Monthly Archives: June 2014

Review of Iron & Velvet and Shadows & Dreams (Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator, #1&2), by Alexis Hall

I bought Alexis Hall‘s Iron & velvet and then received Shadows & Dreams from Netgalley.

Iron & VelvetDescription from Goodreads:
First rule in this line of business: don’t sleep with the client.

My name’s Kate Kane, and when an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince came to me with a case, I should have told her no. But I’ve always been a sucker for a femme fatale.

It always goes the same way. You move too fast, you get in too deep, and before you know it, someone winds up dead. Last time it was my partner. This time it could be me. Yesterday a werewolf was murdered outside the Velvet, the night-time playground of one of the most powerful vampires in England. Now half the monsters in London are at each other’s throats, and the other half are trying to get in my pants. The Witch Queen will protect her own, the wolves are out for vengeance, and the vampires are out for, y’know, blood.

I’ve got a killer on the loose, a war on the horizon, and a scotch on the rocks. It’s going to be an interesting day.

Review:
I have heard so many great things about this series and I’m pleased to say most of them held true. I really enjoyed this. It was funny, irreverent, witty and occasionally just a little naughty—all good things in my books. But I had a few complaints.

There is a lot of backstory that left me feeling like I had missed a first book or something. I eventually caught on, but the details were a bit slow in coming. I’m never overly joyed to start a book and find repeated references to characters I don’t know.

Also, though I appreciate that this is F/F paranormal romance slash urban fantasy (the first such book I’ve ever read), I thought that the lesbian card was over played. It seriously felt like every woman, or at least every powerful woman in London must be Sapphic and every one of them was extremely forward and trying to seduce Kate. It kind of felt like the same shtick played over and over.

Plus, if I’m honest, I don’t think the sex contributed as much as it should have. It all felt a little abrupt and abortive in the endkiss, kiss, maybe lick, pinch, BITE, done; no significant build up or notable climax. meh.

What I liked, I really liked though. Kate was sarcastic and clever in a self-deprecating kind of way. She’s self assured and willing to admit she’s winging it most of the time. She’s strong without being unbelievably so. (Characters often become caricatures if they’re guaranteed to win every battle with ease.) Mostly I just laughed a lot. I really fell for Hall’s writing style and sense of humour. It’s as acerbic as Kate is and I’m a sucker for that. Plus, all of the running jokes, like “here lies Kate Kane…” and repeat/compounding lists, for example cracked me up.

An all out success. I can’t wait to read book two, Shadows & Dreams.

Shadows & Dreams

Description from Goodreads:
Second rule in this line of business: be careful who you kill. 

My name’s Kate Kane. And right now, I don’t know which is more dangerous: my job, or my girlfriend. My job makes me the go-to girl for every supernatural mystery in London. My girlfriend’s an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince. Honestly, I think it’s probably a tie. 

A few weeks ago, I was hired for a simple missing person case. Next thing I know, I’m being arrested for murder, a vampire army is tearing up London, and even my dreams are out to get me. Something ancient, evil, and scary as hell is on the loose and looking for payback. The vampires are in chaos, the werewolves are culling everything, and the Witch Queen can’t protect everyone. 

Which means it’s down to me. And all I’ve got to hold back the shadows is a stiff drink, a quirky sidekick, my creepy ex-boyfriend, and the woman who left me for a tech startup. It’s going to be another interesting day.

Review:
I found Shadows & Dreams very similar to Iron & Velvet. In some ways, this is great. It’s an obvious sign of consistency and much of what I loved about book one I still love here. Kate is still a sarcastic, fly-by the-seat-of-her-pants badass, the side characters are still colourful, the writing is still flippant, and the story still engaging. There is a lot to adore here, just like in book one.

However, the flip side of that consistency coin is that all those things that annoyed me about book one are still there to annoy me here too. The prose during sex scenes was still blindingly purple and the sex still felt too clipped (the vampiric bite seemingly used as a substitute for conclusive penetration to signify completion of the act and cutting it off abruptly). Meh. Plus, there was just a vague sense of repeat for some of it, since it all felt so similar to book one.

I did love the addition of Kate and Elise’s running gag. They had a bit of a Manzai thing going on; Elise being the straight man and Kate the fool. It worked. It really worked. As did Patrick’s completely obsessive and oblivious neuroticism, Ashriel’s unexpected nice-guyness, Nimue’s patient attentions, Julian’s hedonism and Eve’s loveable geekiness. There is a huge cast here and with the exception of Corin, who can just go die somewhere, I loved them all.

