Cut for length, since Long Review Is Long!, which means I guess I'll have to RoT13 any spoily bits I just have to go into. Otherwise, should be no spoiliness. Or at least tres minimal.
Halfway to the Grave/One Foot in the Grave (Night Huntress books 1 & 2), Jeaniene Frost
First off, I'll say flat out that I don't know if I'd recommend these books or not. They inhabit the sort of quasi-good, quasi-poor no-man's land that the first few of the "Southern Vampire Mysteries" inhabited for me. I ended up dropping those after 4 or 5 books after the books started pushing more of my internal "ugh" buttons than they entertained me. I'm not sure yet what I'll do with these - if I'll keep reading, or for how long, but at least they're not immediately turning me off.
Anyhow, the premise: Catherine (or Cat... *rolls eyes*) Crawfield is a half-vampire, which is like, exceedingly rare. As in she's the only one that anyone knows of at all, and those who know about vampires and see her are blown away and can't believe what she is. So yeah, she's a Special Snowflake. Which makes me twitch out of the gate right away, but whatever.
Because her mother's hang-ups after Cat's conception, and her own lack of information, Cat's main thing is to gleefully go around staking any vampire she can get hold of that happens to come through her small Ohio town, which happens to be quite a lot. Since this is apparently some sort of hotbed of the supernatural, and we have it mentioned at some point that 10% of the population is supposed to be supernatural (or maybe just undead), which... yeah, whatever. But ANYHOW.
As expected, she eventually ends up against someone who is tougher and meaner and more knowledgeable than her, and finds out that maybe vampires aren't all the scum of the earth automatically like she thought (who'da thunkit?), and ends up.. well, I won't go into a bunch of spoiliness. Let's just say that she ends up over the course of two books going from small-town hick girl who has some inherent abilities and talent to Supreme Ass-Kicker. Again, probably as expected. (And yeah, this is all coming out even lamer the further I type...)
The downside is, probably obviously, that so much of it is sterotypical urban-supernatural, and even fanficcish. (It's a word now. Shush.) The plot is usually fairly predictable, the characters ditto, there are a few things at least that look lifted almost straight out of a White Wolf player's handbook, the world is pretty much focused on vampires (and a few ghouls and ghosts) rather than a broader supernatural/magical world, which is limiting... oh yeah, and we have the lovely gratuitous sex that obviously no book in this genre should be without. (Yes, those are my eyes rolling that you hear.) Oh, and it does fall a bit into the "I love this person SO MUCH even though he's a killer" vibe, a slope which is slippier than all hell.
Now that I've probably turned everyone totally away from the book... there IS an upside, which is why I can't decide how I feel about the books. Or multiple upsides even, if you want to put it like that. While the plot and characters are somewhat predictable, they're not flat-out BAD, and in some places are even at least somewhat interesting. (I know I know, damning with faint praise, but keep in mind I'm someone who's read Dresden and Briggs and others that I really like, which are pretty damn good at coming up with interesting/unusual characters and plots.) The writing itself isn't bad for the most part, once you get past a tendency toward infodumps, and the sex, while gratuitous and frequent, is at least not badly written/thought out for the most part. I mean, if you're gonna have gratuitous porn, at least it doesn't have to be CHEESILY BAD gratuitous porn.
And for some of the parts that would normally turn me off even more... well, they're not as bad as they could be, which is part of what gives me pause and makes me at least consider giving further books a try, to see if they can develop any more. For instance, while the main heroine is a Special Snowflake, at least she's not a victim of what I like to call "Strong-Woman"-Who-Would-Wilt-Before-Any-S
And as for the "my boyfriend's so hawt but he's a killer but I'll just ignore that" bit... well, it's not too bad since a) Cat's kinda on the same wavelength as him, or at least mostly, and b) he's really not *as* bad as he could be. Yeah, there are a few things that kinda get swept under the rug a bit, but then considering the subject matter, it's not nearly as bad as it could be. And I think to go further, I'll have to break out the ROT-13 Spoiler-bat: Lrnu, ure oblsevraq vf n inzcver, naq unf xvyyrq crbcyr. Naq xvyyf zber crbcyr. Naq gura xvyyf n srj zber. Ohg ng yrnfg gur xvyyvatf ner trarenyyl whfgvsvnoyr (nygubhtu tenagrq gung'f n qnza svar yvar gb jnyx), rfcrpvnyyl tbvat sebz gur "obhagl uhagre" natyr, naq ur qbrf fubj fbzr erfgenvag, naq gurer'f gur jubyr "greevgbevny inzcver" guvat juvpu ng yrnfg vfa'g gnxra gbb sne. Naq ng yrnfg ur qbrfa'g ghea gung ivbyrapr ba *ure*, juvpu vf n ovt cneg bs vg.
