Greywalker #5: Labyrinth

You remind of the babe. What babe? Babe with the power. What power? Power of voodoo. Who do? You do. Do what? Remind me of the babe. …Okay, now that we’ve gotten the obligatory David Bowie tribute out of the way, we can walk into Labyrinth, by Kat Richardson.

Synopsis:

Harper Blaine was your average small-time P. I. until she died-for two minutes. Now she’s a Greywalker, walking the line between the living world and the paranormal realm. There are others who know about her new powers-others with powerful tools and evil intentions, and now that the man who “killed” her has been murdered, the police are also paying close attention. That means Harper has to watch her step while searching for the ghost of her “killer”-who could be a valuable clue in the puzzle of Harper’s past and her father’s death, as well as a key to figuring out who’s trying to manipulate her new powers and why. But with her growing powers pulling her into the Grey, Harper might not be able to come back out…

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

For the past few books, Wygan has been plotting in the background, scheming to use Harper as a pawn in his master plan. Now, free from all other distractions, Harper is finally ready to confront him head-on… and it’s actually kind of boring.

The problem is that Wygan is just too generic to serve as an interesting antagonist on his own. In the past, Harper has faced interesting and tricky foes like Alice the politically cunning vampire or a powerful poltergeist being wielded as a murder weapon by a seemingly innocuous human. Even that three-headed snake monster, as bizarre and unfitting to the tone of the books as it was, was at least a unique supernatural threat with interesting powers and requiring a creative approach to defeat. But Wygan – Harper assumes his plan is something cliche like “gain immense magical power, throw world into chaos”; but since she doesn’t know exactly what he’s planning to do or how he’s planning to do it, she spends most of the book stumbling around in the dark without any clear idea of how to oppose him. And then, when she finally does learn the details of Wygan’s plans, it turns out that it really is as simple and boring as “gain immense magical power, throw world into chaos”. Yawn. Goodman actually seemed like a more interesting antagonist for a time, when it was implied that he was actually pursuing his own agenda and planning to betray Wygan, but that never ended up going anywhere and nothing came of it.

Another thing: the accents in this series are getting out of control. The author has started doing that annoying thing of typing people’s accents out phonetically, which makes reading so much harder. It hasn’t quite reached Feersum Endjinn levels yet, but it’s definitely getting worse. Believe me; I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it, so I went back to Greywalker to compare the dialogue. Back then, Mara’s accent was only implied by the way she would occasionally use British-English terms like “lorry”; now she’s dropping the g’s from the ends of words. As for Wygan, I believe he said ‘ello for “hello” exactly once in his first meeting with Harper; but now he’s gone full Cockney. Just… why? You could just tell me that he’s faking an accent, and I’d believe you. But actually writing his dialogue out full of apostrophes for dropped letters makes it impossible to take him seriously as a millennia-old Egyptian deity-turned-ubervamp.

Well, the book wasn’t all bad. It introduced Dru Cristoffer, a potentially interesting new character. And it featured the return of Carlos, who is by far the most interesting character who was introduced in the first book and who continues to acquit himself well. Plus, the actual final battle against Wygan was decent. It’s just that the rest of the book was pretty much a slog, and those interesting scenes were too few and far between.

But hey, this book is the end of an arc; with the deck now cleared of boring old characters like Will, Edwards, and Wygan, and with Harper’s Grey powers having potentially been rebooted into a different form by her latest near-death experience, the series can explore new, interesting directions in its second half. …I hope.

Final Rating: 2/5

Women of the Otherworld #13.2: Otherworld Secrets

Got a secret, can you keep it, swear this one you’ll save? Better lock it in your pocket, taking this one to the grave. Though, in the Otherworld, two can’t necessarily keep a secret even if both of them are dead – what with ghosts and necromancers and such. Let’s expose Otherworld Secrets, by Kelley Armstrong.

Synopsis:

More than a decade after Kelley Armstrong first opened the doors to the Otherworld, fans are still clamoring for more. In response to their demands—and to coincide with the Syfy Network show based on the series—Plume has signed up three Otherworld anthologies, each of which revolves around a different theme. The second in the trilogy, Otherworld Secrets, features fan-favorites such as Cassandra, Savannah, and Adam in rare and neverbefore- published short stories—plus a brand new novella. Fans old and new will flock to this mystery-themed volume to discover the deepest secrets of this captivating world.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

So here we are, at the second Women of the Otherworld short story anthology released after the end of the novel series. The previous collection was decent, but not great; none of the stories it contained were really outstanding, so it felt a little weak coming on the heels of the novel Thirteen, which was a very strong end to the series. Will this collection fare better? And what of the ever-persevering, never-appearing Zoe Takano, who will at long last be featured as the main character of her very own short story? Let’s dive right in, saving the indefatigable Ms. Takano for last.

