Felix Gomez #1: The Nymphos of Rocky Flats

They say never to judge a book by its cover… or its title, for that matter. So, keeping that in mind, let’s take a completely unprejudiced look at – I can’t believe I’m about to write these words – The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, by Mario Acevedo.

Synopsis:

The first and only vampire book to be declassified by the federal government . . .

Felix Gomez went to Iraq a soldier. He came back a vampire.

Now he finds himself pulled into a web of intrigue when an old friend prompts him to investigate an outbreak of nymphomania at the secret government facilities in Rocky Flats. He’ll find out the cause of all these horny women or die trying! But first he must contend with shadowy government agents, Eastern European vampire hunters, and women who just want his body . . .

Skewering sexual myths, conspiracy fables, and government bureaucracy, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats reveals the bizarre world of the undead with a humorous slant and a fresh twist.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Some books have the misfortune of being saddled with very embarrassing titles. Take Bimbos of the Death Sun, for instance. A fine piece of fiction; but if anyone walks up to you and asks what you’re reading, your only sensible course of action is to throw your drink in their face, jump out the window, and go into hiding under an assumed name. Still, we owe it to ourselves to give every book a fair shot, even ones with titles like… ugh… The Nymphos of Rocky Flats.

The vibe I get from the book is that it’s going for a deliberately shlocky pulp vibe, like it’s aiming to be the literary equivalent of a B-movie grindhouse film. Vampires! Aliens! Nymphomaniacs! It just screams tackiness and tawdriness, giving the impression that there’s going to be lots of blood and sex and gore. You’re probably already picturing it in your head: epic fight scenes between alien science and vampire magic, filthy orgies between vampires and mobs of crazed nymphomaniac women…

Well, I hate to disappoint you, but this book is actually almost insultingly tame. There’s lots of sex talk and dirty jokes, but not even a single actual sex scene. How do you write a book about nymphomaniacs without having a sex scene? And while there are aliens and vampires on the opposite side of a conflict, they never actually fight one another. How do you write a book about aliens and vampires without having an alien vs vampire fight scene? You’re doing it wrong!

The title The Nymphos of Rocky Flats practically screams that this is the kind of book you guiltily read by yourself for sick thrills and never tell anyone about; but I’ve read tons of stuff with far more innocuous titles that are far more gritty and hardcore. For actual nasty perverted vampire sex scenes, there’s Void City. For the full gut-churning nastiness of life as an undead, there’s White Trash Zombie. For aliens versus vampires, there’s Valvrave the Liberator. Now there’s a show that’s utterly stupid and ridiculous and yet still enjoyable. Probably because it has balls. Valvrave has a rape scene! That means there’s more sexual activity in goddamned Valrave the Liberator than The Nymphos of Rocky Flats!

This book is like an R-rated movie that has tons of nude scenes but always uses careful camera angles to avoid ever actually showing a nipple. If you’re never actually going to deliver the goods, what’s the goddamn point?

The secondary plotlines don’t really impress, either. Felix is losing his vampiric powers because he refuses to drink human blood, only to finally give in and drink from a love interest when badly injured and facing death? Seras Victoria did it first, and better. And the assassin who was after Felix was never really explained: there was just one throwaway line saying that he was a rogue agent who supposedly died doing freelance covert work in Ecuador. Apparently that’s supposed to answer all our questions about who he was and how he knew Felix’s name and why he was going after Felix like the Terminator after Sarah Connor? And the vampire hunters weren’t really satisfactorily explained, either. They’ve apparently been tracking the alien UFO by following the outbreaks of nymphomania, and surfacing each time it does in order to destroy all vampires in the area… except there’s no connection between vampires and the UFO. The vampire hunters should be statistically no more likely to find vampires during the outbreaks of nymphomania than at any other random place and time, because there’s no connection between the two. And yet, every time that the UFO caused an outbreak of nymphomania, there just so happened to be a local group of vampires for the hunters to find and destroy? That’s one hell of a coincidence. Not to mention, when you’re writing a big conspiracy mystery, “it was all just a freakishly improbable coincidence” is a pretty unsatisfactory ending.

