Review: Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

Review: Bitten by Kelley ArmstrongBitten by Kelley Armstrong
Series: Women of the Otherworld #1
Published by Orbit
Pages: 448
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Elena Michaels is your regular twenty-first-century girl: self-assured, smart and fighting fit. She also just happens to be the only female werewolf in the world...

It has some good points. When she walks down a dark alleyway, she's the scary one. But now her Pack - the one she abandoned so that she could live a normal life - are in trouble, and they need her help. Is she willing to risk her life to help the ex-lover who betrayed her by turning her into a werewolf in the first place? And, more to the point, does she have a choice?

Thoughts: I’ve had Bitten on my shelves for a couple of years now and, despite my ardent love for Kelley Armstrong, I had trouble picking it up. This was partly because I had heard so many good things about the book but – if I’m completely honest – it had more to do with the book itself. Because for all the great reviews out there, there were also a number of reviews that were highly critical of Clay, one of the central characters. And after reading the summary of Bitten, I couldn’t blame them. This man chose to infect the love-of-his-life against her will… how could I ever like him?

So that was my main worry going into Bitten… but in the end, my read trouble was with Elena. While I could readily accept her leaving Clay after what he had done – she never really did. Instead she kinda strung him along… and that’s just not nice. The only thing that made me forgive her was the fact that she is monstrously screwed up. She was orphaned at a young age, sexually and emotionally abused growing up, and then turned into a werewolf against her will. These aren’t the sorts of experiences that leave you unscarred. But still, given that Bitten takes place 10 years after she was bitten, I think Elena had been given enough time to get her act sorted out.

Clay, on the other hand, was fantastic. I mean, I wouldn’t actually want to meet the man out of fear for my life, but I still adored him. I had heard him described as an older version of Derek (from her Darkest Powers series) – and that’d be correct with one amendment: Clay has no “human” conscience. He doesn’t do things because they are the right thing to do, instead he’ll do whatever he must in order to protect his pack. That includes the disemboweling of innocents (no, that doesn’t happen in Bitten, but I would never put it past him).

As you might have imagined, there is an insane amount of violence in this book. Usually, I’m all on board with blood and guts in my UF, but there was one scene of needless violence that really bothered me. I get that they are werewolves and that, in their wolf form, they’ll kill pretty much anything if it threatens them. But when Elena killed a dog while she was human, and neither she nor Clay felt the slightest bit of remorse? I was so so so not ok with that. Killing out of necessity I understand, but when they killed the dog out of convenience it just seemed… out of character.

And despite my issues with Elena and her somewhat-homicidal habits (Derek and Chloe need to stay far far away from the pack if they are still like this), I still enjoyed Bitten. It kept me up well past my bedtime; I was thinking about these characters while I wasn’t reading. And I think Stolen will be much better… Bitten was written as a stand-alone novel, and I truly believe it would have been a different (more enjoyable) book if Kelley Armstrong had written it knowing there’d be a sequel.

Bottom line? Kelley Armstrong is a fantastic author and her Otherworld verse is one I can’t wait to read more about. But is this her best book? Well… she can do better.

Favourite Quote:

The glowing ember shot into the sky, arced, then came tumbling down, end over end like a falling star. I glanced down at Clay. He was watching the sparkler and grinning with as much childlike joy as I´d felt, dancing around the grove with my fairy wand. I looked back up at the light, closed my eyes, and made my wish.

I wished I knew what I wanted.

Review: Night Life by Caitlin Kittredge

Review: Night Life by Caitlin KittredgeNight Life by Caitlin Kittredge
Series: Nocturne City #1
Published by Gollancz
Pages: 352
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Nocturne City could be any big city in the US. Poor areas, rampant drugs and violent crime, witches, demons and were creatures. Homicide detective Luna Wilder is investigating the death of a drug addict and comes across a drug that is more a spell than a chemical. A drug that leads her to the centre of a vicious war being fought between witches, a war that threatens to unleash hell on Nocturne City. Backed by a gritty take on crime and a vivid look inside a police department leading a fight against crime out of our worst nightmares the nocturne city novels bring crime to Dark Fantasy.

Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the protagonist, Luna, with her impulsive, kick-ass ways; the universe with its out-but-not-accepted!supernaturals; the bloody, complicated magic that actually made sense; and, of course, the love interest Dmitri, who was such a bad catch, it’s ridiculous.