“Life After Theft” was great. With Hope pregnant with their second child, Karl is trying to get out of the jewel theft business; but someone blackens his reputation in order to extort him into pulling one last job. Hope and Karl have to both pull off a dangerous heist and figure out how to avoid being double-crossed by their treacherous employer. This story alone was better than any in the Otherworld Nights anthology, so the book got off to a good start…

…A positive trend which continued in “Forbidden”, featuring Morgan from Frostbitten meeting with Elena and Clay about potentially joining the Pack when the three of them get snowbound in a town plagued by mysterious killing which may or may not be werewolf related. In my review of Otherworld Nights, I complained about Elena and Clay not getting anything more interesting to do than fight random werewolves. “Forbidden” shows they can still support a great story when given something interesting to do: rather than just meeting and fighting a rogue werewolf, they have to actually investigate the mysterious disappearances; and the ultimate revelation of what’s actually been going on is far more interesting than just another Mutt would have been. The story has three POV characters – Elena, Morgan, and local sheriff Jessica – and while that seems like a lot of viewpoints for a short story, it juggles them well. Each has a unique and interesting viewpoint to contribute, and they worked well together as an ensemble.

“Angelic” keeps the hits coming, as Eve is fed up with inconsiderate way the Fates have been treating her and comes up with a rash plan to renegotiate her employment contract, while at the same time working a job to deal with some troublesome djinn and expose a traitor angel. By this point, I’m running out of ways to keep saying “yep, it’s good”.

A problem which “The Ungrateful Dead” doesn’t alleviate, because like the others, yep, it’s good. This one’s pretty much a comedy, with Jamie and Savannah giving a very irritating ghost some karmic comeuppance. It’s short, it’s sweet, I liked it.

Keeping the streak alive is “Counterfeit Magic”, where Paige and Lucas are hired to investigate the death of a muggle who was gambling at a supernatural fight club. Do I even need to say it at this point? It was another good one. It’s amazing just how much better I like this collection compared to the previous one. I guess Kelley Armstrong was saving up all her good short stories for this book and wanted to get all the mediocre ones out of the way in the first anthology?

And now, finally, the one you’ve all been waiting for; featuring none other than the elusive Zoe Takano. Before I dive into this one, I feel like I should explain how I ended up building up so much hype for a very minor character with only one prior appearance. Basically, once the Women of the Otherworld series started stretching itself beyond Elena’s perspective to introduce new POV characters, I quickly picked up on the pattern: each new protagonist would be a member of a new supernatural race, and would briefly cameo in the preceding book. So, when vampire Zoe Takano showed up in No Humans Involved, I immediately assumed that she would be the protagonist of the next book; and I got excited about it, since she seemed like a really interesting character. Of course, I ended up being incorrect about that – Personal Demon actually went with half-demon Hope, a character I’d been less enthused about, and it didn’t help matters that it ended up being one of the weakest books in the Women of the Otherworld series. A disappointment, to be sure, but nothing more might have come of it… except that the series kept reminding me that Zoe existed, such as with Jeremy seeing a kitsune illusion of her. By that time, I knew there were a total of thirteen novels in the series, and that Zoe wouldn’t end up being a POV character in any them, so I decided to make her into a bit of a running joke: finding some way to drop her name into each review and lamenting her fate in an “Isn’t it sad, Sacchin?” kind of way. And since she has the same last name as Miyo Takano from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, I decided to do a big rant about her in the style of Miyo’s image song “Bon~Karma”. It was after writing that, however, that I discovered the existence of the three post-Thirteen story anthologies; for some reason, Goodreads lists them as part of a separate series from the main books. In any case, I realized that I would actually eventually read and review a couple of short stories with Zoe as main character. And, while that made me excited, it also made me kind of nervous. I mean, I’d kind of built her up into a big deal; but given the brevity of her appearance thus far, I didn’t actually know that much about her. What would I do if, after all this waiting and anticipation, after all these demands for a Zoe Takano story, I finally got one and it turned out to suck? Thus, it was with both hope and trepidation that I began reading her solo tale.

So, with all that said, the story “Zen and the Art of Vampirism” ultimately turned out be… really damn good! Zoe’s past gets fleshed out, finally developing her into a fully three-dimensional character: converted into a vampire against her will, she began her unlife as a bloodthirsty monster bent on revenge against those responsible and indifferently slaughtering any who crossed her; but as she matured, she decided to reform her ways and adopt a more pacifistic lifestyle. Though she operates as a master thief, she refuses to kill (excepting, presumably, the once-per-year lethal feeding necessary for Women of the Otherworld vampires) and tries to find clever, nonviolent ways around her problems. The story was mostly on the light and humorous side, but nonetheless did a great job establishing Zoe’s character and providing a small supporting cast for her to work with. After reading this story, I’m more convinced than ever that I would have loved a full novel starring Zoe as the main character.

