BOOK REVIEW: MEN OF THE OTHERWORLD- by Kelley Armstrong

BLURB: I don’t remember the first time I changed into a wolf. One night I passed out, and awoke to find my body covered in yellow fur. My brain was beyond reacting. It took this in its stride, as it had everything else in my new life. I got to my feet and went in search of food.

As a curious and independent six-year-old, Clayton didn’t resist the bite – he asked for it. But as a lone child werewolf his life is under constant threat. So when enigmatic Pack member Jeremy Danvers saves him, Clayton is determined to protect his adoptive father, no matter what the cost.

So begins this gripping collection of four tales chronicling the bloody feuds of the American Pack, and the coming of age of Clay Danvers, a very powerful – and very singular – werewolf.

REVIEW: In spite of my gripes with paranormal romance, I love Kelley Armstrong’s writing; she’s funny, descriptive, her action sequences are great and I love her sense of snark. Out of all the different supernaturals that occupy her Women Of The Otherworld series, the werewolves are my favorite creatures. So when I found out this book was all about the werewolves with (almost) no other supernatural creatures, and minimal romance, I was in. Men Of The Other World was everything I’d hoped it’d be. Or at least, the Clay novellas were. The stories surrounding Jeremy’s heritage were a disaster zone, but I’ll get to that.

The two longest, Savage and Ascension,  cover Clay’s upbringing and Jeremy’s rise to Alphadom.

Savage mainly covers Clay’s meeting with Jeremy and his attempts to fit in with the pack, while Ascension covers the pack politics surrounding the power struggle that emerged over who will succeed an aging Dominic as Alpha.

Even though I hated Clay’s relationship with Elena, as a character he was interesting. A man who was turned a wolf as a child ( a sort of modern Mowgli), his story was fascinating and one that begged to be told. And Savage does an excellent job of this.

His meeting with Jeremy is very emotional and shows the patience of the man. Although this story is being told retrospectively from the POV of adult Clay,its still done in a way which employs the thought processes of child Clay. As someone who became a wolf when he was four and left human society until he reached the age of seven, Clay had initially forgotten how to understand human speech and has become a feral, slowly starving in the world.

Even though there’s no dialogue (Clay had forgotten how to speak at this point), and Clay doesn’t understand what’s going on, the emotion is all there. Clay’s mindset is that of well, a cross between a frightened child and scared animal, whose mentality is purely fight or flight, not fully comprehending what’s going on and only coming to Jeremy for food. He sees Jeremy’s attempts to try and dress him as a ‘game’, and it takes a long time to build trust. Armstrong doesn’t rush this, and we have repeated incidents of Clay running away, causing trouble and making Jeremy’s life extremely difficult.

This really demonstrates the compassion of the character, and his patience. Another wonderful thing about this story is that we finally see the werewolves (other than our Italian businessmen) hold down a job. In Women Of The Otherworld, it always felt vague how they were managing to afford this huge property as neither Clay, Elena nor Jeremy’s jobs were shown having much impact on their lives. Here, we see Jeremy having to deal with managing accounts and the inheritance of Stonehaven on his own, and having to deal with translating work to keep the place afloat. This added a lot of authenticity to the book, and it was so wonderful seeing him having to deal with financial issues rather than living in the almost Disney Princess fantasy land where he can just get loads of money selling the odd painting because he’s just that super talented.

It was also great seeing a young Nick growing up with Clay, and their friendship and how his easy going nature clashed with Nick’s loner personality.The power struggle within the pack was fascinating and it was interesting seeing how the different power struggles clashed, although I don’t understand how Malcolm could have ever been a viable contender. Malcolm himself, was just a big, mean ball of macho bile; he doesn’t have a job, is continuously antagonistic to everyone. I honestly didn’t understand why a sensible Alpha like Dominic tolerated him, because he’s such a pantomime villain and a loose cannon. Sure, he’s a great fighter, but he’s nothing that couldn’t be replaced by a good shot gun. What did save him from cartoon villaindoom, however, was his fascination with Clay. I liked how they were both sort of different sides of the same coin, and Malcolm uses his wolf ideology to justify his cruelty, while Clay, allegedly more wolf than human, cannot understand this senseless cruelty.

