Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

Iron Kissed

Re-read May 2016
Recommended for fans of UF gurrl-power
 ★     ★     ★     ★ 

The book that committed me to continuing the series.

Zee, Mercy’s mechanic mentor, needs the help of her nose investigating a recent death on the fae reservation. Briggs gets to pull out all the stops and introduce the readers to a number of fae and their magical artifacts. Investigating the crime scenes proves fascinating, and also points out a person of interest. Next thing Mercy knows is that Zee is being held in the human jail as the primary suspect in the POI’s murder. In the interests of keeping fae business from human scrutiny, the fae intend to let Zee take the blame. Mercy, of course, can’t bear to have her innocent friend blamed, so she continues to investigate the murders, bringing her to the attention of a number of powerful fae. At the same time, Mercy attempts to balance her love life between Samuel, roommate and childhood love, and Adam, her current crush.

When it comes to plotting, there was a much better balance of interesting things happening without reliance on dramatic, life-threatening events. There’s the investigation, the music festival, a night out for pizza, and a meeting for a change of pace. At first, it wasn’t clear where the murder investigation would go, but eventually it narrowed down to an obvious suspect. While choosing between potential love interests is often a plot device that has me eye-rolling, I thought Mercy’s dilemma was handled nicely with gentle self-revelations rather than dramatic angst. The ending was truly gut-wrenching. Any frustration I would have leveled at Briggs was mitigated by Ben’s perceptive and emotional explanation. Mercy is allowed her trauma but also to regain some of her self-confidence in a capstone fight.

Mostly, however, I just loved the introduction of various fae. Briggs did a nice job with the eerie threatening power of the fae, capturing the capriciousness and ruthlessness of folklore fae. Kudos for the Walking Stick, one of my favorite non-sentient (?) characters ever.

Still, for a female-led urban fantasy, there’s an awful lot of males around, with most of them engaged in rating each other on the dominance scale. It’s the kind of thing that will end up putting me off a series.

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Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs

Blood Bound

Re-read May 2016
Recommended for fans of Mercy Thompson
 ★     ★    

The second book in the Mercy installment centers upon the vampires. Stefen, good friend and Scooby-lovin, t-shirt wearing vamp, calls in a favor. Favors among the supernatural are always tricky. When Mercy goes with him to a hotel to meet a suspicious new vampire, they both get more than they bargained for. Yucky stuff follows, but Stefen has a different memory of the horror in the hotel. Mercy must share her memory with the vampire seethe so that the queen Marsilia does not kill Stefen for bringing unwelcome attention to the vampires.From there, Mercy is kicked out of the action while the menfolk look for the crazy vampire, until the queen vampire contacts Mercy and lends her Andre to help look as well.

I’m really not a horror reader. Ever since Pet Sematary when I was thirteen, I’ve stayed far away from the genre, only coming close when urban fantasy flirted with things that go bump in the night. Oh, and Sherri Tepper, who does the science fiction version of the creepy dark side of humanity. At any rate, this opens with Mercy trapped as a psychotic vampire kills someone in front of her and hardly lets up. Well, I say ‘hardly lets up’ because I felt like there was a lot of description about eating bloody people as well as general descriptions of blood, torture and killing. But perhaps Briggs needed the horror to keep readers awake, because in between events there is an unbelievable amount of info-dumping. In a side plot, a reporter hounds Mercy, and she ends up giving him a lecture and a half about werewolves, while in the main storyline, Mercy and the reader learn almost everything there is to know about vampire politics, vampire skills, sorcerers and demons.