So anyhow. There's more I could probably go into, but this part of the review is already more than long enough, considering what else I want to get through in this post.
Recommendation: If you love the genre, you might want to at least try them out, although if you can find the first couple at a library before you pony up your cash for them, it might be better.
Magic Bites/Magic Burns (Kate Daniels books 1 & 2), Ilona Andrews
So, I actually bought the first of these books along with some of the various urban-supernatural stuff I'd had recommended to me in a decently-sized genre spree, and then promptly forgot I'd ordered it, and asked about Andrews and a couple other writers that I'd seen cropping up in my Amazon recommendations, and got cautiously optimistic replies (ie, generally positive, but I don't remember any utter ravings about them). Then luckily I spotted the book in my to-read pile before I talked myself into buying it. (Although really, I suppose Amazon would have given me the big "you already bought this, you amnesiac dipshit" thing at the top of the screen if I went to buy it again, so it's all good.)
Anyhow, these books pretty much suit the recommendations I got. I generally enjoyed them, and after reading the first intended to at some point pick up the second, although it wasn't until just very recently that I got around to it. (And then I ended up re-reading the first to have it fresh in my mind, for the sequel and for reviewing.) So good enough that I wanted to read more, but not so good that I was driven to immediately order the next one to devour it as quickly as possible. Although I was a bit better pleased after the second, which I thought was stronger, and was a bit displeased that upon looking for the third, it's apparently not out until the end of March. Feh.
There are some pretty strong aspects to these books, such as the writing, which I think has a nice sense of humor, some nice turns of phrase, and is generally well-done. The characters are also fairly strong for the most part, having their strengths and flaws. The main character is a bit special herself, but at least you don't have it spelled out exactly WHY for the most part, although it's fairly easy to read between the lines once you get farther into the book(s), and she has enough flaws and limitations that it's not cringe-inducing. And at the same time, while her flaws and limitations are there... they're not ones that constantly annoy you and make you want to smack the crap out of her.
The setting is another one of the positives, being another different spin on the genre. In this world (which is apparently near-future "real world,") magic and technology tend to come and go in waves. The second book goes a bit more into this, but the gist of it (from what I understand) is that either naturally or due to man's activities, there tend to be overall eras where magic is ascendant and tech-type stuff doesn't work, or where tech is ascendant and magic is non-existent or at least seriously weakened. And in the borders of these larger eras, as things are shifting around, you get waves (lasting a day or a few days usually) of either magic or tech, where one is ascendant. Which is where the book takes place - obviously, the tech era has been ascendant for a while, but magic started coming back "recently" (the impression I get is a decade or two ago, whether it's before or after the main character's birth is still a bit unclear), and has been slowly gaining strength, although it's still interspersed with the tech waves. Along with the magic, you get magical creatures and races, wizards, etc... and some of the stuff has been around longer than you'd expect, given the length of time that tech was ascendant and the fact that magic stuff shouldn't have been around then. And inside this overall world, you have fairly different and generally interesting takes on vampires, "were" society (well, the vampires are more different than the weres are, but still), gods, and other beings.
Oh, and another plus side - we don't get the constant gratuitous sex shoved under our noses! (I have SERIOUSLY got to stop reading this genre, it is getting my priorities totally out of whack!)