One thing I did really hate was how quickly Clay went from being behind his peers due to being in the wild so long, to suddenly being extremely gifted and talented and ahead of everyone else. This happened in the space of a year or two. I’m sorry, but this is complete nonsense. There’s no way Clay could have caught up so quickly, and the only reason he does is because he’s meant to be this super special love interest. Clay is impulsive, irrational and lacks judgement and is extremely primal. He has shown absolutely no sign of having a brain for the entire series, there’s no way I buy him as this super special genius.

But all in all, I absolutely loved these novellas and enjoyed them more than a lot of Elena’s books in the main series.

Infusion and Kitsunegari

Now, with a heavy sigh I have to get to the disaster that is Jeremy’s Asian heritage. Oh my, why did she have to do this? You see, in this Jeremy is half kitsune on his mother’s side (which isn’t a spoiler- if a Japanese supernatural turns up in urban fantasy, it’s always a kitsune). So basically, a kitsune comes along, breeds with Malcolm in order to give Jeremy cool Asian mind powers and is killed conveniently when she’s completed her utility. Yeah, that sounds a bit cold but that’s basically all she is- an exotic baby maker that gives her son superpowers.

The problem is that this is the poster boy for badly used mixed race protagonists in urban fantasy, which is excellently deconstructed in this article here. The only reason that she’s Asian is so that Jeremy gets cool exotic powers, and of course after she’s done that, she’s of no further use so she’s done away with. Nothing of her heritage is passed on to Jeremy, she’s never treated as a person, and none of Jeremy’s heritage affects his life or him as a person- you’d think that growing up getting racially abused by his father and being the only mixed race Asian amongst a bunch of white men would have some affect on him. But no, it’s brought up so little in the series this feels like a bizarre ret con. This is even lazier Mixed Race writing than Zoey Redbird was in HoN, who at least acknowledged the existance of her heritage (even if it’s only to justify her super special spirit Pocohontus powers)- and if I’m saying an element is worse than anything in HoN, that’s the most damning criticism I can heap on something.

Worse still, in Infusion, the reason that the kitsune grandmother uses for choosing to throw her grandaughter at Malcolm is because their race is dying and they need ‘strong blood’. Yeah, POC wanting the ‘strong bloodline’ of white people is a racist trope that’s been around for centuries, and though I’m sure Armstrong didn’t purposefully write it that way because she’s not a white supremicist, it sounds so much like this it’s impossible to ignore. Also, having a Japanese woman throwing herself at a white man in the 40s… when the Americans were throwing Japanese Americans into internment camps? Man, that’s pretty bad.

It appears they do at least acknowledge the racism and the mother does say that she was playing on Jeremy’s Racist attitudes… but because she’s given no character it all feels played straight.

It gets even worse in Kitsunegari, as a gang of Kitsune attempt to seduce Jeremy away from Jaime in mangled English saying ‘I for you.’ So basically:

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Yes, we went there: we went full ‘me love you long time’, and it doesn’t even have the excuse Full Metal Jacket did of being written in the 80s. Or Southpark for being Southpark. These creatures are literal submissive sex objects, and apart from being desperate for Jeremy’s superior white- um, werewolf – semen, they’re given no agency, no will of their own compared with the other supernaturals of Armstrong’s world. They are literal sex objects throwing themselves to be used by the white male protagonists, and that is one of the most pernicious, nastiest racial stereotypes surrounding Asian women. This wouldn’t be so bad if there were more Asian characters, but Women Of The Otherworld is whiter than Donald Trump’s porch after a snowstorm. Hope Adams is the only non white narrator in the series, while Zoe Takano is the only asian character in the series… and she wasn’t exactly very competent in Broken.

I mean, why are the Kitsune dying out when the werewolves are doing just fine? Surely there were plenty of other supernatural creatures nearer home they could breed with? Why travel to a country they were on bad terms with for their supernatural sperm doner. Plus, kitsune and shape shifters in Japanese mythology typically try and breed with nobility, so the Danvers would be of low blood and beneath them.

It’s a shame we had to do this, to walk into so many unfortunate racial tropes for no other reason than to give Jeremy a bit of extra magic- which could have been done another way, as to my knowledge mind powers aren’t amongst the typical kitsune skill set anyway ; it was interesting delving into Malcolm’s twisted psyche, and Jaime was her usual awesome sassy self. Plus, it was nice seeing Jaime and Jeremy interacting as a normal couple, having to make time to see each other, working around each others schedules and responsibilities. Damnit, why did we have go there book? You were so brilliant otherwise!

