Showing posts with label demons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label demons. Show all posts

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Wraithborn Redux by Marcia Chen, Joe Benitez, Joe Weems, Victor Llamas, Studio F, Mike Garcia

Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I should have paid more attention to the 'redux' portion of this title! It makes me wonder what went wrong with the first one that necessitated this one. For me, this one failed also, and there were multiple reasons for it. One was that it offered nothing new, and brought nothing original to this genre's table. Worse than this, we have a supposedly heroic female main character who is always in need of rescue. It was pretty sad.

Add to that the absurd over-sexualization of every single female character who appeared in this story - except of course the designated "Fat One" who actually only looked 'fat' because all other females in the story were anorexic everywhere except for their breasts. There was school-bullying running rife with no teachers in sight. There were trope cliques and not a single thing that was fresh or refreshing to read. Overall, it was a decidedly pathetic effort at redux-ing trope and cliché. And that was just the school. The demons and those which controlled them were no better and no more inventive.

Just how many warmed-over tropes were there here? Almost too many to count. We have the designated hero raised and trained by eastern monks. There was a twist to this: that the untrained unsuspecting girl gets the power he was trained for, and this is what attracted me to this story, but even that twist was a fail in the final analysis because this girl was so clueless and so helpless. Even when she began to warm up to her role, she was still completely lackluster and unappealing.

In her we had the semi-orphaned nondescript girl who's a nervous wreck, and who's bullied by cheerleaders! Seriously? Who can't kick a cheerleader's ass?! This girl, Melanie, has your standard quirky, supportive friend. There's a red under the bed (literally red-haired here), and demon dogs which came straight out of the Alien movie series. They were not the only movie rip-off. Kalin, the guy who was supposed to be the wraithborn dude, is a rip-off of Kylo Ren, right down to the first initial, the sword, the black robes, and the ridiculous and totally unnecessary face mask. Seriously?

These morons fight with swords when a machine gun would have done a better job on the Alien dogs in a tenth of the time. What the hell is wrong with these writers and artists? Sword-fighting dudes and pneumatic females? Please! Get a life! Get a clue. Come up with something truly original. Then you won't have to wonder why your comic isn't selling. This one was crap and I certainly do not recommend it. In fact it's comic books like this that make me think it's worth petitioning not for a maturity rating aimed at those who read the comic, but a maturity rating for those who write and illustrate the thing so I get some advance warning of what I'm getting into.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lucifer Book Four by Mike Carey and assorted artists and colorists

Rating: WARTY!

I requested three graphic novels from the local library because I am not about to spend thirty dollars for a graphic novel i probably will not like! All three are going back one of them unread, the other two read only a quarter the way through in one case and half-way through in the other.

They're all tied (very loosely as it happens) to a TV series Lucifer which is based on the character from the Sandman comics, and which I really enjoy. I tried a couple of the Sandmans a while ago, and did not like them at all, but I thought maybe the dedicated Lucifer comics might be better. They were not. I looked at two of them. I made it only a quarter way through the mainstream one, and I was not impressed at all by either one I looked at, so I did not even open the third. I'll stick with the TV show.

In view of the comments I make below, I should mention here that the TV series has some racism about it in that the entire cast is nearly all white. There are two main characters: Amenadiel, played by D. B. Woodside who is black, and a Cape Colored South African-born actress Lesley-Ann Brandt, who plays Mazikeen. Both of these guys are are excellent, so people of color are not quite as underrepresented here as in the comic books, but are still shamefully absent. The difference though is that there is a far larger pool of people controlling the TV show than there is the comic book. While I readily admit it should not be so, it seems to me that it would be a lot easier to depict whoever you want in a graphic novel, including making a fair representation of people of all colors, and yet still they failed.

This volume (volume four, and I have not read the previous three, so I admit to coming into this in progress) was a fat tome, fully three-quarters of an inch across the spine, but there is no page numbering so I can't quote a page count. While saying again that I came into this in progress (the library did not have any earlier volumes), if I were to pick up any novel at random and start in on it half-way through, it would make some kind of sense. It might be missing key facts and important information, but at least the layout of the story would be coherent. Such was not the case here. I had no good idea what was going on or where it was supposed to be going.

Worse than this, was that what did come through with crystal clarity were some obnoxious themes running through this work, like rotted threads in a fabric, and which are evidently common to this series judged by what I've now seen of it. The worst of these is the racism. All the good-looking stand-up characters are white. All the obviously evil characters are people of color. That's truly sick and warped. Yes, 80% of the artists doing this volume are white (only Ronald Wimberly is black), but is this an excuse? No. Additionally, the male artists are as usual, squeamish about depicting male genitalia, but have no problem at all sexualizing woman.

That's not acceptable to me and I cannot recommend such a gory (again the gore was often of adults abusing children - what is wrong with these writers and artists?) and disjointed work where the sole purpose of it seems to be perpetuating a sick story instead of telling an engaging one.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Accidental Demonslayer by Angie Fox

Rating: WARTY!

I liked the oddity of this story and the title, but when I began reading it, I ran into some issues. The first is that it's your usual cliché of the ignorant special snowflake coming into their power and knowledge of who they are. The main difference here is that the demon-slayer here isn't your usual wilting, vapory YA girl. Lizzie Brown is an older woman who teaches kindergarten. We still get the story in first person though, which can be annoying, but in this case, it wasn't awful. She lives alone (save for her Jack Russell Terrier dog), in a loft apartment and is an adopted child, her mother having given her up when she was a baby. So lots of trope. The differences were not only in her age, but also in that there was humor here, some of which missed the mark for me, but some of which was funny, such as when she tells her little dog "Feel free to protect me from butterflies, the vacuum cleaner, my hair dryer". I thought that was great.

On Lizzie's birthday, her grandmother shows up out of the blue riding a pink Harley Davidson motorbike, and she locks Lizzie in the bathroom. She's wanting Lizzie confined while the latter undergoes her slayer transformation. Why this happens when she turns thirty (or whatever age she is) is a mystery, and it's even more of a mystery why her grandmother locks her up and refuses to tell her anything - this again is tedious trope. What goes wrong though is that a demon shows up intent upon killing Lizzie, but it's told in more of a humorous vein than a dramatic or scary one. After this event is when Lizzie starts to get her education. She also realizes she can hear her dog - which talks like a frat boy rather than a dog might talk if it could - and which became annoying quite quickly, the occasional humorous comment notwithstanding.

The story really started sliding towards oblivion for me though, when the clichéd muscular, protective male showed up. I'm not a woman (I've never even played one on TV, believe it or not), but if I were a woman, I think I'd be a bit pissed-off with some stranger showing up trying to lay a claim on me and arguing with my grandmother about who has dibs on me! But the problem was much worse than that. Here we have this almighty demon-slayer, who comes along only once in three generations, and who is so scary to demons that they launch an orchestrated campaign to kill her off, and yet she needs protector? This immediately devalues her and renders her as little more than a maiden tied to a stake awaiting Saint George to come along and slay the dragon before he carries her off on his pretty charger (and by that I mean horse, nothing untoward!).

