Greywalker #8: Possession

Listen as the wind blows from across the great divide; voices trapped in yearning, memories trapped in time. Let’s give the restless dead their due with Possession, by Kat Richardson.

Synopsis:

When a comatose woman suddenly wakes up and starts painting scenes she’s never witnessed, with a skill she’s never had, medical science has no explanation. As more bizarre phenomena manifest, even her doctors start to wonder if the woman may be possessed. Frustrated and frightened, the patient’s sister reluctantly turns to Greywalker Harper Blaine to discover who—or what—is occupying her sister’s body.

As Harper digs into the case of apparent possession, she discovers other patients struck with the same mystifying afflictions and a disturbing connection to one of the most gruesome stories in Washington’s history…

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

The Greywalker series is fast approaching its conclusion. So what’s Harper Blaine up to for her second-to-last case? Investigating some cases of ghostly possession, which appear to be connected to the ghost of a serial killer and an ancient goddess of famine. It’s a good, solid supernatural mystery this time; unlike the previous book, Seawitch, the resolution is straightforward and doesn’t get bogged down in an incomprehensible web of lies and interspecies politics. So, fairly enjoyable. And Carlos is in it, which is always a plus.

My biggest complaint with the story is that the heroes do the thing. You know the thing. They have the bad guy dead to rights, they could kill him on the spot, they know that if they don’t kill him now then he’ll just end up coming back with another evil plan, they’re probably going to end up having to kill him sooner or later because that’s the only way to stop him and it’s just a matter of how many people he kills before they reach that point… and they let him go regardless. Hey, gotta have a returning antagonist for the final book; I mean, it’d just be anticlimactic if they just pulled some new threat which had never been mentioned before out of nowhere, right? I mean, everyone remembers how badly the final installment of The Bloodhound Files turned out because of that. So, far better to come up with an extremely contrived reason to allow an antagonist from the penultimate book to survive and escape when by all rights he should have died.

Sigh.

Well, with any luck, the last book will prove to be a suitably epic conclusion to the series. Be sure to tune back in for the final installment of Greywalker. I hope Dru Cristoffer shows up again in it; it’d be a terrible waste of her character give her that huge dramatic introduction in Labyrinth and then never do anything with her.

Final Rating: 3/5

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Mermaids of Eriana Kwai #1: Ice Massacre

Wow, it’s been a really long time since I reviewed the Lies Beneath trilogy, hasn’t it? But at long last, the time has come for me to read another trilogy about murderous mermaids. I reviewed all the Lies Beneath books together as a group because, interesting-sounding premise aside, they ended up being pretty generic paranormal romance and there just wasn’t much to say about each individual book; but I have plenty to say about the first in this series. So let’s take a chilly dive into Ice Massacre, by Tiana Warner.

Synopsis:

A mermaid’s supernatural beauty serves one purpose: to lure a sailor to his death.

The Massacre is supposed to bring peace to Eriana Kwai. Every year, the island sends its warriors to battle these hostile sea demons. Every year, the warriors fail to return. Desperate for survival, the island must decide on a new strategy. Now, the fate of Eriana Kwai lies in the hands of twenty battle-trained girls and their resistance to a mermaid’s allure.

Eighteen-year-old Meela has already lost her brother to the Massacre, and she has lived with a secret that’s haunted her since childhood. For any hope of survival, she must overcome the demons of her past and become a ruthless mermaid killer.

For the first time, Eriana Kwai’s Massacre warriors are female, and Meela must fight for her people’s freedom on the Pacific Ocean’s deadliest battleground.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Eriana Kwai: a remote island paradise… under constant siege by vicious, man-eating mermaids. For years, the inhabitants have waged war against the sea demons. Because the mermaids can use siren song to enrapture men, the islanders have formed a militia of female warriors to join this year’s battle, the annual Massacre which pits humans against merfolk in a bloody war of attrition. Finding themselves on opposite sides of the conflict are Meela and Lysi, a human and a mermaid who had developed an unlikely friendship as children. When they meet each other again as young adults, that age-old question will be asked anew: can love bloom on the battlefield?

There was a whole lot I liked about this book. The childhood scenes between Meela and Lysi were great, and I thought Dani made for an interesting antagonist: a bloodthirsty sociopath raised to be a killing machine, widely praised and respected for the very traits that would probably make her a serial killer if there wasn’t an inhuman enemy to point her at, but whose inability to function as an ordinary human being becomes more and more apparent as she starts breaking down under the stress of war. Unfortunately, as much as I liked certain aspects of the book, I also had several problems with it that kept drawing me out of the narrative.