So, in conclusion: this book was great; and despite my fanboying over Zoe Takano originally being a joke, she actually managed to live up to my unreasonably heightened expectations.

Final Rating: 4/5

Women of the Otherworld #13.1: Otherworld Nights

Just when you think you’ve gotten out, they drag you back in. Hot off the final Women of the Otherworld novel, we now dive into the first of three collections of short stories set in that universe. Let’s take a moonlit stroll through Otherworld Nights, by Kelley Armstrong.

Synopsis:

For every fan of the women of the Otherworld who is longing for more, a suspenseful and sexy new collection of stories and novellas by Kelley Armstrong.

In Otherworld Nights, Armstrong brings together some of her favourite love matches, taking us on honeymoon with her werewolves, Elena and Clay; showing us how her vampires, Cassandra and Aaron, express their unique bond; revealing how Karl proposed to Hope; and illustrating how the young Australian werewolf, Reese, learned the dangers of infatuation, among other stories. By popular demand, shes also included her fan-favourite novella, Hidden.

As an exciting conclusion, Armstrong has written a brand-new novella that takes us beyond the end of 13 to show us what happens after Savannah and Adam save the Otherworld–and realize they do love each other. The trouble is whether they know what love really means–coupled with the little wrinkle of having to figure that out while they battle demons. The kind from hell.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Otherworld Nights contains seven short stories and one novella. Let’s take a look at them, shall we? First up is “Demonology”, a short story about how Adam Vasic’s mother discovered that her son was a half-demon. Now, that seems like an interesting concept: unlike the other races, half-demons’ human families aren’t necessarily in the know about the supernatural, so there’s a story to be told about the process of discovery when they find out. Unfortunately, “Demonology” doesn’t tell that story. It provides all the background and setup you’d expect for that story, but then abruptly cuts off before we actually see Adam’s mother receive and react to this information. Build-up to a payoff that doesn’t happen, in other words.

Next is “Twilight”, a story about Cassandra losing her urge to feed due to her old age and approaching death. And no, there is no need to comment on the unfortunate awkwardness of a story about vampires titled “Twilight”; Kelley Armstrong points it out herself in the author’s introduction. Sadly, that word has likely been ruined for the foreseeable future, at least as far as vampire stories go. In any case, the story itself is good. Despite my common complaints about how I’d prefer stories focused on a certain other vampire who was briefly introduced into the Women of the Otherworld series for one book and then forgotten (you know the one), I do like Cassandra. However, she’s really at her best when she’s playing off Savannah, such as in Thirteen; thus why I can only call this story good rather than great.

Following that is “Stalked”, a story about Elena and Clay fighting a Mutt. Which is… fine, I guess. I mean, the writing is competent enough and the pacing is decently fast, it’s just… this premise has lost its novelty. There was a whole book about Elena and Clay fighting Mutts, called Bitten. And then a whole nother book about it, called Frostbitten. And guess what they’re going to do in the novella included later in this very collection? As someone with a mind of steel once said, “there’s no need to state the obvious outcome”. There’s no suspense in Clay and Elena just fighting another random Mutt. You need to change it up a bit if you want to keep my interest.

Next up to bat is “Chivalrous”, which I did enjoy quite a bit. My only concern is that I want it to eventually get resolution. Now that it’s been set up that Reese is looking for revenge against this group of Australian werewolves, I want to read a story where he actually gets that revenge. See, I actually care, because rather than just being some random Mutt, there are personal stakes. But seeing as how there are only two short story collections left, I’m worried that it will end up like those fox-maidens who were after Jeremy: brought up once, then never resolved or even mentioned again.

“Lucifer’s Daughter”, I don’t have much to say about. Hope and Karl accidentally set loose a demon, then immediately recapture it. With a story this short, it’s hard to build up any tension before it’s suddenly over.

Now we get to the real meat of the collection, “Hidden”, which is a full novella rather than a short story. It deals with Elena and Clay struggling with the decision of whether or not to tell their young children that they might be werewolves when they grow up. Now, this is definitely an issue which the series needed to address; however, I can’t really review it without my own biases coming to the fore. Namely, as I spent quite some time addressing in my review of Greywalker #2: Poltergeist by Kat Richardson, I really hate young children. Pre-adolescent child characters, no matter how well written, can’t help but irritate me – in fact, the truer to life they’re written, the more annoying I find them. Now, it does help some that Logan and Kate behave far more maturely than any actual four-year-old children in the history of the world. Still, scenes of Elena and Clay trying to have sex and getting interrupted by their children barging into the bedroom really aren’t anything I’m interested in reading.

“From Russia With Love”, I read already, as it was included at the end of the copy of Thirteen I read. I mentioned it in my review of that book.

