REVIEW: THE PACK VOL.2- by Paul Louise Julie

First we had werewolves mixed with Ancient Egyptian mythology, centering around Nubian characters. Here, we get introduced to were crocodiles, Akhenatan, and a potential new female lead.

In my last review of the Pack (which is here), I said that the artwork was astounding, but the story was unnecessarily disjointed and it was extremely difficult to tell the characters apart due to them constantly being obscured by light and shadow. Well, I’m happy to report that the story has improved around the board.

The artwork is still achingly beautiful, and by God, some of the scenery. I mean check this out and tell me that’s not one of the most beautiful background images you’ve ever seen:

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This spread is dizzyingly beautiful and although this is by far the most impressive piece of artwork in the book, the rest of it looks great. Louise-Julie’s artwork is far better utilised than before. He’s lost his aversion to drawing faces and I can tell everyone apart now. Although the faces aren’t exactly beautiful to look at, they’re still very human and expressive, and really do fit in with the art work.

The panel organisation is a lot better now as there’s more rhyme and reason to their placement. Before, the placement was a bit chaotic and the action sequences felt cluttered. Here, the action sequences are more linear and you can tell what’s going on. Not only that, but we’ll also have the light and space used to the story’s advantage, like we can see below with the eerie unnatural blue being used to create a spooky, almost nightmarish atmosphere for our werewolf fight sequence.

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The story telling is also far more polished than it was in the last issue. Gone was the nonsensical jumping between beginning and end, and no longer is it defined by the ludicrous plot point that the brothers split up for no apparent reason. Now, we’re at a point where the brothers have met up, the younger brother Khenti, and they’re planning to escape to Nubia, but are attacked by Egyptians and Khenti is forced to go full werewolf on them, as can be seen above.

There’s actually some nice bonding going on between the brothers, and it’s good to see them developed more now that the story’s slowed down. Not only that, but we’re also introduced to what looks like is going to be our big bad: historical pharaoh Akhenatan, the man who was to Ancient Egyptian religion what Henry VIII was to Christianity. We get a bit about a pivotal moment in his life- when his father was a complete badass and saved him from a crocodile, telling him everything submits to the Pharoah. Considering that his only actions in this comic seem to be tyrannical, it looks like we might be heading for a chaotic evil villain with a God Complex, and an ‘even a God King can bleed’ 300 style take down, but it’s still too early to say.

We’re introduced to the idea of an Anubis Cult- which wasn’t surprising, considering we have human/ wolf monsters in ancient Egypt, and jackal headed Anubis is the closest yo get to a werewolf myth. Not only that, but we have another shifter- evil crocodile shifter, Gharis, who works for the Pharoah and may be ‘the dragon’ (basically a really powerful minion of the main villain- what Darth Vader is to The Emporor and what Princess Azula was to The Fire Lord in ATLA.)

The storytelling is still extremely straight forward and simple, but it works and it allows the art work to shine.

VERDICT: Second issue in and already Paul Louise-Julie has improved by leaps and bounds in terms of storytelling and the way he uses his layout and artwork to maximum effect. I look forward to seeing where this story will go.

 

 

THE PACK- by Paul Louise Julie

I’ve read  a lot of vampire and werewolf fiction in my time, and the tropes and conventions sometimes get a little bit monotonous after a while. So when I heard of this- a werewolf story set in Ancient Africa, centring around the attempt of two brothers to escape Alavert and to get to Nubia, I was sold. How cool is that? Especially since in any book set in the ancient world, Nubias often little more than a kingdom that’s invaded by Egypt.

First and foremost, I absolutely have to mention the art work, and it is truly worth the price of admission. It has this really gorgeous way of rendering spaces, and its art style gives a feel for the time. I mean take a look at this:

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The watercolour, the bright colours, the reflections on the marble and the detail on the plant life really bring to life the opulence of the Egyptian palace. It’s not just this page- the entire book Is this well drawn and it’s an astounding experience. Clearly a lot of hard work and research has gone into creating an authentic looking ancient North Africa. As for the werewolves, they look a great. Take a look at the one below.

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The harsh black lines against the lush green forest really do lend it a primal, ancient nightmarish feel. The author said that because werewolves aren’t really part of ancient African mythology, he combined the wolf with some other creatures to make it more fitting, and it looks intimidating. Its build is strong like a lion, and its little mane and tail remind me a bit of a hyena- but either way, it’s all predator and  truly is the monster that frightened us as children.

