Monday, February 28, 2011

Pale Demon - Rachel Morgan/the Hollows Series, Book 9

  1. Dead Witch Walking (April 2004)
  2. The Good, the Bad, and the Undead (January 2005)
  3. Every Which Way But Dead (June 28, 2005)
  4. A Fistful of Charms (June 27, 2006)
  5. For a Few Demons More (March 20, 2007)
  6. The Outlaw Demon Wails (February 26, 2008)
  7. White Witch, Black Curse (February 24, 2009)
  8. Black Magic Sanction (February 23, 2010)
  9. Pale Demon (February 22, 2011) - 5 out of 5
AuthorKim Harrison
Narrator:   Marguerite Gavin - 4 out of 5

Rachel Morgan, a powerful witch with a genetic quirk that allows her to twist demon magic with her blood, is desperately trying to get her shunning removed by the Coven as a black witch.  If she fails, she will end up in the ever-after, living out her life among demons.  At the end of Black Magic Sanction, Rachel has reached a truce with the Coven that they will remove her shunning if she shows up at the Convention meeting in San Francisco in a month and beg forgiveness for using black magic.  In return, she'll keep secret that all witches are just stunted demons. Rachel has also reached an awkward truce at the end of Black Magic Sanction with Trent, a rich good-looking elf politician whom she made her demon familiar to rescue him from the ever-after, that he will cease trying to kill her if she removes her demon mark before the Convention.

At the beginning of Pale Demon, we're three days away from the Convention.  The Coven is doing everything in its power keep Rachel from the Convention, from placing Rachel on a no-fly list to trying to have her killed.  In the meantime, Trent, who still wears Rachel's mark, has a mysterious Elvin quest he must complete that requires him to travel to the West coast as well, but not by plane.  The result is this: a demon-witch, an elf, a pixy, and a living vampire; three days; one car. But surely, Rachel has a chance? Rachel's personal demon teacher, Algaliarept, says it best (at 10:30 hours of 18):
“You don’t have a rainbow’s chance in hell to get your shunning revoked. . . . You just traipsed across the continent, black magic spilling in your wake, freeing demons and destroying a national monument.  You knocked out a Coven member, kidnapped her, let her watch you use demon magic to fight of said freed demon. Twice.  Hell, girl, you burned down Margaritaville! . . . You are so screwed.”  

Incredible Internal Consistency:
A good book in any genre is internally consistent. It's a matter of editing and proofing. However, no one expects a series to be internally consistent. We're talking many years, sometimes a decade, of book after book.  Characters change; rules change.  Just think of Charlaine Harris's very excellent Southern Vampire Mystery series.  In the first book, Dead Until Dark, we're given a clear rule that if a corpse is not drained of blood, it wasn't killed by a vampire.  Bill explains that it's simply beyond a vampire's capability to leave a corpse without drinking its blood. However, in the fifth book, Dead as a Doornail, a vampire kills a man without touching his blood to frame a human.  Really, throughout the series there's plenty of non-snacking killings by vampires.  Five years later, Charlaine Harris cannot go back and edit out that one line from her first book. We understand that.  Moreover, that bit of inconsistency takes away nothing from the enjoyability of the later books.

Kim Harrison is shockingly consistent throughout the series.  Early in Pale Demon, Rachel is attacked by an elf for the first time with what she calls "wild magic."  The method of attack is kind of strange:  Rachel is attacked by elves singing. This is book nine, and while I listen to this, I'm thinking of my favorite scene from the series in book three, Every Which Way But Dead, where Trent saves Rachel from hypothermia.
"The car picked up speed, and the sound seemed to lull me. I could relax, I thought as I felt the tingling of circulation in my limbs. I was in Trent’s car, wrapped in a blanket, and held in his arms. He wouldn’t let anything hurt me. He wasn’t singing, though, I mused. Shouldn’t he be singing?"
When I first listened to Every Which Way But Dead, that last sentence stuck out for me. Why singing? Now I know. Kim Harrison was able to foreshadow a magical element in Pale Demon 6 years and 6 books ago. This is something that needs to be celebrated.