Characterization continues to be one of Briggs’ stronger skills. Plotting has interesting stops along the way, although the overall arc is almost identical to the first book. The editors must not have expected readers to have read book one, as much of chapters one through three review Mercy’s identity, her history with Samuel and her recent history with Adam. The crazy vampire bites Mercy, which is an unpleasant bit of rape-foreshadowing. Once again, the book virtually fails the Bechdel test, with the exception of a brief conversation with Honey the werewolf and a grade-school girl who gives her a clue. Even Mercy’s talks with an elderly female ghost is about men. It also introduces the idea that Stefen might also have an unusual affection for Mercy, competing with both Adam and Samuel for her attention. Apparently, I was wrong–to know Mercy is to love her. It is also becoming clear that while Mercy may be shuffled to the side by the wolves, she will usually be put into a position where she is ‘forced’ to circumvent them or to go off on her own. In this case, the crazy vampire was so strong, he “brought out the wolf” in everyone. This will become a theme through the series.

This one does not hold up as well on re-read, for both personal and critical reasons. It was the book that had me considering giving up on the series, and if I wasn’t such a completist, I probably wouldn’t even have it on my shelves. Two stars and a half stars, rounding down for both the info-dumping and lukewarm gurrl-power message.

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Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Moon Called

Re-read May 2016
Recommended for fans of UF gurrl-power
 ★     ★     ★    ★  

 

It’s now been a decade since Moon Called was published, and it remains a solid, reliable series in the urban fantasy genre. My first time reading it, I pretty much loved it. It has steady action, an intriguing female lead and decent world-building. It also has a gentle romantic build, a relief in a genre that is frequently focused paranormal sexy-times. If it is a little predictable, it’s with the assurance that the experience will be satisfying and familiar, the literary equivalent of homemade bread.

Mercy is a half Native-American who is able to shapeshift into coyote form. She is a mechanic who owns her own business, thanks to the assistance of Zee, a metalsmith gremlin Fae who recently retired when the lesser Fae were forced to ‘come out.’ Although werewolves still live a secret existence, Mercy knows there is a large pack in the area, ever since Adam, pack leader, built a house on the property next to her trailer. When a newly-made werewolf shows up on Mercy’s doorstep, she takes steps to protect him and facilitate his entry into the local pack. Unfortunately, disaster soon strikes with Adam and the pack being attacked, and Mercy finds herself drawn into protecting Adam. Helping him will mean dealing with emotional ties left hanging from her teenage years.

World-building is decent, as it attempts to integrate the creatures and powers of urban fantasy into a more mundane world. The idea of reservations for fae is intriguing, and will come to play later in the series. Vampires are given a standard horror-tinged persona, with the exception of Stephen, a vampire with an affection for Mercy. Language sophistication is average to above; Mercy has a degree in history and a couple years of German language, so she’s able to bring insight and perspective to the mythos around her. As a first book and introduction to the world-premise, there’s a lot of set-up. I felt most of it did not seem overly intrusive; in the beginning, Mercy distracts the young wolf with information about the pack, and then further information is given in context of Mercy’s own history. There is a lot of hints for future development with both Fae and vampires.

There’s a lot here that’s solid, even if it has become somewhat stereotypical for the genre. While Mercy could be characterized as a ‘Speshul Snowflake,’ I think Briggs takes definite steps to mitigate the characterization through acknowledging the physical power difference of the coyote and her generally reduced physical abilities compared to werewolves. It’s also clear that to know Mercy is not necessarily to love her (in contrast to Meg in The Others series by Bishop). While the female antagonism in the story could be a detraction–the story fails the Bechdel test–it’s origin in Mercy’s potential fertility has the potential for interesting metaphors about female empowerment. As expected for the genre, Mercy finds herself the focus of interest by two different and powerful werewolves. To her credit, she’s pretty consistent in reminding them she actually belongs to no one but herself.

It isn’t an edgy, boundary-pushing series, nor is it filled with one-liners or ass-kicking. It’s a quieter, solid little story; the literary equivalent of warm homemade bread with butter. It holds up to re-reading, and as a final ring of endorsement, was worth hardcover inclusion in my library.

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Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronvitch

Moon Over Soho

Re-read May 2016
Recommended for fans of police procedural UF
 ★     ★     ★     ★  

Moon Over Soho is an enjoyable, satisfying sophomore entry into the Peter Grant series about a London constable who is now working in magical law enforcement.