So many different styles and colors have been experimented with in this issue, and it’s an artistic marvel. Because of this, I would strongly recommend it to absolutely anything, as this artwork you won’t see anywhere else.

As for the story telling, it’s okay, and Paul Louise Julie has the talent but is still coming into his own. The story of this issue is pretty simple- two brothers are part of a group of Nubian assassins who are slaves (albeit highly exulted ones who get to live in a beautiful palace and are given a lot of wine, women and privilege), and they want to escape. It’s a pretty decent start, and introduces us to the world and gives us a basic outline of the two brothers- ones more serious and wants to escape, the other’s more on the fence but gets thrown into things- but its downfall is it’s told in a needlessly convoluted way.

For some weird reason, we start off not at the beginning, but at events which take place near the end of the first issue, which is still close to the beginning of the saga. Worse still, we constantly cut between the two events. All it means is that what’s a pretty simple story becomes harder to follow and we’re constantly pulled out of the action of both events- the brother’s escape or Khenti’s capture- when things start to heat up, and it’s harder to get caught up in either of them.

There is no good reason for this. I mean, the whole point of this technique is usually as a way of giving it a feel of inevitability and tragic foreshadowing- like with Blood Brothers, where we’re shown that the story’s going to end in tragedy so that even during the happier scenes, an air of ominousness hangs around and we’re watching carefully to see how they build up to the tragedy. The same is true with Madoka Magica, and even Moulin Rouge, which used whiny one’s (I forget his name even though I’ve been forced to watch it so many times) retrospective narration to tell us that this is going to be a tragic love story.

Here, there’s absolutely no point of this- what is it meant to foreshadow? That there’s going to be conflict and werewolves in it? Well, it’s called The Pack and it tells us it’s about werewolves in the description on the site, so there’s no need to tell us that. Is it because the writer feels they need a way to hook us? It begins (chronologically) with an assassination attempt- that’s action enough.

Also, there’s the bizarre plot hole that although the older brother keeps on saying that he wants his younger brother, when they escape the palace he splits up with him for no reason and says ‘see you in three weeks’. Why do they split up to go to the port to take them to Nubia? I know, story wise, why it was necessary to have them separated (so the younger brother-Khenti- can meet the wolf) but there’s no good reason for them to. They were both together and were both going to the same place, and splitting up would just increase the risk of losing one another. It was contrived.

What really needed to happen, storywise ,  was for the older brother- Nekhet-to give his younger brother instructions on what to do if they got separated, and for them to be put under pressure by pursuing Egyptians and for them to lose each other in the chaos. This is an important plot beat that was skipped, and as a result that moment just left me scratching my head.

The other problem is the character designs; they work fine and the simplicity makes them more reminiscent of ancient art, but most of the time the characters are heavily obscured by dazzling light or dark shadows.

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Can you really tell any of them apart? I can’t. It could get really difficult  figuring out who was speaking, and I had to reread and reread certain parts to figure out who’s saying what. Also, I thought the person narrating at the beginning was the older brother when in fact it was the younger brother.

Honestly, the story’s there, the writing has promise, and the art and concept are both absolutely perfect, but it’s not quite there yet thanks to some shakey execution. However, one of the big problems- the needless and convoluted framing device- is going to be out of the window in the next issue, and from what I’ve seen with his later work on Yohance, his skill at the craft does improve, so I have hope for future issues and am definitely down for the ride.

VERDICT: This graphic novel is absolutely worth checking out. The concept of a werewolf story in Ancient North Africa is utterly original, the art work is one of a kind and worth the price of admission alone. The execution of the story so far is a little shakey, but it’s the first issue of the author’s debut series, so there’s plenty of potential for it to get better as the author settles into the writing.

For a look at The Pack Part 1, click here.

TOP 7 VAMPIRE AND WEREWOLF TROPES THAT NEED TO BE STAKED TO DEATH

Vampires have changed a lot since their soulless bloodsucking days of Camilla, Dracula and Varney. No longer a shrivelled menace, but a sexy, sexy protagonist with a dark, brutal past .. washboard abs… and the pain of centuries of loss and denial and longing carried on their big, muscular hunky shoulders… (did I mention abs?) Yeah, goodbye evil demon and hello brooding sex God, vampires are totally teenage fap material now, while werewolves, though  less popular (the bestiality thing is kind of a boner killer), are the cool macho alternative; they can transform at will, are the natural rivals of vampires, and provide a caveman alternative to the metrosexual, refined seducers that are the vampires.