And finally, there’s “Vanishing Act”, which forms a neat bookend with “Demonology” in that it also rises interesting questions but doesn’t bother to explore them. Apparently, the St. Cloud Cabal have been performing some type of genetic experiments to produce supernaturals with enhanced abilities. Want to know more? Too bad, the story refuses to tell you. You’ll just have to take the book’s word for it that some type of experimentation was happening to some people somewhere for some reason. And maybe somewhere there’s an interesting story being told about it, but not here.

Ultimately, I found this collection to be weaker than the last short story collection, Tales of the Otherworld. That one at least had strong showings with “Beginnings” and “The Case of El Chupacabra”, while none of the stories in this one really leaped out to me as exceptional. Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to give it a negative recommendation: I mean, if you’ve followed the Women of the Otherworld series this far, it’s not going to do anything to make you give up on it. At least, I’m certainly not going to – not when a little birdie told me that, in the next volume, my many prayers regarding a certain character might finally be answered…

MiyoTakano2

Will it live up to the hype? Be sure to tune in and find out. Nipah~!

Final Rating: 3/5

Greywalker #4: Vanished

Foreign types with their hookah pipes say Wayohwayoh Oohwayohwayoooh: Walk like an Egyptian. Erm, look… I promise this will make more sense as an opening bit once you’ve gotten about halfway through the review. For now, let’s just disappear into Vanished, by Kat Richardson.

Synopsis:

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

But for Harper, her own case may prove the most difficult to solve. Why did she-as opposed to others with near-death experiences-become a Greywalker? When Harper digs into her own past, she unearths some unpleasant truths about her father’s early death as well as a mysterious puzzle. Forced by some very demanding vampires to take on an investigation in London, she soon discovers her present troubles in England are entangled with her dark past back in Seattle-and her ultimate destiny as a Greywalker.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

If you read the previous book in the Greywalker series, you may remember that it ended with an epilogue featuring an apparent cliffhanger: Harper opened the wooden puzzle box given to her by Will, releasing a bundle of Grey energy, and she wondered what new fresh hell it will bring. Well, you can stop wondering, because the answer is: nothing whatsoever! That plotline is completely dropped, totally forgotten, in no way followed up upon or even mentioned whatsoever. Oh, a puzzle box does play a major role in the story – but it’s a metal puzzle box left to Harper by her father, not a wooden one given to her by Will. I’d call it a continuity error, except that at one point Harper specifically mentions the other puzzle box she got from Will, so it’s not so much a matter of the author forgetting as the author not caring.

In any event, the first part of this book was really quite good. We finally meet Harper’s mother and get to learn about her childhood and her relationship with her family. Her past was previously something of a blank slate, so getting this information really increases her depth as a character. Not to mention, Harper’s investigation into her father’s involvement with the Grey leads to us getting more information on the nature of Greywalkers. Honestly, I could’ve read a whole book based on Harper dealing with local hauntings in her childhood hometown while uncovering family secrets relating to her father’s life and unnatural death.

Instead, it’s only the first part of the book and is quickly abandoned in favor of Harper going on a trip to London, where a bunch of stuff happens with golems and wraiths and super special awesome Egyptian vampires which are way better than your ordinary everyday vampire.

DioEgypt

 

No, not him. …And, come to think of it, not actually all that awesome when compared to him. You know what, never mind what I said before: this series’s Egyptian vampires are actually kind of lame.

Look, all the stuff that goes down in London is basically fine on its own merits, but lacks the major sense of personal connection to Harper’s past which the story had going for it earlier. Even though the stakes are supposed to be higher, I care less because I’m not as interested in the nuances of vampire politics in London as I was in the actual main character’s backstory.

Well, I will give the second part of the book at least some credit: Marsden, the eyeless Greywalker, is a kind of cool new character. I wasn’t expecting him to make it to the end of the book, after he hinted that he had exhausted his Greywalker reserve of extra lives, but was pleasantly surprised when the story ended with him still alive. I actually grew to like him a bit, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him turn up again in another story down the line.

…He’s never going to appear again, is he? Sigh. Figures.

Final Rating: 3/5

Women of the Otherworld #13: Thirteen

Bad luck wind been blowin’ at my back; I was born to bring trouble wherever I’m at. Got the number 13 tattooed on my neck; when the ink starts to itch, then the black will turn to red. Let’s test our luck with Thirteen, by Kelley Armstrong.

Synopsis:

War is coming to the Otherworld. A sinister cult known as The Supernatural Liberation Movement is hell-bent on exposing the truth about supernaturals to the rest of the world. Their violent, ruthless plan has put everyone at risk: from werewolves to vampires, from witches to half-demons.