On Narration:
If you are familiar with Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series or the previous audiobooks in this series (with the exception of The Outlaw Demon Wails, which is narrated by Gigi Bermingham), you are well-acquainted with Marguerite Gavin's voice.  If not, she has a strong radio-like voice, which has a sing-song quality to it. It takes about an hour to get used to the cadence that draws out the end of sentences, but once you do, it becomes part and parcel of the way you hear the story.  She does fantastic accents and convincing male voices.  Also, Marguerite Gavin sings certain parts of the book that require it, which is quite a bonus.  She has a good singing voice and I don't suppose Kim Harrison actually had a song in mind when she wrote down what Trent sings.

Other Comments:
The lines are spectacular. The past few days I've gotten into the habit of saying things like "G-d bless it!" "Damn it back to the Turn." "Crap on toast!" and everything to do with Tink's diaphram, dildo, and being a Disney whore.  Basically, the quirky inside jokes are slowly taking over my everyday exclamations.

There are spoilers in this section, where I describe what happens to Rachel in the ever-after.  If you've already read this book or hate surprises, please see the rest by clicking below.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Penny for Molly Harper's Thoughts

A Brief Interview with Molly Harper, the Author of the Jane Jameson & Naked Werewolf series.

Bio:  Raised in Mississippi and Kentucky, Molly Harper graduated from Western Kentucky University with a bachelor's degree in print journalism. She worked for six years as a reporter and humor columnist; her reporting duties included covering courts, school board meetings, quilt shows, and once, the arrest of a Florida man who faked his suicide by shark attack and spent the next few months tossing pies at a local pizzeria. Molly lives in western Kentucky with her husband and daughter.

A Penny for Your Thoughts is a new feature on Lost Art Audio. It is similar to an author interview, except it is short, sweet, and focused on the audiobook.The first Penny for Your Thought comes from the author of recently reviewed How to Flirt with a Werewolf.  Muchos gracias to Molly Harper for taking to time to indulge my curiosity!

Read Lost Art Audio's review of How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf.

Q.   Have you given audiobooks a try? How about e-books and the like? Any preference? 
I adore listening to audiobooks. Here lately, the only way I can "read" is to listen to them on my morning and afternoon commutes. And I do listen to my own. I can experience the book in a way that makes it new to me, too. Other than print, it's my favorite format. I'm still getting used to e-books. 

Q.   The audiobook of How to Flirt With a Naked Werewolf is narrated by Amanda Ronconi, as are the three Jane Jameson novels. Even the non-preternatural And One Last Thing is narrated by Amanda Roncini. Are you acquainted with the actress? Have you ever met Ms. Roncini? 

I love Amanda Ronconi. She really "gets" my voice. I've never met her, though. I live in Paducah, KY, which is pretty much as far from the publishing world as you can get. If not for the internet and email, I'm not sure if I would be published!  

Q.   I'm sure you get this a lot, but your writing is hilarious. Have you ever done any stand-up comedy? Where did you develop your comedic style? Who are your favorite comedians?
Thanks! and no, I've never done stand up. I love it if I could, but I do not participate in any endeavors that involve public speaking. I panic in front of large crowds. (Because they're looking at me!) I become barely intelligible.

My comedic style can be blamed on my family. My parents have a very dry, sarcastic wit. And my writing voice is very much like my speaking voice. Some of my favorite comedians are Christopher Titus and Mitch Hedberg. Favorite Hedberg joke ever. "I wrote a screenplay and my friend read it and said I should re-write it. I said, 'F--- that, I'll just make a copy."

Q.    A little birdy told me that not only is there a 4th Jane Jameson book in the making, but two spin-offs with Half-Moon Hollow characters. Which characters? Any spoilers/teasers you're free to share? 

There WILL be a fourth Jane book published in March 2012. It's still untitled, and I can't tell you much beyond the fact that Jane and Gabriel will be planning their wedding... and you know that's not going to go smoothly. There will be two Half-Moon Hollow spin-off books, but I can't reveal anything about the plots. I can say that the characters will know Jane and she will appear in the books. But only as a background character.