VERDICT: Ignoring the tropey racial disaster zone that were Infusion and Kitsunegari, Men Of The Otherworld was an excellent collection that did everything a set of short stories about a main series should do: they told a story in their own right, and added a lot of depth to the series main characters.

RATING: 4 wolves out of a pack of 5

And on a final note, the English cover looks so much, and so much better than the alternative version. It’s good to know that at least Women Of The Other World is going equal ops on terrible torso pictures:

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The Mermaid’s Snare

My legs were aching. My heart worked harder than it had ever done before, but it didn’t matter. I had her- the mermaid curled against my chest.

“Get back here!” cried Father John, “She’s not human! Such a union will be cursed!”

“We’re in love! That’s all that matters.”

I dove into the ocean- opened my eyes…saw my shimmering tale. My heart soared. We could be together.

Miriana was smiling. I looked at her pretty face, at her naked breasts- I pulled her against me…kissed her neck, her chest, slid my hands down her…down her… I paused

“Umm… honey.” I said , “How do we…”

“Oh silly.” She said. “Not like that!”

“Wait…. What?”

“We mate by linking fins.”

“Are you kidding me!?”

“What’s the problem.” she said, “It’s just breeding.I mean, it’s not like it’s fun.”

My blood turned cold- and not just because I’d turned myself into a reptile.

“Andrew,” said Miriana, “Why are ?”

My body was shaking. My scream echoed through the whole ocean.

“Curse you Father John!”

BOOK REVIEW: ANGELIC- by Kelley Armstrong

BLURB: As a half-demon master of the dark arts, Eve Levine isn’t what anyone would call angelic. That’s exactly why the Fates chose her for the job. She’s their secret weapon against the forces of evil.

However after five years, Eve is tired of being the designated rebel of the angel corps, expected to break the rules, then penalized for it. When the leaderless djinn stage an uprising, Eve sees the perfect chance to get herself fired. As she plunges deeper into the demon world, though, she realizes she’s in danger of losing a lot more than her job.- Kelleyarmstrong.com

REVIEW: Eve has always been my favorite character from  Women of The Otherworld , and ever since Haunted, I’ve been dying to read another Eve book which never came. When I found out about this short story, I was ecstatic and downloaded it instantly. I couldn’t wait to read about another mission with Eve kicking ass as an angel of justice with a giant sword. I liked Angelic, it was an enjoyable read, but it was essentially Haunted Abridged, as it follows a similar formula and doesn’t really progress the meta story, change the characters particularly or give us any new information.

Eve is summoned by the fates, she’s sent on a mission after a rogue supernatural, she reluctantly agrees, is assisted by Kris, meets Dantalion, figures out how to stop the threat and is back to her starting position. We have the fates, some old friends, the library (I love the concept of that library and the cerberus- but they were mostly the same people and places that were featured in Haunted.

But that’s not to say that this book was bad by any means. It still had all the heart and passion of the other books that Armstrong’s written; it was fast paced, had the classic Armstrong wit that makes all her books great reads . I loved Eve’s arguments with the Fates, I loved how she got one over them in the end, and I found it amusing how she was planning to (mis)use her epically cool magic angel sword as a cosplaying accessory for her pirate costume.

Her relationship with Kris was nice as well- my favourite in the entire Otherworld series- and there is a genuine sense of warmth and camaraderie that makes it feel like a great long term relationship.

It had a great structure, and it was good, I just don’t think Armstrong has anywhere left to go with Eve and the ghost world.

The story only really struggled from the length when we got to the action sequences. Kelley Armstrong is the master of action, and in Haunted some of the action sequences had me gripping the edge of the book and rushing to see what happened. Here, a fight or conflict would be set up, and we would get what felt like the wikipedia summary of the fight. One of the most intense, heart wrenching conflicts was… kind of conveniently dropped thanks to deus ex machina.

I don’t know if Armstrong’s word limit was set in stone, but I’d have been up for it being a few thousand words longer in exchange for a few of her characteristically awesome fight sequences. Hell, I’d have gotten rid of the plot twist, gone for a more simple but intense plot that focused on the action. But alas, for what we got, we had a very well paced story with a satisfying conclusion that possessed all the charm of the main series.