It felt like a betrayal to me. It's fine by me if she has a guy who is an equal partner, and it's also fine if, assuming it's done intelligently and realistically, they fall in love by the end of the story, but to set up this woman as some exceptional demon destroyer and then slap us (and her) in the face with "well, she's really just an air-headed and weak flibbertigibbet" is inexcusable.

It was at this point that I decided this book was not for me - or for anyone else who likes a smartly-written urban fantasy and female protagonists who have a healthy self-respect and are not in dire need of some abusive male to validate them. As soon as Dimitri (seriously? You couldn't come up with a better name than a Vampire Academy retread?) started asserting ownership of Lizzie, and literally manhandling her around - like dragging her into a corner to lecture her, and insisting she leave her bedroom window open so he can "talk to her later," and actually kissing her without so much as a by-your-leave - I'm leaving! Lizzie should have kicked him in his balls right there and then. She didn't. She's having palpitations and marveling at his muscles instead. He's just man-meat and she should have been marveling at the lack of muscle in his head. If you like moronic female leads, and guys who are outright dicks, then this is definitely for you. For me, I couldn't bear to read any more of this nonsense.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Black Magic Series Starter by Dennis Wheatley

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a collection of three full-length novels by Dennis Wheatley, who was a phenomenally successful writer in Britain from the 1930s to the 60's. For me, The Devil Rides Out was his best work, but the other two in this collection are also excellent reads if you're interested in the subject matter. I devoured these as a teen. Viewed as historical fiction, they hold up well, but there are some caveats.

The Devil Rides Out

I reviewed The Devil Rides Out back in January 2014 as part of a different Wheatley collection, but this one contains the same story so I will just refer you to that review for details. The basic story, set in the 1930s, consists of a group of close friends who find themselves up against the works of the Devil himself as embodied in his black magician disciple Mocata. Mocata is striving to achieve some devilish ends, and one of the friends, Simon Aaron, has foolishly got himself under the man's sinister influence. The Duc de Richlieu who is the only one of the group who has any magical experience, enters the fight along with Rex Van Ryn, who falls in love with one of the Satanic women who is also a neophyte in the Devil-worshipping group. Friends Richard and Marie-Lou Eaton also join the fray. It's a good old fashioned scary-story smothered in Christian religion mythology. I'm not a believer, but I love a good Satanic magic romp!

Strange Conflict

This is another in the Duc de Richlieu series. In it, the same people from The Devil Rides Out join forces again, to wage a battle, but this time on the astral plane. The story is set in the beginning of World War Two, with the question of how are the Nazis discovering the travel routes of British warships so successfully? Well, a magician is using the astral plane to convey intelligence, and the Duc and his pals array themselves against him. The story is replete with weird and wonderful conflicts in astral form, and also a tour of life in Haiti, with the attendant zombies - not the ridiculous ones of the modern era, but the original zombies - and they are surprising. Be warned that Wheatley is pompous, opinionated, devoutly upper-crust, rather racist, and full of British jingoism made worse by a war mentality, so if you want to enjoy this and his other works, you have to turn a blind eye to those failings. Whether he would have been a more enlightened person today, I do not know. I somehow doubt it.

The Haunting of Toby Jugg

Again set in World War Two, this novel features the improbably-named Toby Jugg, who is about to turn twenty-one and looks towards inheriting his grandfather's business fortune, since his father and mother are both dead and he has no siblings. His only relatives are his uncle, Paul and his aunt, Julia. There is one problem: he seems to be slowly losing his mind. It's not his only problem. Having been shot while flying on an air raid, he's paralyzed from the waist down and needs a nurse to take care of him. That's fine during the day, but it's at night when the nightmares come: visions of horrific creatures slithering and crawling all around him. His new nurse, charmer though she is, doesn't believe him and thinks he's just a spoiled, rich, baby. She doesn't know that his guardian, Helmuth Lisicky, is Satan worshipper who is causing his nightmares.

These stories were entertaining enough for me when I was in my young adult days, I wonder if I might find them so engaging now? If you have never read them, they do contain - aside from the irritating and offending parts, which are not overwhelming - some great occult and black magic story-telling which is untainted by modern custom and trope. It makes for a refreshing read in that regard, at least. I'd recommend these - with the above-mentioned caveats - for a change from modern reading and a different story-telling perspective.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Adventures of Basil and Moebius by Ryan Schifrin and Larry Hama

Title: The Adventures of Basil and Moebius
Author: Ryan Schifrin
Author: Larry Hama
Publisher: Magnetic Press
Rating: WARTY!

Illustrated by Rey Villegas, Lizzy John, Novo Malgapo, and Adam Archer.
Lettered Dave Sharpe and Ed Dukeshire

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Alaric Moebius and Basil Fox (a take on Basil Brush maybe?!) are two adventurers. Moebius is, by his own admission, a cat burglar (no, he doesn't steal cats, he climbs around buildings like a cat and steals valuables). Fox is supposedly a British soldier from the Special Air Services (SAS), although in the second of the three stories combined in this volume he's shown as a Grenadier Guard, guarding Buckingham palace. This seems highly unlikely. He's either one or the other, not both. Either one of which isn't going to give him laissez faire to sneak out at night and gallivant around London. This was one of a number of errors in authenticity in this fiction.

No one in Britain calls cops 'Peelers'. And they don't routinely carry guns (now if this had been set in Northern Ireland that might have been a different matter, but Scotland? No!). 'Peelers' is really an Irish name coined after Sir Robert Peel formed the Metropolitan Police Force in London in 1829. The more common name in use (again from Peel's name) was 'Bobbies', but they're more likely called simply 'cops' these days.

The cops are drawn authentically, but the cars they use are not. Metro cars are highly colorful, not plain white. This kind of thing tends to be a problem when Americans try to write a Brit story. We get odd conjugations of slang, way-the-hell too much supposedly 'Cockney rhyming slang', and oddball mash-up phrases joining Americanisms with Brit-isms. In this particular case, we got interesting statements like: "So what's the heist, Guv?" and "...beat the ever-lovin' shite...". Maybe non-Brit readers will love this, but Brits will likely be irritated by it at best.

There was a notable number of these things, including some really weird ones. For example, at one point, one of the characters, in process of shutting-up Alaric before he can expose this guy, says, "...I know just the place to keep him until the gendarmerie arrives." I have no idea whatsoever where that out-of-left-field comment came from! The guy is supposedly Israeli, not French, so why an Israeli would talk about French police in Scotland is a complete mystery - unless, of course he actually was French and this is a ham-fisted way to out him to the reader, but he'd have to be pretty stupid to make a gaff like that - and this wasn't the case anyway.

There's also some gun-play going on here, which is not unknown even in Britain, but which is also relatively rare there. The point here isn't that it was depicted, but that no one was at all shocked by it when one character shot another - and in the back, too. No one batted an eyelid. I found that beyond belief. Even in the US, something like this would have been remarked upon, or there would have been expressions of shock or dismay, yet in Scotland - nothing! It didn't feel authentic to me. On the positive side, the writers/artists did know what a portcullis and an oubliette were, so it's not all negative (just to be fair!).

