Tour’s Books Blog

March 4, 2013

Urban Fantasy Week

Why is it that many Urban Fantasy (UF) books are released around the same time?  Maybe it’s just the series I read run in bunches.  Anyway, this seemed like my week for UF.  Some good, some WTF moments, and some leaving me wanting more.

Maybe I should take a moment and explain just what good urban fantasy (UF) is – and isn’t.  Look it up in Wikipedia and it will tell you it’s ‘define by place’, namely an urban setting.  To me, it’s a little broader than that, but yeah, setting come into play.  Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series is usually considered a perfect example of UF, yet he uses true fantasy worlds in addition to urban setting through his series.  Usually the territory of science fiction writers, and occasionally cross-over mystery writers, the surge in women readers has lead to a kind of subset to the typically noir UF.  It’s romance writers and lighter fantasy writers that are now pushing the sales in UF.  And that translates into a style that is less Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder and more Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles – and maybe a bit of Janet Evanovich’s Steph Plum thrown in.  Tough women, but female leads and with a more romance, or at least emotional turmoil – and often using the two guy choice plot device – tiresome, but frequent.

So I have 3 UF’s and a paranormal romance for you this week.

Black City

Black City by Christina Henry is the the fifth book in the Black Wings series with lead character Madeline Black, former Agent of Death, escort of the newly departed to the doors that lead to the afterlife.  She is also many time great-granddaughter of Lucifer, widow of Gabriel, mother-to-be, and budding slayer of evil.  She’s high on the hit list of Tatiana, Queen of the Fairies, because she publicly diminished Oberon her king.  She also in the Agency’s hit list, even though they stripped her of her wings, because she’s causing havoc.  And what Maddy is turning into has her guardian gargoyle concerned she’s headed for ‘the darkside’ of her power.

Maddy destroyed Azazel, her father, and thought she destroyed his experiments, vampires that had been given the blood of angels so they could walk in the sun.  But suddenly thousands of vamps storm into Chicago in broad daylight laying waste to the human population in downtown.  The Agency refuses to intercede, they only escort the spirits of the dead, they won’t stop the slaughter even though they have the means.  Maddy does all she can, but it’s not enough.  Then Therion, King of the Vampires offers the humans a deal, he’ll call off the killing if they hand over Maddy Black.

Now Maddy has another enemy to run from, all the damn bounty hunters out to get her.  And all the while dealing with her ever cunning grandfather Lucifer and the capricious Puck.  In getting through yet another attempt by Tatiana to kill her, by capturing J.B. her former boss, a Fairy king and someone who loves her, she also reveals to Tatiana’s son his true father – the same father that Nathaniel has.  And discovers how and why Lucifer has been a ‘naughty, naughty boy.’  And the price he extracts from Maddy for his aid.

For a fairly short book, Christina Henry packs in a lot of story, mostly about how ambiguous good and evil, right and wrong, can be, while continuing to grow Maddy’s powers.  Entertaining to be sure, with a huge cast of characters, but lacking the power, depth, and detail of really great UF.

Black City was purchased from Amazon for $6.00 with the 4-for-3 discount.  My score is B- (3.8*) and recommended for fans of the series.  Since all books in this series are short, try buying them used or borrow them.  A good series, fast, easy reads, and entertaining without the kind of rich complexity that Jim Butcher or other UF authors have.  It is, however, sufficiently original and well dome to worth the time and effort to find and read the whole series.  Books should be read in order as each ends with a ‘cliffhanger’.  Fans of Kitty Norville and Cassie Palmer will enjoy this one.

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Dead Letter Day

Next up is Dead Letter Day by Eileen Rendahl, which unlike the earlier books in the Messenger series, was released in the more reasonably priced MMPB size.  Good thing too, because this was a strange read.  It isn’t often you read a UF book that leaves you wondering if there will be recipes in the back, like many cozies have.

Paul, the boyfriend of Melina’s friend, Meredith, and kind of the cool ‘uncle’ she never had who helped her get used to the whole world of Arcanes for she was a messenger, has gone missing.  Meredith is beside herself with worry and even Mel is concerned.  Concerned enough she approaches the pack Alpha, Chuck, to ask if he knew anything.  Werewolves were not generally a friendly bunch, but she Chuck got along.  Like many Arcanes, he was very long lived, so that meant moving himself and his pack to a new location every 10-20 years.  They were coming due for that move.  Paul was important, but whether he would move or stay with Meredith, remained a question.  Beyond that, Chuck was worried – especially about the strange reports of werewolves in a kind of half shift that real werewolves never had.  They had been seen by ‘Danes, mundanes being the word used for those with no arcane ability.

