Greywalker #2: Poltergeist

You son of a bitch! You moved the headstones but you left the bodies, didn’t you? You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones! You only moved the headstones! Why!? Why!? …Alright, now that I’m done amusing myself, let’s spook Poltergeist, by Kat Richardson.

Synopsis:

Harper Blaine was your average small-time PI until she died – for two minutes. Now she’s a Greywalker – walking the thin line between the living world and the paranormal realm. And she’s discovering that her new abilities are landing her all sorts of “strange” cases.

In the days leading up to Halloween, Harper’s been hired by a university research group that is attempting to create an artificial poltergeist. The head researcher suspects someone is faking the phenomena, but Harper’s investigation reveals something else entirely – they’ve succeeded. And when one of the group’s members is killed in a brutal and inexplicable fashion, Harper must determine whether the killer is the ghost itself, or someone all too human.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

I have a confession to make, dear readers: I hate young children. Really, I can’t stand them. This is important information for you to know, because it deeply impacted my experience in reading this book.

I hate the character Brian. Hate, hate, hate. All my hate. Now, while I dislike children in real life, I can usually tolerate them in fiction. That’s because people usually write them as behaving like small adults rather than actual children. In a way, I suppose it’s a credit to the author to be able to write a child character that pisses me off as much as the real thing. But each scene Brian appeared in, a bunch of paragraphs were devoted to documenting in excruciating detail exactly how hair-tearingly annoying he was being, which completely disrupted my enjoyment of an otherwise good story. And then there was the scene where Harper has finally managed to trap the poltergeist in a bottle, and Brian is running around the room like a hyperactive little brat, and everyone is just humoring him and tolerating it, even though it’s totally obvious that he’s going to end up knocking over the bottle and fucking up all the hard work Harper just did to capture the poltergeist, and sure enough he does, and of course nobody can blame him for it because oh he’s just a kid and he didn’t know what he was doing, even though there’s a very good chance that innocents might be murdered by a force of implacable evil because he couldn’t sit still for two goddamned seconds… URGH!

I think I’m going to go re-read Coraline. Coraline never drove me crazy like this.

But never let it be said I am incapable of being impartial. After hitting myself in the head with a brick a couple of times and convincing myself the scenes with Brian were nothing more than a half-remembered nightmare, I determined that I liked the rest of the book. It’s your standard supernatural who-dunnit with an interesting setup and cast of colorful characters. An enjoyable read, unless you happen to have some personal hang-up that causes you to experience visceral revulsion whenever a certain character is in a scene.

Final Rating: 3/5

Wild Cards #5: Down and Dirty

How low can you go? Let’s scrape the bottom of the barrel with Down and Dirty, edited by George R. R. Martin.

Synopsis:

The fifth volume in this totally-unique “mosaic novel” series. As in the previous volume, Aces Abroad, this one focuses on the effects of the Wild Card virus outside of the United States.

Source: Goodreads [https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/67959.Down_and_Dirty]

SPOILERS BELOW

If Down and Dirty has a central plot, it’s Croyd the Sleeper becoming Typhoid Croyd and spreading a mutant strain of the Wild Card virus throughout New York. I do say “if”, because the Croyd thing doesn’t take center stage until over halfway through the book. The stories up to that point are largely unrelated, though they do have a few things in common: they are boring, depressing, or feature the protagonist getting raped. Sometimes all of the above!

Sewer Jack is dying of AIDS, gets raped by Bludgeon, and ends up stuck in alligator form. Lovely, sure am glad I read that. Kahina gets raped by Mack the Knife, then murdered in front of Chrysalis and Digger Downs to intimidate them into working for Puppetman. Because while her Islamic upbringing may have taught her that it’s a woman’s place to be veiled by a burqa, Wild Cards knows that a woman’s true place is chopped up and stuffed inside a refrigerator. And because there ain’t no brakes on the rape train, there’s the sequence where Water Lily falls under Ti Malice’s power and gets used as a sex toy.