Q.   I already mentioned that your preternatural books are hilarious, and I'm sure you know how rare that is. What gave you the idea of doing an urban fantasy comedy?
I've always been interested in the paranormal. I checked those "Mysteries of the Paranormal" non-fiction books out of the school library so many times that the librarian sent a concerned note home to my mom. I loved Buffy and Angel, any show that mixed humor and horror won my undying loyalty. So when I decided to write, it was a natural fit that I would write about the supernatural.  

Friday, February 25, 2011

How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf

“You bit me! . . . Again!”
“It’s a good thing. It means you’re mine. The scar is a public declaration. It means you’re my mate. It means no other wolf can claim you.  It means you’re under my protection and the protection of my pack. . . . It’s no different than me peeing on your door step.”
 “You peed on my door step!?”

  • How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf  (February 22, 2011) – 4 out of 5
  • The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf  (March 29, 2011)

Author:  Molly Harper
Narrator:   Amanda Roncini - 3 out of 5

A native of Mississippi who grew up under the oppressive home-schooled, granola-eating tyranny of two uber-hippie parents, soon-to-30-year-old Mo experiences a late quarter-life crisis and runs away to Grundy, Alaska, to discover herself.  She discovers herself stuck in the middle of a frozen winter wilderness, surrounded by starving werewolves.  Good thing Mo can cook!  In this romantic pseudo-mystery comedy, Mo and Cooper, Mo’s sexy yet surly self-exiled werewolf neighbor, fall in love and make peace with their respective families.

“What do you want from me, Maggie?  My advice? My Absolution?  Go forth, and be a bitch no more.”

Preternaturally Funny:
What sets Molly Harper’s writing apart from the typical urban fantasy/paranormal romance novel is her uniquely comedic voice. If you’re familiar with her Jane Jameson series, this will come as no surprise.  If you’re not, don’t drink anything while listening to this audiobook. Consider yourself warned.  Naked Werewolf relies mostly on hyperbole and absurd juxtaposition.  Mo’s parents aren’t just aging hippies – they own an organic vegan farm.  Mo’s mom refused to go to her college graduation because it would be giving into the man.  Mo’s mom once walked in on Mo and a guy getting it on, and instead of walking out, she started lecturing the couple on the positives of tantric sex.  Mo’s mom isn’t just overbearing, she calls Mo up at 3 a.m. every year on Mo’s birthday to re-tell the story of her water birth in graphic detail.  Something Mo’s college roommates really appreciated.

The comedy makes Naked Werewolf narrator-driven as opposed to plot-driven or even character-driven. In other words, it’s a bit slow on the action and heavy on the reminiscing.  Considered a cardinal sin for popular novel writing, Naked Werewolf starts out by giving the listener a full biography of Mo, from her birth, to her high school years, to why she’s in Alaska. Another cardinal rule broken, Molly Harper gives us at least a dozen similar characters for the usual residents of Grundy in the first few chapters.  I re-listened to that first hour of the audiobook before continuing on. Why?  Because it was just that funny.  I wasn’t lost, I wasn't confused. I just wanted to hear again about the guy who looks like Yosemite Sam, the guy who looks like Blue, and the waitress who looks like the girl next door “if you live next door to a cathouse.” I wanted to hear again about how Mo clawed her way to public school.  It’s like listening to Bill Maher’s Decider, lines from the audiobook kept popping into my head all day.  I wanted to hear it again badly enough to start over from the beginning. 

If you’re an avid listener in the genre, you’re used to audiobooks that start out with a bang, hook you in the action, keep you guessing, and take all-together a very short amount of time.  Not so with Naked Werewolf.  If you read the blurb summary from audible or amazon, you’ll know the foreshadowed pivotal event is Mo “find[ing] a naked guy with a bear trap clamped to his ankle on [her] porch.”  That scene comes 3 hours into the 9 hour book (about a 1/3 of the way, for those of you who can’t do fractions).  Also, the time line is different. An average Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan novel is a week long.  With Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mystery Series, by book seven, Sookie and Bill have known each other for only about three months. Naked Werewolf spans over a full, entire year.  It doesn’t take away from the action because, frankly, there’s not a lot of action.

"You know how some people just rub you the wrong way? 
Well. Cooper's my own personal sandpaper."

“Don’t take it personally . . .  Some people were just born with a pinecone shoved up their butts.  In Cooper's case, it's lodged sideways."