Incidentally, my father was one of the federal employees who worked on the Rocky Flats nuclear waste clean up project. I asked him if he saw any UFOs there. He said no. I suppose that means he must be in on the conspiracy. Maybe I’m in on the conspiracy, too, and this negative review is an attempt to prevent you from reading the book and discovering the truth. Or maybe the book just sucks harder than a thirsty vampire and I’m trying to prevent you from wasting your time on it. The world may never know.

fnord fnord fnord Hail Discordia

Final Rating: 2/5

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White Trash Zombie #2: Even White Trash Zombies Get The Blues

Some days, it just doesn’t seem worth getting out of bed; not even to eat delicious braaaaains. I guess that’s why they call it the blues. Let’s lurch our way into Even White Trash Zombies Get The Blues, by Diana Rowland.

Synopsis:

Angel Crawford is finally starting to get used to life as a brain-eating zombie, but her problems are far from over. Her felony record is coming back to haunt her, more zombie hunters are popping up, and she’s beginning to wonder if her hunky cop-boyfriend is involved with the zombie mafia. Yeah, that’s right—the zombie mafia.

Throw in a secret lab and a lot of conspiracy, and Angel’s going to need all of her brainpower—and maybe a brain smoothie as well—in order to get through it without falling apart.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

As I was reading Even White Trash Zombies Get The Blues, I kept getting this nagging feeling that it wasn’t as good or engaging as the first book of the series, that something was missing. I had to sit down and think for a long while before I could finally put my finger on it, but I think I’ve figured it out: there’s no suspense about the characters. A major part of the mystery running throughout the first book was that we didn’t know who Angel’s mysterious benefactor was. Each time a character appeared, we were left to wonder if they were the one; and tension was continually drawn out by having them all make vaguely portentous comments that could be interpreted as hinting at knowledge of zombies but could also have perfectly innocent explanations. By the end of the book, though, we knew pretty well where each person stood on each half of the human-zombie divide. So in this book, when characters like Nick or Clive appear, tension deflates like a balloon. They may as well be carrying signs saying “nothing important will happen in this scene”. I mean, there was nothing inherently wrong with the scenes of Nick unexpectedly helping Angel study for her GED or Angel giving Clive a knuckle sandwich; at least, not inherently. But if you were to completely cut those scenes out of the novel, I wouldn’t notice anything missing. They’re completely extraneous to the actual story being told. I won’t write their characters off as completely useless, but something would have to change for them to become relevant again: they’d need an actual subplot with a story arc and some connection to the actual main narrative of the novel, not just the isolated go-nowhere do-nothing scenes they got.

That major negative aside, there were plenty of things the novel did which I liked. For instance, there was the explanation of how, precisely, zombies work in this universe: their powers, their limitations, their level of contagion, and their position on the scale between scientific viral infection-type zombies and fantasy mystical undead-type zombies. It lets me adjust my expectations for the rest of the series accordingly: whereas, say, Women of the Otherworld started only with werewolves but the mystic nature of their condition left the door wide open for all sorts of other fantasy races to let themselves in and feel right at home later on, the strict definition and explanation of zombies here means this series is likely to stay far more limited in how many fantastical elements it allows through the door.

Another big positive would be the full fleshing-out of Ed’s backstory. In my review of My Life As A White Trash Zombie, I complained about how generic and uninteresting his motivation was. This book takes the time to actually explore the journey he took in transforming from an ordinary civilian to a slightly-crazy zombie hunter – a process which, outside of The Evil Dead 2, does not occur over the course of a single night – and gives him a lot of great character development in the process. Whereas I didn’t actually care all that much when he was revealed as the villain of the first book, I’m now invested in his character and story arc and interested to see what will happen to him next.

And, of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the action climax where Angel escapes from the lab: a far more dramatic and energetic conclusion than the fight against Ed in the first novel. I found it thrilling enough to redeem the novel’s earlier lapses in building suspense, and it was enough to lift the book from a 2 back up to a 3.

Final Rating: 3/5

Magonia #1: Magonia

What’s that, up in the sky? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a magical floating cloud-city? It’s Magonia, by Maria Dahvana Headley.

Synopsis:

Aza Ray is drowning in thin air.

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live.

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

I really liked the first part of Magonia, the character establishment for Aza Ray. She quickly established herself as a compelling character with a unique narrative voice, interesting enough that I didn’t mind reading the “boring” part of the book which is just her everyday life before anything fantastical happens.

After that is when the story started to get strange. Not in terms of narrative – it’s your classic changeling protagonist from a magical world with a special talent and destiny tale – but in terms of execution. It makes some really weird storytelling choices which undermined the experience a lot for me.