What kept me from fully enjoying the book as I read it was my confusion about the nature of the Massacres and the strategies employed by both sides. At the beginning, I wondered why, if the survival of Eriana Kwai depended on killing the vicious flesh-eating mermaids that attacked its fishing boats, their strategy was to attack only once a year, with only one boat, with only twenty warriors. You’d think that if they posed such an existential threat that humanity was waging war to exterminate them, we’d put a bit more effort into it. The existence of helicopters is confirmed by a throw-away line early in the book, so this world seems to have at least relatively modern technology; why are the villagers using spears and crossbows instead of calling in the Navy? Well, that is actually eventually explained, near the very end of the book: Eriana Kwai is the only island in the world which is regularly attacked by mermaids, due to King Adaro wanting its magical MacGuffin. The other nations of the world are at peace with the mermaids and view this as a local conflict which they have no interest in getting involved in; as a result, Eriana Kwai is forced to rely entirely on its own resources to wage the war – and being a tiny island with limited wealth and population, one warship per year is the most it can manage. Well, it would have been really helpful if that information had been conveyed earlier in the book – the initial descriptions of being under siege by demonic hordes of man-eating monsters had me thinking the setting was more along the lines of Attack on Titan – but fine; looking at it that way, I guess it makes sense.

That, however, brings me to the mermaid tactics. See, it’s established in dialogue that even a small group of mermaids are capable of slaughtering the average fishing boat; it’s only the special warships built for the Massacre and crewed by trained warriors which stand a chance against a full army. Furthermore, since the Massacres have been occurring regularly for years now, the mermaids should know full well that Eriana Kwai only launches one such boat per year – hell, it’s even stated that they always choose to hold the Massacre at the same time each year. You’d think it would be very easy, then, to just ignore the warship and keep sinking fishing vessels. The novel says that they the mermaids send their army against the warships because the ships sail towards the location of the mermaid city, Utopia… except, as previously established, the humans don’t have any access to submarines or depth charges or anything that can do damage underwater. Their entire strategy relies on slaughtering the mermaids who try to board the ship, aiming to bleed the strength of the mermaid army and win the war by attrition. So… why exactly are the mermaids playing into their hands?

Well… you could say that Adaro’s doing it partly out of pride. I mean, Lysi implies near the end that Adaro is going to launch a wholly unnecessary attack against the warship, even though it’s retreating by that point, because his ego can’t bear to let them go after they’ve slaughtered so many of his warriors? But the ending implies that Lysi was wrong about that, that Adaro did have a tactical objective other than pure spite – he wanted to capture Meela so he could blackmail her into getting the MacGuffin thingy for him. And since Adaro is the big bad guy of the trilogy, I want to believe that he is smart: a devious, cunning threat, not someone so stupid that he’d start wars on two simultaneous fronts (he’s also fighting Medusa, Queen of the Atlantic) and then throw his troops away on meaningless battles. Because if Adaro really is that stupid… well, he’s not really that much of a threat, is he? I mean, when he sends Meela to go get the MacGuffin, I assume that’s part of a diabolical plan. But if he’s an insane egomaniac who wastes his army on meaningless battles, he might also actually be dumb enough to say, “Yo, Meela, your island has a secret superweapon which could totally annihilate my kingdom. Please go find this weapon, which you would not know about if I hadn’t told you, and figure out how to turn it on. Then hand control of it over to me instead of, you know, using it against me or anything like that. Deal?” Because it would be a really disappointing end to the trilogy if defeating the world-threatening tyrant really was that simple.

Look, I do like this book. That’s why I’m coming up with convoluted rationalizations to try and justify the parts that don’t seem to make sense instead of just writing them off as plot holes. If the later books of the trilogy give clever explanations that make me feel like the dumb one for ever doubting the logic of the story, they’ll get higher scores. But I shouldn’t have to wait for information only contained in later books in order to be able to enjoy this one; thus, I can’t give it as high of a score as I wish I could.

Final Rating: 3/5

The Hardy Boys Casefiles #97: Pure Evil

Let’s take a break from all the urban fantasy I’ve been reading lately and review a blast from the past. I was perusing one of my old bookshelves recently and what should I discover but a couple old dog-eared Hardy Boys books. I remember enjoying them when I was a kid; but do they still hold up? Let’s distill Pure Evil, by Franklin W. Dixon.

Synopsis:

Sweet poison!

Callie’s uncle Adam makes maple syrup in New Hampshire, and she’s invited Frank and Joe to join her there for a spring break. The idea is to go cross-country skiing – a plan that quickly goes sour. Someone has deliberately tainted the crop, and if the Hardys don’t catch the culprit, Uncle Adam will soon be tapped out.

But the threat to Uncle Adam’s business is only the beginning. A gang has targeted other farmers in the area, and they’ve added two new names to their list: Frank and Joe Hardy. The boys are in the thick of it, facing bomb-throwing saboteurs and chain saw-wielding thugs in an all-out battle to save reputations… and save lives!