And yet, there are a number of reasons why I shouldn’t have enjoyed Night Life. For starters, a lot of Luna’s erratic, stupidly fearless behaviour was blamed on her being a were. Same went for her love interest Dmitri. One minute they are getting on just fine, the next they have nearly come to blows, and then they are jumping each other’s bones. Unbelievable would be putting it lightly… or so one would think. It worked in Night Life – and so did a number of other things you’d think would have me rolling my eyes. For example, the book centres around an open-and-shut criminal case. I don’t tend to like my Urban Fantasy overlapping too heavily with a criminal procedure novel – mostly because I think it illogical to have a character chose to risk their life (and the lives of their loved ones) for a stranger. And yet Night Life, for all its criminal fantasy elements, made it work.

I was also surprised by how much I liked Luna. Although she was erratic and had no sense of self-preservation, she was an enjoyable narrator that I could completely root for. Luna’s fierce pursuit for justice, as well as her troubled past (which involves attempted rape and an evil grandmother), made her all the more admirable. And then there was love interest Dmitri… actually, I’m not sure I should call him a love interest. The guy is Bad. News. He has an extremely sordid criminal record and really should be everything I hate. And yet, he proves himself worth his weight more than once… and, well, everyone loves a proper bad boy now and again. Especially when partnered with a heroine who can more than take care of herself.

The only character I was less than fond of was Luna’s cousin – and supposedly her best friend – Sunny. God, did I ever want to show her off a cliff. How could this woman profess to care for Luna whilst defending the man that attacked her and the woman that had kicked her out of her home? *makes stabbing gestures*

Bottom line? Night Life was a welcome respite from the mundane UF I’ve been reading lately. If you want a bit of a rough-and-tumble in your next fantasy, pick this up!

Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Review: Rivers of London by Ben AaronovitchRivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: Peter Grant #1
Published by Gollancz on 2012-07-01
Pages: 416
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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This is London as you've never seen it before.
A city of wonders and terrors.

London is a city full of ancient secrets, a city haunted by its past. A city where you are never far away from the magic.

And now meet the person who will show you the city you never suspected...

My name is Peter Grant, and I used to be a probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth.

My story starts when I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was already dead.
There is something dark at the heart of the city I love...

Thoughts: Rivers of London was very nearly great. The quote on the gorgeous cover says “What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz” and it is exactly that.  Our adult-HP-hero, Peter, has the same not-a-genius-but-rather-savvy way about him. He also has a fantastically dry, English sense of humour which constantly made me chuckle. Add to that the wonderful, spot-on London setting, and we should have had the makings for a fantastic book. And while there were times when I loved it, it did drag. But before I move on to that, I’d like to share a few fantastic lines from the book:

“On the minus side, Covent Garden had nearly burned down, but on the positive side there weren’t any major bus routes or tube lines affected.” – p. 337

“I have an idea,” I said.
“This better not be a cunning plan” said Lesley.
Nightingale looked blank, but at least it got a chuckle from Dr Walid.
“It is, in fact,” I said, “a cunning plan.” – p.249

‘It’s a myth that Londoners are oblivious to one another on the tube: we’re hyper-aware of each other and are constantly revising our what-if scenarios and counter strategies. What if that suavely handsome yet ethnic young man asks me for money? Do I give or refuse? If he makes a joke do I respond, and if so will it be a shy smile or a guffaw? If he’s been hurt in a fight does he need help? If I help him will I find myself drawn into a threatening situation, or an adventure, or a wild interracial romance? Will I miss supper? If he opens his jacket and yells ‘God is great’, will I make it down the other end of the carriage in time?

All the time most of us were devising friction-free strategies to promote peace in our time, our carriage and please God at least until I get home. It’s called, by people over sixty, common courtesy, and its purpose is to stop us from killing each other.’ – p.244

So, as you can see, Aaronovitch knows how to deliver the funnies. Rivers of London is filled with snark, sarcasm and genuinely insightful humour. Aaronovitch also really understands London – the people, the streets, the transport, everything. His descriptions of the city kept me reading and really made me want to love the book.

But when it came to everything else – the plot, characters, the universe – the novel dragged. I mean it seriously dragged – picking it up every night required concerted effort on my part. I never grew attached to any of the characters, as I never actually got to know them. While I enjoyed Peter’s snarky remarks, I couldn’t quite work out what he was all about. Was he a damaged, traumatized kid-in-a-uniform? Or was he as confident as he snark made him seem? I never found out. And then there was the story, which had some 12 unrelated plot-strands floating through it without any obvious overlap. I never quite understood what was going on – and even when I did, nothing was work staying awake for.

Bottom line? Londoners should find Rivers of London amusing and rather touching – but non-Londoners won’t be able to see past the faults. But I think Aaronovitch will improve with his next book, and am willing to stick around to find out.

P.S. Although the English cover is gorgeous, the US cover should be avoided like the plague.