I’m calling this one another success. I might grumble over little things, but I loved a lot more than I didn’t. I really hope there will be more of the Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator Series.

Review of An Eye For An Eye For An Eye, by Marc Nash

An eye for an eye for an eyeAuthor, Marc Nash sent me a copy of his novel An Eye For An Eye For An Eye.

Description from Goodreads:
You can tell a lot about a society from its murders. And Simon Moralee can tell everything from its victims. He has the gift- or is it a curse?- of being able to recover a vision of the last thing murder victims had imprinted on their minds before death. It means he can identify their killers and describe them to the police to secure a one hundred percent clean-up rate. A gift he first discovered as a teenager when cradling his butchered mother in his arms.

His financially bankrupt society leaps at the opportunity his gift provides, by cutting the level of policing and detection back to the bone, as a yet another cost-saving measure. The few remaining policemen serve as Simon’s minders as they seek to protect their most valuable asset and the one remaining celebrity the State can promote to their citizens as a good news story. Only people are losing interest in his exploits, as they lose hope for their society with its murder rate spiralling beyond Simon’s ability to keep pace. And into this numbers game emerges a new threat, when a criminal mastermind with a psychic power of his own, challenges Simon in a psychological joust to the death…

Review:
You know how people sometimes gripe that there are rarely any surprises at the end of books, as the good guys are guaranteed to win one way or another? “Why can’t the baddy win every now and again?” They might ask. Well, here is the book for them. It’s not strictly that a person on the evil side of the protagonist/antagonist divide wins, so much as a delicious twist on winning at all. Look for no happily ever afters here.

To be sure this is a dense read though. I generally enjoy the occasional ten dollar word, but they are the norm rather than the endearing exception here, making the book feel like an obscure work by some long dead classicist Russian or, gawd forbid, Italian. Obtuse. I spent a lot of time rereading overly wordy, syllable heavy passages of ethereal prose. It wasn’t quite purple, but it held that same uselessly accessorised feel to it. In the end, it just felt pretentious and pompous, as if Nash was puffing it up for ego’s sake.

Now, don’t get me wholly wrong. The style annoyed the ever-living crap out of me, but it was smart writing. The vocabulary was definitely well above the average, the ideas being imparted were thoroughly thought out and it was all mechanically and editorially without fault. (Or at least I noticed very few errors.) So, pending you can get past the self-important writing style, a good story awaits.

I did have trouble with the disassociated detached observer narrator. To me all of the narrative about the social situations and such felt like it should be coming from Simon, which meant anytime that that same narrative then turned its external eye on him, referring to him in the 3rd person, I was jarred. It just felt wrong to me.

I also found it inconsistent. Sometimes functioning as an omnipotent observer, other-times being denied knowledge of people’s thoughts or motives. Again, I found these moments pulled me from the story.

Final say? A really interesting dystopian setting (I might even call it post apocalyptic, if you’re willing to credit economic collapse with ending civilisation.), thought provoking characters and a appropriately gritty noir mystery of sorts, but not really. All presented in a painfully flouncy package, making it a so-so read but good thought experiment.

Review of Static, by L.A. Witt

Static

I downloaded a copy of L. A. Witt’s Static from Netgalley.

Description from Goodreads:
After two years together, Alex has been dreading the inevitable moment when Damon learns the truth: that Alex is a shifter, part of a small percentage of the population able to switch genders at will. Thanks to a forced implant, though, Alex is suddenly static—unable to shift—and male. Overnight, he’s out to a world that neither understands nor tolerates shifters . . . and to his heterosexual boyfriend. 

Damon is stunned to discover his girlfriend is a shifter, and scared to death of the dangers the implant poses to Alex’s health. He refuses to abandon Alex, but what about their relationship? Damon is straight, and with the implant both costly and dangerous to remove, Alex is stuck as a man. 

Stripped of half his identity and facing serious physical and social ramifications, Alex needs Damon more than ever, but he doesn’t see how they can get through this. 

Especially if he’s static forever.

Review:
Before I even get into this review I might as well admit that Guinevere Thomas has already written the review I want to. So, you might as well start with hers.

I want it noted here, in the beginning of my review, that Static has a noble goal. It’s essentially an apologue, using the fictional ability to shift ones gender as an allegory for non-heteronormative gender and sexual identities. Witt, no doubt, thought to place her characters in sympathetic positions that allow for lessons in tolerance and acceptance. I can 100% get behind this intent. I applaud the attempt.