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

So, yeah, The Hardy Boys. They were pretty much a staple of my childhood. God, I can’t even remember how many hundreds of these things I must have read. I certainly can’t remember any of the specific details of all those cases; at most, I can recall my general impressions of the series. There were two separate lines of books I followed: the hardcover The Hardy Boys Mystery Stories, and the softcover The Hardy Boys Casefiles. I remember liking different aspects of the two: the Casefiles tended to be more action-packed with guns and violence and murder; whereas the Mystery Stories were slower-paced and featured less exciting crimes but were more thorough in establishing their mysteries and laying out all the relevant clues – the Casefiles tended to fly by the seat of their pants and didn’t always make the most sense. Well, that was my impression of them in general, at least; since the books were actually ghostwritten by a bunch of different authors using the “Franklin W. Dixon” pseudonym, the actual quality probably varied quite a bit even between books in the same line. Uncritical youngling that I was at the time, I probably just couldn’t tell the difference. I was an extremely voracious reader and so eager for each new book I could get my hands on that I remember liking pretty much everything, except stories featuring dogs which died at the end. Had I started writing this book review blog back then, I probably would be handing out Dead Dog Penalties instead of Dead Lesbian Penalties.

But I digress.

So, the plot of the book. Frank and Joe head up north to visit Callie’s uncle, who produces maple syrup, only to discover that his product is being poisoned. Naturally, potential suspects tumble out of the woodwork one after another: there’s the rival syrup producer next door, the shifty assistant who keeps sneaking off behind the uncle’s back, and of course the sleazy real estate developer looking to purchase the property for much less than what it’s worth. Ultimately, however, the culprit turns out to be Jud Gagnon: a local biogeneticist who discovered a way to make genetically engineered yeast produce artificial maple syrup and figured that the best way to promote his new product would be genetically altering the local trees to turn their syrup poisonous.

…This probably made a lot more sense when I was a kid.

In any case, the Hardy brothers break into Gagnon’s laboratory and steal a case of the… retrovirus? Catalyst? Mad science goo? The stuff that Gagnon’s been spraying on the trees to make them produce poisonous syrup; it’s never actually specified what it is or how it works, just something about mumble mumble “enlarged ferrous compound molecule” cough. They hand it over to the police, who arrest Gagnon. Which should totally not be legal – in fact, I believe that one of the Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew crossover books actually points out that evidence obtained this way is completely inadmissable at trial, since Nancy’s father is a lawyer. But that one book is pretty much the single exception in the entirety of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew universes – the rest of the time, just figuring out who the culprit is and obtaining evidence to prove it instantly results in all problems being solved. For instance, take this piece of praise given to Frank and Joe at the end of the book by the rival syrup-maker who was the first red herring suspect:

“I’ve got to hand it to you. Who would’ve thought that two young pups – who know nothing about sugaring – would be the ones to stop Jud Gagnon from ruining our business?”
– Karl French, Chapter 16

You may be wondering: sure, they caught Gagnon, but how does that equate to saving the maple syrup businesses? The trees were genetically altered to produce poison, and they’re going to keep on doing so. They don’t know which specific trees were altered, or how many; it’s not like Gagnon was keeping track, just contaminating as many as he could. And no, there’s no indication that he bothered whipping up a magic antidote to turn the trees back to the way they were. Even if such a plot contrivance did exist, it’s specifically noted that it takes significant time for the genetic modifications to work their way through all the trees’ cells and go into effect – so all those trees are going to continue being toxic for the immediate future. Not to mention all the currently collected syrup which has to be thrown out, the massive product recall, the reputation damage done to the brand name by all the recent high-profile food poisoning incidents…

Well, you’re overthinking things. The Hardy boys caught the bad guy; thus, all problems have been immediately solved and everyone is going to live happily ever after.

So, I’m forced to conclude that this book hasn’t really held up all that well. Based on this level of quality, I’d normally score it a 2. But, you know, I am now quite a bit older than the intended audience, and I do recall enjoying it way back when, so I feel inclined to be a bit lenient. I therefore magnanimously grant it a +1 nostalgia bonus to its score. Am I not kind? Am I not fair?

Final Rating: 3/5

…And normally that’s where the review would end, except that this is the first time I’ve reviewed a book in the mystery genre, and a friend of mine would like to chime in and register a few complaints. Take it away, Dlanor.

DlanorAKnox

 

Knox’s Fourth: No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end. Some sort of ill-defined gene-altering formula which causes maple tree sap to turn into an unknown type of poison unidentifiable by normal means falls into this CATEGORY.

Knox’s Sixth: No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right. The Hardy Boys go to Gagnon’s lab not because they suspect him, but because they want to use his scientific equipment to analyze the POISON. Only after entering for this completely unrelated reason do they stumble across evidence that Gagnon was behind the CRIMES.

Conviction of this book for heresy against orthodox mystery is now FINISHED. <Die the death>! <Sentence to death>! <Great equalizer is the death>!!

Allie Beckstrom #3: Magic in the Shadows

Come little children, the time’s come to play, here in my garden of shadows. Let’s shine a light on Magic in the Shadows, by Devon Monk.