Lessee... on the negative side... not as much, really. The main thing was in the first book, where honestly it felt disjointed in places and as if someone started to revise the plot but missed some places - not so much from details not adding up, but from attitudes. ROT-13 spoilers ahead: Yvxr, bar bs gur ovt "qbjagheaf" gbjneq gur raq bs gur obbx vf jura Xngr nccneragyl fhfcrpgf n pregnva crefba bs orvat gur Ovt Onq, naq vf jebat, naq gur jrerpevggref tb bss va qvfthfg naq cerggl zhpu svther fur'f shyy bs vg, naq fur gbgnyyl fperjf hc ure eryngvbafuvc jvgu guvf crefba orpnhfr fur whzcrq gb gur jebat pbapyhfvba, rgp. Rkprcg gung hc hagvy unysjnl guebhtu gur fprar, vg jnfa'g rira URE gung pnzr gb gung pbapyhfvba va gur svefg cynpr, naq fur unq orra qenttvat ure srrg ba pbasebagvat uvz, naq gur jrer perngherf unq FRRA rivqrapr gung gurer jnf n "ovt onq" fgvyy bhg gurer, naq unq orra tbvat haqre gur nffhzcgvba "bxnl, vg'f cebonoyl guvf thl, fb jr'yy irevsl be ryvzvangr uvz nf n fhfcrpg gurz zbir ba sebz gurer" zber be yrff. Be va n fbzrjung yrffre rknzcyr, jura bar thl vf onfvpnyyl eryrnfrq ba uvf jbeq bs ubabe gung ur jba'g qb fbzrguvat, orpnhfr ur'f fhpu na ubabenoyr crefba naq vg jbhyq or haguvaxnoyr gung ur'q oernx uvf jbeq, gura ur cerggl zhpu tbrf naq qbrf whfg gung guvat, naq ab bar ongf na rlrynfu be rira znxrf n ersrerapr gb vg.
Other than that, the main heroine does still have a wee bit of the "I'm special and everyone loves me" vibe going on, although not to a big extent and not nearly as badly as in some other examples of the genre, while the writing is generally good some of the elements can be slightly predictable at times, and as I said there is that bit of ambiguity on some aspects, like just what year it is, how long the waves have been going on, more detail on the mechanics, etc. (Although at least on the plus side of that, we don't have Awkward Infodumps Galore as we get info.) And the first book just didn't grab me as much, for various reasons. But as I said the second book picked up overall, I thought.
Recommendation: If you enjoy this genre in general, I'd say to give the first book or two a try, see if they're for you.
Night Watch/Day Watch (Watch books 1 & 2), Sergei Lukyanenko
These are more books that are a bit difficult for me to just flat-out decide whether I liked them or not. I saw them bandied about on friends' booklogs, and figured I'd finally give them a shot. They didn't really grab me, and I find some parts of them awkward... but at the same time I'm glad I read them, if that makes sense.
I think part of the issue is that because these are from a Russian writer, their entire approach is a bit divorced from the standards we've come to be used to in the genre, from English-language originals. In a way, these read more like just SF books in general than books in the urban supernatural genre (or sub-genre if you prefer). But at the same time, the world is a present-day urban environment in a world where magic is real, but pretty much hidden from the mundane world, which puts it straight into that genre/sub-genre.
Now, this in itself isn't bad - it's good to change things up a bit, and explode the reader's expectations from time to time. But then when the writing goes in directions I don't necessarily like as much, I don't so much have the familiarity of the setting/style to fall back on, if that makes sense.
To try to nail down a bit better what bothers me about these books - they're... well, gloomier. It's not even a matter completely of subject matter - it's somewhat looking at a painting that's dimmed down by a thin coat of gloss that darkens everything. The scene itself might be a lovely pastoral scene, but it's dimmed, somehow. To go into more specifics, the whole tone of the thing feels a bit defeatist to me - partly I guess because it treats Fate as a written-in-stone (or nearly) thing, with only a limited number of ways for a situation to go, and this can be forseen to an extent. It takes away more of the possibility of surprises, of characters growing and developing in unexpected ways, becoming something unforseen. The whole thing is also too black-and-white - the Light side is too die-hard good, the Dark side is too uncaring and evil. The second book especially tries to at least give *some* more human sides to the Dark magicians, but... it falls flat, frankly.
The books are also, well, more philosophical than you might expect from an urban-supernatural work. Partly because of the whole black-and-white thing. There's a lot of exploration of love, of the lesser versus the greater good, personal values versus community goals, and so on. Which isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but it's definitely not something to read if you're in the mood for something lighter, and it threw me for a bit of a loop.