Peter calls on Leslie after the brutal ending of the first book. As he leaves, he’s called to the morgue where Dr. Walid wants Peter to note the definite vestigia about a dead man. Peter gets a clear sound of jazz sax, the kind of clue that only comes with strong magic. The team is still trying to protect Nightingale, recovering from a gunshot wound, so Peter is mostly on his own. As Peter traces the steps of the jazz musician’s life, he ends up meeting his former girlfriend Simone as well as his band-mates, who become Peter’s Irregulars. Not long after, Detective Stephanopoulos calls Peter to another body, this in the Groucho Club where a man is found missing his “wedding night tackle,” quite possibly torn off with a set of teeth. Tracing the circles of the two men brings Peter back into contact with his dad and the legacy of jazz. Occasionally, Peter even works on improving his magical skills.

Like the best detective mysteries, the setting plays a crucial role. London and its history comes alive through Grant’s thoughts on the history of police graft, the evolution of jazz, and the origin of the HOLMES database. Along with the London setting, there’s a fair amount of British slang and police terms: “copper,” “nick” and “taking the piss” are the easiest to figure. Aaronovitch doesn’t usually explain in passing, so sometimes meaning is a challenge to pick up, although I finally understood what ‘bullocks’ refers to. However, I felt like it adds to the flavor of the book rather than detracts.

As usual, Aaronvitch’s humor continues to shine, although there’s a healthy balance between sarcasm and seriousness. Overall, the language is fun and sophisticated, and a thorough reading will generate a lot of chuckles, particularly in scenes with Peter and Stephanopoulos. An early example of the fine balance: Every hospital I’ve ever been in has had the same smell–that whiff of disinfectant, vomit and mortality. UCH was brand new, less than ten years old, but the smell was already beginning to creep in at the edges except, ironically, downstairs in the basement where they kept the dead people.”

Plotting is perhaps the weakest element for me. While I enjoyed the story, I found myself frequently frustrated with Peter, particularly in light of all his references to “years of walking the beat” and references to coppers’ habitual suspicion. As I’ve mentioned more than once, I’m not particularly good at guessing who the villain is, so if I have suspicions, the author is either purposefully telegraphing or needs to work on plotting. In this case, I’m not sure which it is: while Peter is being incredibly dumb in dating the girlfriend of a murder victim, is this author intention to make him seem fallible? Or just lazy plotting? In this case, it also led to a couple of shagging interludes that seriously distracted from the mystery plotting. The wrap-up was somewhat problematic [ SPOILER —I was surprised by Peter’s efforts to save the vampires; as Nightingale pointed, she and her sisters are responsible for 200 plus deaths. Perhaps a ‘mental disorder’ as he suggests, but according to all copper standards, that still warrants locking up. ]. However, it made a certain amount of sense in context of Peter’s multicultural heritage and trying to educate Nightingale about the term ‘black’ magic.

I particularly enjoyed Peter’s interacts with Leslie in her post-trauma state. The most common way authors seem to handle tragedy in their male protagonists’ lives is through excruciating guilt and by telling the reader about the guilt. Instead, Peter visits, texts, and calls. He’s used to bouncing ideas off Leslie, and this trend continues. There are hints at his guilty feelings, but they do not dominate their interactions or Peter’s thoughts.

Overall, I didn’t love this quite as much as the first–but as that was a five star read, that’s still shouldn’t be considered a detraction (Rivers review). It is my one of my favorite series, and the best in UF detection.

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The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan

The Steel Remains

Read May 2016
Recommended for fans of very grimdark fantasy
See rating below

 

Into every life a book that destroys the rating system must come–The Steel Remains is leading for 2016. Naomi and I were looking for a buddy read, and this was on both of our TBR lists. It was on mine because I generally enjoyed Morgan’s science fiction Kovacs series. Still, I’ve been off on fantasy lately, unless it’s the genre-bending type. Once I and heard that two of the leads were gay, I was curious to see how that would play out.