Savannah Levine – fiery and unpredictable – stands at the heart of the maelstrom. There is a new, dark magic inside her, granting her the power to summon spells of terrifying strength. But whether this magic is a gift or a curse, no one knows.

On the eve of battle, all the major players must come together in a last, desperate fight for survival – Elena and Clay; Adam and Savannah; Paige and Lucas; Jeremy and Jaime; Hope, Eve and more…They are fighting for lives.

They are fighting for their loved ones.

They are fighting for the Otherworld.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

What serendipity that I should read this immediately after finishing The Bloodhound Files, because the final entries to the two series stand in stark contrast to one another. Basically, everything Undead to the World did wrong, Thirteen does right. It reads as not just an epic culmination of the series, but a love letter to all that has come before. Nearly every character ever seen shows up to have any last loose ends tied up and to take a bow before exiting. Not only do all the past viewpoint characters get their own small POV section, but a vast number of secondary characters put in appearances as well. There’s even a short story after the end featuring Xavier! I’d forgotten he’d even existed right up to that point, and yet Kelley Armstrong put in the effort to give him one last curtain call so any fans of his would know what he was up to at the time of the finale and how things ended up working out for him. That, my friends, is someone pulling out all the stops to make the conclusion of her series as satisfying as possible.

(Naturally, when I say “nearly every” character shows up, the single character who doesn’t is Zoe Takano; because obviously. Did you think my rants about her in the past four or so reviews were going to culminate in a glorious payoff moment when she finally made a dramatic appearance in this book, thus giving all those non-sequitor portions of those reviews an actual point? Ha! Welcome to disappointment, my friend.)

The plot was good too, of course, delivering on the promise of the heroes having a final showdown against Gilles de Rais; but it was the character focus which really sold it. Sure, not every one of the numerous subplots was strictly necessary to the narrative; but it gave each of the heroines the chance to strut their stuff one final time, and that’s justification enough in my eyes. Stuff I might otherwise complain about as being a meandering diversion or a contrived coincidence, I’ll forgive in this case without a second thought. Did Cassandra need to be in this book? No. But was I happy to see Cassandra, even with the flimsiest of pretenses justifying her appearance? Hell yes.

And so ends or foray into the Otherworld… or does it? Thirteen is the final novel in the Women of the Otherworld series, but not the last book. There are three more short story collections left for me to read.

Final Rating: 4/5

The Bloodhound Files #6: Undead To The World

Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it be; if we met at midnight in the hanging tree. Let’s tie a noose for Undead to the World, by D. D. Barant.

Synopsis:

Jace’s return to Kansas is an instant reminder that there really is no place like home. The tavern is still brimming with losers, practical jokers, and motorcycle chicks. Even the town’s only Goth is still wearing eyeliner. But just as Jace is about to click her heels and hightail out of there, she’s roped into a brand-new case. Somebody is possessed. And the bodies are piling up…

They call him the Gallowsman. According to legend, he was sentenced to hang—though his crimes still have not been specified. When he was strung up to die, his spirit stuck around waiting for people to hang themselves…so he could steal their bodies. Now, with the undead rising up and going on a rampage, Jace must put her own neck on the line. Can she get the Gallowsman to give up the ghost?

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

With this book, The Bloodhound Files comes to its incredible, climactic conclusion. That can only mean one thing: an epic final battle between Jace and Ahaseurus for the fate of Thropirelem! Final appearances by all the secondary cast members! And above all else, a satisfying conclusion to the overarching story of the past five novels. …Right?

Nope.

For one thing, the fight doesn’t take place on Thropirelem. I mean, why should it, when it’s only been the major setting for the past five novels? For another thing, the fight isn’t against Ahaseurus. I mean, why should it be, when he’s only been the overarching villain of the entire series? Furthermore, hardly any of the characters we’ve met before appear in this novel. I mean, why should they, when it’s only the final chance for them to make one last appearance and resolve any lingering plot threads? And finally, it’s in no way epic, climactic, or even particularly good. I mean, why should it be, when the series can end with a lazy whimper instead of a resounding bang?

Now, to be clear: I don’t have any particular problem with the basic premise the novel. Ahaseurus captures Jace and transports her to a village in another world custom-built to torment her, and she has to figure it out and escape? Fine. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with the Gallowsman as an antagonist. But for the final book of the series? The story that should be a grand, epic culmination of all that has come before? No. It doesn’t work. Because the whole series has been building up to a confrontation between Jace and Ahaseurus. He’s her archnemesis, a serial killer obsessed with murdering versions of her from alternate universes, the one who originally brought her from Earth to Thropirelem. You can’t just kill him off at the beginning of the book, offscreen, and have the final battle be against this Gallowsman guy who has never appeared or even been mentioned before.

