1. Spider’s Bite (September 29, 2010)
2. Web of Lies (September 29, 2010)
3. Venom (September 29, 2010)
4. Tangled Threads (April 26, 2011) – 4.5 out of 5
5. Spider’s Revenge (October 2011)
Author: Jennifer Estep
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang – 4.5 out of 5
Length: 10:19, available on audible here
FTC Disclosure: Audible Frontiers has graciously provided me with an audio version of this book for reviewing purposes. Aside from this courtesy copy, I have received no payment or services in exchange for this review.
Ashland, a fictional southern city located in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, is a place where trolls, giants, dwarves, and vampires live side-by-side with humans. Among them are elementals, people with control over air, fire, ice, or stone, or sub-powers in between. This city is filled with crooked politicians, crooked cops, desperate gamblers, drug pushers, self-entitled rich, prostitute vampires, and assassins who’d take out anybody for the right price. And all this is owned by one Mab Monroe. By day, Mab is a generous socialite philanthropist. By night, she is a power-hungry tyrant, the head of a crime empire that holds Ashland in a vice-like grip.
Mab, a fire elemental, has reduced many a family to ash in her quest to remain on top. Genevieve Snow’s family was just another statistic. When Genevieve was 13, Mab received a prophecy that one of the Snow daughters, a dual stone and ice elemental, would be the end of her. Convinced that girl destined to kill her was Genevieve’s youngest sister, Bria, Mab killed Genevieve’s mother and her oldest sister. Genevieve tried to protect Bria from Mab. She hid her. She withstood torture. She had her silver-stone spider rune burned into her palms. But when she heard Bria scream, sure that Mab’s men found her sister, Genevieve used her stone power to collapse the house. Believing she had buried Bria in the rubble, torn by guilt and sorrow, Genevieve Snow died that night. Born out of Mab’s ashes was Gin Blanco, the anonymous and elusive Spider, an elemental assassin.
Ashland, the Sin City of the South:
Now retired from the assassination business, Gin is known in Ashland as the owner of the Pork Pit and nothing more. Her identity as the Spider is a secret, and the Spider’s services are no longer for sale. They are earned. In the last three books, after Gin discovered that Mab was the fire elemental who killed her family, the Spider officially declared war on Mab and her organization. It’s Christmas in Ashland, all the Spider wants for Christmas is Mab’s head on a pole. That feeling is mutual. Mab has hired a new assassin, Elektra LeFleur. Elektra’s to do list is somewhat simple: 1. Kill the Spider, Gin’s alterego; 2. Kill Detective Bria Coolidge, Gin’s youngest sister who doesn’t know Gin’s true identity; and 3. Kill Gin Blanco, the owner of the Pork Pit who stood up to Mab’s attorney. That bumps Elektra LeFleur to the top of the Spider’s to do list. Also on the list is saving a young girl from becoming a forced prostitute under Mab’s newest project by the train yards. Somewhere on that list is trying to connect with Bria, maybe even letting that detective know that Gin the restaurant owner is actually her older sister, a notorious assassin. Also on that list, between all the killing, Gin must figure out what to do with her 2-week relationship with the gorgeous Owen Grayson and how to get past the wreck that was her relationship with the conflicted Donovan Caine.
I know, I know. I need to stop harping on the plot, but I just can’t help myself. It’s such a fantastic story. I am blown away by the fantastical elements, such as the giant enforcers, Elektra’s power to electrocute people from afar, and Gin’s budding use of her ice element (I don’t want to give away how this comes into play in the story, but it’s pretty awesome). Tangled Threads has the same twists, turns and conflicts that the listener has come to expect from the previous three audiobooks. And of course there are so many excellent characters and developments. I feel like I’m not doing the book justice by not mentioning more about the incredible Deveraux sisters, the ever-smooth Finnegan Lane, the gorgeous vampire/madam Roslyn, or Owen’s feisty sister, Eva.
Some urban fantasy series are known for their mise-en-scène. Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mystery series is a good example. When you listen to the Sookie Stackhouse books, you can feel the Louisiana summer with that muddy Bayou humidity and you can practically smell the blood in the air. The Elemental Assassin series has its own mise-en-scène. And don’t be fooled by the southern accent. This is nothing like True Blood. Spider’s Bite, Web of Lies, Venom, and now Tangled Threads present a neo-noir hyper-reality that’s on par with the caliber of violence and villain in darker graphic novels, from Gotham to Sin City. When you listen through the parts of these audiobooks that describe how Gin lived on the street, the crack in the wall where she’d hide as a homeless 13-year-old behind the Pork Pit, the description of the opera house, of Mab’s opulent home, of Northern Aggression, Roslyn’s chic vampire brothel, you can smell the barbecue smoke in the air of the southern metropolis, you can hear the gunfire, taste the grime, you can see the black-and-white limos drive past the homeless and feel that deep-seated sense of urban decay down to the bone. Overall, this series is an incredible listen.
Her Russian accents aren’t great but, boy, can Lauren Fortgang do a southern drawl. Her voices aren’t consistently distinct, but they are fun. When Lauren Fortgang reads as Jo-Jo Deveraux, her voice is as soft, sticky, and sweet as salt-water taffy. When she reads Finn, her smooth words will curl your toes. I usually don’t find women reading men hot, but well, don’t believe me? Listen to the 30-second sample on audible.com here. Generally speaking, the reading’s a bit slow, but it’s the South, so there’s no rush. Overall, it definitely works. Nota bene: Lauren Fortgang has also narrated Jennifer Armintrout's Blood Ties series.