The Steel Remains opens in a scene familiar to many; an aging, somewhat slovenly former war hero being drafted into helping a scholarly friend. The setting seems solidly medieval, with intriguing hints of strangeness encroaching into inhabited lands. His peace doesn’t last long before his mother appears, drafting him into a search for a cousin sold into slavery to pay her husband’s debts. Ringil reluctantly acquiesces, realizing he misses some of civilization’s perks. Before long, we jump to the perspective of Egar, leader of a group of plains tribesman. He too needs to fight off strange beasties, but his manner of managing the political fallout irritates. One more jump, this time into the perspective of Archeth, a mixed-race Kiriath who stayed behind after her people abandoned this world. The Emperor send her to investigate the destruction of a seaside town. It becomes apparent that the three fought together in ‘the Dragon War’ about ten years ago and have become tired of both fighting and politics. Eventually, their storylines and the strange things that are going bump in the night come together in a somewhat predictable fashion.

Characterization is very much of the anti-hero variety, with our battle-scarred heroes bitter at how they have been treated by their people. Unfortunately, because the narrative shifts between the three in third-person limited, complexity is slow to develop. Both the men were of the hard-living school where down time from fighting is spent having sex. Although I wanted to like Ringil, I felt mostly he was stuck in an adolescent stage of angry petulance towards almost everyone he interacts with. Strangely, for all that his mom supposedly motivates him to return, he barely talks with her and then spends his time reaffirming his disgust with everything in his city and his old home. Flashbacks to his friend’s death by torture and to being raped in school were strangely emotionless from his angle. I don’t know; there’s this weird emotional distance where perhaps the reader is supposed to infer that his rage comes from trauma. I just don’t feel like I’m in his head enough, except that he’s always “suddenly angry” at almost everyone he interacts with. I feel like the only emotion I’ve seen is anger or bitter humor. Maybe Morgan has nailed the character type.  Egar was flatly unlikeable. Archeth and her obsession with the ships of her people was the most interesting character and scenario to me, but as she had the least time it was hard to be invested only in her.

Plotting felt standard fantasy. Although Ringil is ostensibly pulled back to the city to look for his cousin, his route in doing so is so circuitous that I began to wonder if he was looking at all. Egar’s situation is interrupted by the plotting of a priest and intercession with the gods. Again, Archeth’s storyline felt the most interesting, with personality-laden remnants of the ship Helmsmen giving enticing hints about space-travel. However, when Ringil ended up in a parallel universe/fairy world, I lost interest fast. Too many fantasy tropes, too little explanation. By the last quarter of the book, it became clear that the plot wasn’t each hero and their individual issues exactly, but that each issue was a piece of the whole Rising Of The Dark and the Plot To Take Over the World. Honestly, I was kind of disappointed that it took so long to gel. There’s also a mystical part about the ‘gods’ working to stop this from occurring that ends up just being confusing.

The mood of the story was dark and bloody, leaping from fight to fight whether verbal or physical, seemly interrupted only by angry sex. I don’t know that there’s any joy or tenderness to be found in this book, although there’s plenty of guilt, anger, humiliation and bloody death. Morgan describes fight scenes quite well, for those that enjoy a sense of blow-by-blow action it should amply satisfy. Word style is off-putting; Morgan occasionally has a turn of phrase that requires one to pay close attention in order to understand. He sprinkles in worlds particular to the world without much explanation. It generally works, but then it makes inclusion of words like ‘faggot’ disorienting. ‘Flandrijn,’ ‘krinzanz,’ ‘fireship,’ ‘dwenda’ all pop in and out of conversation while epithets like ‘shit,’ ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ are frequently used as well, a strange mix of imaginary and vernacular. One of the things I loved about the Kovacs series is the inventive world-building, and I think that is one area his writing talent shows. Unfortunately, I felt it was missing here.