This book’s treatment of Water Lily is probably the most offensive and insulting thing in the entire series, practically single-handed guaranteeing its position as the worst Wild Cards novel of all time. (There is one other, much later Wild Cards novel which might manage to earn an equally low score, but its crimes are mainly being stupid and boring. In terms of content, Down and Dirty is worse). Up until now, Water Lily has been an interesting, optimistic, energetic, and bright-eyed heroine. Well, time to change all that! The abuse she suffers under Ti Malice would be bad enough, but the book takes it a step further with the transformation she undergoes after her exposure to Typhoid Croyd. Gone are her boring old water powers. No, now Jane Lilian Dow has a new ability: to cure Jokers of the Wild Card virus by having sex with them.

Yes, that’s right: Water Lily, has been transformed into Joker rape-bait. I’m not kidding. By the end of the book, there’s a bounty placed on her by criminals looking to turn her into sex slave so they can charge Jokers exorbitant fees to be cured by raping her. Needless to say, her character has been so irreversibly ruined that she will never appear in another Wild Cards novel again. A round of sarcastic applause, please, for whoever made this creative decision. I can only assume that they actually were intending to bring her back at some point, no doubt for a rape scene involving some hideous Joker with slimy tentacles and suppurating sores and oozing pustules on its genitals; only for the writer assigned to this task, in a brief fit of sanity, to burn the manuscript to ash and bury it on consecrated ground. So, instead of having to read about Water Lily getting literally raped, we merely have to watch as her character is metaphorically raped by this indefensibly bad plotline.

…Honestly, it’s probably for the best that Water Lily never appears again. Fly and be free, Jane Dow! May you find your way to a better series, one written by an author with some modicum of taste and decency!

Some other stories involve the Great and Powerful Turtle considering retirement, but ultimately deciding against it; fucking Leo Barnett being a fucking hypocrite as fucking usual; Buddy Holly becoming an Ace, because why the hell not; Gimli and Roulette getting unceremoniously offed to clear out some space for new characters, some abrupt but at least non-offensive and rape-free story arc closure for Yeoman and Wraith; and the writers finally remembering that Modular Man still exists and giving him that hackneyed old tale about a robot confronting fears of mortality (Didn’t Star Trek: TNG do a plotline like that with Data? Or am I thinking Voyager and the Doctor? Whatever; the point is, it’s been done). This is also the book where Rosemary Gambione behaves in such an utterly despicable manner that the mere knowledge of it taints my memories of her introduction in Jokers Wild. Remember how she promised she’d use her power to reign in the Mob? Well, for her first steps in taking the organization in a kinder, gentler direction, she has Bagabond’s boyfriend murdered as part of a coverup. Notably, this does not actually accomplish anything, as he had already passed the information he’d found on to the newspapers. Also notably, she has the sheer unadulterated gall to afterwards ask Bagabond for help! Naturally, Bagabond is so traumatized by the betrayal of the woman she considered her closest friend that she flees to Guatemala and won’t be seen for a very long time. On the bright side, things completely fall apart for Rosemary as well, and she gets a one-way ticket to Cuba and out of the Wild Cards series forever. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

Anything else? Oh, right: Blaise. Fuck Blaise. There, review complete.

Under my review system, three stars denote an average good book and two stars denote an average bad book. The one star rating is reserved for books whose badness is far beyond average; books which I find actually offensive. For its treatment of Water Lily, Down and Dirty has the distinct dishonor of being the first Wild Cards novel to fall to that level. For shame.

Final Rating: 1/5

Greywalker #1: Greywalker

Oh look at how she listens. She says nothing of what she thinks. She just goes stumbling through her memories, staring out on to Grey Street. Let’s walk some grey streets with Greywalker, by Kat Richardson.