I have to say at one point that I enlarged the image in Adobe Digital Editions to verify the spelling of a mis-used word (the writers apparently used "blimmin' " when it actually should have been 'blooming' or that rendered as "blummin' ". That wasn't the real problem. When I returned the page to normal 1:1 size, it lost all page integrity, so that when I clicked the down bar or pressed 'page down', instead of moving down one entire page, it moved only partial pages, making for a really annoying reading experience. Closing the ebook and re-opening didn't fix it; neither did opening the app to full-screen and then returning it to regular size, and neither did closing the entire application before re-opening it and then re-opening the book. The only way to work it from that point on was to sequentially type in the novel's page numbers to move to the next whole page, which was annoying! I think this is an issue with ADE though, not with this particular graphic novel.

The most off-putting thing about the novel, and the real reason why I'm not rating it as a worthy read, is that neither Alaric nor Basil were at all appealing. I didn't even like, much less admire or envy either of them. I didn't appreciate their attitude or their behavior, and they did nothing to endear me to them. They were essentially a pair of louts who had no interests in life other than thievery and blowing their ill-gotten gains on drink and partying. To some people that might represent entertainment, but it doesn't to me. Why would I want to read about a pair of thugs like these guys? I gave up after the second of the three stories in this volume. I have no interest in following these low-lifes any more. Your mileage may differ.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hellsbane Hereafter by Paige Cuccaro

Title: Hellsbane Hereafter
Author: Paige Cuccarod
Publisher: Entangled
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

This is book three in the inevitable series because authors can’t write one-offs any more, evidently. I haven't read the previous two volumes. This one looked interesting and it appears it can be read as a standalone if you don’t mind being in some ignorance of the previous history, which is referred to often and of which we’re given details in mini-infodumps here and there. I honestly didn’t feel like I'd missed anything. Let’s face it, in a series, everything is prologue until the last volume, and I don’t do prologues anyway!

The novel sounded interesting from the blurb - but that just means the blurb did its job - it lured me in, but once I got in there, it quickly became clear that this was not for me. The blurb and the cover image (both of which are typically misleading) are very suggestive of titanic angelic battles, but - at least as far as I read - there was no such thing. Instead there was a heck of a lot of moping around and soul-searching, which I didn’t enjoy in the least.

The worst part for me was when the hero, Dominica Hellsbane (seriously?) went to see her evil father - the very father she should have slaughtered in two previous volumes and failed. This was no epic meeting in a palace with her father sitting a-throne. It wasn't even a hellish trip down into the baking environs of the pit. Nope! Dad-the-demon works in an office downtown. I kid you not.

I have never understood the Harry Potter mentality whereby the supernatural is laundered into base currency, becoming tiresomely ordinary and losing all its color and appeal in the process. With Harry Potter it was the Ministry of Magic and boarding schools and so on, but at least Rowling had the smarts to poke fun at her designs. Here, we get the struggle between good and evil demoted to average-ville, with palatial offices atop skyscrapers, looking out over the city, and spreadsheets, secretaries, and hedge funds - on short, nonsensical in the extreme.

We’re told that Hellsbane can teleport, yet when she gets into the building, she apparently has to ride the elevator! The boss has a secretary, and every person she touches sends an electric shock through her because they're fallen angels don't you know, and they're "beautiful" and "erotic". The problem is that if you have to keep on telling me how beautiful and erotic they are, it kind looses its "oomph" in the repetition.

At this point I’d had quite enough. Not only did Hellsbane fail to kill her evil dad, she's now working for him by doing a little job involving her angelic step brother, who is a frat boy and lives with other angelic frat boys in an apartment. Honestly? What is the point? What is the point of writing a story about something as exotic and supernatural as angels and demons if all you do with it when you've got it is to render it into nothing but a juvenile Hellsbane Does Coed? Frankly, I didn’t have enough Promethazine on hand to make it through this kind of a novel, so I quit it right there.

I yearn for something new and original in these heaven and hell books - something with power and majesty, and with an original take on angels and demons. I pray for something heavenly, but what I get is hellish: it seems that it's foolish to hope for something above average when all writers are capable of delivering in this sphere evidently is the ordinary, the tame, the boring. It’s truly sad. I can’t recommend a novel like that. Like this. It's time to turn the Paige.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fallen Souls by Linda Foster

Title: Fallen Souls
Author/Editor: Linda Foster
Publisher: Glass House Press
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often reward aplenty!

I hate to give a negative review to this novel because from what little I know of Linda Foster (from her website, which you should visit - it's fun!) she seems like a really awesome person, but I critique the books on this website, not the authors. It's important to remember that. Well mostly not the authors! And certainly not in this case!

This story is listed on Net Galley (and on the cover!) as a novella, and it's also listed as book one of a series, but it's only sixty pages, and those pages are double-spaced, so it's really more like a novelette or even a short story than anything else. At least, that's how it felt to me. It also ends in a big cliff-hanger. I was, to say the least, dissatisfied with it. I expected a lot more, and got what really amounts only to a teaser.

It's in two parts, the Earthly and the heavenly. In the first part we meet Ash, a student who happens to be at a party with his older sister, and she's quite literally falling-down drunk. Ash isn't much better off. He keeps seeing a dangerous looking guy with glowing eyes staring at his sister, so he drags her from the party in a near panic. He ends up crashing the car and his sister is about to die when the stranger offers him his sister's life for his own soul, an offer he takes up. That's all we get of that story.

To take a brief detour into gender issues here, I have to say I found it sad that a female author put a female character in the position of having a guy rescue her, like she's totally incapable of taking care of herself and is reduced to being a damsel in distress. She's not even Ash's kid sister, which would certainly have ameliorated the situation somewhat. Grace is his older sister, so this was really hard to stomach. Could we not have had her get sick to her stomach from something she ate at the party or something - not from irresponsibly drinking, and this was why he was driving? Just a thought!

In part two we're in a heaven where the angels do not have traditional names! There is Kali, the good angel, who is female, and Adrian, the bad angel, who is male. Now this was a bit different, but it felt odd because the names were not remotely of Hebrew origin. Kali, for example, is Indian (Indian, not Native American) and is the name of a Hindu god, and Adrian is of Latin origin.

My real problem with the angels is that they behave exactly like humans. They speak the same, have the same emotions and wants and fears. They have lungs. They breathe. They fight. They're petty. How are they in any way, shape, or form different from humans? They're not. And for some reason, as usual, they use swords instead of modern weaponry or divine magic. This isn't a problem unique to this book by any means, but it is a problem of seriously-limited story, character, and plot imagination, and a complete lack of inventiveness and creativity in bringing something new to the table.