Synopsis:

Allison Beckstrom’s magic has taken its toll on her, physically marking her and erasing her memories-including those of the man she supposedly loves. But lost memories aren’t the only things preying on Allie’s thoughts.

Her late father, the prominent businessman-and sorcerer-Daniel Beckstrom, has somehow channeled himself into her very mind. With the help of The Authority, a secret organization of magic users, she hopes to gain better control over her own abilities-and find a way to deal with her father…

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

In my review of the previous Allie Beckstrom book, I expressed my annoyance at all of the characters being unnecessarily cryptic and mysterious and withholding essential information from Allison, and expressed my hope that this trend would change going forwards. Happily, Magic in the Shadows does seem to be addressing those concerns. Allie gets a rundown on the history of magic: how the Authority practiced it in secret for thousands of years, and recently allowed it to be “discovered” by the Muggle world but released only the simplest and safest of spells, keeping the most powerful for themselves. Nice to know. The book also gives us our first hint as to an overarching arc villain in Mikhail, a deceased but not fully departed master of Death magic looking to return from beyond the veil.

Aside from that, the book’s plot is fairly decent. Allie’s dealing with lingering possession by her father’s ghost, who is trying to influence her from beyond the grave; a magic-fueled monster called a Necromorph is running around the city causing trouble; and a Hound named Tomi (who was singled out at the end of the last book as a potential future antagonist by demonstrating irrational jealousy and unwarranted hostility towards Allie) seems to have gotten herself involved in some bad business. And also there’s a gargoyle, for some reason. I hope future books contain an explanation for what specifically is going on with it, actually, because it currently doesn’t seem to make much sense. It just comes out of nowhere according to the demands of the plot; a Gargoyle Ex Machina, if you will. Kinda sloppy writing, to be honest. But since this book did start being more generous with explanations about magic, I shall give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that later revelations will result in it making perfect sense in context. I know, I’m just a big ole pushover, and I’m giving this series more credit than it probably deserves. Whatever.

Final Rating: 3/5

The Black Sun’s Daughter #3: Vicious Grace

Here comes Jayné, you know she’s sporting a chain. Same hair revolution, same build evolution… whatever that means. Um, how about… mirror image see no damage, see no evil at all. Those lyrics sound like they could be somewhat apropos, right? Well, in any case, let’s call upon angels and ministers of grace to preserve us with Vicious Grace, by M.L.N. Hanover.

Synopsis:

When you’re staring evil in the eye, don’t forget to watch your back . . .

For the first time in forever, Jayné Heller’s life is making sense. Even if she routinely risks her life to destroy demonic parasites that prey on mortals, she now has friends, colleagues, a trusted lover, and newfound confidence in the mission she inherited from her wealthy, mysterious uncle. Her next job might just rob her of all of them.

At Grace Memorial Hospital in Chicago, something is stirring. Patients are going AWOL and research subjects share the same sinister dreams. Half a century ago, something was buried under Grace in a terrible ritual, and it’s straining to be free. Jayné is primed to take on whatever’s about to be let loose.

Yet the greatest danger now may not be the huge, unseen force lurking below, but the evil that has been hiding in plain sight all along—taking her ever closer to losing her body, her mind, and her soul. . .

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

The first book of The Black Sun’s Daughter introduced Jayné Heller to the world of magic and riders. The second book mostly just spun its wheels, ending with the status quo the same as in the beginning. But now, with the third book, the time has come to shake things up again. Vicious Grace forces Jayné to confront the dark and terrible aspects of her new life as a rider-hunter, and as a result it’s the best one yet.

A classic part of the hero’s journey is the protagonist finally stepping out of their mentor’s shadow. Typically, this involves the mentor either dying or turning out to have been secretly evil. Well, Eric Heller’s already dead, so that only leaves one option. Previous book have already hinted that, despite Jayné’s idolization of Eric, he was actually very morally ambiguous in his deeds: plotting an assassination, cutting deals with riders, and having an affair. Now, with the revelation that Eric mind-controlled and raped Kim as part of his plan to uncover the location of the Beast Rahab so he could make a likely-sinister bargain with it, Jayné is finally forced to see just how ruthless and sociopathic her uncle really was. It’s her first step out of his footprints and towards forging her own path.

And hey, speaking of Rahab, it makes for the most spectacular antagonist yet. Coin and Carrefour were both alien beings of unspeakable, unfathomable evil; but because they spent the whole of their stories possessing human bodies and pretending to be human, we didn’t really get the whole impact of their otherness. Not so with Rahab, who is 100% eldritch abomination and begins turning the hospital above its tomb into something straight out of Silent Hill once it starts to break free.

Finally, the ending gives the long-simmering subplot about Jayné’s peculiarities a kick in the pants. After her fight with Rahab, she’s at last begun to suspect what all of us playing along at home figured out when we saw the series was titled The Black Sun’s Daughter: that Jayné’s occasional outbursts of preternatural ability are the result of a rider. Hopefully that means next story will have them start investigating Jayné’s past and uncovering some delicious backstory.

