Wednesday 19 March 2008

Bloodring by Faith Hunter

My TBR Wednesday book for March is Bloodring by Faith Hunter, published November 2006. I think the reason I've not read this before is that I'm not 100% comfortable with the religious overtones of the story. How did this end up on my TBR pile? LOL. I think it's another of those I picked up on Amazon's recommendation.

Bloodring is a dark fantasy set one hundred years after three plagues have decimated mankind. The Earth is now in an ice-age, and seraphs and demons fight a never-ending battle. Meanwhile, the surviving humans are caught up in religious strife - the apocalypse was preceded by the appearance of the seraphs.

In this world Thorn St. Croix hides among the humans. A Neomage; she should be living with the rest of her kind in one of the Enclaves. Instead she chooses to live as a fugitive. When her ex-husband Lucas is kidnapped, she'll risk everything to find him, knowing that the price of discovery is death.

As well as Thorne, we meet her ex brother-in-law Rupert, and his lover Audric (I think my favourite characters). Thadd - a policeman who is convinced Thorne knows more than she's letting on, and who has secrets of his own. Various townspeople with their own agendas, and of course the seraphs.

There was a lot I enjoyed about the book.

It's filled with a subtle eroticism, that crests and wanes as you're reading.
"I dragged my thoughts away from his muscled back and what it might look like naked if he lifted a bale of hay overhead. In summer. After a hard workout."
:) Okay, some of it's not so subtle. But there's this slow burn as you're reading it, that let's you experience Thorn's frustration as she's unable to fulfill her desire.

There's lots of dialogue that I'd love to quote. A sure sign I enjoyed a book, even if I didn't completely understand what was going on.
"I'm naked."
"I noticed. And if I was straight. I'd be interested."

Faith Hunter 'draws' characters very well. She can paint a picture with words, which fixes them in your head very quickly. She has a wonderful way of expressing herself - I can't remember the last time I read the word 'pellucid' or 'susurration' in a novel. It adds to the sensuality of the storyline. Though using such strange words more than once, really stands out.

I like that we cut between Lucas and Thorne. It does feel like a puzzle, with the pieces slowly coming together. Though at the end there are still pieces missing.

As one of my concerns before reading the book was the religious content, I'm pleased that the seraphs in this world haven't validated any religion. And that there are some groups that believe the seraphs aren't angelic but alien in origin. I like the fact that we're given more than one possibility and no definite solution.

There was also a lot I was confused about or didn't understand. This was my main problem with the book. I get the main thrust of what's going on, but I think some of the subtleties of the plot are lost on me, which is frustrating. Though conversely when you finally work something out, it's rewarding. Yes, I want to have my cake and eat it too.

I didn't completely understand why Neomages risk execution for living outside an Enclave. I'm not sure I understand why they're hated - not that people ever needed a reason. There is some clarification later on - to do with the part they played following the apocalypse. But I think perhaps there are still some gaps to be filled in. That's the thing I noted down most often as I was reading - I still don't understand why Mages are so hated. At one point a seraph - a being that the religious groups venerate - tells Thorn to wait, and still the crowd of humans turns ugly.? Maybe it's because the world has gone mad, and you can't look for logic or sense there, you can't look for reason in a fundamentalist world - but I think in a story there has to be some consistency.

It's also said in the book that the seraphs would lead the attack on any undocumented mages. But this never happened to Thorn, which feels contradictory. Again I feel like I'm missing something.

No matter how many times I try, I can't get the hierarchy of neomage, kylen, seraph, second-unforeseen straight.

Quite a few of the biblical references went over my head, especially towards the end.

I didn't like the fact that neomages aren't supposed to have souls. (Apropos of nothing, it always bugged me on Angel when they said Fred's soul was destroyed. Grrrr.)

Having said all of that. I don't necessarily think that not completely understanding what's going on in the first book of a trilogy/series is a bad thing. As long as these complications are clarified in a later book. My problem is that I don't know whether they will be. So my fingers are crossed that a) this is the case and b) by the time I've read the next book I'll be keeping track of who is what, and what that means. I've already ordered Book 2 - Seraphs, hopefully it won't take me another couple of years to get round to reading it.

Sunday 16 March 2008

Dagger-Star by Elizabeth Vaughan

Tricky when you're starting a new series, when you've really loved the previous books an author has written. Instead of settling down with old friends you're meeting strangers.

Sometimes it works for you as a reader - I love both S.L. Viehl's Stardoc series and the Darkyn series she writes as Lynn Viehl. Sometimes it doesn't. Anne Bishop's Black Jewel books I could re-read over and over, But her other series have never interested me.

So we come to Dagger-Star, Elizabeth Vaughan's first book after the War Plains trilogy. Which I was privileged to receive an ARC for.

Dagger-Star tells the story of Red Gloves - a female mercenary who has come to the land of Palins in search of work. Josiah - a goatherder - knows very little about her, but he knows her dagger-star birthmark indicates she's a Chosen. Part of a prophecy that may set the land of Palins free.

I had some concerns about this story, mainly to do with how it links to the War Plains trilogy. So I'll come to that later and initially deal with the story as if it were a standalone.

Red Gloves is a name, that for me, took a little getting used to and I think it distanced me a little from the story to begin with, though by page 7 I was interested and by page 40 completely hooked. It's more like a label than a name as such - she's a mercenary who wears red gloves. This is in a world where people change their names as their circumstances change.

Red is the alpha in this story, and is not exactly the most sensitive person. She's a much more prickly character than Lara(from the War Plains books) not so ready to be the martyr. She's practical to the point of insensitivity, stroppy, knows her own mind. But she's also loyal, brave and determined. This is a woman we believe capable of leading an army.