Mel’s boyfriend, Ted Goodnight, is a cop in the Sacramento police department and being the good guy he is, he helps Mel question the people who reported the sightings.  No question, something very strange was out there and it had bitten a cop who was now in a psych ward obviously half infected.  Mel ends up back with Chuck telling him the not so good news, because the werewolves would to get the guy out before the next full moon, just in case.  In investigating Paul’s cabin with a helpful werewolf, she finds a strange silver web mounted between two sicks set like trap in the word behind his house.  No one knows what the hell it is or who could have made it – though it was obviously meant to hurt or disable a werewolf.

Now all this sounds good, except through it all, is woven a major plot line involving Mel being pregnant and mother/daughter relationships, and the meaning of family – the whole teary eyed thing.  Even the solution is all about mother and children -in a twisted, disturbed way.  Honestly, at times the whole feel of the book was not UF, but paranormal cozy.  And one more family meal and I would have been screaming.  Half way through I was pretty fed up and to be honest, the plot involving the missing Paul and who was involved was obvious.

Dead Letter Day was kind of tedious and dull after a decent start.  The whole storyline felt less like it was evolving characters and plots than it was changing tracks altogether, and not in any good way.  This was never a strong series, but this entry was weak and very predictable.

My grade for Dead Letter Day is C- (2.8*) and not recommended for anyone but die hard fans.  I paid $6.01 in the Amazon 4-for-3 pre-order pricing and I consider it a waste of money.  If you must, try for used copy or borrow it from a friend.  This series might just have a fork stuck in it – it’s toast.

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River Road

From the bad to really good with the second installment of the Sentinels Of New Orleans, River Road, by new author Suzanne Johnson.  Her mature and well developed writing style is no doubt the result of her long background in editing and publishing periodicals.  But what I like the best is her characters.  Book 1, Royal Street, introduced Drusilla Jaco, DJ, a wizard of the Green Congress with some elven blood – and the daughter of a man she always thought her mentor, not her father, Gerry.  With his death in the final battle in the Beyond, DJ became the only wizard Sentinel in New Orleans.  It was a big job made bigger by the fact that Katrina, Rita and Gerry had combined to tear down many of the boundaries between this world and the Beyond.

Book two picks up the story three years later.  New Orleans is recovering, but still has vast areas of nothing but ruins.  And lot of trouble with things that are crossing the Boundary – and one of them is the charming and handsome pirate, Jean Lafitte.  DJ owes him big time, having promised almost anything for help during the Katrina crisis, and now he’s called her.  With some dread, DJ goes to Lafitte’s suite at the Monteleone hotel and learns he needs her Sentimental skills to resolve a problem between mer-clans in Plaquemines Parish.  He is in business with the Delachaise clan who are having trouble with another merclan who just came into the area.  Like the Delachaises, the Villiers have no love of wizards, but someone or something is poisoning the water and before a clan war starts, someone has to figure out what’s going on – and that someone is DJ.  He also wants to cash in on her extravagant promises – Jean Lafitte wants a dinner date with her.  Now all she has to do is tell her co-sentinel, FBI agent and shifter, Alex Warin.

DJ and Alex have kept a professional distance for the last 3 years.  Not only is he co-sentinel, he makes more money and isn’t even a wizard, two facts that chafe DJ no end.  And there’s the little fact that he and Lafitte get on like oil and water – and they can’t even kill each other.  What Ms Johnson delightfully refers to as a ‘homicidal stand-off’.

The visit to Plaquemines includes a stolen Corvette (Lafitte’s work, of course), a tense and difficult meeting with the heads of the two clans over lunch – mers apparently have prodigious appetites for seafood – and an excursion to the area with the contaminated water – where Villiers is waiting with a shotgun and a very dead body.  Now DJ has angry mer clans giving her just days to figure out what’s going on with the water, she also has two dead Green Congress wizards, both killed with knives.  And a date with a pirate.  And one with Alex’s cousin Jake, a Afghan war vet who got caught in the battle in Beyond and turned loupe garou – a notoriously unstable type of werewolf, who’s taking her to dinner and the a performance by a famous Cajun musician.  Oh, and a date with Alex where she has to pretend to have been his girlfriend for the last 3 years – and she has to meet his formidable mother.  Life was easier when she had no social life.