Featuring dark twists, shocking revelations, an intense climax, and accelerating plot development, Vicious Grace stands a cut above the previous books in the series. My local library unfortunately does not have the next book in the series available for me to request; but based on the quality of this one, I have no qualms at all over purchasing a copy.

Final Rating: 4/5

Greywalker #7: Seawitch

Poor unfortunate books; so sad, so true. They come flocking to my blog crying “Reviews, reader, please!” and I write about them; yes, I do. Let’s take a gulp and take a breath and sign on with Seawitch, by Kat Richardson.

Synopsis:

A quarter century ago, the Seawitch cruised away from her dock and disappeared with everyone on board. Now, the boat has mysteriously returned to her old berth in Seattle and the insurance company has hired Harper to find out what happened.

But Harper is not the only one investigating. Seattle Police Detective Rey Solis is a good cop, albeit one who isn’t comfortable with the creepy cases that always seem to end up in Harper’s lap. As they explore the abandoned vessel, Harper and Solis discover a cabin containing symbols drawn in human blood, revealing the ghost ship’s grave history.

As Solis focuses on the possible murder of a passenger’s wife, Harper’s investigation leads her to a powerful being who may be responsible for the disappearance of the Seawitch’s passengers and crew. And while their searches lead Harper and Solis in different directions, they will need to put aside their differences to solve a deadly mystery twenty-five years in the making…

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Harper Blaine has a new case: a ghost ship has floated into the harbor, 27 years after it went missing and was presumed lost with all hands. There’s an unnatural mist clinging to it, a magic circle drawn in blood on the bow, and the engine room is crammed full of hundreds of restless spirits – far more than could be accounted for by the small number of crew aboard when the ship went missing. With siren songs filling the night and sighting of Irish monsters called dobhar-chú hanging around the harbor, it’s clear that there’s a supernatural mystery to be solved.

I’d have to say that the best thing about this book is the characterization of Rey Solis. He’s appeared in the previous books in the series, but always in a very minor role: the by-the-book cop who won’t have any of this supernatural nonsense and resents Harper for meddling in his cases and causing them to turn spooky and end up closed still unsolved. He wasn’t even significant enough to qualify as an antagonist, just a minor obstacle which Harper would have to work around when pursuing her investigation, hence why I’ve been able to get this far into the series without ever mentioning him in my reviews even once before. Seawitch finally makes him into an actual character: he decides to join Harper in her investigation to see first-hand all this inexplicably spooky stuff that always ends up hopelessly muddling up his cases, and we in turn get to learn about his past, his family, and his home life. It’s like he’s an actual person now, with hopes and dreams and fears and aspirations and everything; instead of just a recurring plot contrivance called Rey Solis. Well, there’s only a couple more Greywalker books left; but better late than never, right?

Unfortunately, the main mystery plot about the ghost ship isn’t as good. Oh, the investigation part is fine; but the actual solution arrived at is a complicated mess. There was a sea witch stealing souls, and a mermaid looking to overthrow her, but both were united in opposition against the dobhar-chú, one of whom made a bargain with some imprisoned ghosts trapped by the sea witch – promising to release them in exchange for aid breaking a curse the mermaid had put on him; which in turn ties into the whole clusterfuck on the boat that led to it getting wrapped up in this, an unhealthy obsession with hunting halibut, someone deciding he’d really like to rape a mermaid and the mermaid’s boyfriend being too cowardly to try and stop it; or, in a different version of the story, trying to stop it only to learn that it was actually consensual and the mermaid was cheating on him… I think? I don’t know! It’s a huge convoluted mess, given contradictory explanations by about four different involved parties, all of whom accuse all the others of being liars. I don’t even know how it actually went down; but more to the point, I don’t care enough to try and untangle the whole convoluted mess. It seems pretty much everyone agrees that the sea witch is the overall bad guy in this, bearing the most responsibility for the various acts of soul stealing, ship sinking, and ghost imprisoning, so they kill her and that’s that. Another glorious victory for Harper Blaine.

So, to summarize: kind of good in some ways, kind of a mess in others. Or, in other words, fairly average for the Greywalker series.

Final Rating: 3/5

Blood Singer #2: Siren Song

Her lips are the gun, and her tongue are the bullets… Okay, no, stop. I was going to segue that into a thing about siren powers, but those are just the stupidest song lyrics I’ve ever heard in my life. “Her tongue are”? Seriously? Why not say “her words are the bullets”? That way you don’t run into the problem with the singular/plural verb conjugation, and it makes more sense as a metaphor anyway because her tongue isn’t leaving her mouth… You know what, just forget it; this opening has gone completely off the rails. Let’s just sing about Siren Song, by Cat Adams.