HOWEVER, it’s a failure. It overshoots it mark by such a degree as to move into arrogant denials of identity in another way. Instead of claiming anyone who doesn’t ascribe to basic hertonormative ideal are problematic by virtue of their non-‘normalness’ (a ridiculous accusation we see all the time in RL), it essentially claims that the only way we can all live happily is to expect no static gender or sexual identity at all, which is just as insulting. This book doesn’t promote gender/sexual acceptance, it’s advocating gender/sexual identity nullification, which robs people of their right to self-identify as surely as forcing them to be pretend to be something they’re not. 

But that’s not the only reason why I found the book insulting to the very community it would appear to have been written to support. Its subtexts also made some disturbing correlation. For example, the main character claims to be gay.  He was born male, but can shift to female and spends most of his time as such (though throughout the course of the book he’s male) and he’s attracted to men. However, he also claims to have urges as both a male and a female that he would like to see satisfied.

This both separates his/her gender from his/her sexual orientation, which drastically simplifies a dynamic, interrelated, complex issue but also essentially equates being gay with being a woman, thereby denying him his masculinity. I find that problematic. And that’s without even getting into the dismissive way actual transgenders are dealt with or the fact that he only seemed to relate to his female form anyway.

I’m all for ‘do and be anything you want and to hell with the titles,’ but this really seems like it’s stretching a bit. It felt like it the book sought to purposefully removed the need for all gender/sexual identifiers and then chastise those who are still so gauche as to look for at least enough cues to drop the right pronoun at the right time. Because, of course, true acceptance wouldn’t care what gender a person was or who they were attracted to, which is again, a nice ideal.

This doesn’t come across as realistic, though. Both because gender/sexual identity expectations aren’t wholly socially separable and because the book isn’t about three genders (female, male, and genderless). It’s about being able to shift between being wholly or partially male OR female. Which means, despite the way the book reads, the author probably didn’t set out to separate gender and sexuality in her world, instead she’s just preaching that the expectation of gender or sexual identifiers is a form of bigotry. And there is very little I find scarier than an author who’s written a work that makes grand sweeping social judgements BY ACCIDENT.

Sorry, being able to recognise something as existing or existing in a certain state isn’t the same thing as forming a derogatory judgement of it. But in its attempt to highlight complete acceptance of all forms of gender identification and sexual orientations (which, again, is a wonderful thing to do) the book just created an arrogant, characteristicless hodgepodge of humanity.  This, if you think on it, kind of robs those same individuals of their right to bask in their own individualisms.

And all of that is just my main complaint. I have any number of smaller ones. Top of the list is the fact that this intention to teach the reader that queer/transgendered/homosexual/etc peoples are really just like anyone else and *this* is what true tolerance and acceptance looks like (again, a laudable goal) was utilised like a mallet to the brain. The reader is battered with it from the first page to the last. It’s an obvious ulterior motive that almost wholly eclipses the story trying to be told. And while I appreciate the message, I resent finding propaganda disguised as entertainment (even when I agree with it). Not to mention it was incredibly condescending and as a reader, I was insulted.

Other than its heavy-handed moralistic repetitive message, the writing was pretty good. I had no real problem with it. It’s mechanically fine.

However, I found the whole thing redundant. 90% of the book is literally three themes over and over again: Alex and Damon worrying, but not talking about how to deal with their relationship. Alex or Damon talking to other people about the social circumstances of shifters and statics (the ‘how to be tolerant’ spiel) and Alex whinging in self-absorbed mental agony.

I also felt no chemistry between Damon and Alex. We’re told they have it but you don’t see it. This is especially problematic since it’s this chemistry that’s supposed to be instrumental in getting Damon to accept a man as a lover when he’s staunchly heterosexual. I didn’t feel it. Nor did their past relationship fill the void. It seemed to be predominantly based on one happy episode and two years of Damon worrying about Alex. Where am I supposed to find love in that? It felt very hollow. Not to mention Damon was more understanding and introspective than any RL man would ever be. He’s just too much of a perfect Prince Charming to be believable. 

In the end, I’m gonna have to wash my hands of this one. I respect what Witt was trying to do in this book. And while I’m a straight, white, western woman who inhabits a position of relative social privilege and can’t claim firsthand knowledge of the issues being addressed in this book, I can suggest that any future author interested in following Witt’s footsteps put a little more thought into what the overarching message he or she is projecting with her or his characters. Because I strongly suspect (and it’s only a suspicion, I don’t know Witt) the author didn’t mean to make some of the important social claims being made in this book. And that’s a terrifying thought.