I found this story a bit too breathlessly told, too lacking in substance, and a very unsatisfying read. It wasn't - technically - badly written. Linda Foster has a voice which deserves to be heard and if it had been a longer story with more to say, and the world(s) fleshed out a bit more, I might have been able to enjoy. There are a lot of signs of writing potential, but it seems that the author isn't ready to spread her wings and fly yet. The plot on the heavenly side is right out of Kevin Smith's movie Dogma, for example, with angels (led by the psychotic Adrian) plotting a war against god.

I have to say that I'm not a big fan of angel stories, so if an author wants to draw me in, then I need something more than your traditional boiler-plate bog-standard choir of angels. Maybe others will like a familiar, cozy world like this, but it's not for me because it felt like there wasn't anything new on offer here, and it just makes me ask: where is my incentive to read it? The very word 'novel' means new. If it's not new, it's not really a novel, is it?! I can't recommend it, and I have no interest in pursing this series, but I wish the author all the best.

And in my 'fighting-a-losing-battle' effort to offer a parody song whenever I review something negatively, here's my "Angles of Heaven" to the tune of U2's Angels of Harlem

It was a cold and wet November day
When I read this book from Net Gall-ay
Rain was bouncing on the ground
I turned round and heard familiar sounds
of an angle

A story as old as a Christmas tree
With the same old shape and symmetry


Sword divine, and this sword just won't cut it!
No more! Angles of Heaven!

The cover blurb appealed to me
The story sounded like a symphony
We got spooky stuff, a mystery tangle
But it turns out it's just another one - an angle

Demons all evil, angels all good
Demons have eyes which are shining blood

Sword divine, and this sword just won't cut it!
No more! Angles of Heaven!

Angles of Heaven, yeah.

Angelic, divine, oh! but human motive!
Yeah, Yeah,
yeah, yeah
Yeah, Yeah, yeah, hey, oh no!

Too many writers have lost their way
Can't find enough words that are new to say
And despite the angelic acumen
The final solution's down to humans
Simple humans with simple lives
have to prevent demons and their connives
Can't we have a new fandango
Can't we have a brand new angle?

Angles in demon shoes just leaves me reading with the blues
Will I never read anything new?
Except angles! Angles of Heaven?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gabriel's Clock by Hilton Pashley

Title: Gabriel's Clock
Author: Hilton Pashley
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!

This is a novel which is heavy on trope. That's not always a bad thing, but I find myself yearning for something different instead of same old, same old. The novel is aimed at middle-graders (or what I call pre-young adult), and is very much written at that level, which some might like. I found it a bit annoying and demeaning. My kids are middle-grade and they're currently reading The Golden Compass, and Watership Down, so this one would be significantly below their reading level. I don't talk down to them, so I find it hard to approve of novels which do. OTOH, there are undoubtedly a lot of kids who would like this novel - maybe even mine!

The novel is set in Britain, and having grown up there, you'd think I would warm to this novel easily, but I did not. I found it very readable, but the reading didn't give me very much and ultimately left me quite dissatisfied with the story, especially since it doesn't end at the end of the book. It's pretty clear this is going to be a series, so one can hope that it will improve, but I honestly do not feel any compulsion to go along for the ride.

The clock of the title is one made by the Archangel Gabriel. When Jonathan actually goes to get the clock, we're told that only someone of Gabriel's blood-line can pass through this portal, yet the gargoyles can go through (no, Gabriel didn't create them so they're not even proxy bloodline), and the cat can go through when Jonathan carries it. So much for that rule. No wonder the village was so easily breached if this is the level of security in play!

The main character is Jonathan, who is (and of course he doesn't know this, trope #1) a special kid. He is creation's only child spawned of an angel and a demon. How that works exactly goes unexplained. I have to say that I have a hard time with novels which introduce exotic creatures such as demons and angels and then have them behave exactly like humans. What's the point?

In this novel it's pretty much all black and white; even as we're told more than once that not all demons are bad and not all angels are good, we see a sharp dividing line with demons being stereotypically evil (I almost expected them to sport waxed mustaches which they would twirl as they cackled). Only two "demons" are good, and there's precious little on the angelic side, with none appearing other than Gabriel.

When three Corvidae (demons named after birds trope #2) burst into Jonathan's home to take him prisoner, his mom runs with him while brave dad stays behind to fight. Genderist much? But of course dad is the angel, mom is only a demon. Jonathan ends up at the bizarrely named Hobbe's End (just like in the movie Quatermass and the Pit). Hobbe, of course, is an antique name for the Devil, which is bizarre because the village is a sanctuary which protects its inhabitants from evil. Ineffectually as it turns out. It's the place where Gabriel slammed into the Earth after he quit heaven, in 1666AD, from whence the village's power derives.

The village is supposed to be sentient - at one point it talks to Jonathan - but the village is evidently suffering some sort of palsy because it seems to consistently warn of attacks after the attack is already in progress. Maybe the village is evil?!

Despite the fact that the Corvidae - acting on behalf of Arch-demon Belial - know that Jonathan is there in the village, and those charged with his protection know that they know, and they also know how critical and valuable he is, nothing at all is done to protect him, unless you class having a cricket bat and a rapier to hand as 'taking steps'. The Corvidae seem to pretty much invade the village at their leisure on more than one occasion, which results in both Gabriel and Jonathan's trope female interest Cay (who has pretty much a cameo role), becoming prisoners of Belial, who may also have Darriel, Jonathan's father.

I don't know for sure because at one point we're told that Darriel's broken body was left at the gate of heaven as a warning, but later we're told he's still a prisoner of Belial's! Meanwhile Jonathan's mom is supposedly petitioning Lucifer. Like the king of evil will lend a hand to help out? Seriously? This is one more example of females being marginalized in this story.

All of the characters are male except for Jonathan's mom, and Cay, and both of these characters are either almost entirely absent from the story (mom, I'm looking at you), or play the minor role of damsel in distress (yes, Cay, that would be you). There is even a chapter about Cay which is titled "Waiting for the Cavalry" - I am not kidding you. For that matter, people of color are also lacking in this novel - unless you count the cat....

The backstory is that Lucifer wasn't the only fallen angel - there are scores of them, all living in hell, which isn't ruled over by Satan - it's split between him and three demons, but Belial wants it all. He wants back into heaven. Why? I have no idea. He wants to bring misery upon the Earth. Why? I have no idea. None of this is explained. We're given neither reason nor rationale. What's in it for Belial? I have no idea. Quite clearly he can already wreak havoc in people's lives at will. No one stops him, so where is there any increased benefit in pursuing his plan? Nowhere.

The entire opening premise of the novel makes no sense: if Jonathan is so vital and so critical, and so vulnerable then why would his parents be living outside the protection of the village? Why would they lie to their son instead of protecting him and arming him against the wicked which will inevitably come this way? Well, because they're lousy parents is all I can think of. This is child abuse! I don't even get how that works. Gabriel is supposedly Darriel's father, but how was he spawned? Is he a clone, or is there a Mrs Gabriel somewhere? If there is, then she's marginalized too - to the point of never being even mentioned.

