The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

               With the holiday season fast approaching, there isn’t a lot of time to research a bunch of books in order to fill up those Nooks and Kindles for the long vehicular travels or rare moments of solitude away from the family.  Look no further, peeps, because for this December 3rd edition, I’ll be giving you a 3-for-1 review to give you a quick breakdown of which books will make you jolly and a few that have been real naughty.

The Good: Steel’s Edge by Ilona Andrews
Ace Fantasy, November 2012

Steel’s Edge is the final novel of four in Ilona Andrews’ The Edge series.  If you’ve read my last two articles, you know I’m a pretty big fan of Ilona Andrews’ work and The Edge series is no exception (I devoured this one in a four hour mad dash).  It differs from their main Kate Daniels series by being more romance-centered and follows a new female protagonist from book to book who interacts (and typically falls in love) with favorite characters from previous books.  Steel’s Edge introduces Charlotte, an incredibly powerful healer, who was married for three years before her noble born husband dumped her when she couldn’t produce an heir.  She ran to the Edge where she was taken under the wing of Eleanor and comes in contact with the very handsome and Edge-born, Richard, who has been working to bring down the illegal slave trade.  Charlotte, forsaking her healer’s oathe, uses the double edge of her unique magic to help Richard.  It’s a mushy romance to it’s core, but it’s a damn good one with some kickass frosting of espionage, snark, and sexy-times piled on top.

Rating:

Plot Sword – Andrews always has a very good blend between action and romance.  Charlotte and Richard made a believable couple, which carried the motivations for the basic plot.  The story definitely slowed down half-way through the novel and read more as a summarized wrap-up of the series.
Characters Sword – I thoroughly enjoyed the freshness of Charlotte’s character and although Richard echoed the same narrative traits as William from Book #2, he acted as a good foil for Charlotte.  I felt like the presence of past characters was a little too forced to have not been complete fanservice (ditto for a couple of villains who appeared for a final cameo).
Creativity Magic – Ilona Andrews is the master of world-building.  There’s nothing Weird, Edged, or Broken about the it. Despite the fantastic nature of these books, it’s based in very concrete ideas of family, loyalty, greed, and sacrifice that make it feel so real.
Unreality Rating Sword – Truth is Ilona Andrews ended this series because it was taking time away from Kate Daniels.  It was the right choice because even though The Edge was endlessly endearing, it was the weaker series.  Steel’s Edge was satisfying, but not the kind of magic I know Andrews is capable of.

The Bad: Skinwalker by Faith Hunter
Roc Books, July 2009

If you remember, my Wishlist had the Jane Yellowrock series as ‘On my Shelf’ for later reading so I could catch up to Book #5, which was released this October and I had been looking forward to stocking up my ‘strong female lead’ collection.  Suffice to say, I need not put the series on my actual Christmas list.  It featured Jane Yellowrock, a hard woman whose badassness is bone deep, while the scars of her past lay just beneath the surface.  As a skinwalker, she can change into any animal form, but has a special connection with Beast, who is an independent entity within her that gives her both the shape of a mountain lion and the mind of one.  This was an AWESOME premise.  However, it ended up being a book that although I did not dislike reading, suffered from a lot of technical problems.

Rating:

Plot Misfire – The author heavy-handedly weaved in so many different plots and foreshadowing that I lost focus on what exactly was interesting about the story.  Also, most of the plot revolves around being too late to save someone close by, shifting into a mountain lion to sniff things, and for whatever reason, going out and dancing instead of investigating or saving the person who was actually in the same room as her.
Characters Dagger – I like Jane Yellowrock and how she interacts with her shared animal-spirit, Beast (though I can see the novelty wearing off pretty quick in the next installments).  The rest of the cast, however consisted of  male cardboard cutouts: “professional colleague friend”, “interesting, sexually attractive vampire”, “interesting sexually attractive non-vampire”, and “interesting, sexually attractive guy who will obviously become the love interest.”
Creativity Hammer – Hunter tries so hard to be interesting and there were so many promising points to this story.  Jane’s murky past, Jane’s teasingly described more recently history, the supernatural science of skinwalking, “out” vampires and witches were all mentioned in passing, but never developed enough to really grab me.
Unreality Rating Misfire – There was nothing to recommend the next book in the series.  It had no interesting secondary characters and no long-term plot-points I found anything but lukewarm.  What is there to look forward to but more skinwalking and more investigating, which were so amply overdone in this scattered and underdeveloped introductory novel?

The Ugly: Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
Plume, June 2010

Clint Eastwood may have left Skinwalker alive, but I’m sure he would have enjoyed shooting Bitten repeatedly into the grave.  Bitten follows the life of Elena Micahaels, who is the world’s only female werewolf, but has detached herself from the werewolf community in order to have a successful career in the city as a journalist and nab an inhumanly patient fiance.  Another promising premise with little to no payout.  There is a lot of drama, but even that is developed poorly and revolves around a romance that I wasn’t buying and half wanted to report to the police.  Armstrong lacked the finesse and voice to make an enchanting romance and interesting story.  I’m almost tempted to say that for what Twilight did to vampires, Bitten did with werewolves.  It’s become a popular trope that relies on audience interest rather than strong writing to carry it.

Rating:

Plot Misfire – For me this book read as, “She is currently doing this, but this happens so she does this, but then this happens, so she does this.”  She’s living in the city, but gets a call, so she goes to the werewolf house, then wants to go back, but there’s a meeting, so she does stuff with them instead.  The book seriously gets no more intense, involved, or in depth than this.
Characters Curse – Armstrong’s characters belong in a sitcom.  Elena, despite being a strong, independent woman with magic powers, has relationship issues.  The rest relies on familiar male stereotypes.  A mysterious, but protective father figure, a bunch of protective, cool and quirky male friends who don’t objectify Elena.  An ex-boyfriend who understands Elena’s werewolfness and is more adventurous and cool than her boring, human fiance.  Good, other than the relationship needing a dubcon warning.
Creativity Misfire – The first few pages of this book are a blatant trap. You get the impression you might be reading a Patricia Briggs novel, but it quickly dissolves into drama.  Just drama.  Shifting isn’t explained, the were-politics lack depth.  I almost feel like the Mercy Thompson series is prerequisite reading in order to establish Elena’s world as the same thing, but written like a soap opera.
Unreality Rating Curse – Bottomline, it’s a poorly written werewolf romance.  Occasionally, Armstrong attempts to beat the dead horse with melodrama.  Do yourself a favor, avoid this novel like the plague and go pre-order Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs.
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