Thursday, July 10, 2014

Isis, Vampires, and Ghosts - Oh My! by Janis Hill


Title: Isis, Vampires, and Ghosts - Oh My!
Author: Janis Hill
Publisher: Hague
Rating: WORTHY!


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.

Errata:
p? "...we can assist you release your sadness..." should be "...we can assist you to release your sadness..."
p11 "...sorry your family has been effected..." should be "...sorry your family has been affected..."
p14 "...I'm taking your torque and cramming it..." should be "...I'm taking your torc and cramming it..."
p17 "...Goddess' Light..." should be "...Goddess's Light..." since we're talking about the property of only one goddess here.
p "...you near silent cynicism...' should be "...your near silent cynicism..."
p29 "...find out how to his crucible..." isn't right! Maybe it should be "...find out how to destroy his crucible..."
p29 "...over power..." should be "...overpower..."
p52 "...Branwyre growled something that was obviously fowl..." should be "...Branwyre growled something that was obviously foul..."
p77 "...effected..." should be "...affected..."
p85 "...regain consciousness too..." should be "...regain consciousness to..."
p86 "...ass' rectum..." should be "...ass's rectum..." since there is only one ass here.
p100 "...the Priestess of Isis were..." should be either "...the Priestesses of Isis were...", or "...the Priestess of Isis was..."
p127 has an extra letter 'o' at the start of a line beginning "o I sat tentatively...".
p133 "..tagging alone." should be "tagging along."
p136 "...under the shops eaves." should be "...under the shop's eaves."
p182 "...Word Domination..." probably should be "...World Domination..."
p187 "...wrecking further havoc..." should be "...wreaking further havoc..."
p199 "...postulate to..." maybe "...pontificate to..."?

This is book one of the "Other World" series and it begins with Stephanie Anders attending the funeral of her loved and hated sister Estella, whose stated wish, evidently, was to have her funeral conducted at the apparently oddball 'church of Isis'. Stephanie is a bit freaked by this, but is willing to put up with it for a couple of hours to get this over with and move on with her life.

Just a word on a small point of order here: 'Isis' is actually the Greek name for an Egyptian god whose name is unknown. The name that the Egyptians gave to her means 'she of the throne', and it's thought to have been pronounced as something like 'Aset', or 'Iset'. Why we're using Isis here goes unexplained.

Stephanie is of the considered opinion that the acolytes in this church are weird from the off, but that's nothing compared with what she's about to learn. She thinks it's more weird when she's escorted down, down, down deep into a cavern beneath the church to view her sister's body and that very body sits up and greets her with, "Hey sis, 'bout time you showed up."

Unwillingly and disbelievingly, Stephanie learns from the sisters of Isis (the Isisters?!) that her sibling is actually dead, even though she appears to be quite alive. She's told that the only thing which is keeping her pinned to her life on Earth, is the fact that her soul is 'stained' with a kind of 'essence of vampire'.

The vampire leader, Branwyre (great name for a vampire, BTW!), has a hold on part of her soul - a hold which is of course weakest in daylight hours and strongest at night. This hold must be broken before the next full moon three weeks hence, so that Estella can pass on to the after-life, otherwise Branwyre will be strong enough to possess Estella which can't be good. This isn't exactly what Stephanie was expecting from this funeral!

There's an element of Harry Potter here, in that Estella will be safest in Stephanie's company because of the blood tie between them - so she can't abandon Estella to the sisters and walk away from this. There's also a bit of ass-backwards folklore of "the night is darkest before the dawn" variety, which is of course, patent nonsense. The night is darkest when there's the least light which, absent a severe storm and a power outage, is at midnight when the sun is at the exact opposite side of Earth from you, but at least it explains why these two have to hang out together.

Stephanie has those three short weeks in which to find the ceremonial crucible belonging to Branwyre and employ it to bind Branwyre and thereby save her sister. During all that time, Branwyre is going to be fighting her tooth and nail to prevent this, and as if that wasn't bad enough, she's actually going to have to live under the same roof as a sister whom she resents intensely and for very good reason.

overall, I liked this novel, but there were some issues with it which I felt left the edges a bit rough. one was the record-breaking 17 spelling and grammatical errors (my previous record was twelve). Janis Hill needs to recruit me as a beta reader!

Another example of sneaky problems occurs at the end of chapter six, where Stephanie finally arrives at a motel and gets a room in which she ties up Estella and surrounds her with ring of salt so that when Branwyre's spirit shows up that night and starts to animate her, Stephanie won't be at risk, and the vampire won't be able to escape in Estella's body.

Now she has him restrained physically as well as magically, he is quite literally bound to answer her questions truthfully, so she asks him where the crucible is being kept, and eventually he spits out an address, but she fails to follow up on that and ask him exactly where at that address the crucible is located. That was probably done to play out the story, and keep Stephanie at risk, but it makes her look at bit dumb that she didn't think to narrow it down. I like Stephanie and don't like to think of her as dumb.