Usually, when the protagonist is whisked away from their home to a magical world, it’s under one of two circumstances: either they were always unhappy with their miserable everyday life and leap at the chance for adventure and a new beginning; or they want desperately to go home, but don’t know how or something is preventing them from doing so until they’ve achieved some task and completed their destiny. In Aza’s case, she has both the desire and the means to return home – but the Magonians refuse to allow her to, basically making her a prisoner on their ship. And while Captain Zal makes a big speech about how happy she is to be reunited with her long-lost daughter after fifteen years of separation, the crew immediately sets to treating Aza like crap: insulting her and forcing her to swab the decks and so on. It makes them come off not as exciting magical denizens of a world of mystery and adventure, but as villains. Yes, Captain Zal actually does turn out to be the villain of the novel; but it’s far too soon to be showing that card, because making it obvious that Zal is evil so early on then makes Aza seem like a complete idiot for siding with and deciding to trust her later on.

Then there’s the battle with the pirates, leading up to Zal executing Ley. This is a scene that makes it blatantly obvious that Zal is a nasty, lying, oath-breaking villain who will attempt to destroy the world at the climax. It should be the point in the story when Aza questions her loyalty to the Magonians, realizes that they aren’t actually as wonderful as she first assumed. Instead, it’s the point at which she fully embraces them and starts identifying as Magonian rather than human. What?

It would have worked so very much better if the Magonians had begun by treating Aza with overblown kindness, rejoicing at the long-awaited return of their captain’s beloved daughter. They could sympathize with her desire to return to the world that she grew up in but sadly inform her that it was no longer possible for her to breathe Earth air now that she’d shed her human skin, then offer to make her new life as wonderful as possible by showing her all the fantastic marvels of their world and teaching her to use magic and just generally sucking up to her. It would then make more sense for Aza to be willing to let go of her past connections and accept the Magonians. Gradually, there would be hints that things weren’t right, that this world and these people weren’t as wonderful and benevolent as they seemed, but they’d be so kind and magnanimous towards her that she’d make herself overlook it. And then it could come as a proper terrible shock when she learned about the dark and nefarious aspects to Magonia: the enslavement of the canwr, Rostrae, and batsails; the plan to use her as a tool to destroy the human world; and (in this hypothetical) that they lied to her about not being able to put on another human skin. That would have made sense. But instead, we get this weird situation where Aza starts off hating the Magonians for taking her away from her family, but starts liking them more and more the more unpleasantness and villainy she sees from them, but then is surprised when it turns out they want to use her power to destroy the world. I mean, I can accept that Aza has a magical bird living in her lung which is able to enter and leave her body using a door in her skin, but this is pushing suspension of disbelief too far.

Now, this isn’t to say that nothing in the book works. As I previously stated, I liked how the introductory chapters presented Aza, making me very invested in her character. And later in the book, the reveal of the true nature of the Breaths is one of the surprises which actually does work. But overall, there are too many fundamental structural problems for me to truly enjoy or recommend this book.

Just one final stray observation before I close out the review. Magonia is one of those books which does weird things with text placement: oddly stretching out words across pages to try and match with the action they describe or something. Please, don’t do that. I have read about two books in my entire life where that writing style actually worked – House of Leaves and The Girl From The Well – and the rest of the time it’s just awkward and annoying and breaks the flow of the writing. It added nothing, and the book would have been better without it.

So, in final summation: Magonia tries to soar, but it doesn’t get far off the ground.

Final Rating: 2/5

Void City #3: Crossed

Mostly void, partially stars, and the occasional vampire. It’s time for our third outing to that dark metropolis of Void City, so let’s take a stab at Crossed, by J. F. Lewis.

Synopsis:

COMMITTED. CONFLICTED. AND UTTERLY CHAOTIC.