Other Comments:
As someone who loved the Jane Jameson series (and happens to be thrilled the 4th book is in the works!), I was pleasantly surprised by the leading male in Naked Werewolf.  For those of you who listened to Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, let’s be honest, Gabriel is not exactly a complex character.  When you close your eyes and someone says “master vampire love interest in romance novel” you picture Gabriel. That didn’t bother me much because, as mentioned above, narrator-driven novel, I’m just here for the chuckles.  However, with Cooper, Molly Harper added a much more dynamic character. Perhaps he goes from being a jerk to being a romantic lead in the blink of an eye, but there’s a certain complexity to his character, his past, and the way he interacts with his surroundings.

On Narration:
All of Molly Harper’s audiobooks, including this one, are narrated by Amanda Roncini.  Her voice is perfect for the part.  It’s light, slightly scratchy, not particularly accented – faintly tinted with something vaguely Southern.  Amanda Roncini does a great snarky voice for a snarky Mo, and she’s able to pull off the punch lines just right.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This Side of the Grave – The Night Huntress Series, Book 5

"A delicate balance stood centuries between vampires and ghouls. Along came the Red Reaper, who tipped that balance on little Cat feet."
Books:  Latest book in the series.
  1. Halfway to the Grave (2007)
  2. One Foot in the Grave (2008)
  3. At Grave's End  (2008)
  4. Destined for an Early Grave (2009)
  5. This Side of the Grave (2011) - 3 out of 5
AuthorJeaniene Frost  
Narrator:   Tavia Gilbert - 4 out of 5

Cat “Red Reaper” Crawfield was always special and she always hated it.  In Halfway to the Grave, we first meet Cat, a half-vampire (an offspring of a human woman and a vampire so recently turned his sperm still swims) who spent her college nights killing vampires for fun.  In One Foot in the Grave, Cat traded in her amateur status for a professional one, becoming a special agent secretly killing rogue vampires for the government.  At the end of Destined for an Early Grave, Cat hoped allowing her husband, master vampire Bones, to turn her into a full vampire would bring her into the fold, make peace, ease tensions.  How wrong she was.  Now, officially turned, Cat must hide an even bigger secret from the preternatural community.  The Red Reaper drinks blood.  Vampire blood.  And with that blood, she shares the powers of the most powerful among them.  In This Side of the Grave, Cat’s very existence tips the delicate balance of power between the vampires and ghouls.  Cat and Bones fight to take down a dangerous zealot before he incites a preternatural war.  

Forever and Always:
I can sum up the entire Night Huntress in this sentence: This is a love story. If you’re new to the series, go right for the first audiobook, Halfway to the Grave.  There Bones, the guy, clubs Cat, the girl, over the head and drags her to his cave where he chains her up, beats her up, and keeps her there until she learns to like him.  I’m not kidding. That’s a summary of the first few chapters and, my feminist sensibilities aside, it’s down-right romantic.

Enduring romance is something Jeaniene Frost does better than almost any author I can think of.  Most urban fantasy novels – heck, most any romance novels – center on the chase, the tension, the possibility, between the protagonist and the love interest actually coming together.  Rightfully so.  Think of The Nanny.  As long as there was the chase, there was a show.  Once the nanny became the wife, the show got canceled. In this series, marriage - however fanged - is the story.  Here, Cat and Bones hook up early and stay together.  See supra my caveman summary of the first book. It’s compelling, it’s possessive, and it’s immortal.  Oh, and it’s also pretty hot.  Jeaniene Frost knows how to write a sex scene, and Tavia Gilbert knows how to read one.  If you’re looking for a typical vampire love novel This Side of the Grave will not disappoint.  If you like your sex scenes with some fangs and a little blood, check out this audiobook after you’re done watching True Blood.

Other Comments:
I hate to say it, but there was something missing.  This Night Huntress book read more like one of the Night Huntress World books, the two spin-offs.  As I mention above, the love is there – it’s always there.  If that’s what you’re looking for, look no further.  But that’s not quite what I’m looking for.  I love this series for its suspense and action as well as for the romance.  In this book, there was a lack of real danger to anyone the listener cares about.  Cat & Bones must stop a war from happening, but no one the listener cares about is in danger of imminent death if they fail.  I know that a lot of vampires will die, and a lot of ghouls are getting hurt, but I don’t know these vampires, I don’t know these ghouls.  Overall, I enjoyed the story, but not quite as much as the earlier books in the series.