Sadly, this is still a very white series with no LGBT people and no POC except the Djinn (who briefly appear, get defeated and are very briefly are described as being copper skinned), Jeremy is half Japanese, which you’d only know if you read Men Of The Otherworld- (and how that was handled is a whole other can of worms), and Katsuo. Katsuo is an angel who was a Samurai in life. Though he barely had a role in this story at all, he was handled pretty decently. One mercy was that Armstrong avoided the exotic Asian stereotype by having him appear in modern dress, as opposed to Marius who wore the clothes of a gladiator. However, Eve does use his Samurai nature to handwave and explain his motivations- relying on a shallow Asian stereotype to characterise him  isn’t great. But still, compared to what we got in Men Of The Otherworld, its a definite step up.

It’s a shame, because with all the interesting characters and supernaturals Kelley Armstrong creates, she isn’t too hot when it comes to including any kind of human diversity, and most of the characters feel very samey when it comes to their social/ cultural background and a lot of the leading ladies have a very similar voice.

Verdict: Because Kelley Armstrong is such a strong writer, for the flaws of the novella, its still better than 90% of what you would find out there. It doesn’t really add anything to the main series, and if you’re not a great Eve fan, there’s no reason why you have to read it. If you are an Eve fan, and would like a quick enjoyable read to kill a couple of hours, I’d definately give this a shot.

RATING: 4 good girls gone bad/ 5

BOOK REVIEW: STOLEN- by Kelley Armstrong

Blurb: When two desperate witches lure part-time journalist and full-time werewolf Elena Michaels into a carefully laid trap, she quickly learns that her perceptions about humanity are based on some fundamental flaws. In Kelley Armstrong’s supernatural thriller, Stolen, the world is populated with vampires, demons, half-demons, magical shamans and other supernatural races living anonymously among the human population–a concept that Elena has a hard time accepting, just as she struggled with her own lupine identity in Armstrong’s remarkable debut, Bitten.

But when Elena returns to her werewolf pack in upstate New York, pack leader Jeremy reveals that the threat people pose to the supernatural races should not be taken lightly. When Jeremy, Elena and her lover Clay decide to take action to protect their pack, Elena gets kidnapped on the orders of a power-crazed billionaire. While being held captive she learns that while some magical beings are good and some evil, none are capable of more outright cruelty and savage betrayal than ordinary, non-magical human beings.– amazon.

Review: Stolen is very much a transitional novel. While Bitten was stand alone and focused on the werewolves, this book  transforms the series into an ensemble piece with a dozen other magical creatures. Here, not only do we have the werewolves, we’re introduced to witches, half demons with different powers, shamans, sorcerers and vampires.

We get given an introduction to Paige and Savannah, who will go on to become protagonists for later books, as well as a host of other characters including Xavier, Leah, and Cassandra, who will be recurring characters in later books.

That’s quite a hefty task for one novel, and not only does it have to do all that, but it has to tell a decent story. Which it does well. While by far not my favorite in the series (that distinction goes to HauntedBitten and Industrial Magic), Stolen is far more than that boring middle book you’re stuck reading because it sets up the next book; It’s  a good story with a strong climax, and it introduces the new supernaturals in a way which feels natural and not like a big info dump.

Elena is captured by a big organisation experimenting on the supernatural. Her every movement is watched, and there are a whole host of enemies and dangerous characters whom you aren’t entirely clear whether they’re friend or foe. You know that Elena will make it out alive- when does the viewpoint character ever die?- but this novel makes painfully, uncomfortably clear that there’s a lot of other terrible things that could happen to her before then. Each botched escape attempt could result in serious repercussions; not only that, but the fate of the other people trapped in the institution is more uncertain- (and mild spoiler, not every one makes it out alive).

The reason I still read Women of the otherworld, a paranormal romance series, when I hate romance and I hate the ‘protective alpha male’ love interest (and by that I mean douchey stalker with no boundaries) , is because Armstrong is amazing at action sequences. The ending was great, and it had some real morally grey areas. Innocents had to suffer, and Stolen doesn’t sugarcoat the brutality of it.

Ty Winsloe is the main villain, and although he’s only human and not as compelling as say the super powered nasties that occupied Anita Blake‘s rogue gallery (before the series deteriorated into paint by numbers porn), he is still a realistic and unpleasant character you wouldn’t want to be trapped with. Xavier’s intriguingly untrustworthy, and … well, I won’t spoil it, but not only do we have wolves, but wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Paige and the all female witches were a breath of fresh air the series seriously needed. Too often in Urban Fantasy, we have a sassy, tomboyish heroine who’s the only strong female in the entire world who isn’t an evil slutty bitch who’s trying to steal the heroine’s man raaww.