Meanwhile, why is this all on Jonathan and Gabriel to fix? I have no idea. Apparently Heaven is sleeping, because despite all this evil going on down below, not a single angel shows up to help out. God is non-existent according to this story - either that or he has no control over his creation! Or maybe he simply doesn't care what's going on, because he gets no mention at all. For that matter, not a single person (or entity) in this entire story questions what's happening or how evil is getting away with all this, unchecked. It's because of these problems - huge glaring plot holes that I can't recommend this novel.

Oh, and deus ex machina? You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means....

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Storm by Danielle Ellison

Title: Storm
Author: Danielle Ellison
Publisher: Entangled
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!

p51 "How is spreading around our area so quickly?" should be "How is it spreading around our area so quickly?"

p80 "...dark black..."? as opposed to what? Light black?
p174 "I start to pull my hand away but it the stupid mark will stop it." I have no idea what that means!

This is another first person PoV from Entangled - a publisher with which I've had mixed results. When they're good, though, they're very good, which is why I keep coming back. This is a sequel - as far as I can tell - to Salt, which I've not read since I didn't even know that it existed when I requested this one! Whether that affected my appreciation of this one, I can't say for certain, but I can say that I was not able to read all of this because it bored me.

How often have I blundered into a sequel without knowing it was one? You don't want to know. While this novel doesn't explicitly declare that it's a sequel, it does describe itself on its cover as "A Salt novel" (nothing to do with Karen Salt!), but merely declaring that doesn't tell me that this is a direct sequel to the previous one. It tells me that it's in the same universe and that's all. The earlier novel isn't available on Net Galley now, so I came into this slightly blind.

Penelope Grey (no word on whether she's brought down fifty shades...!) is an Enforcer - a trained witch which bewitches demons and thereby protects muggles from attacks. She's evidently based strongly on Buffy, so I feel I have to declare up front that I'm not a Buffy fan. I loved the movie which Whedon hated, but hated the series, which Whedon loved! Anyway, Penelope is a card- (well, gold triangle-) carrying member of the C.E.A.S.E. squad. I don't know what that means. I guess it's explained in the first novel?

She's paired with her boyfriend, Carter, and apparently works quite often with Ric - the token gay guy - and his partner, the straight Maple (kinda like Willow, but not, I guess? They're both trees, and since my name is Wood, I can empathize!). These two characters really don't have a heck of a lot of involvement in this story.

I have to say, also, that I have a real problem with first person PoV novels because unless they're done really well, they suck. This one is twice as bad because it has dual-person PoV - alternating Penelope and Carter which was depressing to say the least, although in the end I got used to it. This does highlight the fatal weakness of 1Pov (other than it's me-me-me all the time) - you can't depict anything happening unless the character witnesses it or at least hears about it, which severely limits the story. Adding a second 1PoV to the mix doesn't improve things - it merely makes them twice as bad and more confusing to boot!

Carter calls her Pen, but she doesn't call him Car. I'm not sure what to make of that! Maybe she doesn't do this because he's totally anal about his name - he won't use the first name William which his father employs, so he uses the middle name which his father refuses to use. Definitely parental issues here.

As it happens, reading from Penelope's perspective wasn't too bad, except, as I've mentioned, there's far too much me! ME! ME! when she's professing her powers and skills. It turns out that it's actually really annoying to hear a narrator keep telling you how truly wonderful she is. Who knew?! This is one very good reason why I usually start wishing for a come-uppance to befall the narrator just to put them in their place! I just don't like a main character who emulates a Care Bear; it irritates the heck out of me.

Another problem I had was with the trope Latin incantation: Virtute angeli ad infernum unde venistis. I had two years of high school Latin which is rusty as hell, but it seems that all this says is something like (roughly): "By the virtue of the angels, go back to the hell from whence (yes, whence!) you came," and thus the demon is dispatched.

Evidently killing off demons - or repatriating them - is really easy. That's fine, but I've never seen it explained in any novel which employs this trope why it is that Latin is supposed to have power - or at least more power than the equivalent phrase in English (or in any other language dead or living)! JK Rowling would have us believe that waving a stick and chanting two Latin words would get you some majorly magical results. Why? It would be nice - really and truly nice - for once to read a novel which dispenses with this tired trope or which at least explains it in a way that makes sense within the novel, but hope fades eternal....

Nor have I ever seen the point or purpose - in Buffy or in this novel - of the physical fight with the demons (or in Buffy's case, the vamps). In this novel they have salt bullets which kill demons (or technically which send them back to hell so they can come right back out again), so why the h-t-h combat? Why not simply get a salt-bullet machine gun and take them out? It made no sense. Neither did Buffy make any sense with the amateur karate hour when they could simply fired crossbows or stake-loaded guns at them. That's one reason why I never liked that show: it seemed so amateur.

Also, I never got the point of the demonic visits. What, exactly, were they here for? What was their purpose? What were they doing? I ask because in this novel it seemed like they actually had no purpose whatsoever other than to stand around like targets in a fairground for Pen and Car to show up and pop them down so they could get their cuddly toy (or their toy cuddle). Taking demons out was never a problem for these two, who probably ought to have been named Mary & Sue! It was always easy for them. There was no tension or drama involved at all in the fighting, so it wasn't at all appealing to me to read.

Back to the story. Something unusual is going on in town in that Statics (the novel name for people who have no powers - aka muggles, but that name was taken) are starting to exhibit magical powers (even without the Latin speech so I rest my case!) and this looks like it might be connected to Penelope finding herself some power by means of a disapproved route in volume one: her power effectively comes from the demons themselves which makes it even more inexplicable. The only person who seems interested in helping Pen figure this out, is actually not a person per se, but a demon!

Actually I found that demon to be the most interesting character in the entire novel (at least the portion I read). She's a female named Lia. How it comes to be that demons have regular names and come in at least two genders goes unexplained. Seriously, if they're just like humans, then where's the interest? I was more intrigued each time Lia showed up, but unfortunately, she wasn't showing up very much in the first 50% of the novel, and when she did show, it was always to Pen. In the end she really didn't do very much. She kept popping up like a clue in the children's show Blue's Clues which made her more of a cheap plot device than a real character, so I quickly became disillusioned with her, too. Since she was the only character at that point in whom I had any interest, I saw no point in expending any more time on this novel. I didn't care what was going on or how it ended.

It seemed really artificial to me that Pen has to meet Lia later to get some info! Why couldn't she get it right there and then? I don't mind being led around in a novel as long as I'm going somewhere - as long as there's a good reason for it - but when artificiality starts seeping in like a sewer smell, I'm less sanguine about it.

That seemed to be the problem with this novel - it never really went anywhere. There was a nice vein of humor in it from time to time, and some of the writing was truly interesting, but there was no descriptive prose at all to speak of - it was one long, long, terribly long, conversation, and all-too-often the conversation never went anywhere or moved the plot along. It became tedious to read.