On Narration:
If you’ve never heard Tavia Gilbert read, you probably aren’t an avid audiobooks listener.  She has a young feminine voice that at-home for young adult novels.  Although this isn’t a YA novel, Tavia’s voice rings true for Cat.  Also, her Cockney accent is spot-on for Bones.  I mentioned already that she knows how to read a sex scene, and it bares repeating for an audiobook that is at times as graphic as this one.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Fever Series – Part II

Dreamfever and Shadowfever: Books of Revelations.
February 21, 2011

Books: Last two books in the series
  • Dreamfever (2009) - 3 out of 5
  • Shadowfever (2011) - 3.5 out of 5

Author: Karen Marie Moning  
Narrators:  Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante

In the beginning of Dreamfever, MacKayla Lane, the heroine previously summarized here, is in the hands of the Darroc, her dead sister’s former lover who commands the dark fea.  She has been reduced to pri-ya, unable to talk, with no sense of self.  Dani, a 13-year-old fellow-sidhe-seer, rescues her from Darroc and the dark fae.  All other sidhe-seers except Dani are convinced that Mac is a traitor to the cause, that she booby-trapped an object of power that was necessary to keep the walls up, helping Dublin fall victim to the dark fae.  It appears that some among the sidhe-seers are trying to have her killed when Jericho Barrons steals her away and restores her memory and sense of self.  Now, more than ever, Mac must find and contain the Sinsar Dubh, return her world back to normal, kill as many dark fae as possible, and take revenge on her sister’s murderer.  

The End is Nigh:
These two books are the books of Revelations in Mac’s world.  While the first three books in the series, reviewed here, take place in a typical urban fantasy world where preternatural creatures are hidden and unnoticed by everyday people, Dreamfever and Shadowfever are post-apocalyptic, taking place in a world fallen victim to the preternatural where fae no longer conceal with glamour hunt humans with reckless abandon. 

It was Halloween – and the end of Faefever, book three -  that became the day of reckoning, when the walls that separated our world and the world of the fae came tumbling down.  We start Dreamfever with 2 billion people dead.  The internet, electricity, and other major forms of infrastructures are broken for good. Karen Marie Moning describes four dark fae princes as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse by name.  Houses are empty, cars are empty, streets are empty.  Everything living, every bit of greenery in all of Dublin, has been devoured by shades – the lowest cast of the dark fae that can hide in people’s shoes and suck them into husks through one touch. The police become the Guardians, eating dark fae flesh so they can be a match against the dark fae.  The fae become the new vampire, a macabre latest attraction at nightclubs with willing humans trading sex, freedom, and will for the high of eating fae flesh. 

Dreamfever and Shadowfever are also the books of revelations because in these two books, especially the last, the listener receives the answers to questions raised in the beginning of the series.  The listener finally learns what Barrons is, why he wants the Sinsar Dubh, what's in his basement, how does he get there, where does he go during the day, why he can’t become emotionally involved with Mac, what’s his deal was with V’lane and his relationship with Ryodan.  The listener finally learns who Mac is, who was her mother, why the Sinsar Dubh wants her, why the grand mistress of the Sidhe-seers hates her, what the prophecies say about her, why V’lane’s really interested in her, why she has such unique gifts when it comes to sensing the book, and who actually killed her sister. 

The first three books are about 9 hours each.  However, Dreamfever is 12 hours long, while Shadowfever is almost 20 hours long.  Yes. 20 hours long. In other words, the last two books are longer than the first three, and the last book is absolutely huge (metaphysically speaking. As an audibook listener, I haven’t seen or held a book, but I'm assuming it's enormous).  As noted, I consider the last book as book of revelations, but I don’t quite understand why Karen Marie Moning held back so much until Shadowfever.  A lot of mysteries could have been revealed earlier on without hurting the impact of Shadowfever – such as why Barrons and V’lane hated each other, the nature of the Sinsar Dubh, the Dark Fae King’s reasons for creating it, maybe even why Barrons wanted the Sinsar Dubh to begin with.  Shadowfever has so many new mysteries, so many new twists and turns, that holding so much back doesn’t seem necessary. 

