October 8, 2008
In Twilight, Bella first comes across as a mature, confident girl. She’s not thrilled about her situation, but she tries to make the best of it. The worst that can be said of her is that she’s occasionally condescending when it comes to her parents, which isn’t exactly a rare trait in a teenager.
Then she meets a guy.
September 11, 2008
Marked is the first book in the young adult House of Night series. It’s set in an alternate world where, for unknown reasons, some teens become vampires. After being marked by a vampire tracker, these kids go to a magical vampire school where they learn about their new abilities and society. The humans have an interesting reaction to vampires. Though some are accepting, fear is a much more common reaction despite the fact that most of the world’s actors, musicians, and other celebrities are vampires. In the book, they’re actually referred to as “vampyres,” but I have an irrational dislike of cutesy alternate spellings and I just can’t bring myself to type it out that way over and over (even if I could remember to do it consistently over the course of an entire review).
The story begins when Zoey Redbird learns that she’s a fledgling vampire. Her estranged boyfriend, her flaky best friend, her emotionally-distant mother, and her zealot stepfather freak out in various ways. The only person in her life who is supportive and positive about her future is her grandmother, a highly spiritual woman who assures Zoey that she’ll still be herself no matter what changes her body goes through.
August 13, 2008
The main character is Anna, a skittish young woman who was turned into a werewolf against her will. She spent years living in an abusive pack until being recently rescued by Charles, whose wolf side immediately claimed Anna’s as its mate. Of course this makes things awkward between Anna and Charles, who are basically strangers.
Charles is the son of the leader of all the North American werewolf packs, and he works as his father’s enforcer. He explains to Anna that she is a rare Omega wolf, which means she has a calming effect on other werewolves and is not bound by direct orders from an Alpha. When a rogue werewolf begins hunting humans close to Charles’s home, Anna hopes that these newly-discovered abilities will help. But the rogue is only part of a larger evil, one whose ancient grudge and current ambition could endanger the rest of the continent’s werewolves.
This book was set up in the story “Alpha and Omega” from the On the Prowl anthology. It explains how Anna and Charles meet, so if you skip it then you should be aware that you’re missing out on backstory. It also includes a Karen Chance short that some who enjoy Briggs might like. I didn’t care for the other two stories, they’re more romance-oriented.
Briggs tries to work the story’s most important details into Cry Wolf, but I can easily see some things confusing those who didn’t read “Alpha and Omega.” The basic plot of how the main characters met came through just fine, but I didn’t feel that this book did the best job of introducing the relationship between Anna and Charles. We got a great take on the difficulties of their situation, but not as much of a sense about why they should be together other than the attraction that their wolf sides share. I hope that the next book spends more time on the human part of their relationship, because right now it seems a little arbitrary.
Anna is a likable character, and the peculiar way that she managed to deal with some of the traumatic events of her past makes for a fantastic twist. Charles is still pretty mysterious, it was interesting to see the different ways that the other characters reacted to him. It was nice to get a different view of Bran’s pack, though (and this is just random speculation) I’d be surprised if Anna and Charles end up spending most of their time in Aspen Creek.
There was a good balance of mystery, action, and character development, and the ending was intense. This is a series with a lot of potential, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the characters better.
July 28, 2008
I think that The Iron Hunt is one of the most promising series starts in years. I picked it up because I really enjoyed Liu’s short story in the Hotter than Hell anthology (my review of that can be found here), despite the fact that romance-heavy stories aren’t usually my thing.
Maxine Kiss is a demon hunter, the latest in a long line of female warriors. She’s invulnerable during the day, thanks to a series of elaborate tattoos that move across her skin. At night the tattoos take on their true forms, small demons that fight at Maxine’s side. She settled in Seattle, moving in with a man who has his own special abilities and his own goal – one that seems to conflict with hers. When the cops show up to ask about a murder victim who was investigating Maxine, she knows that the problem is likely to be something that the police can’t face. The veil that protects our world from all but the weakest of demons is in danger of collapsing, and the potential allies that Maxine meets are as disturbing as her enemies. She has to explore her family’s past in order to have a chance in the coming fight.