If an editor had trimmed out about 30 or 40 percent of this novel, beefed-up the descriptive prose to provide some context and atmosphere, and cut the idle conversation back, I think I could have liked it. Potentially it had a lot to offer, but it never achieved that potential for me. Things didn't fit, or they didn't make sense, and it just became a chore to read in the end. I can't in good conscience recommend this novel.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

Title: Days of Blood & Starlight
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little Brown & Co
Rating: worthy

Days of Blood & Starlight starts out with Zuzana resentfully dropping a balloon filled with perfume and sodium bicarbonate onto the puffed-up head of Kaz, who is milking every ounce he can from Karou's fame. He was lucky. Zuze had wanted it to be urine, but Mik wouldn’t cooperate.

Sadly, we don’t remain with Zuze, which is a mistake on Taylor's part, because she's the best thing going for this novel so far. Instead, we move to the whiny-assed Akiva, agonizing boringly over how much he's lost, and here the novel is nothing but depressing. For some unexplained reason, he believes that Karou is dead (as does Zuzana, for that matter, but at least she doesn’t squeal like a stick piglet like Akiva does).

He returns to heaven (aka Eretz, as in Eretz Israel) which is exactly like medieval Earth and wherein the so-called angels have pretty much concluded their Nazi extermination plan with the chimera. Akiva meets with Hazael and Liraz, who fight him but don’t kill him (!), and then they welcome him (but not with open arms) back into the military. Why they still need a military if indeed the chimera are wiped out, is a mystery, but they discover that someone is very effectively killing angels. Still.

Zuze, meanwhile is sending hilarious emails to Karou and receiving no response until Mik calls her attention to a news item concerning a theft at the Field Museum in Chicago - an excellent museum which has nothing whatsoever to do with preserving the meadows of antiquity.... The thief is stealing teeth. And it’s a girl. A teeth thief. Relief! Finally Zuze gets an email from Karou quoting Monty Python ("I'm not dead yet!", "I feel happy!"), which I found hilarious. At last, in chapter 13 yet, we get back to Karou.

She evidently found Thiago, the chimera leader, still alive in the shattered ruins of Loramendi, and they now lived, she upstairs from him, in an apartment block somewhere; somewhere on Earth, where Karou now resurrects chimera using the teeth she steals. So after Karou's been ranting on about how godawful Akiva is, and how much she detests him, Taylor makes a huge mistake in giving us a flashback to the time right before Karou (in her Madrigal form) and Akiva were captured. Taking us from Karou's revulsion and rejection of Akiva for his betrayal - whereby she let him live but he destroyed her people - to a time when she was hopelessly (quite literally hopelessly) in love with him, was foolish move. It’s too much of a contradiction, of a gut-wrench, of a discontinuous illogical jump, to accept. It threw me right out of my suspension of disbelief.

It's especially apropos a little later in the story where he returns the soul of Issa, and Karou fails to kill him despite all she's vowed, despite all he's done to wipe out her people and to kill Brimstone, who she had thought of as her father. I was in fear of this relationship and now I'm further in fear of it, because it's way too much of a trope. if she goes back to Akiva after all that's gone on, I will feel that Taylor has betrayed us all.

While we’re on the topic of whining and disbelief, let me say a few words about teeth, and about angel weaponry! I was able to accept that the variety of fresh teeth were needed in vol 1, because a variety of chimera were needed, as was fresh DNA (I assumed!) although I never understood even remotely why they were created in the variations they were. Surely if they were at war, especially for so long a period, then the chimera which were created needed to be exclusively smart, strong, tough, agile, and fierce, but we didn’t see this. That made little sense to me, but I was willing to let it go for the quality of the story in general. Having said that, there was no room for a body type like Madrigal, so how did she ever become what she was? And what was she before? Was she simply vastly old, and had always been that way? We haven’t learned anything of this so far.

Next, the weapons they use. If they're at war and are fighting so ferociously, each side intent upon the complete destruction of the other, then why the medieval weapons? Seriously, how improbable is it that they use swords when they could perfectly well use a machine gun? In the human world, weaponry advanced at a rapid rate, even historically. As soon as a new weapon was discovered or invented, it spread with lightening speed, and people improved on it rapidly. The rate of weapons development accelerated geometrically with the size of the conflict. World War 1 brought tanks and advances in rapid-fire weapons. It brought chemical weapons. World War 2 saw all of these weapons advance, and it brought massive aerial warfare and the nuclear bomb. Yet these angels and chimera are stuck in the middle ages, and they've been glued there for centuries, if not for millennia. It makes no sense except as a trope for stories of angels and demons which of course brings you right out of the suspension of disbelief.

Now a word about those teeth! Like I mentioned, I’d assumed that reasonably fresh teeth were needed (why, when one cell would contain the requisite DNA?!), but vol 2 shows that's not the case, since Karou is working with museum specimens, so then why all the rigmarole of acquiring the teeth in the way they were in vol 1? Why did Brimstone not simply use a wish or magic, to bring him all the teeth from every grave across the world, including the literal billions of teeth from fossils? Talk of weapons of mass destruction! What kind of chimera could he have created using dinosaur teeth for goodness sakes?! If he'd had that many teeth and had some assistance, he could have created sufficient chimera to completely overwhelm the so-called angels!

Okay, bitch mode off, on with the tale! So Karou resurrects Issa without any authority from the White Wolf (whom Karou know knows plans to betray her). She gets away with this by telling him that now her production rate for new Chimera will double, and it does. Issa helps, as does Zuzana, who has shown up with Mik on spec. Mik also helps, so the White Wolf's plan to train his bitch called Ten - which wouldn't have worked anyway, is now scuppered, as is his plan to use Ten to replace Karou and thereby be rid of her. So he comes up with a new plan, which is that he can use Zuze and Mik as leverage against Karou, to keep her tightly under his control, but she vows she will not let this happen. But Zuze and Mik have made such a favorable impression on the chimera that my guess is that they won't have any truck with any plan which might bring harm to the two humans.

Karou also makes an ally of the only other Kirin in the encampment, and he vows to help her. Meanwhile, on the other side, Akiva has won over Hazael and Liraz to his side, but they are called into the emperors palace - which is probably a trap for Akiva (good!). However, Akiva is already aware of this possibility and he has decided he wants to kill Joram anyway, so this but might be interesting. Hazael and Liraz want the same thing, and that's why they go with him. But with Taylor juxtaposing Liraz's internal feelings of hopelessness against the story of Karou's relationship with her fellow Kirin, I'm guessing that Liraz is going to be paired off with him before this trilogy is over. OTOH, you know how lousy my guesses are, if you've been following my blog!

So it's time to wrap this up. Finally Akiva, at the mention of his mother's name, Festival, feels some weird calming power overtake him, and he comes through and does something good: he stabs his father who was ordering him to go alone to meet the Stelians - another angelic race who are as distant as they are mysterious. Every envoy so far sent to them has disappeared without a trace. Joram dies, Jael escapes to become Angelic Villain 2.0. Akiva finds he has some weird magical power which completely destroys Joram's palace, but Hazael dies. Akiva and Liraz escape.

