The Devil You Know (Felix Castor book one) - Mike Carey
Now, I'd heard the Felix Castor books mentioned before, written by Mike Carey, but for some reason I was thinking that surely it wouldn't be the same Mike Carey that wrote the Lucifer comic and kicked ass at it. Because of course a guy who's a writer doing supernatural-based comic books couldn't possibly be the guy that's a writer doing supernatural-based novels. Yeah, I know, in retrospect, it's stupid.
Anyhow, when I picked up the first one on recommendation and saw that it was the same guy, I immediately got my hopes up, and they weren't really disappointed. The book for some reason didn't grab me quite as hard as I hoped or half-expected, but it was still quite a damn good urban supernatural read. And hell, hardly any sex involved, and what was involved was a) tasteful and b) not gratuitous, as opposed to the feeling I get from about most other books in the genre. Laurell K. Hamilton has SOOO much to answer for. Or maybe Anne Rice. But anyhow.
If there was any reason it didn't grab me like I wanted (other than just over-amped expectations after loving Lucifer), it was that I guess I expected a bit more of a supernatural heavyweight. And again that's not really the author's fault. I've been reading books like the Dresden series or the Rachel Morgan books where the hero(ine) tends to be pretty damn powerful (but with just enough weaknesses to keep life from being too easy on them), or occasionally something like the Southern Vampire Mysteries (until I got too annoyed at them) which had an almost-normal person having to deal with the supernatural heavies.
Instead we get Felix Castor who is... well, an exorcist. He sees dead people, and all that. It's a different twist on the genre at least, and fairly cool, but at the same time I'll admit to feeling a bit of "what, that's it?" when I realized that that's his schtick.
Still though, the writing's great, the plot's captivating, the characters are well-developed, and like I said, there's the lack of gratuitous "let's rip each other's clothes off and screw with really cheesy descriptions" scenes, which is always a plus.
So: recommended, to whoever likes the genre. I plan to pick up the next one myself sooner or later.. once I get through a bit of this backlog, or some of the OTHER freaking series I'm currently trying to make it through...
Bitten(Women of the Otherworld book one) - Kelley Armstrong
Now this on the other hand...
I'm in a bit of a conundrum.
On the one hand, this book was recommended to me by one of my LJ friends, and tearing this book to pieces feels a bit like a slap in their face without caring how I sound or how they take it.
On the other hand, one of the reasons I write this booklog in the first place is to recommend books to read, or to avoid, depending on my own point of view. And thus I feel like I can't just step back and say "oh, I'm sure it's lovely, everyone should read it!" and walk away.
So that being said, I'll be... accurate, but try for some brevity. This is difficult, because.... well, I really just hated most of the characters and situations, bluntly, and found the writing just unrealistic (okay, I mean OTHER than the fact that we're dealing with werewolves here, sheesh).
I'll also warn that I'm trying to avoid spoilers here, but... to go into all the things that bother me about the book, I have to at least dip my toe into that territory thematically. So be forewarned.
The general setup is this: Elena... something or other seems to have a good nice, with a cushy job, a loving boyfriend, a strong supporting boyfriend's family, and all that. Plus a little secret that she keeps from all of them - she also happens to be the Only Female Werewolf in Existence. (Which kinda sounded the warning alarms right there, I mean, how special, right?)
Apparently the traits of being a female werewolf are being bitchy, but always always picking the wrong things to rebel about. When she should stand her ground and actually, y'know, keep people from controlling her entire life, she caves and whines and pouts and flounces off to her room in a huff. When there's actual danger involved, the need for a plan, etc., she decides that No One is going to Tell Her What To Do, and goes off and does really stupid shit and gets bit in the ass for it.
Being a female werewolf also means knowing enough of the human world to live in it and hold down a job *in journalism* (not surprising since she was actually human up until college-age, you'd think), in knowing how dangerous men's psyche's work, in being able to manipulate people to bait them into traps and so forth, or manipulate touchy social situations on the spur of the moment. Yet it also means being so bad at human social interaction that she can't even realize that OMG, maybe she can actually snap at people once in a while without them being all OMG BITCH I'M LEAVING YOU or can't deal socially with her boyfriend's family (for example) on an even footing. (To be fair there is some in-character reasons that her socialization might not be all that normal... but it's still irritating as hell to read, regardless. And it still doesn't gel very well with how *good* she is at other social bits.)
Best of all (yes, that's sarcasm, just to preemptively warn you) being a female werewolf means that no matter how much you try to assert yourself against those mean ol' alpha males who are trying to run your life the way THEY see fit... they'll always (or at least almost always) turn out right in the end, and silly female lil' ol' you was wrong wrong wrong. They do know what's best for you, after all! All your own personal dreams, and decisions? Pfff. You should know better, kid. Eventually you'll realize what's REALLY best for you.