Another problem is that, for a book meant to be the capstone to the Bloodhound Files series, barely any of the characters from the series actually appear in it. It’s not even set in Thropirelem; just some nameless alternate world we’ve never seen before, and most characters are only represented by their alternate world counterparts. Hoping to see characters like Gretchen and Xandra appear a final time and get a fitting sendoff? Too bad. And oh, don’t get me started on Azura. I loved her character when she was first introduced, was fascinated by her powers and her world. I was so looking forward to seeing her in action again. And what do I get instead? A few purely expository conversations with her over a video screen. What a waste of a great character.

And what a disappointing end to an enjoyable series.

Final Rating: 2/5

The Bloodhound Files #5: Back From The Undead

The tricky bit is coming back from the dead. If you can manage that, coming back from the undead should be easy by comparison. Let’s return to Back From the Undead, by D. D. Barant.

Synopsis:

Another work day, another case for the Bloodhound Files. But this time, Jace is truly stumped: How is she, a mere human, supposed to penetrate the dark heart of a child-trafficking ring of pire orphans—one that turns out to be part of a blood-farm operation, in the crime-ridden border city of Vancouver, British Columbia?

Jace is in over her head. But with the help of her former lover, Tanaka—whose family is one of the last samurai clans left in Japan—she stands a chance at seeking justice for the condemned children… Until the Yakuza tries to put an end to Jace’s investigation. Jace risks more than death—this time, it’s the fate of her very soul that’s in danger . . .

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Well, that was certainly a book.

There’s a whole lot of stuff going on in Back From the Undead. There’s the plight of orphaned vampire children, unable to age without the magical bond to their parents, who are being abducted for some unknown but doubtless nefarious purpose. There’s a yakuza-run blood-farm where humans are kept as cattle to feed their vampire owners’ thirst. There’s a villainous plan to create an artificial heaven and allow evil souls to escape to it from hell, for a price. There’s an Elder God stomping around like Godzilla, and another working more subtly behind the scenes. Jace is forced into a reluctant team-up with Aristotle Stoker, the serial killer she was brought to Thropirelem to catch; and her superior Cassius has gone missing while pursuing the evil sorcerer Ahaseurus and is trying to psychically contact her in her sleep through recurring nightmares; and Isamu and Tanaka from the first book have returned to seek revenge and redemption, respectively; and Jace is running out of bullets for her gun and having trouble making more due to the insidious effects of the planet-wide anti-gun spell.

That’s a lot of different threads to try and tie together, and the book doesn’t quite manage to pull it off. Some of the plotlines just come off as completely superfluous, random happenstance with no actual connection to anything else going on; and others never receive any resolution – I mean, the thing with Cassius is obviously a cliffhanger to lead into the final book, but a whole lot of time was spent on the issue with the bullets and it never ended up going anywhere.

This is also the first book of the series where Jace’s profiling skills don’t tie into the plot. Given that the whole reason she was brought to Thropirelem was that they needed someone capable of understanding the minds of mentally ill killers, the previous books in the series have all gone to great lengths to come up with ways of tying that into their plots – the first three had villains who were actually deranged or sociopaths, and the fourth had a character faking mental illness as part of a plan. Here, though… despite all the HPLC being thrown around, and the characters gazing upon the soul-flaying visages of two different Elder Gods, everybody makes their SAN checks and Jace’s defining skill set goes unutilized.

In any event, only one book remains in The Bloodhound Files. This penultimate adventure was only moderately good, but there’s still a chance for the grand finale to deliver a climactic and satisfying conclusion.

Final Rating: 3/5

Women of the Otherworld #12: Spell Bound

The women of the Otherworld return again, so come and join them at the forbidden feast. At this banquet of death and decadence that Gilles de Rais has prepared, you are welcome to eat your fill and be sated. Let’s unlock Spell Bound, by Kelley Armstrong.

Synopsis:

Savannah Levine is all grown up. As a witch endowed with an array of spells, she is also a force to be reckoned with. As a paranormal investigator she is finally coming into her own. But her last case tore a family apart, and Savannah swore she’d give up her powers to fix the mess she helped create. Someone–or something–must have been listening. Powerless and on the run from witch-hunting assassins, Savannah stumbles upon a gathering storm that threatens the very existence of the Otherworld. The danger is real, and Savannah must somehow join forces with old friends like Elena, Clay, Paige, Lucas, Jaime, and Hope to face their world’s greatest threat–and one that just might come from within.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

With the Women of the Otherworld series approaching a climactic conclusion, details about the mysterious conspiracy which has been recruiting past villains together for one final world-shaking throw-down with the heroes are starting to emerge. It seems they are an organization of supernaturals tired of hiding in the shadows who want to enslave humanity and take over the world. (Say it with me now, M. Bison style: Of course!). Their leadership in particular are shooting for an even loftier goal; they’re immortality-seekers under the leadership of a man who has gone by man names but claims to be Gilles de Rais.