Something about Liu’s style really attracts me. At times her prose is refreshingly direct, and then it slips into beautiful, descriptive phrases that paint a vivid image without going overboard. The main character may sound like a typical urban fantasy Tough Chick, but some aspects of the story are extremely personal and keep her from being a generic heroine. Maxine’s tattoo demons (referred to as “the boys”) manage to be both cute and creepy, which really worked for me.
There was a story about this character published in a paranormal romance collection called Wild Thing, and there are allusions to those events that feel like the recaps usually found in later series books. I followed the plot fine without having read the short story, but it’s really unsettling to read the first book in a series and wonder how much of your confusion about the set-up is because you’ve missed some of the available backstory. For example, I didn’t feel that Maxine’s relationship was developed enough to explain why she, a demon hunter, could be seriously involved with a guy who was trying to help zombies.
Apart from that, there are several other things that seem unclear. Maxine had some flashes of understanding that weren’t communicated very well. One of the locations could have been more defined, even after re-reading several passages I can’t tell if the Labyrinth and the Wasteland are supposed to be the same place. Characters who were supposedly helping Maxine didn’t do much to help her understanding of the situation, they either deflected questions or answered in riddles. As much as it frustrated her, it frustrated me as a reader even more. It would have been better if the cryptic answers crowd had been a bit smaller or hadn’t dragged it out for a little too long. The one who finally started giving her straight answers before the rest immediately became my favorite of the side characters.
The layered story and engaging heroine easily outweigh those issues. There’s a good mix of action and mystery, and the level of originality makes it a nice break from vampire and shapeshifter stories. I’d recommend it to any urban fantasy fan.
May 15, 2007
Ill Wind is the first book in Rachel Caine’s Weather Wardens series. The main character, Joanne Baldwin, is a member of the Wardens, a group that uses their supernatural control of the elements to help prevent and contain natural disasters. The top wardens have the help of djinn, magical servants with large amounts of power but tricky natures.
Joanne is a weather warden, which means she has power over air and water. The other types of wardens control fire and earth. At the start of Ill Wind, Jo is on the run from her supervisors after the death of her boss. During her trip she finds old friends, meets new ones, and learns things that make her question what she’s been taught about the Wardens and the djinn that serve them.
This original series is a refreshing change from some of the more common urban fantasy plots, there are no werewolves or vampires here. Joanne does fit the “powerful magical babe with a lot of guys who love her” mold, but her quirks and attitude keep her a distinct and interesting character. Her powers (and the magic system in general) are fascinating, different, and well-described.
This book is a good introduction to the character and has a couple of great twists, including the ending. The characters are engaging and complex, and I think most people who read Ill Wind will want to follow them through at least the next few books in the series.
May 3, 2007
The first book by Ilona Andrews is on the darker side of urban fantasy. The main character is Kate Daniels, a mercenary with a mysterious past. She seems to prefer using physical force to magic and has an unhealthy habit of mouthing off to powerful people. Kate is more of a tough than a supernatural sleuth, she jokes that her investigative technique involves stirring things up until someone tries to kill her. In Magic Bites, Kate investigates the murder of her guardian. To find his killer, she jumps into a situation causing tension between an Atlanta necromancer group and the local shapechanger community.
In some ways the setting reminds me of Kim Harrison’s books, because public knowledge of magic and supernatural creatures has drastically changed everyday existence. But the world of Magic Bites is a grittier, more dangerous place than Rachel Morgan’s Hollows. The world constantly (and unpredictably) shifts between magic and tech. There are times when regular technology such as electricity and cars work well, and high magic times when they’re abandoned in favor of horses and enchanted lighting. It’s a nice twist because the characters need to be ready for action in either situation, and Andrews shows how society has changed to deal with the changes.
I enjoyed the story and will happily read a sequel. There were parts that could have been better, including some of the side characters and a fairly obvious red herring, but the setting is fantastic. And it’s really nice to have a butt-kicking heroine again instead of the usual female leads who, while good in their own ways, can only fight through magic or surrogates. I wouldn’t say this was a great novel, but it was a fun read and the series shows a lot of promise.