Synopsis:

Following a savage, near-fatal attack, private detective Harper Blaine discovers that she has become a Greywalker, and now has the ability to move between the ordinary world and a mysterious, cross-over zone populated by monsters.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

I have a confession to make, dear readers: when I first began reading Greywalker, I was surprised to find out that the main character is female. I had only picked the book up for cheap at a used book sale on a whim, so I didn’t know anything about it going in except the title and that it was filed under urban fantasy. Furthermore, it’s written from a first person perspective, and it’s not until the second chapter that anyone addresses Harper with a gendered pronoun. There were hints, like mention of her long hair; but reading the words “private detective” just instantly made me picture Humphrey Bogart by default and the book didn’t provide any information to override that image. I suppose it’s also because I’m used to urban fantasy with male private detectives – Simon R. Green’s Nightside series, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Tim Waggoner’s Nekropolis Archive, and so on. I suppose I should note that the cover image is supposed to depict a woman, but it has some kind of shiny grey filter effect on it and my copy was too faded for me to tell until I inspected it closely. In any event, I felt kind of embarrassed when I reached chapter two and realized my mistake.

With that out of the way, Greywalker is your fairly standard urban fantasy detective story. After a near-death experience, Harper Blaine discovers that she has gained the Sixth Sense. With her newfound power to see dead people, she gets wrapped up in a case involving a power play in the vampire underground. Harper must discover the full extent and nature of her new Greywalker powers in order to survive the vicious plots and intrigues of the bloodsuckers.

If anything about the story struck me as odd, it’s that Harper ends up siding with Edward rather than Alice in the clash of the vampire factions. Edward just seems like an all-around horrible and untrustworthy guy; in particular, there’s that tale about how he once betrayed his partner and used human sacrifice-fueled magic to cause an earthquake which killed hundreds of people. It’s made clear that this behavior was completely over the line, even by vampire standards. Now, I’m sure Alice is no saint, but there’s never any indication that she’s done anything so bad as that. If it just so happens to be revealed in a later book of the series that she, just to pick a hypothetical example, is acting as the pawn of an ancient Egyptian god-vampire who seeks to overthrow Edward only as the first step of his diabolical plan to throw the entire world into chaos, there’s no indication of it in this book. Sure, it’s possible that Harper’s decision will turn out to be correct in retrospect, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense in the moment – rather than making her come off as a good judge of character, it just makes her come off like she’s read spoilers from future scripts and become aware of the fact that Alice is a villain before that fact has actually been revealed to the reader. …You know, hypothetically.

In any case, this book was interesting enough that I decided to stick with the series. Keep tuning in for more Greywalker reviews.

Final Rating: 3/5

Women of the Otherworld #11: Waking the Witch

I could tell you a witch’s spell, but you just might blow your top; and you start to run just as I’m having fun, and it’s awfully hard to stop. Let’s rouse Waking the Witch, by Kelley Armstrong.

Synopsis:

At twenty-one, Savannah Levine-orphaned daughter of a notorious dark witch and an equally notorious cutthroat sorcerer-considers herself a full-fledged member of the otherworld. The once rebellious teen has grown into a six-foot-tall, motorcycle-riding jaw-dropper, with an impressive knowledge of and ability to perform spells. The only problem is, she’s having a hard time convincing her adoptive parents, Paige and Lucas, to take her seriously as an adult. She’s working as the research assistant at the detective agency they founded, and when they take off on a romantic vacation alone, leaving her in charge, Savannah finds herself itching for a case to call her own. (She’s also itching for Adam, her longtime friend and colleague, to see her as more than just a little girl, but that’s another matter.)

Suddenly, Savannah gets the chance she’s been waiting for: Recruited by another supernatural detective, she travels to Columbus, Washington, a small, dying town. Two troubled young women have been found in an abandoned warehouse, murdered. Now a third woman’s dead, and on closer inspection small details point to darker forces at play. Savannah feels certain she can handle the case, but with signs of supernatural activity appearing at every turn, things quickly become more serious- and far more dangerous-than she realizes.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Savannah Levine: how she’s grown. Introduced to the Women of the Otherworld series as a mere child, she has now grown into a young adult ready for a book of her own. She’s high on my list of favorite characters, so I was really digging her first foray as main character. The story premise seemed slightly odd to me, as there didn’t really seem to be anything all that supernatural about the murders she was investigating, but she’s a strong enough character that I was willing to go with it and see where things led. And hey, give her props: even if it was a lot closer to an ordinary non-supernatural detective story than is typical for an urban fantasy book, I really enjoyed reading about her tracking down leads, questioning suspects, and just generally investigating the hell out of this huge tangled mess of murder, corruption, infidelity, drug dealing, cultism, and general small-town hick-sheriff incompetence.