Giles, as he currently calls himself, is noted for his exceptional charisma and oratory prowess, capable of talking around a great deal of average supernaturals who would normally be neutral into supporting his plan to break the masquerade. The book doesn’t include the actual text of his speech, but I’d like to imagine it went something along the lines of this:

“And now once again we raise the blood-soaked flag of salvation! You who are abandoned, gather here! I shall lead you! I shall rule you! Resentment and rage of we the oppressed shall reach up unto the lofty throne of God himself! God in Heaven! With words of condemnation, I praise your holy name! Oh, arrogant God! Oh, cruel God! We shall pull you down from your throne!”
– Caster Bluebeard (Gilles de Rais), Fate/Zero, “The Forbidden Feast”

Hey, speaking of characters with names similar to other characters from anime series I like, you know who gets mentioned in this book? Zoe Takano, naturally. Apparently, Savannah thinks she’s “fun”. Yes, I sure would love to read a fun story about that fun vampire lady Zoe Takano. But instead, this book’s cameo of a character introduced in Personal Demon comes in the form of a scene with Jaz.

Jaz, if you recall, is Jasper Haig, aka that asshole shapeshifter who was one of the worst Women of the Otherworld villains. I jokingly wished in my last review of a Women of the Otherworld book that Jaz would die offscreen by slipping in the shower. Apparently, my prayer was heard – but by a god with bad aim. For you see, it was not Jaz who perished in this manner, but one of the witch-hunters. No, Jaz gets a full scene to himself, where he acts all smarmy and basically announces that he’s got an escape plan in place, and to top it all off, he nearly aborts Hope’s unborn child. Afterwards, all the protagonists are in agreement that they should just give this guy’s skull some lead-assisted ventilation holes, Benicio is still confident that he’s got Jaz right where he wants him and that everything is under control.

You know what? You win, Jaz. Benicio is now more annoying to me than you are. I now hope that Jaz does escape, and in such a manner as to kill Benicio in the process. Benicio’s behavior regarding keeping Jaz alive as a test subject has gone past ignorance, past recklessness, past genre-blindness, into what can only be termed “calling down the thunder”. By this point, Benicio is, metaphorically speaking, standing atop the head of a statue of Zeus and pissing down the thunder-god’s face while lifting a metal rod over his head towards the violent stormclouds above and shouting at the top of his lungs: “Gimme your best shot, pussy! C’mon, I dare ya! I double-dog dare ya, muthafucka!” Once a character has reached that level of stupidity, the only possible satisfactory conclusion is a lightning bolt of divine retribution. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Non-metaphorically speaking, I’d be perfectly happy if Jaz just bashed him over the head with something weighty; at least, so long as all the other characters reacted not with grief but with knowing nods and statements of “Saw that coming.” and “I told him this was bound to happen, but did he listen?”

Final Rating: 3/5

Will Save The Galaxy For Food

Times are tough, and nowadays even heroes of the universe can find themselves sitting on the street corner asking for a little spare change. Let’s toss some coins into the cap of Will Save the Galaxy For Food, by Yahtzee Croshaw.

Synopsis:

A not-quite epic science fiction adventure about a down-on-his luck galactic pilot caught in a cross-galaxy struggle for survival! Space travel just isn’t what it used to be. With the invention of Quantum Teleportation, space heroes aren’t needed anymore. When one particularly unlucky ex-adventurer masquerades as famous pilot and hate figure Jacques McKeown, he’s sucked into an ever-deepening corporate and political intrigue. Between space pirates, adorable deadly creatures, and a missing fortune in royalties, saving the universe was never this difficult!

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Will Save the Galaxy For Food is the third novel by Internet-famous video game reviewer Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw of Zero Punctuation. I’m now sure I have a lot to say about this one, because it is in many ways very similar to hit previous two books. Yes, the setting this time is sci-fi rather than fantasy or modern apocalypse, but the main themes are largely the same: commentary on the nature of heroism and what it means to be an adult, delivered through the medium of humorous satire which nonetheless manages to have genuine drama and poignant emotional moments. Not that this is a bad thing, mind; I enjoyed Yahtzee’s previous books, and I enjoy this one as well. It just means I don’t have any real new, fresh, unique insights about it.

I guess I can talk about the characters. The nameless protagonist and Warden form your perfect odd-couple buddy-cop duo: the reckless loose-cannon rogue and the rigid, uptight control freak. I also eventually came to like Jemima, sympathizing with her frustration at everyone treating her like a quest object to be lugged around and handed over at the end of the mission. The only character I never warmed to was Danny, because he had no character development. He remaining a one-dimensional caricature from start to finish, doing nothing but serving as a millstone to the other characters and learning nothing at all. And his three jokes – he is embarrassed by his father, has a crush on Jemima which he can’t spit out, and thinks everything happening is a fun adventure rather than a serious life-or-death situation – were funny for about half a scene each and then got real old real fast. Honestly, I would have been perfectly happy to see him get eaten by Zoobs. Yeah, it wouldn’t fit the tone of the book, but it sure would’ve been satisfying.

