies, and find them hard to buy as “love interests,” and Edie’s sexual habits just don’t feel believable. But I have no qualms about picking up the next installment, and a good deal of hope that many of my issues are just first time author jitters.
I quite like this author, and absolutely loved her Academy 7, so my hopes were high for this one. A princess, a spy master’s son, an assassin on the loose, and an evil step-mother, even. And it’s solid. The plot moves briskly, the drama is believable in both its big and small aspects, with the family dynamics tense and complicated, and the political intrigue murky and actually intriguing. Even the slight romance is handled with grace. The problem is the ending. Where our author’s skillfully realistic world can’t quite provide a happily-ever-after, but we don’t get the big fireworks the the twist ending seems to warrant, either. So it feels like a bit of a letdown, even though it is far more believable than anything that would actually be satisfying. Which is the ultimate bitch of being a writer. A well crafted, internal logic-adherent world breaks in the face of what we actually want out of a reading experience in these days of Hunger Games excitement. This is a good book, rock solid, but I still find myself suggesting that it might be for younger readers, or at least those of us not permanently jaded by the onslaught of immediate and revolutionary gratification.
I like the main plot here. Our necromancing lead is tracking apparent suicides while all around her begin to to question her loyalties, her means to her end, and her personal choices. The suicide inducing shade is a really fun device, and the ways this forces her to interact with her two romantic interests are novel. But then the plot gets overburdened with unnecessary secrets. Everyone is keeping something from someone else, and in almost all cases, they are keeping mum just to give the plot twists and trajectory. This is supremely irritating. Also un-fun is the way our romantic entanglements get tanglier just Because They Need To. Words fail to express how %^#*ing over the romantic triangle I am, let alone the endlessly rebuilt one. And this one is starting to prove the why of that. Look, I get that a series has to have reversals and set-backs in order to maintain momentum; I’m just tired of the only game in town being a lead who can never quite figure out which Hot Guy she should climb into bed with. Why can the plot not be sustained by the creepy politician dad and his obviously shady machinations? What about the Fairy Queen? Or Alex’s encroaching blindness as she uses her magic more and more? How about the changing dynamic of her relationship with the police? All of these things interest me so much more than which needlessly complicated mess of a dude she’ll pick. I’ll still buy the next one, but it had better get more plot focused fast.
There was something so familiar about this lead character. Her missing husband. Her steampunk fetish jewelry. Even the—OH, I see. Kate Cross is the pseudonym of Kady Cross, whom we remember from last month’s The Girl in the Steel Corset, and our lead, Arden, is a dead ringer for the aunt in that novel. Which is weird, but whatever. I liked many things about this one: that the romance between a couple separated by years and a fake death was dealt with rather than swept under the rug; that the earlier relationship was less perfect than it first appeared; that I could buy that our leads would fall back in love with one another. I really really liked the supporting cast, who seem more than capable of carrying this into serial land. What I did not love was how the plot happened because plot. Why? Because the Author Says So! was a major theme here. Also, I like my steampunk to be steam-based, rather than magic because-it-just- is based, plus at several points the incredible silliness of Avengers type good guys/bad guys dynamic was actually giggle inducing. It made me want to go read The Man from the Diogenes Club as a palate cleanser from the Rocky and Bullwinkle of it all. This isn't bad by any means, but I would suggest that it’s more for the romance fans than the steampunk ones, which is a shame, because I think the author is capable of much better.
A note on Grading: on my Scale A=I might buy the hardback; B=pay trade cover price; C=get it used or from the bargain bin; D=used if you’re in to self flagellation; F=what, are you stupid?