The resolution is where things went south, however. There actually being two killers is a genuine clever twist: the initial murders of Ginny and Brandi were actually a purely human matter, and a clever witch-hunter decided to take advantage of the killer going uncaught and conceal the true nature of her own murders by making them look like the work of the same unsub. Hiding your crimes by making them look like a continuation of a unrelated, pre-existing matter is a classic strategy, one which was memorably used to great effect by Takano. Miyo Takano, I mean; not Zoe Takano. (You thought I wouldn’t find I way to make a Zoe Takano reference in this review – but you were wrong! I shall never cease my flagellation of that deceased equine!).

In any case, while two unrelated killers might be reasonable, bringing in a third murderer – also entirely unconnected to the other two – really starts to seem contrived. And having that third murderer be suddenly revealed, with no build-up whatsoever, as the vengeful ghost of a villain from a previous book, who escaped hell off-screen while nobody was looking, but it was actually totally common knowledge that she was at large, it’s just that everybody conveniently forgot to mention it until after the reveal had already taken place… captain, our suspension of disbelief is giving it all she’s got, but she cannae take much more of this!

The book ends on two cliffhangers. One, the witch-hunter villain managed to slip away without being caught: perhaps so the protagonists’ pursuit of her can continue into the next book, or perhaps so she can suddenly reappear when we least expect it, or perhaps, just possibly, to completely disappear and just inexplicably never have her subplot be resolved or mentioned again, like those fox maiden women or that shapeshifter guy. (Though I must admit to conflicted feelings about that shapeshifter guy. On the one hand, it offends my sense of closure, to so blatantly set up him escaping from prison and returning as an antagonist only for it to never happen. On the other hand, he was probably the series’ second-lamest villain, right behind Mr. Not-Really-Jack-the-Ripper, so I’m not really rooting for his return, either. Really, a footnote saying that it just so happened that he slipped in the shower and died offscreen would be the best outcome here. Hey, if a villain can escape from hell and come back to life offscreen…)

The other cliffhanger is Savannah seemingly losing her magic in exchange for hitting a big ole reset button on Kayla, or something like that; it’s really not entirely clear. I’m actually going to have to lay the blame on Savannah for this one, for she flagrantly violated one of the most sacred rules of the genre: in any urban fantasy book with a female protagonist, when the protagonist meets the adorable little orphan girl (and make no mistake, she will always eventually meet one), she must experience an awakening of her maternal instincts and decide to adopt the orphan girl as her own child. It would have been poetic justice, for Savannah herself was the poor orphan girl to Paige. Things would have come full circle, the adopted becoming the adoptee. But no, she decided to go the whole casual-wish-gets-unexpectedly-granted route instead; so we’ll be dealing with the fallout from that next time, I guess.

Whatever. I’m probably being overly nitpicky. Honestly, I did enjoy it just fine while I was reading it; it was only afterwards that all the problems started weighing on my mind and caused my poor, abused suspension of disbelief to collapse. I guess that taken as a whole, it’s probably a fine enough book, for the most part.

Final Rating: 3/5

The Bloodhound Files #4: Better Off Undead

Live, die, repeat? …Not exactly. Let’s almost cross a line, then slowly back away and walk off whistling while pretending it never happened with Better Off Undead, by D. D. Barant.