Because of the insanely ridiculous ‘only female werewolf’ thing with Elena -which makes absolutely no sense but that’s a post for another time- this series was in danger of becoming this. I loved that Paige and Ruth love traditionally feminine things and it isn’t treated as inferior.

I loved it when Paige and Elena butt heads and Ruth casually freezes her and starts calmly telling them off for their lack of manners. I’m always a big fan of strong older woman and Ruth was great- reminding me of Grams from Charmed before the later series made her seem like kind of an asshole.

And now, with all the positive, we must get to the annoying element that blights all the Elena books: her taste in men.Fucking Clay- even reading about this man makes me feel suffocated and like I need space. Granted,  Elena is away from him most of the novel and so he’s less of an issue than, but their relationship still does manage to grate on my enjoyment. Here is a choice quote about their relationship:

I had to admit that since we’d been been back together, he really had been working at being less controlling, possessive, and over-protective. Not that he was giving me up and letting me live a semi-independent life. We kept separate bedrooms, but that was as far as it went.

Yes, Clay is needy, controlling, and imposes himself on her every second of the day. But of it isn’t because he’s a creepy, co-dependent douchebag. Oh no, it’s because he’s a werewolf and he can’t help it:

As part of my own relationship-saving efforts, I’d had to admit that this togetherness thing was part of Clay’s nature. Bitten as a child, he’d forgotten ever having been human […] He was more wolf than human. About the togetherness thing, Clay would argue that you’d never see a wolf telling its mate that it had to ‘get away for a while’ or needed ‘some personal space.’

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Yeah, that’s not how wolves work. If this were a real wolf pack, you wouldn’t get a mate and Elena (Alpha female by default) would start banging Jeremy, so I really wouldn’t pull the wolf card, Clayton. And of course, like with so many other stalking, douche-bag werewolf boyfriends (HAUPTMAN) , he blames it on being more wolf when this douchey behaviour has nothing to do with wolves- which I will go into on another post.

Second of all, as part of our relationship saving moves, Elena had to compromise and accept his stalking, possessive behavior as just how he is? Bullshit. This isn’t a compromise thing, this is HIS problem, HIS issue, HIS shit, not Elena’s, and there is no in between, HE needs to change- and agreeing to compromise is just enabling his behavior. Also, Elena’s making all the compromises. Throughout most of the series (I haven’t completed it, so I suppose it could change although I doubt it), he’s never less possessive, so Elena is just accepting it. Sure, she puts up a few token complaints because she’s a strong independent woman ™, but she never follows through, never forces him to change.

 I really can’t consider Elena as the strong heroine she’s marketed as when she puts up with this and their relationship- as much as I enjoy their snark and banter, their sexuality and rebelliousness, it really stops me from truly enjoying her books. I know I’ve railed on about this, and this is more a complaint about the series as a whole, but this unhealthy relationship dynamic really does ruin the Elena books for me. 

Thank God, the very nature of this plot meant that Clay and his co dependent behavior couldn’t ruin this book- although is it weird that a book where Elena is imprisoned by a pervert who can control her every move felt less suffocating than an average scene with her and her One True Love. But still, even if our heroine was kidnapped, at least she got to spend most of the novel trying to break out by herself without Clay breathing down her neck. And, once SPOILER she did escape, there was too much going on plot wise for Clay’s possessiveness to really cause any problems. 

The only other problem is that again, we have Elena doing incredibly  stupid and wreckless things. In the last book we had her running off alone to rescue Clay (actually running, instead of getting a bus or something- but fuck logic, WE NEED DRAMATIC TENSION!) This time we have her getting captured due to her own wreckless actions. We also have her HIGHLIGHT TO SHOW SPOILERS stopping in the middle of her own escape – still in the danger zone, after weeks of imprisonment and sexual abuse- to fuck her goddamed boyfriend.I mean, come on! A bunny in heat would exercise more control than this. It makes me doubt Elena when she says she earned her position as ‘voice of the alpha’, as I don’t think she’s shown to be responsible enough to babysit a pot plant, let alone… hell, let alone focus on her own escape!