Also, Shadowfever elaborates on a few earlier characters in a way that makes you wish there was more of them, except the last book is too full of information to give more.  For example, one of the MacKeltars is described as a man burned in fire to be pure of heart – doesn’t it just scream “tell me more!”?  And Barrons apparently has 9 more men just like him, very reminiscent of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.  I’d love to hear their stories and wish these characters had come out to play earlier in the series.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for perhaps a spin off or two.

On Narration:
As noted in the prior review, the first three books are narrated by Joyce Bean.  However, these last two are narrated by Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante.  Natalie Ross does a fine job, but she doesn’t even try a Southern accent for Mac.  Phil Gigante is incredible.  Down-right incredible.  When his voice makes its debut appearance as Barrons in Dreamfever, I literally jumped (I hadn’t been paying attention that there were going to be two narrators and was not expecting it).  I wouldn’t say that Dreamfever is a metaphorical page turner, but I got through the book faster than usual because I wanted to hear Phil Gigante's voice reading Barrons’s lines.

Spoiler Alert:
I was a bit disappointed in the use of one specific tension breaker in Shadowfever. Click below to find out why, but it will give away a portion of the book.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Fever Series – Part I

A Captivating Partnership of Two Unsympathetic Protagonists in the Fever Series.
February 19, 2011
Books: First three books in the series.
  • Darkfever (2006)
  • Bloodfever (2007)
  • Faefever (2008)

Author: Karen Marie Moning  
Narrator: Joyce Bean    

Summary: MacKayla Lane is a 22-year-old, all-American girl, whose happy-go-luck life takes a turn for the worse when her older sister, Alina, is killed in Dublin while studying abroad.  When weeks later Mac discovers a frantic voicemail Alina left her just hours before her estimated time of death, Mac hops on a plane to Dublin to solve Alina’s murder and to take revenge. Little does Mac know that her world is about to change forever.

Shortly after arriving to Dublin, Mac starts thinking she’s losing her mind.  She sees creatures – some gruesomely hideous, some fatally gorgeous – walking among humans undetected.  In her quest to decipher Alina’s voicemail and to discover what in the world is this Sinsar Dubh (pronounced “she-sah-dew”) that Alina wanted her to find, Mac runs into a mysterious, rich, and attractive book store owner, Jericho Barrons, who explains to Mac that she is a sidhe-seer (one who can see past the glamore of the fae), a null (one who can freeze the fae), and an “oop” detector (one who can sense fae “objects of power”).  The Sinsar Dubh is such an object of power, and Mac is the only known person who has the ability to sense it.  These three gifts make her highly valuable to Barrons, who wants the Sinsar Dubh for reasons unknown.  They also make her a target for others who thirst for the Sinsar Dubh, including V’lane, a fae death-by-sex prince, and the “Lord Master,” Alina’s former lover and probably her murderer.

Comments:  I hate ice cream.  I hate coffee.  But I love coffee-flavored ice cream.  I don’t know why, that’s just how it works.  That sums up how I feel about Mac and Barrons separately and how I feel about them together in the first three books of the Fever Series.

Mac is a well-adjusted blond, tanned, big-breasted, good-looking bartender from some podunk town in rural Georgia, whose greatest worry prior to her sister’s death is whether Revlon will disconnect her favorite shade of nail polish.  No, she is not Charlaine Harris’s famed Sookie Stackhouse simply because she has a deep South accent.  She doesn’t have that hard edge that comes from poverty, orphanhood, and social shunning that Sookie has.  Instead, she is Blanche DuBois of Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire.  She’s an old-fashioned Southern girl who loves pink and rainbows, and genteel manners.  Mac isn't so much interested in saving the world as making it a prettier place. She plans to get married, stay home in the South, and have babies someday. When Mac has to decide between cutting and dying her hair and, well, dying, she has to think about it.  