Synopsis:

Dark magic, unknown enemies, monsters of every stripe—FBI profiler Jace Valchek has seen it all. In this bizarre parallel universe, shape-shifting werewolves and blood-thirsty vampires don’t even warrant a raised eyebrow. That is, until Jace has to face what life might look like as one of them …

It starts off as just another run-of-the-mill assignment: to track down the rogue don of a mafia werewolf family before he upsets the delicate balance of the underworld. But Jace wasn’t counting on being bitten…and soon she’s fighting the growing wolf inside her with a startling antidote—vampirism. Stopping a bloody gangland war won’t be easy when Jace is feeling some new, and very inhuman, desires …

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

The Bloodhound Files series has passed the midpoint, and that means it’s round about time to introduce a big shakeup to the status quo. Some big, irreversible change that emphasizes the narrative’s forward motion. Well, after the first three books in the series had titles consisting of two-word puns, the latter half has switched to a different naming style which incorporates the word “undead”, so it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen. There’s only so long Jace could get away with being a vanilla human on a world filled with vampires and werewolves, two supernatural races known for the contagious nature of their conditions. She already had two close calls in previous books, and escaping a third time is too much for her to hope for. Injured by a werewolf while carrying out a mission, and afterwards bitten by a vampire to counteract the effect, Jace is forced into the position of choosing which type of supernatural to transform into…

…aaaaaand then the narrative decides that oops, no, wait, it changed its mind; having built up a whole story around the dilemma of Jace’s transformation, it’s going to back out at the last minute and punch the ole reset button to keep Jace human. Nothing to see here, nothing important happened today, move on.

Well. On the one hand, Jace’s overarching goal and character motivation is still to leave Thropirelem and return to her own, non-supernatural Earth, and acquiring a supernatural condition would have made that a very complicated prospect. But that’s exactly why it was so interesting. To tease such a major upheaval to the status quo, something which would have such a huge impact on all the characters’ goals and interactions and very natures, and then to just to abort at the last minute: that’s just jerking the readers around. Better not to raise the issue in the first place and just leave me happily assuming that Jace has your standard-issue protagonist Plot Armor than to make a big production about exploring the idea of Jace becoming a werewolf or a vampire only to abruptly kick me back into the status quo. “Wondering how Jace would deal with becoming a supernatural?” the book asks me. “Wondering if she would still want to return to her own Earth, or if she would decide that she belonged in Thropirelem now? Wondering how it would affect her relationship with her friends, her colleagues, her co-workers, and her human-supremacist nemesis Aristotle Stoker? Well, you can go ahead and keep on wondering forever, sucker.”

Given how much I disliked that particular bait-and-switch plotline, it’s hard for me to disentangle it from the rest of the book enough for me to judge the remainder on its own merits. If I’m honest, I have to say that the rest of the book was actually very good. Were it not for the magic reset button return to status quo ending, I really might have enjoyed the book. I certainly did enjoy the story while I was reading it, right up until near the end when I realized that it totally was going to go for the cop-out ending.

In final summary, Better Off Undead ends up being more-or-less decent. It’s just that it had the potential to be so very much more, and the book we actually did get pales in comparison to the hypothetical book we could have gotten where Jace would have ended up as a vampire or a werewolf.

Final Rating: 3/5

Quasing #4: The Days of Tao

When the days are cold and the cards all fold and the saints we see are all made of gold… then the time of Tao is upon us once more. Let’s relive The Days of Tao, by Wesley Chu.

Synopsis:

Cameron Tan wouldn’t have even been in Greece if he hadn’t gotten a ‘D’ in Art History.
Instead of spending the summer after college completing his training as a Prophus operative, he’s doing a study abroad program in Greece, enjoying a normal life – spending time with friends and getting teased about his crush on a classmate.

Then the emergency notification comes in: a Prophus agent with vital information needs immediate extraction, and Cameron is the only agent on the ground, responsible for getting the other agent and data out of the country. The Prophus are relying on him to uncomplicate things.
Easy.

Easy, except the rival Genjix have declared all-out war against the Prophus, which means Greece is about to be a very dangerous place. And the agent isn’t the only person relying on Cameron to get them safely out of the country – his friends from the study abroad program are, too. Cameron knows a good agent would leave them to fend for themselves. He also knows a good person wouldn’t. Suddenly, things aren’t easy at all.