There was also some cheating going on here, too. I had understood that Branwyre, when bound, could be only truthful yet (as we discover) he lied about the crucible's location. This was rather glossed-over in the story-telling. I don't mind cheating characters; people in real life cheat after all, but when a writer cheats a reader, that's a different matter. OTOH, maybe I missed something here. The author does go on a lot about speaking loosely, so maybe it could be put down to her poor wording of the question.

I should also say a word about this novel's cover. I don't normally do covers since the author typically has little or no influence on how they look (unless they self-publish), but I have to question the utility of this particular cover in regard to its appeal (or otherwise) to any given readership demographic.

For me it doesn't make any difference because I don't judge a book by its cover (! I'm all about the writing), but for others who do consider the cover, this one seemed to me to be out of step with the playful and sarcastic tone of the writing. Jade Zivanovic's art is beautiful - don't get me wrong. It's really good, but it just doesn't match the tone of the writing. Is Jade Zivanovic an awesome name or what? She's a fellow blogspotter, although I don't know her. Her web site is well worth a visit and it has at least one Doctor Who image!).

Both the cover artwork and the tone of the writing seemed out of step with the whimsical title, too. The cover looks like it belongs on a Gothic horror story, not here! The title looks like it belongs with a story aimed at a much younger readership, so there's a sort of demented ménage à trois going on here between title, cover and interior! Or in this instance, I guess more like a mélange à trois! For me, I'd like to have seen something a little more amusing or comical in the cover illustration - not slapstick, but less foreboding than this one is - with a title that's reads a bit more maturely.

I have to say that I began to go off this story somewhat when the ghost showed up, and he uses the word "left" way too often, but even this was turned around, so it became readable again, although even then, the endless insulting (which wasn't really that amusing to begin with) became really annoying after too many repetitions. I didn't get why Roxanna - the Isis sister who is supposed to be guiding Stephanie, was being so completely useless to her. Why, for example, didn't she advise Stephanie to bind the ghost to herself before the night came on?

It became truly annoying that neither Roxanna, the 'priestess', nor Estella were helping Stephanie. I know that people can be obnoxious, either purposefully or ignorantly, but frankly, this was too much to swallow. I know that this was somewhat excused by the fact that this situation was new and different, so no one really knew what was going on, but there was so much, even within those constraints that those two could have done to help out, and which they failed to do.

They were far too passive, leaving literally everything to poor Stephanie, without making any real effort to lift a finger or even trying to go the extra mile for her. She had to squeeze everything out of them like getting blood from a stone, and this felt completely unrealistic to me.

Estella was depicted from the beginning as being, shall I say, socially challenged, so her lack of utility was not a surprise, but the 'priestess' was supposed to be an example of goodness personified, yet she was effectively no better than Estella. No one expects gods to help - they are consistently useless in fiction or out of it - so I wasn't surprised by how pathetic Isis was, but Roxanna could have been a lot more forthcoming, otherwise what exactly is it about her that defines her as 'good'?!

On this topic, you I have to ask why 'priestess'? Why not priest? We really need to work on removing this stealth genderism from our vocab! I keep hoping that female authors (not 'authoresses'!) will take the lead in this and push it in their writing, but so few of them seem willing to step up, and instead simply parrot vocabulary designed by men for men, women need not apply. Writing with a more gender-neutral approach doesn't require stridency or harsh agendas (harsh isn't what strong women do anyway, not in my experience). It can be done with subtle changes to the way we write, like using 'priest' instead of priestess, 'actor' instead of 'actress', mater instead of mattress (that last one might be a joke).

Yes, I know that 'priest' isn't exactly gender neutral, but that's not because it's an inherently masculine word, like 'male', or 'tomcat', or 'bull'. Priest is a gender-neutral word that has been artificially imbued with masculinity by dint of the fact that priests traditionally were only male, women need not apply. There's no reason it cannot be reclaimed. So there! Take that Bembridge Scholars!

I do have a problem with the ultraviolet aspect of this story. We're told that it's the ultraviolet emissions from the sun to which the vampires don't react too well (this trope has been used before in stories, notably in the Underworld series of movies), yet we're also told that moonlight can help to "bind" Branwyre. The problem with this is that Moonlight, which does contain ultraviolet emissions, doesn't contain much (which is why you can't get a tan from Moon-bathing!), so here's the problem: if there's so little coming off the Moon that vampires can wander out on Moonlit nights with no problem, then how does it bind them? If there is enough to bind them, why isn't it a problem for them on such nights?

In related news, we're also told that Stephanie is going to have a really tough time binding Branwyre one night because of the heavy storm clouds hiding the Moon, yet clouds do not stop UV light from reaching the Earth (which is why you can get sunburned on a cloudy day). This is what happens when writer devotes too much time to honoring a god and nowhere near enough time honoring science! We're talking about UV light, but the story is written as though we're talking about visible light. UV light isn't visible to the human eye! The visible light you see from a so-called 'black light' isn't the actual UV, it's just visible light that's emitted with the UV.

But enough griping. I started out liking this novel, got a bit disillusioned with it in the middle where it seemed to miss its stride a bit, and very much liked it again at the end. I think it could have done with being a bit shorter and a bit more briskly-paced, but in the end, the overall story was good and fun, and entertaining, so I have no problem in recommending this.