Synopsis:

In Celia Graves’s world, vampires roam the alleys of Tinseltown, street corner psychics have real powers, and cops use memory enhancement spells. But Celia thought she was an ordinary human, albeit one with a clairvoyant best friend and a ghostly little sister.

The vampire attack that made Celia an Abomination forces her to take food in liquid form and gives a whole new meaning to the word “sunburn.” She’s slowly adjusting (therapy sessions and all) when she discovers that the attack awakened a hidden part of her heritage: Celia is part Siren, able to enthrall men—and enrage women.

Her best friend’s murder is unsolved; the cops think Celia should be in jail or staked; and her old lover, mage Bruno DeLuca, has something important to tell her. To top it all off, Celia’s been summoned to the Sirens’ island.

Celia Graves has more than one enemy. Some of them want her blood. Some of them want her soul. All of them want her dead.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

When we last left Celia Graves, she’d been informed by a princess of the Sirens that her tainted blood made her an Abomination in their eyes and that she would have to stand trial to justify her right to exist – just as soon as she was released from the psychiatric institution where she was being held for evaluation by humans who also fear and loathe her because of her vampiric contamination.

As foreshadowed, Celia’s conflict with her newly-discovered siren kin serves as a major plotline for this book. But it’s not the only plot, oh my no. There’s also her stay in the institution, which was likewise a big sequel hook at the end of the last book. And then there’s also a plotline with King Dahlmar seeking Celia’s help in dealing with a coup in his country… which I guess you could argue was foreshadowed by the political intrigue stuff in the first book. But then there’s also a subplot Creede getting double-crossed by his business partner and looking to form a partnership with Celia. And a subplot about Celia discovering that someone placed a curse on her when she was a child, causing much of the misfortune in her life. And a subplot about that demon lord Celia briefly faced in the first book coming back for vengeance. And a subplot about some crooked cops who think Celia is a menace trying to frame her so they can kill her. And a subplot about Celia’s mother’s criminal behavior and her grandmother being an enabler. And a subplot about Celia’s ex-boyfriend revealing that his new girlfriend is pregnant and he’s going to be leaving town to move in with her. And a subplot about the reading of Vicki’s will and distribution of her inheritance.

It’s too much! Too many subplots! I can’t keep track of them all! Did they ever end up figuring out who shot a sniper rifle at Celia during the reading of Vicki’s will? Did anything ever come of that Mr. Murphy guy? There was that bit where Celia got a bunch of boxes shipped to her office by someone she thought didn’t like her very much but was too busy to look at them right away and put it off until later – did the story ever actually come back to that, or was it somehow lost in the shuffle? I honestly can’t remember! My brain can only handle so many details at a time before some start slipping through the cracks; and I can’t tell what’s important foreshadowing for future novels and what’s trivial stuff that I’m just happening to latch onto and obsess over despite it turning out to be laughably insignificant in the long run. (Everyone remembers the big Zoe Takano debacle from my Women of the Otherworld reviews, right?)

I will give the book credit for making a laudable attempt to tie everything together in a natural manner: the sirens, the demon, the curse, the coup, the business double-cross, and the ex-boyfriend stuff all end up more or less working as individual parts of a single greater scheme. Even so, I stand by my assertion that the book is overstuffed. What immediately comes to mind is the handling of Vicki’s estate: since it doesn’t seem to directly tie into anything that happens in this book, apparently existing solely to establish plot threads that will be continued later, and since it doesn’t have any immediate consequences, seeing as how it will apparently be tied up in a lawsuit for some time due to Cassandra contesting the will, I have to think it wouldn’t have hurt to put it off until next time. Or at the very least, it could have been put at the end of the book rather than the beginning, to make clear that it was setting up sequel hooks for the next novel rather than having me spend the whole time expecting the plot points introduced there to somehow come back in the climax of this one.

So, overall, I don’t think the plot of this book was quite as cohesive as the first one. It was still a good read, though.

Final Rating: 3/5

Wild Cards #8: One-Eyed Jacks

Through the darkness of future past, the magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds: fire, walk with me. …Get it? Because the brothel in Twin Peaks was called “One-Eyed Jack’s”? …Everyone still remembers that show, right? …Right? There’s that new continuation series with David Lynch directing and everything… Sigh, whatever. Let’s just hit One-Eyed Jacks, edited by George R. R. Martin.

Synopsis:

Something is stirring on Ellis Island, something strange and dangerous enough to subdue even the white-hot tensions between Wild Cards and naturals. The Jumpers are rising…

The members of this vicious gang have the power to jump their minds into others’ bodies, use them to commit acts of terror and violence – then withdraw as quickly as they came, leaving their hapless victims to face the consequences. Not even the powerful Aces are immune to the Jumper threat.

Begin a three-book struggle against the greatest enemy the Wild Cards have ever faced, edited by George R. R. Martin and written by Chris Claremont, Stephen Leigh, Victor Milan, John J. Miller, Lewis Shiner, Walton Simons, Melinda M. Snodgrass, and William F. Wu.