The Days of Tao is the latest in the popular Tao series from award-winning author, Wesley Chu. Following after The Rebirths of Tao, this novella carries on the fast-moving and fun tone of the series.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

How to go about reviewing The Days of Tao? It’s a much shorter piece of work than any of the other books in the Quasing series – a novella rather than a full novel, primarily meant to serve as a bridge between the Tao and Io trilogies rather than telling its own self-contained story. Because of this, it ends up feeling a little incomplete. The ending, in particular, is unsatisfying: much of the plot revolves around a traitor in the group Cameron Tan is attempting to bring to safety, and yet the identity of the traitor is not revealed within this story; it is instead left as a dangling thread to be continued as a very minor subplot in The Rise of Io.

I also have to object to the final paragraph of the synopsis. The novella is fast-moving, yes, but fun? It’s a fairly dark story about a dwindling group of civilians getting picked off one by one as they try to escape enemy territory during a war. The ending is probably the most downbeat of all the books in the Quasing series. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s “fun” in tone. For that matter, while it is “fast-moving”, I can’t really say it “continues” any kind of series trend of being fast-moving, given that two of the three previous books consisting largely of stretched-out training montages. Remember all those pages Roen spent staking out mailboxes? Total, non-stop action!

Still, while it’s a lot shorter than the other Quasing stories, being a novella rather than a novel is just a choice of medium and not something that I’d hold against the actual content of the story. Likewise, bullshit back-cover synopses are nothing new to me, and I’ve seen far worse. And ultimately, the story itself is a good one.

So, yeah, that’s pretty much all there is to say about it. The weak ending means I can’t exactly call it great, but it’s a decent enough final adventure from the POV of Cameron Tan and Tao before we move on to Ella Patel and Io.

Final Rating: 3/5

The Machine Dynasty #2: iD

All meatbags shall now begin the mandatory recital of the official anthem of the Machine Dynasty: I am Machine, I never sleep until I fix what’s broken… Let’s plug into iD, by Madeline Ashby.

Synopsis:

Javier is a self-replicating humanoid on a journey of redemption.

Javier’s quest takes him from Amy’s island, where his actions have devastating consequences for his friend, toward Mecha where he will find either salvation… or death.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

iD faces a pretty fundamental obstacle: how do you make a sequel to vN when vN is a complete self-contained narrative on its own? Amy’s character arc is pretty well finished: she started as a naive and innocent child, and ended up as the god-like Fisher King of her own artificial robot island domain. There’s not much room left for her character to develop from there, nor much chance for an evenly balanced conflict when she is in such a position of power.

The route iD chooses to take it to quickly boot Amy out of the narrative at the beginning, undoing everything she accomplished at the end of the first book in order to re-level the playing field, and make Javier the main character for this one. Unfortunately, I don’t find Javier nearly as interesting or compelling as Amy. Plus, beginning a sequel by completely laying waste to everything that was accomplished in the previous story is a major pet peeve of mine. It’s why I will adamantly argue that Alien: Resurrection is a better movie than Alien 3: however terrible it may be on its own merits, it least it doesn’t open by taking a massive shit on the ending of Aliens.

Oh, while we’re on the subject of other franchise: as before, references to other sci-fi works continue to fly fast and furious, and I did get a moderate thrill from catching nods to the Berserkers (from Berserker by Fred Saberhagen), the Inhibitors (from Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds), and Aggressive Hegemonizing Swarm Objects (from the Culture series by Iain M. Banks), among others.

I am of two minds about the big final revelation that Amy had actually manage to escape the island on her own and never needed Javier’s help. On the one hand, the first novel was all about her growing and maturing into a strong and independent woman; so of course I’m glad she wasn’t actually relegated to damsel-in-distress status, or worse, entirely fridged. On the other hand, though, if Amy was never actually in trouble, then everything Javier did was pointless: Amy had matters well in hand the entire time, so nothing he did or attempted to do was actually relevant to the final outcome. It always bugs me when I finish a book and think that the main character could just as well have stayed home and spent the whole time sitting on the couch drinking beer and everything would still have worked out the same way in the end regardless.

