Sunday 29 July 2007

Stray by Rachel Vincent


I admit I had a bias before starting this book. The blurb of Stray felt too similar to Bitten by Kelley Armstrong. (Bitten is the book I would recommend for anyone wanting to know what Urban Fantasy is about.) So Stray had quite a bit of work to do.

Especially for the first half my opinion has never yo-yo'd so much as regards what grade I was going to give a book. Mainly because I find myself suffering from Kushiel's syndrome again. More on that below. On with the book.

Faythe Sanders is a female werecat (tabby) who craves a normal life. Unfortunately 'tabbies' are much rarer than 'toms' and because of this are protected. When other tabbies start disappearing Faythe is called home from University. She is determined this will only be a temporary setback for her independence, but the choice might not be hers to make.

First off the good stuff. This is a well-written debut to a new urban fantasy series. At 616 pages it's a little long (some of this length is due to page formatting I think - text columns are quite narrow) but the author manages to keep up the pace of the story. The world and family relationships are believable and not all the mysteries are given away - so at the end we're left wanting more. There's definitely something going on with Andrew which I hope will be followed up. The characters with one important exception (see below) are interesting individuals I want to know more about.

My main problem with the book is the protagonist. Faythe is an incredibly selfish and immature heroine for the first half of the story. She also makes stupid mistakes because of her own arrogant behaviour. During the first three hundred and forty pages every single time I thought she was improving she'd do something to reinforce my negative opinion. (Hence the yo-yo-ing grade). She keeps going on and on about how she wants to be treated like an adult but insists on behaving like a twelve year old. She seems unable to grasp the concept that if she behaved in an adult manner her family would be more likely to respond positively. This is very wearing to read about and also makes it difficult to understand why (seemingly) every adult male not related to her wants to be her boyfriend.

Halfway through she has an extra large dose of reality and her behaviour improves. I found the second half of the story a much easier read because she was dealing with her problems rather than just complaining about how hard her life is - maybe because by that point she was in a situation where no one cares. She's still overly arrogant and cocky but it's easier to experience because she's not being such a brat.

I'm counting this as another Sleeping Beauty book because Faythe's abrupt maturity follows her abuse at the hands of her captors. They're trying to take her power but essentially end up giving it to her.

I'm cautiously looking forward to the next book - Rogue. I think now that the set-up is out of the way I will be able to get into the series. And I hope at some point in the future Rachel Vincent will write a story about the werecats that isn't told from Faythe's perspective as I find her the least interesting character.

Although I've given this a C+. To be fair I'd give the first half a C, and the second half a B.

Monday 23 July 2007

Shadows in the Starlight by Elaine Cunningham

Shadows in the Starlight picks up where the first book in the Changeling Detective series ended. Whilst investigating the aftermath of her previous case, Gwen is also looking into the case of a missing wife and child. Once more she finds that her own past is inextricably linked to the case and as she delves deeper she puts not only her own life, but also those of her friends in danger.

Unlike Shadows in the Darkness the elves are much more in evidence here. Anyone who didn't appreciate how manipulative and cruel they can be from the first book will do so by the end of this one. We get a better insight into their machinations and through Gwen we begin to learn how their society works - and it's not pretty. They have an Aryan attitude to humans and imperfections, and it appears anyone who doesn't reach their standards is terminated. Slightly worrying for Gwen who has only manifested two of her three powers.

The reader is slightly ahead of Gwen in knowing what's happening, as once more the beginning and ending of the story are told from another character's point of view. Quite a clever device as it gives us an idea of how out of her depth Gwen is, whilst at the same time we can accept that she's working in the dark with limited information.

There was just one point where I really thought she was stupid. Which is when Ian Forest asks to demonstrate on her how sacred oaths are binding to elves. Even though she patently doesn't believe him I think she should have exercised more caution. Also after this she does become a little trigger happy with the use of this sacred oath. I'd kind of got the feeling that it was used by the other elves only for really important things. But I guess this serves to illustrate how different Gwen's priorities are to the other elves and how her agenda is almost diametrically opposed to theirs. The things that she takes seriously such as a missing human child seem trivial to them.

I also felt like somehow I'd missed part of the story that occurred in between books 1 and 2. I didn't remember Gwen sleeping with Damian - this doesn't mean it didn't happen but it couldn't have been that memorable a scene if I didn't recall it. So as I was reading I was like 'whoa, when did this happen?'.

The story ends with Gwen slightly further along the way to finding out who she is but we are still left with the main arc unresolved. Frustrating as there doesn't seem to be a book 3 on the horizon. If you haven't read the first book you may struggle a little to get into the story though the main plot points are covered. Recommended for fans of urban fantasy who like a strong PI twist - such as Charlaine Harris's Harper Connelly series.

Also available
Shadows in the Darkness (Book 1)

Tuesday 17 July 2007

Sleeping Beauty continued

I so wanted to label this post - The Lost Prince - to keep up the fairytale theme but couldn't quite get the content to match up.