I just could not enjoy it; there was too little that felt redemptive or that I could empathize with, in contrast to my reaction to Joe Abercrombie’s book anti-heros in The First Law series. I will note that I found it both more cohesive and intriguing than the Prince of Thorns, so if you were interested in either of those series, you might enjoy this. Further, my reading buddy Naomi liked it a great deal. She was able to give it the careful attention that I couldn’t due to discomfort with the violence and the emotion of it.  Many thanks to her for the read and the discussion!

For me, this was a strictly one star book out of mood–I didn’t enjoy it at all due to the violent, angry mood. However, it was not a one-star writing level–in that I’d give it three stars. I won’t be continuing the series.

 

 

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War at Home by Kris Nelscott

War at Home

Read May 2016
Recommended for fans of period mysteries
 ★     ★     ★     ★  

 

Smokey Dalton is once again looking for Grace Kirkland’s oldest son, Daniel, an intelligent black teen and former Yale student now caught up in the Revolution. Sightings of Daniel in the vicinity of Yale dovetail with Smokey’s restless feet, so he decides to investigate in person. Thankfully, its summer, so Jimmy can come, along with Malcolm as a co-investigator and child caregiver. Rising unrest in Chicago feels particularly threatening, so the investigation has the added benefit of giving him a chance to scope out new places to live.

A Chicago housing project, from TheRealStreetz.com

As usual, one of the things I enjoy most about this series is the insight into the social climate of the later 1960s from the perspective of an older black man. Although Jimmy is from Memphis and traveled with Smokey before landing in Chicago, it is the first time Malcolm has ever been out of Chicago. Staying in motels and visiting the Yale campus exposes all of them to new situations, some positive, some not so much.

Yale, Brandford Courtyard

Mysteries are always about the missing person, and Smokey finds himself conflicted about his assessment of Daniel. On the one hand, as he runs into the institutionalized racism and economic elitism embedded in the Yale culture, he can understand and sympathize with frustration. On the other hand, as a Korean War veteran, he has a hard time sympathizing with the ‘tear down the government’ mentality many of the student groups are espousing.

In his search, Smokey runs into a range of rhetoric from student movements, from the student protestors to advocates for the free love lifestyle. Smokey finds himself driven, not to save Daniel, but to stop him.

This was a fast moving plot, with a fascinating social setting and a satisfying resolution. Highly recommended.

 

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Thin Walls by Kris Nelscott

Thin Walls

Read April 2016
Recommended for fans of period mysteries
 ★     ★     ★     1/2 

While Thin Walls was an enjoyable read, it did not hold up to the amazing, complex storytelling of the prior two books in the Smokey Dalton series.

Smokey and his sort-of-son, Jimmy are settling into Chicago after the events of the Democratic National Convention. Smokey lost his job at the Hilton, so he’s finding work doing odd jobs. A woman comes to him looking for help resolving her husband’s murder. Not only have the police not made any progress, Smokey discovers they aren’t even working the case at all. There are troubles on the home front as well, with Jimmy approached by the local gang members and Laura facing stiff, connected opposition in her attempt to wrest control of her father’s company from its board.

Characterization continues to shine. Off the top of my head, almost no one in Smokey’s sphere feels cardboard cutout; they all have a variety of positive and negative traits, but generally good motivations. It translates into keeping me interested in the story without thinking the outcome was entirely predictable. Mostly people are just people, responding to events from their perspective. However, I appreciate Nelscott’s affirmation that people can change if they try–and if they are given the benefit of the doubt. In the era of the anti-hero, this is highly welcome.

The ethics of the story are solidly in place. I’d highly recommend this to most anyone, just so they can get a feel for being black in the late sixties, and how even ‘progressive’ cities were cesspools of hate. It isn’t even a thread through the book so much as a rope tying everything together. Crossing race lines is the worst crime of all, and Smokey is a man who does it professionally and personally. While some of the discussions regarding cross-culturalism are quite overt, it’s a lesson many of us need to learn, and to remember. There’s something to be said for ‘mainstream’ books making this part of a thematic inclusion. I tend to find it instructive–there are people around that lived through this period, and while wounds may be healed, it’s likely they are still scarred. The events in this story foreshadow the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.