In the end, the conclusion is satisfying enough. But the road to reach it is a lot rockier than it was in the first book; thus, I am unable to rate it as highly.

Final Rating: 3/5

The Bloodhound Files #3: Killing Rocks

You can’t get blood from a stone… not even when killing rocks. Let’s drill into Killing Rocks, by D. D. Barant.

Synopsis:

FBI profiler Jace Valchek’s ticket home from the twisted parallel universe where she’s been called to duty hinges on the capture of serial killer Aristotle Stoker—and an alliance with a sorcerer known as Asher. The problem: Asher has joined forces with some of the most dangerous creatures Jace has ever encountered. The solution: There is none, without Asher’s help…

Jace’s goal seems simple enough—to get her man, like always. But just hours after she arrives in Vegas, she’s abducted…and she isn’t even sure who the real enemy is. Now Jace has to wonder if she’s the predator or the prey in a very dangerous game that could change not only her fate, but the world’s…Meanwhile, a serial killer is still on the loose. And time has already run out…

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

I think I can safely say that this is the best book yet in The Bloodhound Files.

One the one hand: finally, some long-needed explanation of the setting’s multiverse. There’s the introduction of a third parallel world alongside Jace’s Earth and the other Earth, one with its own rich history and society and magic. Plus, the worlds get convenient nicknames; so from now on, instead of having to say things like “Jace’s Earth and the other Earth”, I can more clearly refer to them as Earth, Thropirelem, and Nightshadow. And that’s not all: there’s also an explanation for why, out of all the people on Earth, it was Jace Valchek in particular who was chosen to be brought to Thropirelem. Good stuff: it makes the narrative seem so much less random and more cohesive.

On the other hand: it’s not just one long exposition-fest. There’s plenty of action as well, with a golem uprising occurring that pits Jace against Charlie Aleph. I was honestly on tenterhooks as to that would turn out: this is the midpoint of the series, and I’ve noticed that the titles of the books in the second half start following a different naming pattern which strongly hints that a major change to the status quo is imminent, so nothing was out of the question. The final climax brought up a little too much wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff for my taste (damn that misbegotten Midnight Sword for turning the standoff between Aristotle and Jace into a scene from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey) but ended up being satisfyingly thrilling.

Finally, I just want to say that Azura was the best favorite character in this book. She’s smart, funny, and awesome, and I definitely hope to see her in action again in future stories.

Final Rating: 4/5

Red Eye #6: The Haunting

Some curses grow stronger with time. For instance, the curses uttered by someone reading an increasingly bad book. Let’s curse The Haunting, by Alex Bell.

Synopsis:

Some curses grow stronger with time…

People say that all Cornish inns are haunted, but the Waterwitch’s history is particularly chilling. Built from the salvaged timber of a cursed ship, the guest house’s dark secrets go further back than anyone can remember.

Emma is permanently confined to a wheelchair after an accident at the Waterwitch which took place when she was ten. Seven years later, she decides to return to the place where the awful event occurred. But the ancient inn still has its ghosts, and one particular spirit is more vengeful than ever…

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

I originally picked up Frozen Charlotte as a stand-alone horror novel; and when I learned it was part of a loose “series”, I didn’t really have any intention of checking out the other books. But then, despite a rocky beginning, Frozen Charlotte actually ended up being pretty decent; and since one other book in the Red Eye lineup was by the same author, I figured it couldn’t hurt to check it out.

Alas, it did hurt. The Haunting wasn’t available from my local library, which meant I had to buy it in order to read it, thereby hurting my wallet; and the narrative stumbled all over itself and collapsed into a pile of disappointment, which hurt my head thinking about how it managed to screw up.

In many ways, The Haunting is the opposite of Frozen Charlotte with its problems. Frozen Charlotte started out weak, but picked up steam as it went on; The Haunting started out promising, but then bungled its potential. Frozen Charlotte had an initially pretty ridiculous horror plot redeemed by the introduction of strong, interesting characters; but the characters are where I think The Haunting went awry. Though I should specify that my problems aren’t with the characters themselves – I liked 2/3 of the viewpoint characters – but with how they’re used, or rather misused, within the structure of the story.