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All the face palms  in the world can’t numb the pain

Gah, but in spite of all these frustrations what keeps me coming back to this series is the fact that Armstrong is an amazingly good writer. Her prose is elegant, descriptive and great at evoking scene and atmosphere while never slipping into any shade of purple.Her dialogue is natural and witty and her action sequences are always intense. If you can put up with the Alpha male douche love interest or *gasp* like paranormal romance, then I’d definitely check this series out, as this is definitely the best the genre has to offer.

Verdict: Stolen does a good job of transitioning women of the other world from a stand alone book about werewolves to an ensemble piece about multiple supernaturals. Not only that, but it’s a good story in its own right and definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed Bitten.

RATING:3 Kick ass she-wolves out of five

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: MOON CALLED (Mercy Thompson Book 1)- Patricia Briggs

Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson is a talented Volkswagen mechanic living in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. She also happens to be a walker, a magical being with the power to shift into a coyote at will. Mercy’s next-door neighbor is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she’s fixing a bus for a vampire. This is the world of Mercy Thompson, one that looks a lot like ours but is populated by those things that go bump in the night. And Mercy’s connection to those things is about to get her into some serious hot water.. 

Moon Called is the first in Briggs’ urban fantasy series featuring Mercy Thompson, a ‘walker’ (were-coyote) mechanic, who inhabits an alternate universe where super naturals live alongside humans. When she discovers that a mysterious organisation is experimenting on werewolves, she finds herself thrown deeper still into the dangerous world of supernatural politics.

In this novel, Briggs manages to craft a fantasy world that is both well executed and engaging. A problem that is prevalent in many other fantasy works is that the writer will bombard the reader with numerous supernatural races at once and then fail to develop them; the result is a story full of half formed, two dimensional species that are only distinguished by one or two different traits. This is a problem that Briggs manages to avoid; instead of overloading the reader with multiple races all at once, she introduces them one at a time and gives us details about their powers and their culture before moving on to the next one. The original lore of each species has clearly been well researched, and she combines this with her own invention to create a really unique take on the different species she introduces.

She has also created a decent heroine in Mercy Thompson. Mercy is a strong and likeable protagonist who can hold her own story and keep her head in a tense situation. Unlike with some writers who must resort to having their heroines constantly breaking down into soap operatic outbursts  in order to convey emotion, Briggs manages to express Mercy’s feelings with a great deal of sensitivity and subtlety.

The world and the characters are enjoyable enough to read about. The story moves forward at a steady pace that will keep the pages turning, though even towards the end the action never really heats up. The focus of the story is on the characters and the supernatural world rather than the main plotline. The action sequences are well done and entertaining, although Briggs never quite manages to create the kind of tension or suspense that will have you gripping the edge of your seat.

When the antagonist and their scheme were revealed I was left a little unconvinced, however. The extremes they went to seemed somewhat unnecessary for what they hoped to achieve. I could not help but think that there were numerous less convoluted methods they could have used to achieve the same goal.

Although this is not a tense novel by any standard, it is a quick and enjoyable read. I would recommend this for fans of urban fantasy that want a bit of light escapism.

RATING: 3.5 / 5

BOOK REVIEW: Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle- by Amy Fecteau

Matheus Taylor didn’t ask to be murdered.

To be fair, the percentage of people actually asking to be murdered is probably small enough to be safely ignored, but he felt it was worth stating regardless. His life might have been ordinary, but it was his life and he wasn’t done with it yet.

Quin didn’t care.

A seventeen-hundred old Roman, Quintus Livius Saturnius had a different view of morality than most people. Killing Matheus and hijacking his undead existence seemed perfectly acceptable to him.

Now, Matheus spends his nights running for his life, questioning his sexual orientation, and defying a mysterious new threat to the vampires within his city.

Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle is a hilarious book overflowing with dry humour and acidic one liners. It had me constantly bursting out into laughter in the middle of Costa (and causing half of the other customers to edge slowly away from this crazy hyena) while I read this.I think the best way to illustrate how good this book is, is to go through it and quote its best lines. But if I did I would just be quoting half the book and this is supposed to be a review and there are other things to discuss. Instead, I’ll just quote a few examples of the nuggets I found in this goldmine:

“I know there’s nothing wrong with being with gay,” Matheus said loudly, as though more volume equalled more truth.