Finally, the book seemed a bit... somehow... divorced from the characters. This is a bit harder to pinpoint, but frankly there wasn't a lot of character development, to the point where I could barely remember who was who in some cases. The main character from the first book I remember, since you see so much of him, and some of the more unique characters such as Tiger Cub or the leaders of the two Watches, but others are pretty much interchangable, or maybe were just plain faces with one or two distinguishing traits vaguely pinned onto them. And since I tend to like varied and deeper characters in my books, this was another downside for me.
All that said... the books still have some interesting plots, and go into some questions that do make you think, which is good. Like I said, I'm not sorry I read them, but they're not quite what I was expecting, for better or for worse.
Recommendation: Read if you want a different take on the genre, or like to chew on your books for a while before swallowing them. Um, mentally.
Already Dead, Charlie Huston
Argh. And here I have the same problem that I had with the first of the "Women of the Otherworld" books. On the one hand, the book was recommended to me, so I feel bad just slamming it, but on the other hand I, well, didn't like it, and there's not much dancing around the subject to be done. (Sorry. XD)
It's been a couple months since I've read this actually, and I meant to do a review of this and some of the others sooner. But frankly, I had no drive to re-read it, so I'll just kinda give a quick blurb or two.
Basically, from what I can recall, this book tried to have a somewhat unique take on the whole vampire idea, and it succeeded in some ways... but it just wasn't different *enough* or interesting enough to grab me and shake me up. The characters, likewise, didn't grab me for the most part - the main character had some interesting aspects, but mostly just came across as a low-grade asshole, from what I recall. Who likes to curse a lot.
And even if the plot and characters and world setting were great, I'd have trouble getting past three other things:
a) The vampires are called vampyres. Which might be childish of me to hold against a book, but there it is. *twitch* It smacks the same button as running across the word "magick" or "gothick" in a book.
b) Just in case "vampyre" isn't enough, he then goes on to call the virus that causes vampirism "the vyrus." There isn't enough twitching in the world.
c) While those are just cringe-inducing and a matter of taste to an extent... he also is too cool (apparently) to use quotation marks for dialogue, instead just marking each bit of dialogue with a dash in front of it, and no indication of who's saying it. That can sometimes be figured out obviously from context, but not always, and GAH, just... no. No no fucking no.
Honestly? The book just seemed to call out to me "look how cool I am, I don't have to use correct punctuation or spelling, and I'm writing about edgy things like vampires and foul language." I dunno, maybe I'm just too old and crusty to appreciate it. And get off my lawn!
Recommendation: Avoid. Sorry, whoever recommended it. :/
Cry Wolf (Alpha and Omega book 1), Patricia Briggs
This is going to be short, because I've already written enough damnit, and because it's been a while since I've read this as well.
While this is apparently the first book in another series by Patricia Briggs, it's also an offshoot of the Mercy Thompson stuff, focusing more on the Marrock's pack and Sam's brother Charles than on the Washington side of things. And to forewarn anyone picking this up - it's also the continuation of things that take place after some short story, somewhere, that I haven't yet read. It's fairly well-handled, considering - you pick up throughout the book on what came before, more or less, without extremely clunky infodumps/recaps. But it's still a bit disorienting, when you're expecting a fresh new story more or less.
Anyhow, to be (as I said) brief, this book is good. I figure I'll pick up more in the series - I didn't like it *quite* as much as the Mercy Thompson stuff, but considering that's like my favorite series in the genre, that's not exactly a huge negative. I didn't like the main female character as much as I would have liked (which is a weird sentence, but I think you can get my meaning), but there was enough of an interesting plot and cool characters (some old, some new) to make me happy.
Recommendation: Definitely a good choice if you like the Mercy Thompson stuff - if you haven't tried those, you might want to read them first, since coming into this book without either knowledge of that OR the short story that comes before it might be a little *too* disorienting, I don't know. (Plus I just like them more anyhow :p )
Ow, I think that should do it. That should at least catch me up with a lot of the books I meant to log but hadn't yet. :p