Tour’s Books Blog

October 4, 2009

Book Review: Vicious Circle by Linda Robertson

  • Title: Vicious Circle
  • Author: Linda Robertson
  • Type: Urban Fantasy Suspense
  • Genre: Witch turns detective and more
  • Sub-genre: Ensemble Series
  • My Grade: B-(3.8*)
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Where Available: Everywhere books are sold

Persephone Alcmedi, Seph to friends and family, is not just another Stephanie Plum clone, although the reader could be forgiven for initially thinking Vicious Circle feels like Stephanie Plum Does Harry Dresden.  It doesn’t help that the characters share so much in common.  The most obvious similarities are age, relative financial instability, batty grandmother (Nana) who isn’t quite as batty as she is cantankerous, an oversized and not really wanted puppy, a friendly personality, a desire to see the right thing done regardless of how prudent that might be, and finding herself in dangerous situations for which she is vastly unqualified that she tries to brazen her way through.  She also has a fair dollop of Harry Dresden in her need to saved the innocent, not unexpected given she has a deep attachment to Arthurian legends and its paladins.   Like Steph Plum, she also has a ‘boyfriend’, or a man who would like to be her boyfriend/lover, wærewolf rock singer Johnny – no last name needed.  A tattooed, motorcycle riding, 6 foot 2 inch, body pierced, Goth/punk rocker, black leather clad wærewolf who would sincerely like to make whoopee with her.  As appealing and familiar as this is, it’s all just superficial.  This is not a mystery nor is it played for laughs.

Born to a family of witches, Seph was abandoned by her mother as a child and raised by her maternal grandmother.  She now makes ends meet by doing tarot readings and writing a newspaper column that’s carried in several papers, as well as any freelance writing jobs she can find.  She has a deep attachment to Arthurian legends and in some ways she ends up with the feel of a paladin – a knight errant.  As a witch, she has the Rede to guide her as a kind of moral compass, though she’s concerned she’s a bit more morally flexible on some things than she should be.  She also has totems, spirit guides that to act as part teacher and part psychologist and allow the protagonist to talk through not just her troubles, but also her  reasoning, discovering answers along the way.  As the book is written in the first person, this plot device is very helpful in allowing the reader to see Seph’s logic and her inner struggles with her course of action.

The first hundred pages or so of the book slowly builds the world in which this series takes place and sets the parameters for the story.  Wæres are out in the open, as are vampires and witches, though witches are seen as human and not ‘other’.  The wære virus is feared by humans (think AIDS hysteria on steroids) and thanks to a combination of political wrangling and insurance industry intransigence, law enforcement, emergency medical response, and medical professionals are allowed to ignore murdered wære, and can refuse to treat them, even in the case of life or death.  A law created 18 months earlier effectively created a two class society.  Wæres were stripped of their rights.  It doesn’t help that rogue wæres indiscriminately bit people, infecting them with the virus.  But Seph’s friends are all responsible and they kennel during the full moon, protecting themselves and others from their wolf nature and possible infection.

Nana has just moved  in with Seph, having been kicked out of the nursing home.  Nana hates wæres and this might be an issue because a good part of Seph’s income comes from kenneling them during the full moon.  Nana is feisty, forgetful, smokes, and like many old people, below the bluster, scared.  She and her grandmother are already squabbling and it isn’t even 7AM when the damn phone rings.  Vivian Diamond, the remarkably young high priestess of the WEC (Witches Elder Council) sanctioned coven in Cleveland, is calling Seph asking – demanding really – a meeting in one hour at a coffee shop.  Seph was never much of a joined and always avoided covens and the WEC politics.  Vivian loves it and wants to be the youngest member of the Council – and she wants Seph to help her.  Witches and wæres aren’t supposed to mix, but Seph has a lot of friends in the wære community and her news columns are ‘pro wære’ and intended to help educate humans. When Seph finally gets some of her paper she sees a friend of hers has been murdered, Lorrie Kordell, a wære.

Lorrie Kordell and Seph became friends over time when Lorrie kenneled herself there once a month.  Lorrie’s daughter didn’t have the wære virus, so whenever she came to kennel at Seph’s, Beverly stayed with Seph and she and the girl became close.   Seph gave Lorrie what counseling she could, but the relationship between witch and wære was difficult thanks to how their powers worked in sync with the lunar phases.  Awhile back Lorrie moved closer to to Cleveland and according to Vivian, she acted as a kind of councilor to Lorrie.  Vivian goes on to claim the Council of Elders has been employing an enforcer to ‘remove’ any “Other” they deem   a danger to the greater group or a violation of the Laws.  Seph is at frst disbelieving, then Vivian drops her bomb.  Lorrie told her Sephs secret – that she accidentally killed Lorrie’s stalker, druggie ex-boyfriend.  It’s just unsupported hearsay but it’s frightening.  Seph gets an even bigger shock when Vivian offers her money to kill the Council’s assassin turned vigilante – $200,000 to do the job, cash.  She’s no killer, and certainly no assassin, but finding out Lorrie made Vivian Beverly’s guardian pushed her to consider the offer and finally accede.  All she gets is a name – Goliath Kline.

Septh asks a wære friend and investigator to check out Goliath,  That night her wære friend is run off the road and nearly killer.  Once her wære status is found out, the hospital throws her out and Seph, Johnny and two other wæres must care for the critically injured wære until the next full moon when shifting to wolf will ‘cure’ her.  What the others don’t know is her friend whispered to her that accident was no accident.  Goliath tried to kill her.  Two nights later Goliath shows up at Seph’s house, but by then she acquired ‘insurance’ in a very unexpected way.  Now she wæres and witches inside and vampires outside.  Can this get more complicated?  Yes.

It rapidly becomes apparent that no one is entirely what they seem.  The story that unfolds is one of self exploration and emerging destiny for Seph and several of the Others, especially Johnny.  About 2/3’rds of the way through, the book takes a rather dark turn.  Much of Vicious Circle is about the ethical dilemmas that  Seph must deal in her belief in the Rede’s ‘harm none’ creed verses the greater good and also the necessity to right a wrong she feels responsible for.  Her naïveté is not quite believable nor is the initial error in judgment that set her on a collision course with a cunning, tricky and very powerful master vampire, nor is her surprise at learning the truth about Vivian.  The sub-plot involving her association with 3 high school ‘friends’ is more distracting than really useful.  There are things left dangling here and there throughout, but most noticeable at the end.  The story also lacks the breadth, complexity and depth of Harry Dresden, but this is a first book by Ms Robertson, so she has some maturing to do as a storyteller.   Vicious Circle hooked me in 10 pages flat, but between the mixed signals and disconnect in mood between the initial setup and the somewhat unsatisfying last 70 pages or so, it missed the initial promise of being a great book and became a good one.  I just hope that Seph doesn’t turn into a two-dimensional avenging crusader.  Kudos to author Linda Robertson for a remarkable first effort.  A worthwhile read.

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