Source: back of the book (Goodreads link)

SPOILERS BELOW

One-Eyed Jacks serves as the introduction for the Jumpers, who will be the villains of this arc of novels. So, best to address this issue right up front: I don’t like the Jumpers. One of the interesting things about the Wild Cards universe is that no two Wild Cards are the same: each Ace and Joker is unique and different. So, having this whole pack of characters with the exact same powers really cuts against the grain. If there was just one Jumper, I’d probably think it was a really interesting new power to explore. As it is, it wears out its novelty real fast. Furthermore, by introducing so many Jumper characters, the novel denies all of them any actual characterization. It doesn’t matter if a scene features David or Zelda or Molly Bolt; as far as the book is concerned, a Jumper’s a Jumper – all interchangeable in terms of personality, motivation, and narrative role. Bo-ring.

Also not helping matters? The very first act by which we’re introduced to the Jumpers is them killing a lesbian. And you all know how much I love that, right? So the book gets dinged with a -1 Dead Lesbian Penalty right off the bat. Oh joy.

The main plot thread running through this book concerns Jeremiah Strauss, aka the Projectionist, aka Mr. Nobody. It starts off with him throwing a pity party for himself over his romantic failures. Oh, doesn’t your heart just break over the tragic woes of this rich, handsome, super-powered man? I’ll be honest: the first few chapters with him are pretty much a boring slog through his overexaggerated woes. Now, don’t get the wrong idea: I’m actually pretty fond of Mr. Nobody’s character. It’s just hard to stay interested in even a likeable character if all they’re doing is sitting around and feeling sorry for themself for page after page. Thankfully, this plotline starts to pick up after he begins working with Popinjay to investigate the Jumpers and begins, you know, actually going places and doing things.

There are also a couple of stories in the book focused on other characters. Of them, I’d say that “Luck Be a Lady” is the best, since it features a strong introduction for future recurring minor character Dr. Cody Havero. Lazy Dragon’s story “Snow Dragon” is also very interesting – while he’s previously appeared as a minor antagonist in other stories, this is the first time we’ve gotten his POV – but it has a problem: it’s a setup that never pays off. Now that Lazy Dragon has finally been promoted to main character of a story and we’ve gotten these tantalizing hints about his past and his unusual relationship to his sister, you’d expect that he’s going to play a larger role in events going forward and we’ll finally get clued into his mysterious backstory. You might even dare to hope that he’s going to get – gasp! – a character arc. Ha ha, nope! This is the final appearance of Lazy Dragon. No, I’m serious. The writers just forget about him. So long, Lazy; you had potential. In the same vein, Croyd’s ex-girlfriend Veronica finally flips the latent card she drew during the Typhoid Croyd epidemic and becomes an Ace. And you might think, based on her gaining superpowers and swearing vengeance on the Jumpers, that this is the origin story of a new recurring hero. Wrong again; like Lazy Dragon, she’s quickly forgotten. Oh, but on the plus side, we do finally get a story from the POV of the Oddity. Oddity’s become kind of a staple of the Joker community, featuring in a number of stories in roles of various prominence – most recently, it was one of the suspects during the investigation of Chrysalis’s murder – but we’ve never actually gotten to see things from its perspective before. And, spoiler alert, unlike Lazy Dragon or Veronica, it will be returning in the future and eventually get some final closure to its story.

What else, what else… well, there’s a pretty decent story about civil war within the Shadow Fists as Fadeout takes on Kien and Ma Sui for leadership. This story features the introduction of Warlock, a very minor character who I think is really interesting in concept, even if he hardly ever appears again. Well, in his case, he’s pretty clearly a minor side character from the beginning, so it doesn’t bother me as much as the underutilization of Lazy Dragon or Veronica. Umm… there’s a story about some bad shit happening to Captain Trips. I mean, it’s the start of a new character arc for him, but it really doesn’t have any connection to the Jumper stuff and thus feels really out of place and unconnected to anything else. Hmm, let’s see, I think that’s everything… except… oh no, wait, there was one more thing, wasn’t there?

Blaise. Fucking Blaise.

This is the point where Blaise goes full evil and becomes the Abomination, though of course he’s been an abomination in my eyes from the start. Let me be clear: having him to turn villain in this way does nothing to redeem his character. He was a whiny, arrogant, despicable little shitstain when he was with the good guys, and he continues to be just as annoying and unpleasant to read about as a bad guy.

Look, this book isn’t terrible. I liked seeing Mr. Nobody doing detective work and getting stories from Lazy Dragon and the Oddity. And it was a pretty effective first reveal of Bloat. But there are just too many problems for me to ignore.

Final Rating: 2/5

Allie Beckstrom #2: Magic in the Blood

Feel the magic in the blood, Allie, Allie, Allie. Levez les mains en l’air, allez allez allez. Let’s raise our hands into the air for Magic in the Blood, by Devon Monk.