The weakness here is in the narrative, which stumbles from one distracting event to another–much like real life. Search for the crime scene photographer takes us to a Black Panther rally, to the home of a couple of neighbor boys who were in the park seeking a lost watch, and to the home of a pleasant Jewish woman and her photographer son. There’s a major event with them which takes more than a couple of scenes and becomes a minor lesson for Smokey’s own life. When Smokey also takes on finding the watch, it gets to be a bit much. While it all almost connects, it just feels more stuttering beats than smooth jazz. Smokey himself becomes frazzled with all his loose ends, so I suppose Nelscott achieves a congruence in plotting and characterization. Still, it leaves the reader also feeling sort of frazzled and incomplete.

Don’t get me wrong; this is still an enjoyable book and well worth the time. It just didn’t speak to me as loudly as the first two did. Recommended for mystery fans and anyone currently living in America.

Three and a half stars

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Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronvitch, audio version

Midnight Riot

Listened May 2016
Recommended for fans of UF detectives
 ★     ★     ★    ★  

Thoughts on the audio version:

As many people have noted, Kobna Holbrook Smith is a fabulous reader. Turns out he is an actor and director is well, with a long list of tv credits; it’s kind of a bummer because I hope he continues to have time for the Peter Grant series.

Holbrook Smith is clearly a talented voice actor who can understandably convey a range of London accents, from that of an 19th century itenerant to Nightingale’s ‘posh’ early 20th century to current police vernacular. I also found his Danish and Jamaican accents amusing. Ever since an unfortunate experience with the Stephanie Plum audio, I’m particularly impressed when actors are able to voice characters of the opposite sex without making it sound fake. Holbrook Smith is able to give Leslie a decent voicing, but it really shines when he does Leslie imitating Punch. I did feel like quite a few bit characters ended up with a Jamaican-sounding accent, which may or may not reflect London demographics.

Interestingly, I noted that I didn’t find the audio version quite as funny as I found the paper version. As an American, I wonder if this is an example of the ‘dry’ British humor, that the pause or infliction I expect is missing. I certainly found phrases snicker-out-loud funny when my inside voice read it. That said, his reading of the following dialogue made me laugh out loud:

“You don’t think she and Nightingale…?” asked Lesley.
“Ew,” said Beverley. “That’s just wrong.”

“I thought you and her were friends?” I asked.

“Yeah, but she’s like a creature of the night,” said Beverley. “And he’s old.”

I will note that there were two moments in later chapters when it sounded as if the recording was taken up weeks or months later. It was still the same reader, but something about the tone of the recording and the closeness of the voice changed. I did love the jazz introduction between chapters.

Overall, a great audio. I’ll definitely continue revisiting the series through audio.

Paper book review of Midnight Riot.

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Stone Cribs by Kris Nelscott

Stone Cribs

Read April 2016
Recommended for noir mystery fans
 ★     ★     ★   1/2

I’m continuing to enjoy the Smokey Dalton series centering on Smokey, an African-American man who solves problems for his friends. In this one, Smokey is returning home with his girlfriend Laura when they hear an ominous noise in his neighbor Marcella’s apartment. When they check it out, they discover a woman badly bleeding. They rush her to the hospital where Laura has to fight with hospital staff to get the woman seen, as it appears that she’s had an illegal abortion. It turns out Smokey’s met the woman once before, and she’s also connected to his small circle of Chicago friends. Marcella begs Smokey to find out who the butcher who performed the abortion is, so she can make sure no one from the underground network uses him. Smokey reluctantly agrees, half-heartedly contacting names on Marcella’s provider list. At the same time, he works for Laura’s company paying site visits to various buildings her company owns. When a murder follows, Smokey finds he is unable to remain disengaged.