Anyhoo, in the comments to the Sleeping Beauty post Nicole mentioned she couldn't think of an Urban Fantasy male protagonist who had been raped, let only experienced the aftermath which seems to regularly occur to female UF protagonists.

I still can't think of a hero who has either received or had his powers triggered by a violent brutal act - rape, murder. There is one hero who I can think of who was raped and a few who come under being violated - but these are drifting away from urban fantasy and into paranormal romance.



Ukiah Oregon (Wen Spencer) is raped in Bitter Waters (#3). He's given an aphrodisiac which causes him to have sex with someone against his wishes. This has ongoing consequences which carry into Book #4.

Atticus Finch (Wen Spencer) is mind raped in Dog Warrior (#4) by the Dog Warriors, so they can determine whether or not he's a threat. It's clear that this is a violation.


Butch (J.R.Ward) is tortured by the Lessers and violated by the Omega in Lover Revealed. However, this is coming closer to paranormal romance and away from urban fantasy. The scene doesn't have the intensity of the above books or the ones mentioned in the Sleeping Beauty thread - plus much of the action takes place off-page.

Zsadist (J.R.Ward) is raped and tortured during flashbacks in Lover Awakened.


Zarek is repeatedly beaten throughout his life and stoned to death in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dance with the Devil. Essentially he does gain his powers through this happening but I consider this more PR than UF.

So the heroes who have suffered are out there. But it's harder to find situations which directly parallel those of urban fantasy heroines, or which have the page length devoted to the scene. I think Zsadist is an exception (as regards page length) as obviously his past is what made him into what he is.

Saturday 14 July 2007

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews


Kate Daniels lives in a world where magic and technology struggle to exist together. As a mercenary she makes her living clearing up magical problems but she's about to find herself caught between The Pack (shapeshifters) and the People (necromancers).

One of the best (and my favourite so far from a new author) urban fantasies I've read this year. Kate is a feisty no-nonsense heroine, who doesn't let the fact she's not as strong as some of her adversaries stop her from doing her job. Although this is written in first person we only know what Kate tells us. A part of her is kept hidden, not only from the other characters but also from the reader. It suggests Kate has a secret she mustn't even think about - but intriguing hints are dropped that I hope will be followed in the next book.

The book is peopled with interesting creatures and characters.

Saiman a problem-solver (I'm not quite sure what he is) who charges $26 a minute for his time. Yes I am that sad that I had to work out the hourly rate if Kate had him work for her for thirty seven minutes and was charged nine hundred and sixty-two dollars. :)

The Lord of the Beasts (Curran) a shapeshifter alpha you believe could rule - uncompromising and ruthless, he's prepared to do what is necessary to protect his people. This is not a romance but he and Kate have quite a chemistry together. :)

There's an intriguing new take on vampires, rather than sentient beings they are driven by appetite and are controlled by necromancers. They reminded me slightly of the monsters from Resident Evil. It's mentioned that they are constantly evolving (or maybe devolving) from a human base form and are an 'abomination in progress'. Scary.

Whenever a character says "I missed something" it makes me think as a reader I have too. I love stories where you want to think about the mystery and aren't 100% sure about who did what. If I had any gripes it would be that towards the end Curran blames Kate for misidentifying the upir when it was actually he who made the suggestion. There could be some kind of shapeshifter politicking going on there, but it seemed a tad harsh. And caused me to flick back a few pages to see who actually said what.

Actually have loads of favourite bits from this book, but will try to restrain myself.

Favourite line:-

"Why won't you ride a horse!" (Kate)
"What?" (Curran)
"A horse! Horse!" (Kate)

Okay this is taken out of context, but by the time you get to this sequence the characters of Kate and Curran are so alive that I could just picture this scene and Kate's frustration comes through so clearly in the dialogue.

Lovely sequence starting on p75 where Kate is trying to take a shower but the phone keeps ringing. Boy did I identify with this.

And a Star Wars line at the bottom of page 242. Hope this doesn't mean they are related.

Okay I'm stopping now. :) Go and read it already.

Recommended for fans of Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson series, Wen Spencer and Kat Richardson.

Book #2 Magic Burns to be released 2008

Saturday 7 July 2007

The Scent of Shadows by Vicki Pettersson


Where to begin. Joanna Archer has a destiny of which she is unaware. Attacked at 16 and left for dead, she survived against all the odds. But unbeknownst to her time was still running out - now it's almost up. On her 25th birthday she'll be faced with a choice - live or die, fight for the light or the dark. Now as she discovers her family secrets and finds out who she is, she'll take her place in the Zodiac.

This is one of the best books I have read this year. (I will mention here that I'm a huge X-Men and Heroes fan, please note the bias). Combining superheroes and urban fantasy into a compulsive read. Joanna is a flawed heroine, she complains, she bitches and she's got a smart mouth, but she's human, she's real and you empathise with her. And when push comes to shove she gets on with it. It's the fact that she isn't perfect that makes her so interesting to read. She has a duality, drawn to the light and the dark, and she acknowledges that part of herself that is frightening.

