Fangs for the Fantasy is run by Renee from Womanist Musings, and Sparky who love all things Urban Fantasy. While we do love Urban Fantasy, we're also social justice bloggers and we try to be aware – and look at the genre from a social justice lens. Whether we love a series or hate it, we look at it through this lens – and critique it in part based on its treatment of marginalised people and issues affecting them. It doesn't mean we don't love the genre – but even the books and programmes we adore have problematic elements and we refuse to ignore that even while we enjoy them..
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I did it, I read Sun Warrior. It was a book I picked up with a great deal of trepidation and no small amount of dread. The House of Night Series remains one of the worst I have ever endured and Moon Chosenmanages to plum still deeper depths. I did not have high expectations for Sun Warrior
Which made reading Sun Warrior, almost a pleasant surprise. Oh, not because it was good. Not because it came even close to good. Not because it could even see good on a clear day with a telescope. Because it wasn’t remotely. Nor was it not deeply problematic in many many ways (especially dwelling on a lot of rape as well as some really terrible treatment of the former slaves the Companions controlled) But it managed to avoid a whole lot of the most awful traits of the first book by… basically pretending they never happened or by retconning or by brushing over them super quickly.
Like the book tries to emphasise what a wonderful caring healer Mari is… we’re all completely avoiding the way she just abandoned her people and listened to them scream. At best we have a brief nod while everyone rallies round Mari to tell her she’s amazing and we spend the rest of this book with just about everyone treating Mari like the second coming. Or there’s the racial coding and Blackface of the last book which is just ignored in this book. The description of Earth Walkers as ugly vs the “refined” features of the Companions has been dropped entirely. The Nightfever is there, but handwaved and we’re all far more concerned by the new plague from the Skin Stealers. She even develops a whole new load of traditions about Clan Weaver weaving - which sounds simplistic, but last book Mari didn’t think her people were capable of art.
It’s not that the book has changed, dispensed with or otherwise redeemed the badness of the last book: it’s just pretended none of it ever happened.
It does have its own problematic elements which largely stem from the writing: it’s horribly slow pace, the endless telling-with-no-showing and the Mary Sue omniscience of the main characters held together with a whole lot of magical plot glue.
This book, this oh-so-long-book, covers about a week, maybe a fortnight. And in that time Mari and Nik decide to create a whole new society called the Pack where all people come together in mutual love and tolerance. Which sounds nice - except remember like 2 days ago these Earth Walker women were imprisoned and enslaved by the Companions. They were enslaved for generations as a people and some of these women had literally spent many years in captivity. It is REASONABLE for these women to be at least a little wary of the Companions. It is reasonable for these women to be more than a little concerned when Mari decides to host several Companions in their BIRTHING BURROW. The place where pregnant women of the Clan give birth. And some of these Companions were literally among the raiding party that kidnapped several Clan women AND killed Leda, Mari’s mother and pretty much destroyed the Clan, a few weeks ago. Hey, y’know, it’s not exactly an act of vicious bigotry for the these women to think that they’d rather their enslavers not camp in the most sensitive parts of their home. But Mari treats them as grossly intolerant and drives some of the women out for not embracing them men who hunted and owned them 2 days before - and no-one challenges her on this
This follows Mari, in both books, repeatedly talking about the bigotry of her people and why she had to hide: but we never see this. Literally not one member of Clan Weaver turns on Mari for being half Companion Tree-Person. Not one. But she repeatedly tells us of the lengths she has to go to to avoid this non-existent bigotry. She continually refers to this non-existent bigotry to bludgeon the surviving Clan Weaver women to just ABANDON their society.
We have something similar with the Companions - with Nik and Mari assuming the Companions will definitely try to kill her and return to their slaving ways. Perhaps there’s more justification in assuming the slave holding Companions being regarded with more suspicion - but we don’t see it; no real wide spread rejection or hostility. The only Companion who really clings to real negativity towards the Earth Walkers is Thaddeus - who is infected by the Skin Stealer disease. But Nik decides to leave his people at a time of utter peril, taking with him Laru (his pet dog and the alpha. Which sort of makes him leader. It’s like a Canine Excalibur) when the ONLY opposition he gets is from Thaddeus the diseased one. He leaves his people literally to die for the sake of a prejudice that we never see.
And despite everyone knowing Thaddeus killed the last Sun Priest, no-one does anything about it. He just wanders around being evil, gathering followers and everyone just shrugs and moves on -not for any reason other than the author NEEDING Thaddeus to run around being super evil to advance a plot. Reasonably these characters would have killed/banished/dropped him down a hole but the plot needs him to be there
This whole lack of actual prejudice is a problem because both Nik and Mari use this supposed prejudice as an excuse to abandon the Companions completely (despite having lost over half of their population in a devastating forest fire and desperately desperately needing help, they have no healer, no home, few resources and lots of wounded) and force the Earth Walkers to completely change their way of life. This prejudice NEEDS to be real to stop Nik and Mari being completely self absorbed and utterly callous towards others and without it being depicted they still look self-absorbed and callous… but also weirdly paranoid. “Everyone hates me!” but… no-one does. I mean, ever.