Review: The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu

Review: The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. LiuThe Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu
Series: Hunter Kiss #1
Published by Ace/Roc on 2008-06-24
Pages: 320
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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By day, her tattoos are her armor. By night, they unwind from her body to take on forms of their own--demons of the flesh, turned into flesh. This is the only family demon hunter Maxine Kiss has ever known. It's the only way to live, and the very way she'll die. For one day her demons will abandon her for her daughter to assure their own survival--leaving Maxine helpless against her enemies.

But such is the way of Earth's last protector--the only one standing between humanity and the demons breaking out from behind the prison veil. It is a life lacking in love, reveling in death, until one moment--and one man-- changes everything...

Thoughts: The first line of this book was so damn good, I actually tweeted it. At the time, I thought, “This is going to be the perfect Urban Fantasy.” Unfortunately, I was proved wrong. And it truly is unfortunate, because this really really could have been a great book.

Ok, let’s start off with the prose. In UF, I tend to see the writing as a means to an end. If I become attached to the characters and understand the universe = good writing. But if the characters fall flat and the plot holes start showing = bad writing. There are numerous exceptions to that rule, but on a whole it applies. But The Iron Hunt takes different approach – one that I consider characteristic of literary fiction: gorgeous sentences with a tangential plot.

Now, this could have worked if it hadn’t been for the fact that the plot became impossible to follow. The universe wasn’t that complicated and neither was the action – but Liu’s style meant I had to re-read simple dialogue scenes in order to understand what was going on! It required a level of concentration that detracted from the story and was, quite frankly, unpleasant.

And then there’s the story itself. In short: nothing special. There’s nothing original about Liu’s characters or universe – been there, done that. Our heroine, Maxine, was a bore and rather emo. Her supporting cast of demons could have been interesting, I suppose, but they were too simple to engage with. And then there’s the “love of her life”… by far the most yawn-inducing man I’ve ever had the misfortune to read about. Unlike most UF, Liu introduces her heroine in an already stable and loving relationship. Well, at least that’s what we’re told. From the 3 scenes he’s in, all I can tell is that he has the personality of a wooden plank. Can’t see what anyone would see in him.

All in all, a very disappointing read. I had had high hopes for Liu, but she didn’t deliver. She has the potential to be a fantastic writer. Perhaps her talents would be better suited to short stories or poetry… but she should stay away from Urban Fantasy.

Bottom line? Don’t bother.

Review: Beauty by Robin McKinley

Review: Beauty by Robin McKinleyBeauty by Robin McKinley
Published by HarperTeen
Pages: 272
Genres: Fairytale Re-tellings, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage.

When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, "Cannot a Beast be tamed?"

Robin McKinley's beloved telling illuminates the unusual love story of a most unlikely couple: Beauty and the Beast.

Thoughts: Two things you should know before reading Beauty:

1 – Beauty was written in 1978, about 15 years before Disney’s Beauty and the Beast came out.
2 – This is Robin McKinley’s very first book.

Now, the first point is key, as there are a number of details with which the book seems to overlap with the Disney film. In fact, as I was reading McKinley’s book, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Disney epic had been based on her novel. Since I adored the film, I had absolutely no problem reading a similar (yet very, very different) version of the Disney tale. Still, it is important to remember that any Beauty/Disney overlaps are not at all the fault of McKinley.

In regards to the second point, I found it rather reassuring to know this was not the pinnacle of McKinley’s achievements. Although I enjoyed Beauty, it was not a breath-taking literary achievement. Having heard so many great things about McKinley’s writings, it was good to know that she’s had 30-odd years since the publication of Beauty to refine her style.

Now on to the good bits. Although I have no knowledge of the first Beauty and the Beast tale, McKinley’s style made me feel like I was reading the original version of the story. It was almost as though I were reading the un-filtered first version of the tale – without the weight of an author behind it, visibly guiding the story. Instead, this book just… was. You know what I mean, right? When you read Beauty, you can’t even begin to imagine someone actually writing it. The book, surely, just came into existence by itself.

And, because of that, I feel rather odd describing my issues with the plot – or rather the lack thereof. Even though, yes, this is Beauty and the Beast, everything still felt rather mundane. Beauty does this, then that, then the other, and then things work out to be such-and-such. It was more of a historical account than a dramatic novel, with none of the twists and curves you’d expect in “real” book.

But still, I really did enjoy Beauty. My unwavering love of the tale probably made me more forgiving of its dull moments… yet, I’ve no doubt that McKinley is a skilled author worth of praise.

Bottom line? Beauty is a must if you are a fan of the Beauty and the Beast tale. But if you’re not, I’d try something else from McKinley’s repertoire.

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