Synopsis:

Working as a Hound-tracing illegal spells back to their casters-has taken its toll on Allison Beckstrom. But even though magic has given her migraines and stolen her recent memory, Allie isn’t about to quit. Then the police’s magic enforcement division asks her to consult on a missing persons case. But what seems to be a straightforward job turns out to be anything but, as Allie finds herself drawn into the underworld of criminals, ghosts, and blood magic.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

The Allie Beckstrom series continues, and the problems are just piling up for our plucky protagonist. She’s being targeted not only by a gangster and drug dealer specializing in twisted blood magic, but also magic-draining ghostly apparitions called the Veiled. And then there’s Dr. Frank Gordon, who appears in a single scene basically just to say “Hello, I will be your antagonist for this novel” and then disappears until the climax; where, in a shocking twist, it is revealed that he is indeed the antagonist who has been pulling the strings from behind the scenes. Who could have guessed?

Well, apart from the extreme unsubtlety of Dr. Gordon, the plot is basically decent. But there’s something about this series that’s increasingly rubbing me to wrong way: the way everyone is needlessly ambiguous and evasive when talking to Allie. In particular, I am so over Zayvion Jones. You can only do the mysterious and enigmatic thing for so long before you cross the line into just plain assholery, and Zayvion has reached that point. The breaking point for me was when he acted so shocked and concerned at the injuries Allie had sustained at the hands of the Veiled. Hey, Zayvion, you know what might have helped her avoid getting so badly injured? If someone who knew all about what the Veiled are and what they can do had deigned to share that information with her. Say, you know what might have been a good time to do that? After you had to do some weird super-magic chanting stuff to protect her from a massive attack by the Veiled. But no, you had to play your cards all close to the vest, dodging all her questions with excuses of having unspecified urgent business elsewhere and promises of explanation at some later date, and then just sauntered off and left her alone; as if the Veiled wouldn’t just come back the moment Allie didn’t have you there to protect her. Way to go, asshole.

myjobhereisdone

It’s still the first third of the series, so I’m willing to give it a pass on this… for now. But by the end of this book, Allie has been accepted into the Authority. Now that she’s been accepted into the secret society, that means there isn’t any reason for her to be kept in the dark any more. So I’m going to expect her to actually get some straight answers to the questions that Zayvion has thus far been dodging. If he keeps jerking her around… well, I’m going to run out of patience real fast.

Final Rating: 3/5

The Black Sun’s Daughter #2: Darker Angels

Something’s getting in the way, something’s just about to break; I will try to find my place, in the diary of Jayné. Let’s try to find out place in Darker Angels, by M.L.N. Hanover.

Synopsis:

In the battle between good and evil, there’s no such thing as a fair fight.

When Jayné Heller’s uncle Eric died, she inherited a fortune beyond all her expectations — and a dangerous mission in a world she never knew existed. Reining in demons and supernatural foes is a formidable task, but thankfully Jayné has vast resources and loyal allies to rely on. She’ll need both to tackle a bodyswitching serial killer who’s taken up residence in New Orleans, a city rich in voodoo lore and dark magic.

Working alongside Karen Black, a highly confident and enigmatic ex-FBI agent, Jayné races to track down the demon’s next intended host. But the closer she gets, the more convinced she becomes that nothing in this beautiful, wounded city is exactly as it seems. When shocking secrets come to light, and jealousy and betrayal turn trusted friends into adversaries, Jayné will soon come face-to-face with an enemy that knows her all too well, and won’t rest until it has destroyed everything she loves most….

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

So, Jayné and her gang have returned to hunt more supernatural parasites from the Pleruma. This time, they’re joined by a former FBI agent tracking body-hopping, serial-killing loa whose next target is a psychically-gifted voodoo priestess in post-Katrina New Orleans. In other words, just another average day’s work for The Black Sun’s Daughter.

If I have a complaint about this book, it’s that the third-act twist is too predictable. Just last book, we had the twist of one of the team turning out to be a rider. Now that he’s been kicked out, a new member is brought in to replace him – and it’s constantly noted that she’s behaving strangely, that she’s keeping something a secret, that her plans and explanations regarding the target loa don’t quite make sense when examined too closely. What could possibly be the reason for this strange behavior!? So, when the big “reveal” was made, I was disappointed by how obvious it was. I don’t think it counts as a twist if a blind man could see it coming.

Well, aside from that, the book was perfectly fine. Plenty more interpersonal conflict between the team members to keep things lively, more teasing hints about Jayné’s past with the revelation of her mother having an affair, and a pretty interesting final battle featuring Legba and Marinette teaming up with the heroes against Carrefour.

So, overall, a decent book. Just… the next one better not also feature a new member joining the team and turning out to be a rider. You’ve played that card twice already now, and it’s getting old. It’s time for something new and different, if you please.

Final Rating: 3/5