And then there's things like this woman who was apparently raped (or rather "molested") repeatedly as a kid being quasi-raped by the big strong manly werewolf, and at the last minute when he says he won't force her (after he's, y'know, tied her up and got her all worked up), she of course realizes that OH YES, that's what she wants, and she just can't stop her lil' ol' female hormones. Not with that big strong dominant MAN around.
So.. yeah. I guess I kinda failed on the whole not-ripping-it-apart thing. I did try. And don't take it as a personal attack, at any rate. Blah.
Recommendation: Avoid. Especially if you like actual strong, realistic, remotely admirable female leads.
The Dresden books 2-5 - Jim Butcher
Since I've already talked at more length about the first book of this series, I.. don't really have much more to say actually. I just wanted to mention I've been glomping these down at a fairly good pace, and don't know why someone didn't sit me down with them sooner.
Now, that's not to say that they are, or have become, perfect. At least some of the twee-ness that was a bit more prevalent at the start is weeded out to a better level now, and the books have more or less gotten more interesting as the whole tapestry of Dresden's life is getting woven and becoming more involved and complex.
But there are still some flaws - like the fact that it's never a somewhat simple, straight-forward case or problem. No, it's always something Horribly Death Defying that will almost certainly leave Harry dead or worse, and there are usually Very High Stakes to play for, which frankly is starting to seem a bit like Dragonball Z syndrome. "Oh, he's squaring off against an all-powerful Faerie Queen this time, and the result of his failure will be probably a breaking of the natural cycle of the seasons, and total chaos in the human world? Ho hum." Seriously, sometimes I wonder if Butcher is a closet sadist, and creates his characters just so he can push them so far that it gets him his jollies.
Then there's the fact that so many of Dresden's problems are karma coming back around to bite him in the ass after he's a completely rude little bastard. I mean, on the one hand there's being assertive, and making sure the Supernatural Baddies know you're not going to be a doormat. On the other hand, there's being a) suicidally stupid, with your mouth writing checks your own power can't cash, along with b) just being rude to people who (thus far) haven't deserved it. Dresden just goes way too far over onto the "other hand," and so it's a bit harder to feel empathy for his plight and the problems he has hauling his ass out of it, when so much of it is from his own making.
That said though, the books are still good solid enough representatives of the genre that I'm nom-nom-noming them rapidly. The flaws are there, but hell, nothing's perfect.
And Editing to add (cause I almost forgot and I was editing anyhow): By the way, think we could maybe POSSIBLY get a cover for one of these books that isn't "back view of wizard posed with staff in hand, long duster on, looking dramatically brooding (or possibly broodingly dramatic), and also dim and dark and gloomy"?
Recommendation: Generally recommended, though obviously not flawless. (And if you're actually from Chicago or are very familiar with the town, I know from others' experiences that the first books especially might drive you nuts. Research, people!)
the Taltos books - Steven Brust
Okay, so I devoured my way through the whole of the Taltos series thus far, and the first of the Phoenix Guards books. So I figure I might as well at least mention them, although I'm getting tired of writing this review. Blah.
So generally: my opinion hasn't really changed (I think) after the first few Taltos books that I read and reviewed, except that by the end I was much more annoyed by the constant see-sawing back and forth with the timelines. Especially since Brust seems to be confusing *himself* now. (I remember catching at least one thing Vlad was thinking of in a book that shouldn't even have happened yet.) I mean, I'm not all that keen on prequels in the best of times, and the constant back-and-forth here is getting a bit (read: quite) ridiculous.
But damnit, I'm still caught up in them.
As for The Phoenix Guards... I know that everyone and their dog was all like "OMG you must go read now now now" but... I didn't like it as much as the regular Taltos books. I honestly didn't think that the Three Musketeers style suited it, or perhaps just me. Maybe it's because it's so over-the-top and such a contrast to the style of the Vlad books, and yet they're dealing with more or less the same society, and even some of the same characters. I just can't reconcile the two in my head, and besides, while the detached, one-man-against-an-army style works okay for some of the classics, I guess I've just come to expect something different from my modern fantasy.
Which isn't to say that I think the book sucked, or was badly written, or that I won't read any more of them. Just that I didn't like it as much as I expected to after the build-up, and compared to the Taltos books.
Oh yeah, I forgot, so I'll edit this in just to keep the balance, man:
Recommendation: Well, same as it was before, whatever I said when I reviewed the earlier Taltos books, I guess. Seriously, if you're a fantasy reader and like to read series, you should at least give this one a go.