It gets more complicated when DJ performs a ritual that would be frowned on to get the water problem solved.  And it gets even worse when the boss for the North American wizards shows up and rather hesitantly informs her the elves know she has a staff, the one she named ‘Charlie’, made by their elders – and it isn’t some ordinary staff.  But it has ‘chosen’ her and can only be used by her, at least as long as she lives.  Isn’t that just dandy news?

Ms Johnson weaves her tale with a sure hand, and despite a few minor flaws, this story was so readable I could not put it down.  In fact, I went back re-read the book, not something I do often.  Her humor, characters, atmosphere, world building, and plot combine to make a highly recommended read.  Besides, I think I have a crush on Jean Lafitte.

River Road gets a rare A- (4.5*) from me.  As a series, Sentinels of New Orleans gets a strong recommended read for any UF fan, especially those who liked early Sookie Stackhouse and Harry Dresden.  I bought the book through an Amazon re-seller as new for $10.00 for the hardcover.  Trade paperback will be published June 25 and is currently discount priced at $10.19.  My copy is destined for my keeper shelf, next to Jim Butcher’s books.

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Immortal Ever AFter

Well, from one extreme to another – the next book is Immortal Ever After, #18 in the Argeneau Vampire series by Lynsay Sands.  What can said about this book?  Really good beginning. ………… hummm……… OK that’s about it.  Thereafter, the operative word is ‘trite’, maybe ‘boring’.  Yes people, he suddenly tastes food and likes it a lot!  A rogue is out to get her back.  She thinks vamps aren’t real.  Can he convince her they’re ‘lifemates’?  If it all sounds familiar, it should.  Different villain  same story.

That’s it.  As boring as most Regency romances, and filled with past characters who make brief appearances, mostly for no apparent reason other than the author wanted them there.  A plot as predictable as sunrise and characters that lacked, well, character.

OK, before the Argeneau vampire lovers come and try to stake, allow me to say that I re-read Single White Vampire just before I read  Immortal Ever After.    No comparison.   Yes, there are some highly contrived plot elements in SWV, but it’s the characters that stand out.  Valerie and Anders are just variations on her past 3 books.  Valerie had a lot of potential, but frankly, 10 years in a relationship and never getting a commitment?  Seriously, what sane woman would do that?  Especially an educated and apparently independent woman she is portrayed as?  Anders just is not a strong character.  he rather bland.  That true of far too many of Ms Sands males lead.  Lucern, Lucian, and Victor stood out the most for me.   The Accidental Vampire was fluff but fun and really lively and entertaining.

Valerie is captured and held in a tiny cage in the basement of an old house.  Six other women are there as well.  Once a day food is given them.  After the first week she realizes the food is drugged and dumps it rather than eat it.  Then her day to be ‘chose’ rolls around and plays drugged until she can attack the henchman she nickname Igor.  Despite years of martial arts training, it isn’t til she drives a broken piece of wood into his heart that she can escape.  She calls 911 for help and leaves the line open when she hears the ‘master’ drive into the garage.  Weak from blood loss and lack of food, she climbs out the window and manages to crawl to a bush.  That’s where Anders finds her.

Enforcers monitor police calls and immediately went to house.  They got there after the police, but wiped their memories and sent them away.  In addition to the six women in the basement, one already dead and the other dying later, they found a pile of dead bodies, all female.  They had a rogue, and a bad one.

The one thing missing was ‘Igor’.  Apparently he too was a vampire and saved by his ‘master’.  The rogue had chosen his victims carefully, women with no families or local friends to miss them.  It’s how he stayed hidden for so long.  But he wants Valerie back.  She’s ‘his’.  Apparently, he’s not only a rogue, he’s also an egomaniac and not real bright.  The fact that Valerie gets captured again does speak well for the Argeneau’s or her.  Actually, everyone was acting dumb.  It must have been contagious.

There are several plot disconnects, like a ‘Renaissance portrait’ and the guy was a WWI soldier who was accidentally turned.  And frankly, not a lot of excitement, mostly just dull to ‘meh’.

Immortal Ever After  was weak entry in an uneven series and profoundly missable, so save your money.  Not recommended despite the high rating on Amazon.  My grade is D (1.8*) and let me tell you, I don’t do that often.  If you need an Argeneau fix, go read The Accidental Vampire.  This was another Amazon purchase under now gone 4-for-3 program and about $6.oo.  $5.90 more than it was worth.  Unless you are a die hard fan, and willing to tolerate drivel, skip it.

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