In spite of his continuing hot-blooded affair with his soon-to-be sister-in-law Rachel, Eric’s plan is simple: Give his vampire girlfriend Tabitha the fancy wedding she’s always wanted, then head off to Paris for their honeymoon in the hopes of tracking down his sire, the Empress vampire Lisette. The City of Love proves anything but romantic when the True Immortal rulers of Europe try to block Eric from entering the Continent—and subject Tabitha to a series of challenges to prove her vampire worth. Back home in Void City, Eric’s volatile daughter Greta is getting lonely and bored—and that’s not good news for anyone. And when, like a bat out of hell, Lisette descends upon Void City to wipe Eric and his brood off the face of the earth—forever—this much is clear: the honeymoon is over.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Compared to the previous books in the Void City series, Crossed is juggling a lot of different plotlines. Previous books only had two POV characters, Eric and Tabitha; this one has five, adding sections from the perspectives of Rachel, Talbot, and Greta. And the count rises to six if you count the epilogue, which is from Winter’s point of view. I’d be lying if I said the numerous perspective shifts didn’t feel a bit awkward at times.

In the end, however, it all comes together for an incredibly satisfying climax. First there’s Eric going Godzilla on Phillip’s apartment complex, knocking the whole building down to negate the wards. It’s exactly the kind of cut-through-the-bullshit-by-smashing-everything moment I love from characters like him. Then, for a follow-up, he goes and breaks down the gates of hell to retrieve Greta’s soul and bring her back to life; also vowing to free Marilyn, because in for a penny, in for a pound. Then, to top it all off, the newly-resurrected Magical Pretty Lady Greta sends Rachel back to the big fire down below where she belongs.

It’s an appropriate end to Rachel. There was a moment, at the end of the previous book, where it seemed like she might be redeemable: cut down tragically young by cancer, she made a deal with a demon in desperation for a second chance at life. She only ended up working with Roger against Eric because it was necessary to win her freedom from the demon, and she ultimately wanted Eric to win. Even then, though, there was something about her that made me uneasy. The vitriol and nastiness she demonstrated towards Tabitha seemed too vile and too genuine for her to be a truly sympathetic character. I might have been willing to forgive it if she’d shown any inclination towards changing her ways – this is the same series that has Eric and Greta as protagonists, it’s not a very high bar to pass to be one of the good guys here – but once this book opened with her once again using her magic to mindfuck Tabitha in a petty act of needless cruelty, it was pretty clear that she was irredeemable and had to go. And while Eric is too forgiving and too avoidance-orientated to do what needs to be done, fortunately he has Greta around to take care of the dirty work.

To sum up, Void City continues to impress. There’s just one book left now: the epic conclusion, the grand finale. Will it live up to the standards set by the previous books? Only one way to find out.

Final Rating: 4/5

Void City #2: ReVamped

It’s time to return to Void City, that dark metropolis where the creatures of the night roam unchecked. Let’s stake out ReVamped, by J. F. Lewis.

Synopsis:

REVIVED. REFRESHED.
AND READY FOR REVENGE.

Eric has lost his strip club, his Mustang, and even Marilyn, the elderly love of his (mortal) life. Even his body was obliterated. In short, they almost got him. But when you’re a vampire, “almost” is a very important word. With a little magical help from his friends, Eric is restored to corporeal form, but his treasured Mustang gets caught up in the sorcery and winds up with an unlife of its own. Now, along with “Fang the ‘Stang,” he’s out to save Marilyn from one of Void City’s most powerful soul-stealing demons. But salvation comes at a high price, forcing Eric to venture into his own worst nightmare, Vampire High Society, to uncover the truth about the origin of his powers.

At the same time, Eric’s ex-girlfriend, Tabitha, has begun to wonder exactly what it was that she admired about those High Society Vampires in the first place. Her quest to find her own place in this deceptively vicious circle may lead her right back to Eric’s side — if her little sister, Rachel, doesn’t kill her first. And Eric will need all the help he can get, because it looks like someone is after his soul, too. Blood will flow, fangs will be bared, and the claws will come out, because revenge is never pretty…and Eric has plenty to pass around.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

When we last saw Eric Courtney, Emperor Vampire and Void City strip club owner, he’d been blasted to ash by blessed explosives and was stuck as a spirit, waiting for his body to reform so he could get back to doing the two things he does best: kicking ass and running his strip club. And his strip club’s all burned down.

To be honest, ReVamped wasn’t perfect. I felt like it didn’t do as good a job balancing the perspective shifts between Eric and Tabitha’s chapters; and circumstances repeatedly contriving to prevent Tabitha from telling Eric the truth about Rachel felt more and more forced the longer it went on. On the whole, though, the book was just too plain fun for me to care. As soon as some of Eric’s undead vampiric essence intermingled with his Ford Mustang, turning it into a self-driving, blood-drinking vampire car, I was far past caring about such minor storytelling hiccups or continuity errors. Did Talbot tell Tabitha in Staked that his blood wasn’t toxic to vampires, but tell her in this book that it was? Who cares! Vampire car!

