Wednesday 30 March 2011

Archangel's Kiss - Nalini Singh (Guild Hunter 2)

Archangel's Kiss picks up pretty much where Angel's Blood left off and for that reason this book is really not a good place to start with the series. This is definitely a case where you need to read Book 1 first. And if you haven't read Book 1 then you should probably stop reading this review now because it's probably going to contain spoilers.

In book 1 Guild Hunter Elena Deveraux achieved the impossible - she tracked down a rogue archangel. She tracked down a rogue archangel and fell in love with another, with the archangel Raphael. But in the process she was irrevocably changed. And in doing so she steps into a world more dangerous, more callous and more beautiful than any she could have previously known. Raphael and Elena are perhaps seeing their relationship from different perspectives.
'"Do you think you have the right to give me orders now?" "Of course. You are mine." "I don't think you've quite got the hang of this true love thing."'
Raphael is used to being obeyed without question. But Elena is not used to obeying without question. So their relationship still has a few rough patches to iron out.

For the most part Elena is a great UF heroine, tough but vulnerable. But she makes one stupid comment.
"Fighting is not sexual."
That's okay. She can say that, she can have that opinion. But then to immediately say on the next page...
"A blade this sweet is as good as sex."
Just makes her first comment look inane.

I love how Nalini Singh has managed to make the angels alien and the archangels completely alien. And she doesn't take the easy way out and soften that or humanise it. Except with Raphael where there's a reason for him to behave in that way.

I like the Guild Hunter series. I like the world-building, I like the characters that inhabit it and the way they interact with each other. But I haven't quite reached the point of loving it. I think perhaps it feels a little discordant, somehow not quite hanging together. The plot feels a little all over the place. Maybe this is intentional, maybe in a couple more books I will have settled into it, or maybe it will all start to weave together and it will give the books greater re-readability as you go back to find out what happened when and where.

But at this point it's not quite working for me, or maybe it would be more correct to say that some parts are working more than others. I feel like I can see that there is a major arc to the story which carries over between books, but it's the minor arcs in each book I'm struggling to sort out. In a way this feels like an in-between (bridging book) but it's only book 2, so that feels too soon in the series.

I think maybe there is too much happening - Lijuan's ball, the angel attempting to become an archangel, Elena's training, Elena regaining her memories, Elena and Raphael's relationship. Other little things are also snuck in there - Raphael offering to rescue the 'boy' vampire for Jason. Little things that I'd actually like to know more about. I wish either that it had taken place over more books or perhaps better that this book had had another 200 pages. Even so I find I am looking forward to finding out what happens in book 3. And I hope that the little hints I'm intrigued by will be developed further.

* And to the list of amusing typos we can now add this one. On p.51 of the UK copy is the line:-
His own hunger had turned his face acetic...
I don't think vinegar face is what we were quite aiming for here, maybe ascetic?

Monday 28 March 2011

Unholy Magic by Stacia Kane (Downside Ghosts 2)

Before I wrote this review I went back to look at my review of Book 1 of the series - Unholy Ghosts. I remember having some misgivings about the feasability of having a drug addict for a heroine. Most of these were laid to rest by the time I'd finished the first book. And any that remained have been banished by the end of this one.

Chess's complicated life is becoming even more complicated. As well as keeping her drug habit secret from the Church of Truth. She's now trying to keep the two men in her life - who work for opposing drug dealers - separate. She's also got a haunted house to investigate and someone is murdering prostitutes in Downside. It won't take much for this house of cards to come down.

I thought I'd start the series challenge with a series that comes highly recommended. And okay, it's nearly April and I'm only just getting going, but better late than never.

I think the Downside Ghosts series is the most original UF I've read recently. In this one, there's a little less focus on Chess's use of drugs and more focus on plot. I think having read Book 1 you accept that the drugs are part of her life. They aren't forgotten but there's not such a continual emphasis on them. I love the relationship between Chess and Terrible (he's her drug dealers enforcer) even when they are miscommunicating there's an almost palpable chemistry between them. I think they're fast becoming one of my favourite UF couples.

Chess doesn't trust her own judgement. She second, then third and fourth guesses herself. She argues round in circles in her own head. She wants to trust Terrible, but can't allow herself to. Considering they're both very tough characters, what's between them is a very fragile thing, and that's what makes it so fascinating to read about. But when she's in trouble, Terrible is the one she calls. As you're reading there's a sense of impending doom.
"Nobody could really know another person and want them, love them."
Chess has woven this elaborate web of lies through her life and it's almost inevitable that at least one of them is going to be found out. In a way it feels a little like self-sabotage.
"It was easy to be wanted by a man when he'd never seen the bad parts."
She doesn't believe that she can ever be happy or that she deserves happiness, so she subconsciously engineers the situation to prove herself correct.

We find out a little more about Terrible, some of his family circumstances. This is interesting, because apart from anything else it forces Chess to reevaluate how she sees him. And they start to open up to each other. It's tentative and fragile (sorry to use that word again) and you just have this horrible feeling that it's going to be squashed.
"He stared at her for a minute, like he'd never seen her before. Maybe he hadn't."
I think the most heartbreaking thing, is that it's apparent that Chess is starting to feel emotions that aren't connected to drugs. She's starting to feel that being alone all the time isn't a good thing. And it's her friendship with Terrible that helps to bring her to this realisation.

Over the course of the book, Chess grows as a character. Til at the end she's willing to risk everything, and it's not for drugs and it's not for her next fix. I'm very interested to see how she develops in the next book, because I'm finding the gradual reveal of her psyche one of the most compelling parts of the story.

I thought the mystery part of the plot - haunted house and prostitute murders - was well written. I found I was more interested in the Pyle's haunting, though I think this may be slightly to do with the fact that I didn't always completely understand what was happening with the murdered prostitutes.

I'm still not completely sure how this world works outside of where Chess is. I don't think this bothers me much whilst I'm reading. The insularity works well to emphasise the claustrophobia and paranoia of the life that Chess is living. This is one series I will be continuing with, and I hope there are many more books to come in the Downside Universe.