In the first three books, Mac finds herself in Dublin, desperately try to cling to her pre-Dublin life and its social mores that no longer apply, much like Blanche does when arriving in an industrial, working-class New Orleans.  Like Blanche, Mac may have a certain appeal to the listener, but it is not particularly sympathetic with the exception of her feelings for her sister.  Unlike Blanche, Mac changes, adepts, and survives in her new world.  It is within this change that the listener connects with Mac, and this change is only brought about by her partnership with a most unsympathetic character of Jericho Barrons.

If Mac is Blanche, Barrons is Stanley Kowalski.  At first, Jericho Barrons appears to be a man of 30 years old.  However, we learn in Faefever that the man is centuries old at least.  Karen Marie Moning doesn’t tell us much about Barrons in the first three books, which makes connecting with him difficult. We know tidbits about him here and there. We know he has money, power and influence. We know he steals things and kills people without remorse. We know he’s mean, stronger than a human, has the Druid power of voice and the ability to cast wards.  We know the shades don’t hurt him, V’lane fears him, and the Lord Master acquiesces to him.  But in these books, we don’t know the how and the why. Barrons just is. 

Separately, these two characters are either static.  Together, they are downright interesting.  The chemistry between Mac and Barrons is synergistic. From the beginning, Karen Marie Moning makes no secret that her narrator, Mac, finds Barrons attractive and extremely suspicious.  She also makes it clear that Barrons, who insists on calling Mac “Ms. Lane,” purposefully seeks to distance himself emotionally by pretending that he is only interested in Mac for her oop-detecting super sidhe-seeing powers. Their relationship grows and changes throughout in a way that makes both characters more sympathetic and very appealing to the reader. Like in Jane Austin's Emma, the heroine and the love interest bring the best out of each other. Their interaction drives the stories, from Barrons’s increasing possessiveness (the man tattoos Mac without her knowledge, for crying out loud!), to Mac’s feelings of home for Barron’s book store and her feelings for the man himself (she lights a birthday cake for Barrons aware that she has no idea how old he is or whether Halloween is really his birthday).

Other Comments:  Take a good, hard look at this early cover for Darkfever, the first book. 

Now be honest: Is this what you’re interested in?  The romance fantasy rather than the urban fantasy?   Then do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly to book 4: Dreamfever. There is, as Chris Rock puts it, No Sex in the Champagne Room, and no sex in the first three books of this series (except for the very end of Book 3, but again, if that’s what you’re looking for, just grab Book 4).

The first three books are written in a style where Mac is basically talking to the reader.  This means she will make comments like, “and right now, I’m about to have the second worst day of my life,” and “if I only knew then that that was the last normal day I would have.”  These tension-breakers go with Mac’s character as whole, and some, like “others would later use my phrase” when she starts calling sections taken over by the dark fae as “the dark zones,” foreshadow Mac’s influence in the future.  However, as noted above with Barrons, a lot is simply not explained in the first three books.  This means that some of these lines, like when Barron comes in with blood on his hands and a story about a dying pet he returned to its owner and Mac says “I’ll later learn the blood was human” – well, later never comes, so don’t wait for an explanation.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mercy Thompson Series

The Unapologetic Use of Fantastic & Magical Elements in the Mercedes Thompson Series
February 13, 2011

Books: First five books in the series. 
  • Moon Called (2006)
  • Blood Bound (2007)
  • Iron Kissed (2008)
  • Bone Crossed (2009)
  • Silver Borne (2010)
  • The sixth book in the series, River Marked, is slated for release in March of 2011. 
Author:   Patricia Briggs
Narrator:   Lorelei King  
Summary:  Mercy Thompson is a late-twenties, single, half-Native American VW mechanic, who lives in an old trailer in the Washington State Tri-Cities area.  She's a tough, tattooed chick with a purple belt in an obscure form of Japanese martial arts and a “walker” – a natural-borne coyote shapeshifter who can talk to the dead.  She appears to be the last of her kind, destroyed by the vampires who fear walkers.  Mercy Thompson also has a strong connection to the werewolves, who raised her after her human mother placed her in the care of their leader.

In her world, the fae, who revealed their existence to the public, mostly live in ghetto-like reservations for their own protection.  The werewolves are considering coming out as well due to advances in forensics and medicine which make their existence a secret increasingly impossible to keep. Vampires and witches exist in secrecy.  Also kept secret is the true nature of most of the fae and the existence of their Greylords.