Example - when she confronts the construction worker. At the time it seems a bitchy but trivial thing. How many of us speak without thinking every day. But for Joanna it's different, her actions have tragic consequences. It illustrates how easy it would be for her to turn towards the dark.

My favourite quote from the book - "Tell me, XXX, because I feel like I'm missing something here, but what part of 'meet me at the Peppermill' means 'go fight Ajax at the corner drugstore'?" (XXX replaces a character name which would be a big spoiler).

The other characters are equally interesting and well written - Olivia the perfect sister, Warren the mentor with a disturbing past of his own, Chandra the jealous initiate who feels Joanna has stolen her place. What lifts this story above others is the fact it's made clear that though you may be born to the light or dark Zodiac you still have a choice, you can change. Shades of grey are nearly always more interesting to read about than black and white.

Must quickly mention here the comic shop scene which is my favourite from the book and I thought very reminiscent of a similar scene from The Lost Boys movie. Joanna tries to find out about being a superhero (agent of the Zodiac) from the comic books that have been written about them (called manuals), as she's trailed round the shop by suspicious geeks. Just a wonderfully written segment. (Being something of a sci-fi geek I like the whole comic book/trading card angle. :) )

It is another 'The One' story, where Joanna is being hailed as The Kairos born from a mother of the light and a father of the dark. (Naomi, possibly not one for you :)) But I wonder if it's going to be that simple, or if Vicki Pettersson is going to go Star Wars on us. When Joanna was raped at 16 it was by an Agent of the Dark Zodiac and she gave birth to a little girl (the Zodiacs are matrilineal). So if Joanne chooses to be an agent of light...Methinks she really needs to find her daughter no matter how much she doesn't want to, before Grandpa gets his hands on her.

The story isn't perfect, after I finished the book it occurred to me that there were not necessarily plot inconsistencies but certainly confusions (though this could be a personal thing). Especially as regards who did and did not know who Joanna was, hopefully this will be made clearer in future books. I know other people take issue with the fact that a) a cop left his front door open and b) Joanna was able to sneak away from him without him waking up. I do think the sneaking away was pretty much covered in the set up, so I can forgive that. There are also a couple of typos, at least I hope they are typos. On page 414 'ions and electrodes' bumped along Joanna's skin like 'blind bees'. The ions I get, the electrodes(?), possibly it's meant to be electrons, but I like that only slightly better than electrodes.

But this is such a fantastic rollercoaster read that I don't really care too much about these minor problems and the first thing I did after I finished it was order book #2. Highly recommended.

Book #2 The Taste of Night (April 2007)
The Harvest - short story in Holidays are Hell (Nov 2007) featuring Joanna's mother.
Book #3 The Touch of Twilight

Tuesday 3 July 2007

The New Sleeping Beauty?

Five recent Urban Fantasies I've read have a heroine either coming into or receiving her powers following a brutal attack.

Greywalker - beating/attempted murder
Wraith - rape/attempted murder
Scent of Shadows - rape/attempted murder
The Turning - murder
The Becoming - sexual assault/attempted murder

It's like Sleeping Beauty syndrome only instead of a kiss on the lips, she gets a punch in the face. I know this is just coincidence that these are the books I've picked out of my TBR pile. And I don't necessarily think it's a worrying trend - as long as it's not gratuitous and is relevant to the plot. It immediately illustrates how dangerous the UF world is to anyone brave/stupid enough to be drawn into it. It also gives the heroine a reason to stay in this frightening world as she seeks either answers or revenge.

I guess there are only a limited number of ways you can gain supernatural powers. Hmmm...let's think:-

Gain them at birth - probably one of the most common.

Inherit them - kind of like an ugly vase that you never wanted but have to accept. Example the Slayer inherits her power (or did).

Steal them (magical objects) - Djinn in Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series.

Sell your soul for them (Faustian pact) - Faust, Georgina Kincaid from Succubus Blues.

Gain them accidentally

Being tricked into getting them - LOL I do have an example for this but it's a spoiler for the book concerned.

Be infected by them - kind of like a sexual disease that you never wanted but have to accept.

I'm not complaining just commenting. I'm also trying to think of a male UF protagonist who gained his powers after being raped and left for dead, I'm sure there must be one, but I'm coming up blank.

25th September 2008

I'm revisiting this post following KMont's (Lurv a la Mode) review of Faefever.

It's been over a year since I posted and I think following the number of UF books I've read in the past year I can reasonably conclude that it was probably less of a coincidence and more of an almost established part of UF.

Nothing against these books, as long as it's organic to the plot, relevant to the situation and not gratuitous I don't have a problem with it. These are heroines who are living in dangerous times. But in case anyone didn't get the sarcasm mode above, there are more ways for a female heroine to become empowered than just the idea that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.