ReVamped significantly broadened the mythology of Void City, expounding further on topics which had been raised in the previous book but not fully fleshed out like the nature of thralls, demons, revenants, and Emperor Vampires; as well as introducing new elements like the fae. It also doesn’t fall short in continuing to provide outstanding action sequences: some of the best moments are when Eric, faced with High Society vampires and all their hypocritical attitudes and overwrought rules, decides fuck the rules and fuck the consequences: uber-vamp smash. Resorting to violence may rarely be the smartest move on his part, but it’s always the most entertaining. And as before, Eric still manages to straddle that line where he’s a bloodthirsty monster whose own poor judgement is the cause of most of his problems, yet I’m rooting for him anyway because at least he tries, dammit.

The supporting cast continued to be a delight: it was nice to see Greta again, good to see Magbidion taking a greater role by becoming Eric’s first true thrall, and great to witness Talbot going all-out in combat against a demon. It also introduced a new interesting secondary character with John Paul Courtney, Eric’s werewolf-hunting cowboy ancestor who is bound to his magic gun and has decided to take up the role of Eric’s spirit adviser, whether Eric likes it or not.

So yeah, another great outing to Void City.

Final Rating: 4/5

White Trash Zombie #1: My Life as a White Trash Zombie

Things have really been okay for Angel Crawford except that she’s a zombie now. All she wants is to do is eat your brains, but she’s not unreasonable: she’s not going to eat your eyes. Let’s crack open My Life as a White Trash Zombie, by Diana Rowland.

Synopsis:

Angel Crawford is a loser.

Living with her alcoholic deadbeat dad in the swamps of southern Louisiana, she’s a high school dropout with a pill habit and a criminal record who’s been fired from more crap jobs than she can count. Now on probation for a felony, it seems that Angel will never pull herself out of the downward spiral her life has taken.

That is, until the day she wakes up in the ER after overdosing on painkillers. Angel remembers being in an horrible car crash, but she doesn’t have a mark on her. To add to the weirdness, she receives an anonymous letter telling her there’s a job waiting for her at the parish morgue—and that it’s an offer she doesn’t dare refuse.

Before she knows it she’s dealing with a huge crush on a certain hunky deputy and a brand new addiction: an overpowering craving for brains. Plus, her morgue is filling up with the victims of a serial killer who decapitates his prey—just when she’s hungriest!

Angel’s going to have to grow up fast if she wants to keep this job and stay in one piece. Because if she doesn’t, she’s dead meat.

Literally.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Say this for My Life as a White Trash Zombie: it doesn’t shy away from the gross aspects of zombiehood. When it comes to the process of how zombies acquire brains for consumption, it goes into full-on skull-cracking, stomach-churning grisly detail. And while I may be viscerally repulsed by such detailed description, intellectually it makes me appreciate the book a lot more to see that it has the courage of its convictions: if it’s going to be about a topic with gross implications, then it’s by God going to face those implications head on, not awkwardly tiptoe around them. I guess it speaks to how many works I’ve read which completely lack the will to commit to what they’re going for that I’m actually able to appreciate this even when the actual gory details make my stomach turn. Chalk it up to picking up one ecchi manga too many where the entire plot it transparently an excuse for fanservice and yet every last nipple is scrupulously obscured, I guess.

With regards to the plot, the core of the story is a mystery: who turned Angel into a zombie? It’s not easy to figure it out before the reveal, since the book actually goes a bit overboard with the red herrings: everyone is always shooting Angel knowing smiles and winking references and making suggestive comments. Sometimes we eventually find out they were actually referring to something else, like Clive thinking that Angel is using her new job at the morgue to steal drugs rather than brains; other times, I guess it’s just a freaky coincidence that people are making all these comments with a potential double-meaning. Fortunately, when the ultimate answer does come, it makes perfect sense; nicely accounting for motive as well as means and opportunity. The other mystery in the novel, the one about the actual serial killer antagonist, actually doesn’t seem as interesting because there aren’t as many clues building up to it. At first, it isn’t even clear that it is a mystery: “just some random zombie eating people” is taken as an acceptable explanation by all the characters Angel talks to. Happens all the time, no point in getting all worked up about it, and no need to do anything since the unsub will eventually move on or get knocked off by a competitor. It’s not until the twist reveal – that the victims weren’t killed for their brains by zombies, but are zombies which were killed by having their brains destroyed. That actually does raise an air of mystery about the situation: is a zombie using his connections in the undead community to locate and destroy his own kind, or has a human learned of the existence of zombies and started hunting them? But by the time the twist hits, it’s too late to start building tension, since the book’s nearly over and the big reveal of the villain only a few pages away.