“That’s English you’re speaking,” Mattheus said.” The language that sidles up to other languages in dark alleys, mugs them, then rifles through their pockets for spare vocabulary. It’s the bitch-whore of languages and it owns the world. Suck on that, Rome boy.”

Quin stalked beside him, his anger a physical presence between them. Matheus named it Bob, and addressed imaginary questions to it to distract himself.

Now, onto the plot. Too often paranormal romance stories don’t have a lot going on, and as a result seem direction-less. Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle actually avoided that pitfall and had a decent plot and a good climax.

The story focused on Mattheus’ journey in learning how to survive as a vampire, and his relationship with his maker, Quin. However, Mattheus’ past played a key role, and the way it was gradually fed through the story was well done and provided some real emotional stakes at the end. His relationship with Fletcher, a tragic figure and an important person from his past, was touching and brought some real sadness at the end. It had a good and convincing villain as well.

In spite of the fact that it’s fairly funny and light hearted, Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle doesn’t shy away from portraying the brutality of life as a  vampire. It does a good job of illustrating how tough it can be operating on such a necessarily cold moral code, and Mattheus is forced to do some dark things in the name of survival. It also addresses a number of clichés found in the vampire genre that are usually glossed over; for example, Quin discusses the need to teach Mattheus how to deal with passports and create a constant supply of money that will last an eternity. This is in a genre where we are used to seeing supernaturals being extremely rich because they  inherited a castle full of gold from a mysterious vampire who conveniently killed himself (looking at you The Vampire Lestat , who started all this).

However, you don’t really care much about the world when you’re reading it; you’re in it for the characters and the banter between them and it was amazing.

There are two lead two characters in this book: acid tongued, socially awkward Mattheus, and the man who made him a vampire, immortal Roman Quinn.  The story is a same-sex romance, though nothing’s explicit at this stage; it’s a love/ hate relationship where Mattheus is slowly dealing with the fact that Quinn turned him into a vampire against his will- and the fact that he is finding himself attracted to a man . A great thing about their relationship is that there is no coercion or dubious consent like in a lot of male/ male romancers written by and for women (or paranormal romance for that matter). In fact, Mattheus even directly brings up the trope:

“Stop following me. They give out pamphlets about that kind of behaviour. Showing up in a pamphlet is never good, Quin.”

One problem I had, however, was that although Mattheus’ bitingly sarcastic comments were hilarious, sometimes he crossed the line where his comments were so profoundly unmerited and nasty that it made him seem profoundly unlike-able. Sometimes it would have been nice if Fecteau could have just resisted the funny put down and just allowed Mattheus to act like a normal human being for a second and share a moment with another character rather than just going for the scathing out-down. This doesn’t ruin the book too much, but it does make Mattheus a weary character to deal with in spite of his humour.

The other characters, however, are great ; Milo, the only major black character,is a dry, no nonsense brilliant computer geek who doesn’t take any crap from Mattheus. Bianca is the main female lead and is funny and quirky and has a likeable relationship with Mattheus. Alaistair is Quinn’s self-absorbed ex and is the pretty boy Dorian Gray archetype who is not developed much here but will be in later books.

The one thing to note is that although the ending is complete, it does end very, very abruptly. Usually after the climax there’s a few pages to wind down, illustrate the aftermath and allow the reader to digest what’s just happened . Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle just cuts out as soon as the main conflict ends. This is because this series was originally published as an ongoing serial on Fecteau’s website, and the novel ends when the first story arch on the website ends. The ending isn’t exactly a let down, but it does not feel quite complete.

Overall, Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle was an amazing read. Even if gay or paranormal romance is not your cup of tea, I would still strongly recommend reading this for its sense of humour alone.

RATING: 5 Bitingly sarcastic put downs from a socially awkward vampire/ 5

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BOOK REVIEW: Bitten- by Kelley Armstrong

Elena Michaels didn’t know that her lover Clay was a werewolf until he bit her, changing her life forever. Betrayed and furious, she cannot accept her transformation, and wants nothing to do with her Pack.
When a series of brutal murders threatens the Pack – and Clay – Elena is forced to make an impossible choice. Abandon the only people who truly understand her new nature, or help them to save the lover who ruined her life, and who still wants her back at any cost.

Bitten is the debut novel of Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Other World Series, the inspiration of the TV series of the same name. In every way it is very standard Paranormal Romance / Urban fantasy, but what distinguishes this novel from the pack is Armstrong’s writing.