But while change is not bad (and as a woman I admit I actually love the sexy vampires and werewolves as action leads), there are some new annoying patterns that are beginning to emerge again and again. And there are some conventions that just need to be staked to death…

1) The ridiculous homophobia and racism analogies

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Damn those bigots and their intolerance against beings who frequently kill people!

There’s fantastic racism , but ever since the X-men became mainstream, comparing ‘discrimination’ against your supernatural creatures  to homophobia (while not actually including any actual gay people  as anything more than sassy comic relief or victims) has become the new trend to make a story more ‘edgy’ and ‘relevant’. But comparing the prejudice against a typically harmless minority to a justified fear against a supernatural  whose means of survival regularly ends in murder and torture is ridiculous.

Vampires  are feared  and hated because they’re extremely powerful with absurd wealth, often contacts in high position and have superpowers which they tend to use to kill people on a regular basis.

Fearing vampires/ witches/ werewolves isn’t discrimination- it’s is an entirely reasonable reaction to the threat they pose and the only reason it’s portrayed as prejudice is because vampires and wolves are super hot. If vampires looked less like David ‘putting the Buff in Buffy’ Boreanaz and more like Uncle Lurch, we would still be calling them monsters and no one would call it prejudice. And speaking of sexy vampires….

2) The  whining about the curse of being a super powered sparkly sex God

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Look at my monstrousness!

Ah, the trope that began with Louis, became mainstream with Angel and reached its horrifying pinacle with Edward Cullen: the vampire who is Just. So. Tortured. About being this super special immortal sex God…

Look, there is nothing terrible about being a modern vampire. Nothing.Sure, in the days of Dracula, when people were superstitious and vampires were actual monsters, becoming an evil hell beast would have been a serious downer. But not any more.

In pretty much every modern vampire series, vampires are the ultimate wish fulfillment. They’re eternally young, super sexy, super powered and in many versions they don’t even need to kill people to survive. When they do, there’s usually a way to only kill bad people- like Lestat’s mind reading in the vampire chronicles. Hell, half of them can even go out in the frickin’ sun.

Sure, you can’t have kids (well in some versions you can have little Dhampir babies), but that is pittance compared to all the benefits. There is no downside, and their plight is about as sympathetic as those characters from 90s who whined about how empty it was to have a great job and a nice car.

Lestat here sums up exactly how I feel whenever this trope comes up…

3) The Female Werewolf as the only one, an aberration or an anomaly

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Elena the lone female werewolf. Leah the only werewolf in Quilette history. Even in Wolf’s Rain, which has by far the best portrayal of wolves I’ve seen, SPOILER Blue the lone main female wolf in the series doesn’t count and can’t SPOILER enter paradise with the rest of the pack because of her  half dog status and is always the outsider in the pack.Female werewolves in the Mercy Thompson series are rare, and though Mercy herself is a skin walker (though I think that was retconned in later books), she is similar to this trope as she’s a rare canine shifter and is desirable to the males because she’s one of the only females whom they can breed with . And for that matter, the werecats in the shifter series operate on a similar basis. Female werewolves are always extremely rare and a HUGE emphasis is often placed on their fertility.

This makes NO sense. This makes no sense whatsoever. What kind of species operates like this? Not real wolves, which has a pretty even gender split. Moreover, in a wolf pack only the Alpha couple will breed, meaning that the fertility of the rest of the females aren’t a big issue.

It is an absolutely annoying trope which often reduces females to commodities to be fought over because of their gender, or treats them as a bizarre anomaly. And speaking of werewolves…

4) ‘Of course they’re like that- they’re werewolves’ as an excuse for the male lead’s douchey behaviour

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Paranormal Romance: making this guy look like the paragon of progressive gender roles

Clay Danvers. Adam Hauptmann. The literal alpha male. He’s  possessive and controlling. He makes decisions for our heroine ‘for her own good’.Not because he’s a co-dependent dick with no boundaries, oh no. It’s because he’s a werewolf, not a human, and of course they’re like that. Okaaayy now…

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First off, werewolves don’t exist and therefore  they don’t have to be anything. If they’re sexist dicks, then they’re sexist dicks because the writer chose to write them that way and that’s a really terrible thing to make your romantic lead. If vampires can stop being hideous chaotic evil monsters and go out in the sunlight sunbathing (which is wrong on so many levels), then werewolves can not be completely terrible too.