Finally, there’s the glue that holds any narrative together: the characters. Angel, of course, is the strongest of the bunch: a sympathetic anti-hero trying to repair the pieces of a life she ruined, struggling not only with her new zombie-ism but also dealing with the consequences of her former drug addiction problem and handling living with her alcoholic father. Honestly, compared to her, the other characters come off as a little shallow; not to say that they don’t potentially have hidden depths, but we certainly don’t see any of them explored to the same extent as Angel. Even the villain only gets a perfunctory “oh, in case you were wondering, I’m doing this because zombies killed my parents”. Still, they manage to work as amusing foils for Angel, whether ally or enemy; and there’s still plenty of time to develop them in the sequels.

Final Rating: 3/5

The Age of Discovery #3: The New World

It’s the end of an era: The Age of Discovery is finally coming to an end. It’s time to set out to explore The New World, by Michael A. Stackpole.

Synopsis:

Time is running out. Nalenyr is besieged on all sides by those who would save the fabled land—and those who would enslave it. Soon the realm will be ravaged by the scourge of magical warfare—overrun by terrifying forces created by an ancient enemy, and soaked in the blood of champions and gods. It is the moment of final conflict, and the grandchildren of the Royal Cartographer are at the center of the climactic struggle.

Keles Anturasi will race across the world, fleeing assassins, seeking control over powers he can barely understand. His brother, Jorim, having ascended to godhood, now finds himself pitted against an elder god—the very god who once created the entire pantheon and now seeks its destruction. And their sister, Nirati, embarks on a treacherous crusade with a dead hero to wage war on hell itself!

As the final battle lines are drawn, they will gather the land’s newly awakened defenders of the ancient past. But can this small band of champions, mystics, and magicians stand against an evil that threatens to sweep reality itself into an unending dark age of nightmare and oblivion?

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

And so at last we come to the cataclysmic final battles to determine the fate of the world. I have to say, one of my favorite aspects of this book was getting to see all the wild monsters and mechanical contraptions which the sides pitted against one another.

On the negative side, I never really felt that the plot regarding the gods tied into everything happening in the mortal world. It’s said a few times that Nessagafel was somehow responsible for empowering Qiro and Nelesquin, because he needed to create upheaval in the mortal world in order to overthrow the heavenly order, but it never really comes across in the narrative. For instance, Keles has powers equivalent to Qiro’s without any empowering from Nessagafel; and the plan for Grija to steal some of Wentiko’s divine essence and use it to unlock Nessagafel’s prison doesn’t seem like it requires any mortal intervention. It certainly wasn’t like Nelesquin was taking orders from Nessagafel or anything; he was entirely focused on his own conquest, and didn’t even seem aware that Nessagafel existed.

The god suplot does have one major benefit, though: it brings Nirati back into focus. After spending the previous two books just hanging around and doing nothing, she finally gets a chance to become proactive, seize the initiative, and team up with Prince Pyrust and a menagerie of fantasy creatures to invade the Nine Hells. Honestly, I really wish I could have seen more of that. How come we saw so many scenes of Jorim fighting his way up through the Hells but none of Nirati’s forces fighting their way down? I bet she and Pyrust would have made a great buddy cop odd-couple. Right up to the very end, she was criminally shortchanged when it comes to screentime. Good on her on the whole attaining apotheosis thing, though. Just the fact that she didn’t get horribly murdered like in the first book or have to be horribly re-murdered like Grija recommended in the second book places this one on a tier above the others.

On the mortal character side, I thought Jorim and Keles’s endings were a bit trite. Seen it done too many times before in other works, I guess. I loved the Kaerinus reveal, though. Really, I should have known that someone who killed Junel couldn’t be all that bad.