…Huh. Ended up being kind of a short review; but I guess if you’re already a fan of Yahtzee, you don’t really need by recommendation to go out and read his latest book.

Final Rating: 4/5

Not Your Sidekick #1: Not Your Sidekick

With you, I wanna kick it; ‘cause you turn up my spirit; so let’s take the script and flip it: let’s flip up Not Your Sidekick, by C. B. Lee.

Synopsis:

Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Not Your Sidekick presents an interesting setting: a soft post-apocalypse world where people try to continue their lives as usual in the wake of a disastrous stellar event which both devastated much of the world and give rise to the first superhumans. Jess, born to superpowered parents and with a superpowered older sister, always expected to become a hero herself; but when she fails to develop powers, she instead finds herself working as an intern for the local supervillains. Quite a fine premise.

I do have to say, I found most of the book’s twists a bit too easy to guess. I mean, I’m pretty sure that it’s supposed to be super-obvious that “M” is actually Abby – the synopsis even calls attention to it. But I figured out pretty much everything else in advance of the reveals as well: that Abby was the daughter of Master Mischief and Mistress Mischief and had inherited both of her parents’ powers, that her parents had been imprisoned by the secretly evil and dystopian government, that the superhero/supervillain fights were actually a bread-and-circuses act put on to entertain and distract the public, that Jess actually did have a superpower which she was subconsciously using to find things, and that Bells was Chameleon. Really, I should not have been able to guess all that, but the hints were all so obvious that they stuck out like sore thumbs. Maybe it’s because the book is for younger readers, who need things spelled out for them a bit more.

Then there’s the ending; or should I say, non-ending? Because a heckuva lot of plotlines seem to have been left unresolved. For instance: Cordelia and Captain Orion are still at large. Abby hasn’t gotten her superpowers back. Jess never got around to asking her parents why they didn’t expect her to have superpowers. Master Mischief is still locked away in some hellhole of a prison somewhere, but Mistress Mischief seems content spending her time baking cookies rather than, say, demanding Jess use her power to determine where he is so they can go rescue him right this very instant. And with Mr. Mischief still gone and Abby unable to use the suit without her powers, there’s nothing to stop Gregory Stone from taking over the company. But whatever, that’s standard sequel-hook stuff. Now, it is quite a few more sequel-hooks than I’m comfortable with: generally, the first book ends on a high note and it’s not until the second that the Empire strikes back, but the protagonists really did kind of fail miserably in every single regard here. Even in a continuity-heavy series, I kind of expect each book to have its own self-contained plot arc and climax; for at least something to be accomplished. Here it seems that each and every plot thread was left dangling, with not a single resolution to be found; like it’s half of a book instead of a whole first book. But okay, okay, I can deal. Except for one little thing…

So, Captain Orion’s whole plan was to get the backdoor codes for the MonoRobots so she could activate their defense programs and turn them all into state-controlled assassins capable of eliminating all enemies of the government and solidifying their dystopian authoritarian regime. And in the end, she said that she’d gotten the codes, and got away clean without the heroes being able to do anything to stop her or her plan. Um… that strikes me not so much of a cliffhanger, as a “game over”. I mean, the villain won. She got what she needs to start Judgement Day. I don’t see how you come back from that.

I guess the only ray of hope the heroes might have is how ludicrously incompetent these authoritarian dystopias tend to be. For instance: Chameleon says he’s fine despite being branded a villain because the Hero League doesn’t know his real identity. Um, he did have a DED, right? One of those devices which are universally monitored by the government and which require a citizen PIN to use? But even assuming he’s somehow in the clear – Jess and Abby’s parents both straight-up worked for the government through the Hero League and Villain Guild. I think they know where they live. But of course, this super-oppressive government, which is seeking to develop a way to target and kill its own citizens at any time for any reason, isn’t going to bother to do anything to stop the people who have discovered its nefarious plan. I mean, they’re clearly no threat: eliminating them would be overkill! Which makes you wonder why they even want a universally deployed net of robot assassins, if they don’t consider rebels to be significant enough to warrant even the less-draconian security measures already in place…

But despite the lack of resolution offered in this book, I, the eternal optimist, shall choose to put my trust in this series and believe that a satisfactory conclusion to all the dangling plot threads will forthcoming in future books. Thus, based on the merits of the story and characters of this story and not holding the non-ending against it, I give it a tentative thumbs-up.

Final Rating: 3/5