In Moon Called, the first book of the series, Mercy's world turns upside down by the kidnapping of the 15-year-old human daughter of her friend, a werewolf alpha, by an unknown group who appear to be turning kids into werewolves and using them as guinea pigs in experiments for unknown purposes. 

Comments:   In her best-selling Kitty Norville series, Carrie Vaughn doesn’t alter the mass of her werewolves.  When they shift, large men make larger wolves and small women make smaller wolves, all bigger than your average wolf.  The laws of physics are not to be violated.  Faith Hunter, on the other hand, provides a rational explanation for how her skinwalker, Jane Yellowrock, can turn into larger or smaller animals by giving to and taking mass from a specific sort of stone, thereby not violating the Conservation of Mass or Matter. This is generally how urban fantasy authors explain the fantasy elements in their fiction.

Not Patricia Briggs. In her world, Mercy Thompson turns into a 30 lb coyote. How?  It’s magic.  But what about the laws of physics?  Patricia Briggs is unapologetic.  In her world, a 180 lb man turns into a 250 lb wolf.  That is, bigger than a regular wolf and bigger than the actual man.  Why? Magic. This is a good example of the fantastic, illogical, and irrational elements common in the Mercy Thompson books - elements that in most urban fantasy novels breed doubt, the kind we see in young adult fiction that most adult fantasy books simply lose or explain away.  Here, that is not so.  The unexplained is satisfying and imaginative, written in a way so delightful that the reader overlooks the lack of logic and loses himself in the fiction.

For example, in Iron Kissed, the third book, a fae walking stick acquires an affinity for Mercy. It’s only known ability is to allow it's human owner’s ewe to give consistent births to healthy twin sheep.  Mercy, a VW mechanic, owns no sheep and has no desire to start farming sheep. The only sheep Mercy likes is the silver necklace she wears as a lamb, to symbolize Christ.  Why does the walking stick like Mercy?  It's old and has a mind of its own.  How does it keep showing up? Magic. What good is this walking stick? Who knows! The practical application of the walking stick is to randomly pop in and out of Mercury’s life, usually causing her to trip over it unexpectedly.  It’s small, it’s simple, and it makes you smile.  As a reader, you start to look forward to it, to predict it, to wonder when that walking stick will show up again.

Also, throughout the books, we find a plethora of strange fae, from water fae, snow fae, green men, tree men, swamp fae, trolls, and even a fae queen.  In Bone Crossed, the fourth book, Baba Yaga makes an appearance.  As a kid who was born in the Soviet Union, you should have seen the look on my face when the old fabled witch shows up. Being re-introduced to a legend from your childhood in an urban fantasy novel goes beyond unexpected. It's like believing in Santa Claus all over again.

In sum, Patricia Briggs doesn’t attempt to logically explain away the magical elements in her books like so many other successful adult urban fantasy authors. And, surprisingly, it works. Perhaps it's the amount of research into folktales or the sheer imagination used to create these elements, but the reader doesn't get hung up on the mechanics. The lack of a rational explanation produces an unintended result:  instead of making the story unbelievable, it encourages the reader to surrender to the magical world that is still urban and not high fantasy. It works surprisingly well but, from my own experience, only in the Mercy Thompson series.

Other Comments: 
The series focuses almost exclusively on action and mystery.  There is romance, including a very interesting love triangle in the beginning.  However, sex scenes are limited to thirty seconds of reading tops which, like the magical elements discussed above, is very different from most urban fantasy novels.  Patricia Briggs does not shy away from sex, which she makes obvious.  Rather, there is no delving into long, gratuitous, unnecessary, and painfully lame descriptions.  At no point is sex or even love used as a crutch for the plot which, quite frankly, is refreshing. 

The narrator, Lorelei King, is spectacular.  Patricia Briggs produces over fifteen reoccurring and important characters throughout the series and Lorelei King has distinct and consistent voices for each and every one of them.  She even gives distinction between Mercy’s voice and the narrative voice, which is pretty important when you are listening to a first-person narration rather than reading a book.