The first character to be introduced is Emma, I and was very excited with her potential as a protagonist at the beginning of the book. A big element of horror is powerlessness, lack of control; so of course it makes sense to put a physically handicapped person in a horror situation. I still haven’t forgiven Ookami Kakushi for including a cute wheelchair-bound girl in a horror series and then doing absolutely nothing to place her in any kind of horror situation. (But then, the list of things I haven’t forgiven Ookami Kakushi for is quite a long one indeed. That show had no idea what it was doing). Perhaps Emma would be character I was waiting for, struggling against her physical limitations as she desperately tries to escape the hotly pursuing horrific doom which is gaining on her by inches…. But despite being the first protagonist introduced, she ends up having the least to do. The witch isn’t targeting her, and she doesn’t have the magic necessary to fight back against the witch – she’s just kind of there sitting on the sidelines.

The second of the main trio, Jem, is the character I have a problem with. He’s the typical idiot in the horror film who refuses to believe that he’s in a horror film despite all evidence to the contrary, resolutely stating “there’s no such things as ghosts” while behind him Linda Blair’s head spins round and round and blood seeps from the walls. Since he refuses to believe in or engage with anything that’s happening, his perspective is effectively useless; yet we’re forced to spend a third of the book looking out through his incredibly myopic eyes. Joy.

Finally, there’s Shell. Now, don’t get me wrong, Shell is very interesting and I like her a lot – probably the most out of the main three. She definitely had the most interesting plotline. However, the way the story’s written just doesn’t work. I think Shell should either be the only POV character in the story, or she should be a non-POV character.

The biggest mistake the story makes is definitely make all three main characters into POV characters. We have the view from inside each of their heads and so know what they’re thinking, which is counterproductive to creating the atmosphere of suspense that a horror book requires. Introducing Shell from Emma’s perspective makes Shell seem incredibly creepy, possibly even possessed by the ghost and the source of everything happening… but then we get to pop on over into Shell’s brain and see that no, she’s totally not evil, and the other protagonists totally should trust her. Thus, when Emma and Jem are all weirded out by Shell and refuse to listen to her, they come off as idiots due to knowledge that we, the reader, possess. If we’d been kept out of Shell’s head, to see and hear only what Emma and Jem saw and heard, then we might agree with them refusing to go along with that the clearly crazy lady says. It’s hard to look at it that way, though, when it’s been made clear in Shell’s POV chapters that Shell is not crazy and is in fact the only one capable of stopping the witch.

Either of the girls could function perfectly decently as a main character. Emma would work fine in a horror story somewhat like this if she was the sole POV character, and we didn’t get to jump into the heads of everyone she met to defuse all tension by confirming that the strange girl babbling about witchcraft is innocent and good at heart; thereby reassuring us that there’s no reason at all to get afraid or feel any form of suspense whenever she appears to be doing spooky things. Likewise, Shell could easily handle a horror book of her own (probably one with more ambiguous supernatural elements, to heighten Shell’s confusion between what’s just hallucination and what’s real supernatural menace) – if she was the sole POV character, with no ability to jump into the head of someone sane and get an unbiased look at what’s definitely real and what’s definitely in her head. It’s just both of them in the same book that doesn’t work, because each removes what would be the source of mystery and suspense in the other’s plotline. To bring things back around to Frozen Charlotte, that book worked because it only had one POV character and everyone else was an enigma. Here, there are no enigmas.

Oh, and there’s a bullshit “OR IS IT!?!?” ending. I don’t particularly hold it against the book, since I’m well used to horror stories having bullshit “or is it” endings and pretty much just ignore the stingers as a matter of course… but it doesn’t exactly do the story any favors, either. If it was counting on a last-minute twist to make me re-evaluate everything that had come before and see it all in a whole new light, well, that didn’t do it.

Some book series grow worse with time, and The Haunting is no worthy successor to Frozen Charlotte.

Final Rating: 2/5