Second off, this has nothing to do with actual wolf behaviour. Compared with primates, wolves are fairly egalitarian, as they have an alpha couple, and a parallel rank structure for each gender- the males compete with the males while the females compete with the females. The curse of the werewolf should make men less patriarchal compared with humans if anything.

And finally, even if being a werewolf meant he had to be a controlling dick, for reasons, then there’s still no reason why any woman should put up with this. I don’t care if they’re mate bonded/ pinkie promised whatever  and he just can’t help himself- no.  That’s his problem and his responsibility. No heroine should have to put up with this.

There are plenty of human men out there, and If he wants to be with her that badly, because they’re SOULMATES, and IF SHE SAYS NO  it will cause A WHOLE PACK RIFT and HE CAN NEVER LOVE ANOTHER WOMAN AGAIN, then he needs to get his shit together. Just because he’s a werewolf doesn’t mean he’s not sentient and can’t control his actions- which are nothing like any real wolf. And if it does mean that, then he is a monster who needs a silver bullet not sympathy.

This trope is like Beauty and the Beast if Belle loved Beast BECAUSE of his shitty behavior and she didn’t make him change.Sounds fucked up? Well, welcome to paranormal romance.

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See this? This is Belle’s ‘I’m not impressed by your Alpha male shit’ face.

 

5) The Stupid Amount Of Money That’s Always Brushed Over

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This is more a trope I want to see explored rather than wiped out. Most vampires and often werewolves are insanely wealthy and it’s never really explained how. But it really should. How do they do that? I mean, when you can’t go out in daylight, can’t age and therefore can’t stay in the same job long enough to build a business empire.

I mean, think of the possibilities: maybe they gain money by offering the rich and powerful money in exchange for their business know how, creating a rather privilidged class of dangerous aristocrats (like Dracula). Or they could constantly have to make human contacts to look after their money? This trope is something that began with Dracula and continued with The Vampire Chronicles, and should really be something that’s explored.

6) The Generic Sexed Up Vampire Babe

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Vampires aren’t nearly as male dominated as werewolves, but when you think of all the prominent pop culture vampires: Dracula, Louis, Lestat, Jean Claude, Alucard, Blade, Angel, Spike, Bill, Damon, and many more, they’re all men. Honestly, the highest profile female vampires in pop culture I can think of are Marceline from Adventure Time, Claudia from Interview with the Vampire, those strippers from Dusk Till Dawn and that little girl whose name nobody remembers from let the right one in.

Vampires in fiction are very male dominated, And when females do appear? It’s usually not good. While male vampires can be heroes and villains, sexual and well rounded, vampire women are usually always evil and are relegated to the laziest of all female villain tropes: the evil sexy women. No ‘complex’ brooding for you, you are just evil and like sex, and use sex to get your way. And it is boring. These characters are comparatively shallower, less memorable than their male counterparts.

It’s a shame, because while Camille and Elizabeth Bathory provide some great precedents for cool female vampires, who are sexual but also powerful, Instead they seem to always use the overdone Bride of Dracula route with a bit of vampire queen Akasha from Queen of the Damned mixed in, as often vampires will have a female Queen or leader.

In short, we need more Francines and Claudias in our life, and less of these vampire succubus.(although Claudia is the mother of the creepy child female vampire trope which while enjoyable, is still a role that women get relegated to.)

7) The Ridiculously Old Vampire That Acts Like A 12 Year Old- and the Immortal Teenager

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Ever since The Vampire Chronicles introduces the ‘children of Millenia’ and the idea that a vampire’s strength increases with age, we’ve had a litany of vampires who are just stupidly old and it really has no bearing on their character. Especially the goddamned immortal teenagers.I mean, age just seems like a status symbol in vampire fiction, like a rolex watch.

Even if a vampire is old enough to have seen kingdoms rise and fall, or at least old enough to have seen the horrors of both world wars, their biggest priority is getting that 17 year old to go prom, or the decor or whatever childish problem they have…

It shouldn’t be that way. Having an ancient vampire that has lived through God knows how many tragedies should change the character and make them extremely different from the rest of us. Say what you will about Anne Rice and her purple prose, at least she made their immortality mean something, at least we felt the impact of the years on them and they felt different from everyone else around them. In many modern works, the immortality means nothing and doesn’t has lost so much of its impact.

 

Those were my top 7 biggest gripes with the werewolf and vampire mythologies, and if you have your own I’d love to hear about them.

 

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: 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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