Karou has less success in confronting Thiago. He merely turns around her revelation that there are scores upon scores of chimera waiting to be resurrected in the catacombs under Loramendi, and steals her fire. Later he kills her only three supporters, and when he demands that everyone leave himself and Karou there alone, he tries to rape her, but Karou, using only the little knife in her boot, slays him. Then she resurrects his body but with her friend Ziri the Kirin's soul. How the hell he escaped from the party of six who were going to kill him during their mission with him is really completely glossed over. Thiago's buddy Ten is also killed and her body resurrected with the soul of one of Karou's allies, so now they control the chimera without anyone knowing!

When Akiva and Liraz show up begging Karou to resurrect Hazael, they bring the body but no thurible containing his soul, so she can do nothing to help them. The two of them burn Hazael's body and they depart, intent upon closing the last two portals between the two worlds, but Jael and his five thousand Dominion angels have already come through them, and the Earthlings believe they're angels from heaven!

So we end up with an uneasy truce between the two warring sides, the chimera on the one side, and the "Misbegottens" - angels who are loyal to Akiva - as they realize they have an enemy which worse than either of them: a greater threat than either of them, to face down.

I'm rating this one as worthy because it was a good read, although it became a bit too melodramatic at the end with one switcheroo after another. It reminded me of the hilarious comedy movie Soapdish, but that one was intentionally funny. I don't think Taylor was planning on having me laugh at these switches and then become annoyed with them. But that wasn't the worst part, The worst part was seeing Karou, who was without question a super-cool and kick-ass female protagonist descend from her pedestal to become pedestrian in the sequel. Her anguishing, and her dichotomic feelings about Akiva were truly tiresome.

It's obvious (at least it seems obvious to me - but then if you've read my reviews you'll know how sucky my prognostications are) that Taylor is going to pair them off at the end of vol 3, so there goes the drama. I'll be truly impressed if she doesn't, but it's YA, after all, so why would I even imagine something like that could happen? I'll probably have to rate vol 3 as warty if it descends to those levels, but let's wait and see!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Title: Daughter of Smoke & Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Hachette Gook Group
Rating: WORTHY!

This novel was amazing, but that doesn't mean that there weren't issues with it, as I shall describe below; however, I was sufficiently impressed with it that I wanted to launch into the sequel right away. Fortunately I had that option because I came late to this series. It would have been really annoying had I to wait a year or something like that before I could get started on volume 2.

There was a magnificent thunderstorm going on overhead as I initially wrote this, with heavy rain and even hail! It was beautiful, and amazing, and highly appropriate to this story as I sat here with a nice hot cuppa, feeling warm and dry, and reading onwards, ever onwards.

The main protagonist here is Karou, a 17-year-old art student living in Prague (a location which made an impression on the author when she was working on another project). Kudos to her for having the smarts to set her novel away from north America, which is the center of the world to far too many YA authors. Karou was raised by chimera and is taught to despise and fear angels. So immediately we know who her "other half" is going to end up being, don't we?

The saddest thing about Karou is that we meet her in this story as she feels like she desperately needs a man to complete her. That's an appalling thing to do to a character, especially if you're a female author, and it's entirely the wrong message to send to young readers. No, no girl needs a partner to complete her unless she's appallingly weak. It's not a strength to come into a relationship being needy, and it will doom the relationship eventually. Karou lost a lot of my sympathy right there, as indeed would a guy if he'd expressed the same kind of feelings.

Karou lives in a world full of the utterly amazing, and while I am sure it would feel a wee bit mundane to her, having lived with it all her life, Karou's character shows us that she's not jaded with her world by any means, yet I started out feeling that she would break into song ("Some Day My Prince Will Come...") before so very long. Fortunately, she doesn't have seven chimera doting on her, otherwise I'd really have begun to worry! I hoped, as I continued into this, that there was more to her than we learn in the first few chapters and I was, thankfully, granted that wish.

Talking of which, in addition to living amongst the amazing, Karou gets wishes granted. One of those was her "natural" azure hair. She never needs to touch up her roots. She also has some rather evil African beads which grant her very minor wishes, and which we find her employing during one of her classes, to inflict uncomfortable and embarrassing itches on the nude model, who happens to be her ex. He wants her back, but she very wisely wants nothing more to do with him. I was glad to see that resilience in her.

Karou's best friend is the petite Zuzana who knows nothing of Karou's real life and is from time-to-time annoyed by her secretiveness. Zuzana (along with all the other art students at the academy which Karou attends) think that the amazing drawings Karou does are from her crazy imagination, and that the stories she tells about the characters she draws are wild inventions, but Karou finds it easier to tell the truth about her family, all the while pretending it's oddball fiction. In that way, she's never caught in a lie. Her friends have no idea that they are real-life portraits, and real stories of her "family", which consists of the grim, dour Brimstone, who has ram's horns inter alia, the cobra-esque Issa (evidently like a mermaid but with a sea snake tail rather than a sea bass tail), Twiga, who sports a giraffe-proportioned neck; and Yasri who has a bird's beak. There's also a little messenger bird called Kishmish, who summons her to do Brimstone's bidding. And that's where the story takes off.

Brimstone's employment of Karou is an oddity in itself. She will discover his need for her services via a terse message brought to her by Kishmish always, it seems, at an inopportune time. His requirement is invariably the same: she is to go to one part of the world or another and buy teeth with the money he gives her, returning them to Brimstone's den. Karou can travel easily because the door to Brimstone's den opens into every city in the world. She can leave from it at any time and go anywhere, but in order to get back, she has to knock on a certain designated door and wait for Issa to let her in. One time she has to go to Paris to get elephant tusks, another time to Singapore to get reptile teeth. Brimstone won't tell her what he does with these teeth.

So having established all this, we next move on to Akiva, the standard trope angel of the story, whose muscles are corded on his arms. Yes, corded! Now someone needs to tell me what these angels of light are doing with their muscular bodies. Why is that muscle needed? In all this time no one ever explained this to me. They have the power of a god behind them (so we're expected to believe - the most powerful force in the universe), so why would they need muscles? Akiva can burn his hand-print on a door - as long as it's wood, I never learned what happened if the door was metal or plastic. So again, why would he need muscles? With all this angelic power and an omnipotent god, why does Akiva - or any angel - need corded muscles? And don't even get me started on his ethereal beauty and his burning eyes. Why are they so beautiful? Rest assured that he also no doubt has a smokin' bone from which you should most definitely protect your daughter....

Clearly this is nothing more than wish-fulfillment on the part of the author - the tedious trope muscular guy with hair falling into his eyes and a rebel attitude. I already thoroughly detest him and his ilk, and at that point, while I sincerely hoped that the story would improve (it did, fortunately), but I also sat in disbelief at the lack of inventiveness on the part of YA authors; at their short-sightedness and inability to create something new and original. Then I wondered, "Whose wish-fulfillment is going on here?" These YA authors are only supplying what the readership is demands, so maybe the problem isn't the authors, but the readership - the sad state of USA teen females who cannot see beyond the end of their nipples? But no, it's the writers, too. Writing is often described as a solitary, even lonely, profession, but actually it's a team sport. The writers work in tandem with the readers. The author creates the bobsled, but the readers agree to board it with them in exchange for a wild ride - or not. You can't sell what no one will buy, and you can't read what no one will write. The bottom line, however, is that writers could change this if they chose so to do, so it's more on them than on the readers.