Finally, since this is the last book of the trilogy, here are some stray thoughts and observations that I’d like to fit in before the close:

* The first book is titled A Secret Atlas, but Keles doesn’t create his Secret Atlas until the third book, The New World. The New World of Anturasixan, on the other hand, is created by Qiro at the end of A Secret Atlas. Did the books get their titles switched?

* I never really quite got Qiro as an antagonist. Everyone always seems to jump to assuming the worst of him. For instance, everyone up to and including Prince Cyron believe that he sent his son Ryn on an impossible mission hoping that he’d die, and that Keles mission to Ixyll is likewise a thinly-veiled excuse to get rid of him. Even Keles believes that the Eyeless Ones which Qiro sends to Felarati are intended to kill him rather than rescue him. Yet, whenever we see scenes between Qiro and Nirati, it seems that he really is supportive of his sons and really does want and expect them to succeed. The New World even confirms that Ryn’s original expedition was in no way intended as a suicide mission either. So I was never really rooting against him the way I was against Nelesquin.

* In the first book, there’s a scene where Keles and his group come across a floating sphere that focuses light into a death ray. The logic of the scene, however, really doesn’t hold up to deeper thought. Keles is able to evade the death ray by sticking to the shadows. But shadows don’t work that way: if you’re standing in the sunlight with a mirror, you can use it to reflect light even into areas that are in shadow. Also, the artificer surmises that the sphere is able to focus starlight to use its death ray even at night. Magnifying glasses really don’t work that way: see xkcd’s explanation of why no size of magnifying glass would be sufficient to form a night-time death-ray. I know, I know, it’s magic; that’s why I didn’t bring it up in my review of that book. But the book didn’t say that the sphere used magic to create its death ray, it had the characters explain it with incorrect science; and I just want it stated for the record that it bugged me.

Final Rating: 4/5

Women of the Otherworld #9: Living With The Dead

The women of the Otherworld are joined by their newest member; but this time, she’s not actually of the Otherworld. That’s right, after going through the whole supernatural menagerie, we’ve finally gotten a fully human protagonist. Let’s resurrect Living with the Dead, by Kelley Armstrong.

Synopsis:

The men and women of the Otherworld – witches, werewolves, demons, vampires – live unseen among us. Only now a reckless killer has torn down the wall, trapping one very human woman in the supernatural crossfire.

Robyn moved to LA after her husband died to try to put some distance between herself and the life they had together. And the challenges of her job as the PR consultant to a Paris Hilton wannabe are pretty distracting. But then her celebutante is gunned down in a night club, and Robyn is suddenly the prime suspect. The two people most determined to clear her are her old friend, the half-demon tabloid reporter Hope Adams, and a homicide detective with an uncanny affinity for the dead.

Soon Robyn finds herself in the heart of a world she never even knew existed – and which she was safer knowing nothing about . . .

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Women of the Otherworld has shown us witches and werewolves, shamans and sorcerers, ghosts and necromancers and vampires and half-demons. But now, at long last, it presents a perspective that has been sorely lacking: that of an ordinary human. Robyn is just your average Jane Citizen, with no experience of the supernatural whatsoever; yet she suddenly finds herself plunged into the Otherworld when she is stalked by a murderous clairvoyant. Her personal journey, that of a human slowly coming to realize the true nature of the paranormal world she inhabits, is probably the strongest storyline of this novel.

In fact, I think I almost would have preferred a tighter focus on Robyn and on Finn (who is technically a necromancer, but a weak one unaware of the greater supernatural community). The book feels a bit stretched having to juggle five POV characters – not just Robyn and Finn, but Hope, Adele, and Colm as well.

I suppose that having a multitude of POV characters is necessary for a complex conspiracy story, as it revolves around secret agendas and mistaken assumptions: to make sense of what’s going on, we need to know not only what character A thinks and what character B thinks, but also what character A thinks character B thinks and character B thinks character A thinks. There’s really no character whose perspective could be cut out without harming the narrative – I was initially dubious of having two villain viewpoint characters in Adele and Colm, especially since Adele is the main villain and Colm only has a few short sections, but it really does seem necessary. And to its credit, the book succeeds at what it aims for. I just wish it could have had a tighter focus. It’s a shame to meet new and really interesting protagonists like Robyn and Finn, and then not get to spend time with them because other characters keep barging in on their spotlight.

Final Rating: 3/5