There is a slight role reversal. Red is very take charge, whilst Josiah is more beta. That doesn't mean he's a wuss or a wimp - think Daniel Jackson from Stargate. There's strength in being able to bend rather than break. I also think it can be harder to write a believable beta hero, than a believable alpha.

The relationship between Red and Josiah starts off on the wrong foot. They're attracted though, almost despite themselves. They rub each other up the wrong way, and this friction creates chemistry. In a way it's a much more romantic tale than the War Plains trilogy - but there's still plenty of fighting, scheming and plotting going on.

Red follows the Way of the Twelve, whilst Josiah follows the religion of the Lord and the Lady. I think this is where Elizabeth Vaughan excels. She creates religions and beliefs that give her world depth. I think her storytelling style appears deceptively simple.

This book has a large 'cast' and is told from multiple points of view, but each character has their own beliefs, quirks, desires and ambitions. Red - the mercenary, Bethral her sword-sister, Ezren - the storyteller, Evelyn - the priestess. I suspect for some people this style won't work, but I do like seeing the same situation through different eyes. There are a couple of wonderfully written parallel scenes where it's clear Red and Josiah are thinking the same thing, but are convinced the other person is thinking something else. They need to talk. :) I think as long as it adds more to the story then it's working. I wish the book had been longer so we could have gone into more depth, but hopefully there will be more books to come.

My main concern whilst I was reading was how this world fits in with that of the War Plains trilogy. The thing I liked about the trilogy was that it was a fantasy which dealt with the cultural conflict between two peoples. There was no magic, no easy solution. Everything had to be strived for.

There are hints that this is the same world - kavage, references to the Tribes of the Plains. I think what concerns me, is how what we find out in Dagger-Star, affects the world of the Plains.

In Dagger-Star we find out there is magic - elves, portals, magical fire. And in a way I wish Dagger-Star had been set in a new world, that the two worlds had been kept separate. If magic is real then maybe the warrior-priests of the plains weren't lying to Lara.

That aside, this was another story I immersed myself into and at the end there are still questions that haven't been answered. Still stories there to be told. I want to know what happens next not only to Red and Josiah, but also to Ezren, Bethral, Evelyn, Dominic, Fael, Helene. And I really want to know how Verice and Warna got together.

Elizabeth Vaughan writes stories about women who change their world. Heroines who may doubt themselves or their gifts but who ultimately triumph. And it's not through use of magic but through self-belief and determination. She's one of my favourite authors and I'm counting the days 'til the next book.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

The Devil Inside by Jenna Black

Morgan Kingsley is an exorcist in a world where demons co-exist with humans. These demons can make their hosts capable of acts of strength and bravery beyond the ability of normal men. However, rogue demons possess the unwilling and they have to be exorcised. Morgan is in more danger than she realizes. A demon has been imprisoned within her body. And if she can't keep him a secret or get rid of him before they're discovered - she'll be burned alive.

Little note - I've had book one of Jenna Black's vampire series on my TBR pile for months and not got round to reading it. (As I'm taking part in TBR Wednesday this may be one of the books I pick). The premise of The Devil Inside really intrigued me though, so I'm reading it in preference. This one skips to the top of the TBR pile, whilst the other still languishes there.

I like Morgan as a protagonist. She's a reluctant hero with the self-deprecating, sardonic wit the reader expects of Urban Fantasy. She's a stroppy, feisty, angry heroine, who doesn't always do the right thing. If there's a chance for her to get out of this she'll take it.

The characters are well drawn. The fact that Adam is a good man, not a nice one. When Morgan argues with her boyfried Brian, or her brother Andrew ( a willing demon host). I believe in their argument. The emotions come off the page.

As well as Morgan, Brian and Andrew, there are two other characters who play a major role in the story. Adam White - head of Special Forces and a demon host, and his lover Dominic Costello. Adam and Dominic's relationship has a strong BDSM element which some readers may find hard to deal with. This didn't bother me, nor did the sex scenes between Morgan and Brian. I've seen on some reviews that some people object to the eroticism and strength of these scenes. But I think in all cases what happens is true to the characters and that's what I'm looking for in Urban Fantasy.

There are some nice touches throughout. The fact that Topeka has area code 666. The notes that Lugh sends to Morgan, as initially they are the only way they can communicate with each other. Really well done. And when they finally come face to face as it were, in her dreams, it's a shame without her body he'd be incorporeal.

Not everything is immediately spelled out for the reader and it's not always obvious where the story is going, Morgan has to puzzle things through. If you're paying attention you pick up on clues, but they aren't so obvious that you think Morgan is stupid for not seeing them.

Favourite quotes:-

"I imagined wearing that outfit out in public and considered the possibility that I might just prefer to die."

"'Just because I'm not hosting a demon doesn't mean my life is meaningless!' Okay, forget for a moment that I was hosting a demon."

Just one question that bugged me - If there are ten states that allow the execution of humans hosting illegal demons. Why don't the unlawfully possessed move to one of the other 40+ states?

This is one story, where I wished I had the next book immediately to hand so I could continue the story. There's definitely unfinished business to be taken care of, and I'm hoping Morgan will pry more of the demon's secrets from Lugh. It's pretty clear they aren't telling the humans everything.

This is a new and interesting world. I think following on from the succubi of 2007, Demons are definitely moving up the Urban Fantasy hierarchy. July is too far away, but that's the release date of the next in the series - The Devil You Know.