Her world building is strong. Werewolves are one of the big three of urban fantasy (the big three being vampires, werewolves and witches or some similar kind of spell caster), and they aren’t shockingly different from the wolves of your Mercy Thompson novels or any other urban fantasy series. But the werewolves’ lore is extremely well fleshed out in this story, and their world and history is deep and interesting.

Her descriptions of scene and atmosphere are detailed and really brings to life everywhere Elena is to life- whether it’s the gym, Bear Valley, or the forest where the pack are hunting deer.

However, it’s the action scenes and the humour in which is Armstrong really shines. I think the only way to do justice to Armstrong’s brilliant one liners is to give an example:

He flipped through the pages, stopping on a photo of a bikini-clad redhead sprawled over the hood of a Corvette Stingray…

“What’s the woman doing there?” he asked

“Covering a scratch on the hood. She was cheaper than a new paint job.”

Armstrong’s wit is on form throughout the whole novel. All the action sequences are fast paced, very tense and exciting. They grab you from the word go, whether it’s a deer chase or a show down with the Big Bad.

As for characters, the villains in this book are… serviceable. They aren’t memorable like the ones that can be found in Anita Blake’s (pre book 10) rogue gallery, but their motivations seem believable and they do provide a legitimate threat for Elena and the pack to fight against.

And speaking of Elena, the main selling point of this series is the strong ass-kicking female leads. Bitten delivers. Gorgeous, biting witty, no nonsense and a supernaturally strong fighter, Elena is an extremely engaging character. She is not your virginal lead, and is unashamedly sexual- and the many sex scenes, for that matter, are smouldering. Her downfall however, is being overly impulsive and making bafflingly stupid and reckless decisions. There is one point where she rushes to find the antagonists- while all alone, with no backup- without telling the pack where she’s going and having a big part of her plan hinging on them figuring out where she is and riding in for the rescue. Unfortunately, this is a stupid streak that will continue through later books.

Then, with all these good points, what could possibly go wrong? Well, our heroine Elena has a serious character flaw: her choice in men. Clayton Danvers is one of my most loathed characters in literature and ruins every Elena book he’s in. He is an (unfortunately) very typical paranormal romance lead, and if you’re a big fan of the genre and like the domineering alpha male love interests, you will love Clay. He has a lot of good points: he is gorgeous, sexy, and passionate, has hilarious banter with Elena and he has a single target sexual attraction towards her. Their relationship is very passionate, intense and high drama like Catherine and Heathcliff. But also like Heathcliff, Clay is very possessive and puts his obsession for Elena above Elena’s wellbeing. Clay is possessive to the point where his relationship with Elena becomes co-dependent and stalkerish.

First of all, they met when Elena was a student and Clay was professor of anthropology (a job that after this we never see him do or talk about because businessman Dominic is the only werewolf we actually see do any real work). The much older male love interest is a prevalent feature of Armstrong’s Otherworld series. The fact that he was a professor teaching her class is a dubious start.

Then, Clay bites her. He doesn’t talk to her, doesn’t try and tell her about what he is or give her a choice, he just bites her. He forces a dangerous, irreversible life choice on Elena without even talking to her. This is a big conflict between the two throughout the book, but even reviewers who dislike Clay’s actions don’t quite emphasise how bad he is. There’s a scene where Elena looks at the werewolf dossiers- the history of werewolves- and there’s a section that details all previous attempts to create female werewolves. They all died.

Now, as a man who’s been a werewolf since a child, and as an (alleged) academic, there’s no way that Clay could have not realised that attempting to turn Elena would most likely kill her. This means that he was willing to risk killing Elena rather than risk her leaving. I don’t care how well Clay knows Elena’s taste in maple syrup or how much he worries about her. This is not love; this is limerence; this is self-absorbed obsession.

I could list numerous instances of Clay’s manipulative, pushy and controlling behaviour (he gets very jealous when Elena tries to have other friends), but I will let this point speak for itself.

Elena may be ‘tough’ in the feisty, 21st century ‘Strong Independent Women Hear Me Roar’ way. I would actually find a more timid, female lead who cried a lot and wasn’t an amazing fighter- but had the strength to really stay away from Clay – to be a stronger female lead. All in all, this is a brilliant book and I would be giving it 4/5 for writing quality alone. But sadly the presence of Clay drags its score down.

RATING: 3 ½ restraining orders from the other world / 5

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