The story is a chilling and timely reminder of a time not so long ago when abortions were illegal. Although Nelscott took the ethically easy road in this story, the ramifications remain no less important as multiple states attempt to restrict or ban access to abortions and to make providing abortions as complicated and dangerous as possible for health care practitioners. It is also a frightening reminder–or education–of the liberties the medical establishment would take in sterilizing women they deemed ‘unfit’–usually women who were poor and/or of color.

Unlike prior books, this is relatively fast-paced, taking place over a short time period. As usual, there’s a side mystery, but this time Nelscott doesn’t allow Smokey to get too far bogged down in the details. Atmosphere is nicely developed, from the tension-filled hospital waiting room to the dangerous tightrope Smokey walks with the gangs. Laura and Smokey have better settled into their relationship, but Smokey remains troubled and challenged by Jimmy. The ending is satisfying but somewhat ethically ambiguous.

Overall a satisfying mystery read that also provides the reader with insight into challenges faced by a black man and his friends in a time of tremendous cultural upheaval.

Three and a half stars, rounding up for the unique setting.

 

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Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews

Bayou Moon

Read April 2016
Recommended for fans of dark UF with a romance twist
★     ★     ★    1/2

Ilona Andrews books are the work of a solid writing team, and though I tend to avoid most paranormal romance, I thought it was time to give their Edge series a try. On the Edge (review) went well, though it seemed a bit Kate Daniels Lite–milk chocolate version. Bayou Moon, on the other hand, is Kate Daniels Special Dark–dark chocolate version.

It begins with William, the wolf-shape changer from On the Edge. It’s a couple years later and he’s hanging in the Broken, working flooring jobs and drinking beer. A noble from the Weird comes to see him and enlist him in the cause to bring down the lead spymaster for the opposing team. William’s unable to resist the offer, as he’s been on William’s personal to-kill list for years. At the same time, Cerise is working to keep her family’s fiances together when her parents disappear. They live in a multi-generation household in The Mire, an Edge area known for extensive swamps and a very insular lifestyle. Apparently the family’s arch-enemies have decided to re-open the feud by laying claim to her grandparent’s old house. She needs to journey to the Broken to retrieve some documents. Her return trip and William’s entry into the Mire coincide. They work together to navigate the Mire, and on their respective missions, dancing around their attraction for each other.

Narrative flows fairly smoothly, largely with alternating viewpoints between William and Cerise, with occasional intrusions by the Spymaster. Plot moves fairly fast and is generally straightforward, with heavy emphasis on action scenes. There is a significant amount of physical fighting in this book with particular techniques described.

The setting is clearly modeled on the marshy, changeable waterways of deep swamps and is always atmospheric. Both William and Cerise have a connection to the natural world, although for different reasons, and their likes and dislikes of the area help bring it alive. The world-building is generally solid with more focus on the weird creatures than on personal magic or spells. However, there’s some mutation-type magic employed by the Spymaster and his country that adds a fearsome, freaky angle to the story. There’s some mildly confusing Weird politics between the two countries and their spy agencies, the Hand and the Mirror, that play into the reasons for hunting the Spymaster. It’s awkwardly integrated largely because William and Cerise are generally apolitical and insular, although for different reasons.

As always with Andrews, characterization and characters stand out. William’s dual nature is given a realistic feel as he continually works to understand human cues and maintain ‘normal’ responses (much like many introverted people, I might add). Cerise’s extended family is very idiosyncratic with enough development to make the reader unsure of allegiance, and even those with brief appearances provide interest. Unlike the Kate Daniels series, body count of both friend and foe is high–these are life-and-death matters, so there’s an appropriate cost. It might be a shock to those fans of Daniels who rarely encounter a death of characters on the side of ‘good.’

For me, it was a solid diversion. I wanted an immersive read in an interesting world without intellectual or emotional commitment. For fans of romance, I’m not entirely sure it would satisfy; because both Cerise and William are who they are, it takes a long time for them to acknowledge their mutual attraction. On the other hand, as a non-romance reader, I appreciated the relatively uncomplicated romance structure. It also has almost equal emphasis on action/fighting. Overall, enjoyable and slightly more intriguing than On the Edge.

 
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