So having established Akiva, we have to get the two of them together, and this occurs on a weird mission upon which Karou is dispatched at Brimstone's urging. He even said "please" in his note. In fact, that was all he said, which intrigued Karou. When she visited him, she learned that he feared she had chosen to leave the chimera! This was not even something she'd considered possible, let alone considered doing. She's sent to Morocco to get human teeth, and as she left, she was spotted by Akiva who was approaching it for the purpose of burning his hand-print on it. So he sees Karou leave and is sufficiently intrigued by her youth, appearance, and general demeanor that he starts following her through the city.

He watches her meet her mark and buy some teeth (not the juvenile ones - Brimstone only took the mature ones), but then the seller sees Akiva, as does the deformed angel on the seller's back, and as does Karou. Her mark warns her to run - run and warn Brimstone that the seraphim have got back in! She runs, but is intercepted by Akiva right at the door through which she's desperately seeking to make her escape. A fight ensues, but he fails to kill her and she uses her eye tattoos - the ones on the palms of her hands, to blast him. He asks her who she is before the door is finally opened and Issa lets her inside.

So now we have the male protag fascinated by the female, but we're not done with Karou yet. When she sneaks behind a door she's not supposed to go through, Brimstone himself literally throws her out! She's out in the cold, but at least she has her apartment to retreat to, half undressed as she is. Note to self: if I'm ever going to sneak through a demon door, make sure I'm fully clothed for the outdoors, and also that I have my purse and sketch pad with me. Oh, and those burned imprints on the doors? They go off like incendiary bombs and Karou discovers this when a burning Kishmish dies in her hands. He was sent to her with one thing which is tied to Brimstone: a wishbone he always had around his neck - a wishbone he absolutely forbade Karou ever to touch. And now she has it in her hands, making a wish that she can get to Brimstone and her family and nothing happens.

Well, one thing happens - her BFF Zuzana is with Karou and sees this creature burning, and after a wish demo using one of Karou's African beads, Zuzana is fully on board with the truth about her friend. Talking of wishes, Karou starts hunting down those teeth suppliers she knows of who visited the shop personally, and were paid with wish coins. There are several denominations of wish coin, and Karou needs one of a specific value to get the wish she wants - to be able to fly.

Meanwhile, Akiva has tracked down Karou and is spying on her through her bedroom window, creepily watching her sleep. That's never a good thing and if anyone tells you it's a sign of true love, just slap them upside the head, and walk away quickly. This story had been awesome so far, but I felt I was really going to start disliking it if it was to become a tired YA romance drowned in trope and cliché after having had page after page after page of refreshing, warming, interesting novel.

I think I should say a word here about instadore (my word for insta-love since it never is love - it's infatuation, or lust, or cluelessness). There's an element of it in this novel, but it's nowhere near as badly done as it is in some other stories I've read. I'd mention the execrable Felon (not its real name, but maybe what it ought to have been titled!), but then I'd have to go rinse my mouth out with carbolic. I think there's a case for distinguishing between instadore in a paranormal romance and the same thing in your common-or-garbage romance, because they aren't the same thing - hence the paranormal part!

There's a distinction to be made between a supernatural compulsion and an ordinary infatuation, so I think we need to allow a bit more leeway there, but having said that, there are limits! I don't think Taylor exceeds them, but she comes closer than I like. Yes, she reports undercurrents between the two main protagonists, and sometimes she makes me feel a tad nauseous with her excess, but in general, she does a good job of showing this powerful attraction while keeping it tamed.

Moving right along, now! It was inevitable that Karou would realize, even though she could not see him, that someone (Akiva) was tailing her, so she lay in wait for him and a fight ensued during which he parried her attack without striking out himself. Once she blasted him with those eyes on her palms, he was pretty much done, and she hesitated then, failing to deliver a death blow. We're to learn that there's a really interesting parallel to this. Eventually, Karou takes him back to her apartment where they talk and slowly, an uneasy truce is born between them.

Zuzana came over and checked him out, but as they were all making their way over the river bridge the next morning, Karou still intent upon finding that portal back to her family, Akiva's two war buddies, Hazael and his sister, the feisty Liraz, showed up demanding to know what was going on with Karou - demanding to know who she was. Yes, they had been spying on him, and brilliant warrior that he was, he hadn't even noticed. More absurd, they had watched him being beaten within a cubit of his life by Karou, and had failed to intervene! Some friends, huh? That struck me as decidedly weird and not in keeping with the intent of their kind: a disbelief no-longer-suspended moment.

So on the bridge right before this showdown, there's this weird scene where Akiva espies the wishbone which Karou wears around her neck - the one she inherited from Brimstone. The weird thing is that this literally brings Akiva to his knees, and while he's down there, his face against her legs, he next buries that same face in her hair?! How does he do that given that her hair does not come down to her knees? Does Akiva also have a giraffe neck? That just sounded really strange to me - something a decent book editor would have caught.

And then there's the Liraz insult! (I would love to read a story about Liraz!) "...Liraz was more frightening, she always had been; perhaps she'd had to be, being female." What the heck does that mean? And this is written by a female writer! But it was not about humans, it was about angels! Are we to understand that there's genderism in Heaven? Given the misogynistic tone of both the Bible and the Koran (and all too much religious literature), that wouldn't surprise me at all. I'm sure glad I'm not going to heaven.

But here's the angle on angels: if angels have no genitals, then what does it even mean that there are "males" and "females"? Yes, I understand that the eternal genitals don't define gender, it's the size of the gamete, the larger one defining the female, but this doesn't rob me of my point, which is: what would be the point? And how in hell (strike that - how in heaven!) can there be relationships with them as depicted in so many books?! How can there be half-breeds? And whence did this 'angels have no genitals' even derive? It's never mentioned in the religious primary sources (where angels are, of course, exclusively men and, as far as we can be expected to believe, must be just like men, genitals included, otherwise why specify their gender?).

Frankly, I can't get into this 'war in heaven' angels & demons crap and take it seriously, I really can't, which is why I'm probably the best placed writer to write the definitive angel story, if I could only get my act together...! But it does mean that I'm paying Taylor a really big compliment (indeed, an entire complement of compliments) when I say I have enjoyed this story more than all too many of the stories I've waded through recently.

Now would be a good time to relate Akiva's flashback if I wanted to reveal any more story, but I won't. The flashbacks did interrupt the flow of the narrative somewhat, but they didn't seem that bad to me, and they were necessary. Whether they could have been added in a different place to better effect is debatable.

I liked this novel overall. Yes, there was still too much cliché and trope, but I was willing to overlook that for the enjoyment the rest of it brought me, so I rate this a worthy read.