This prejudice is even used as the driving force for Mari deciding the Pack needs to relocate to a whole new unknown land - this prejudice is an essential driver of the plot and it’s NOT THERE
The books also really fails to examine, well, anything in any real depth. Like Mari and Nik are building this new society and, then, deciding to move to the great unknown to live with pretty horses - but it’s ok everyone going with them choses to follow. Except the Earth Walkers will pretty much die without Mari to wash them. And the Companions are vulnerable to the death fungus which means basically half of them die if they suffer even a minor break of their skin: an ailment that Mari can cure. Oh and now we have the Skin Stealer disease which… only Mari can cure. At no point does any character even slightly hint that Mari has complete power over everyone and how little free will everyone else has because of this. Mari herself never thinks for a second about the ethics of everyone’s dependence on her - even when she threatens to leave or abandon people. Just some level of thought would be nice
Which brings me round to how Mari is just the most ridiculous Mary Sue ever. Mary Sue is a much abused term and is often used by sexist readers to dismiss any half way competent female character - but Mari is such a classic example. She has ALL THE SHINY POWERS in incredible amounts and even Thaddeus wants to capture her to use her special shininess. She is everyone’s saviour since she can heal the Skin Stealer Plague - but it’s not just her powers; it’s the way everyone treats her. Unless you’re actually designated Evil, you love Mari. Everyone loves Mari. Everyone agrees with Mari. She’s radically changing society and gets barely more than a token protest. People line up to love her. When one of the Skin Stealers is fleeing her people she prays to the Earth Goddess and MARI HEARS THE PRAYERS. She’s also getting some very House of Night-style divine guidance as well adding to her specialness. And this is why the whole prejudice themes fail - because the author just can’t bring herself to have people dislike Mari.
Nyx was a soldier. Nyx was a government backed assassin and bounty hunter. Now she works for herself with her own rag-tag team making a living in the grim, war-torn land of Nasheen
Life isn’t good, a centuries long war has turned Nasheen pretty apocalyptic and winning is surviving to see the next day - and maybe earning enough money to drink enough not to remember yesterday
This book with all its short stories is gritty with a capital grit. At many points in the story I expected something - I expected Nyx to soften, I expected her to see her crew as more like family, I expected her to see her to melt towards Rhys especially.
But everything about this is gritty, dark and messy. There’s no love, there’s just the release of casual sex. There’s no companionship - there’s just people Nyx works with (and that grudgingly) and every time we feel like we’re getting closer to something more
I say all this not as a criticism of the book, or even as a warning but as a clear depiction of what the book is. And in some ways it’s unique for it. I’ve read a lot of books that bring in the melodramatic grimdark, usually with lots of rape and torture for the sheer gratuitous purpose. But few pull off the gritty, certainly unrelenting gritty, gritty without some bright sparks, gritty without some sense of a happy ending or a happy moment or something. For unrelenting grimdark, this book works and is just perfect for it
This works because this is the world that Nyx lives in, this world far from Earth but clearly colonised but Earth people, this world where two nations have been at war for generations, a brutal horrific war complete with weapons of mass destruction used with such regularity that they have become a normal part of everyone’s day, with a border where the atrocities have piled up so much that mounds of bodies just don’t even feature. We have a state, Nasheen, where large branches of quasi law enforcement are dedicated to little more than hunting down deserters from the devastating wars, where we have people bred expressly for that war and conscription that consumes entire lives
On top of this we have both the grittiness of the war - chemicals, weapons, violence etc, but also the dangerous nature of the world itself with its multiple suns and high cancer rates which translates into some really strong messages on class divide as the poor obviously can’t spend time inside behind filters so they are susceptible to skin lesions and cancer - while the rich have smooth skin that is saved from the touch of the sun
In this we have Nyx, a deeply unlikeable character… which is perfect. Why should she be likeable? She’s a war veteran from a war that has destroyed her country from before she was even born. She’s been destroyed, remade, suffered immense trauma, watched many people around her die, been on an array of missions most of which have not exactly gone well, worked some rather unsavoury professions. She’s led a terribly traumatic, awful life, in a terrible traumatic, awful world: why would she be nice or pleasant or likable? Why would she even care about these things? It would break this whole theme, world and story if she were a woman with hope and positivity or had somehow managed to come through all of this still shiny would completely change the whole tone of the book. Even as Nyx has regrets and moments of guilt she drowns them in alcohol and so many times I think she’s so close to making the kinder choice…
We also have a really really fascinating world, a mix of sci-fi and magic - and the whole idea of magic involving insects and the way this works with technology and the general blending of it into society is incredibly well done (and I love that, i love how magic/sci-fi elements are not just used for the big showy stuff but also work for the day to day lives of everyone in the world, fascinating and just makes me want to investigate more of this world and kinda poke the author with a stick - because how do you even come up with this? *poke poke*.
On top of this we have a fascinatingly diverse world. Nearly everyone in this book are POC, though they are not on Earth and direct analogues are not easy, it feels Nasheen is made up of people of Middle Eastern Descent (including Nyx herself) while the country they’re at war with, Chejan (Rhys’s nation) are Black people. We have other nations mentioned which don’t feature prominently but there’s also an interesting addressing of mixed-race characters and how they meld or adopt different aspects of their nations cultures. I also appreciate that, even with the short story format, there is still some really excellent world building of these related nations. This is also reflected in the clothing - Nyx most often wears burnouse and dhoti.
Tiger has finally taken the first steps against the sinister forces experimenting on children for their own dark aims. But more children are missing - and those experiments are gaining ground: the some vampires are walking in sunlight
To finally stop this she needs to bring down Ciara the sinister architect behind this. But Ciara can change her shape to look like anyone and apparently has influence at the very top of government.
This book is action packed - we open with Tiger charging into battle against these sinister facilities and it doesn’t let up from there
And it’s really satisfying to follow with this book of concrete action and results after the sometimes confusion of the previous books. We had a lot of random events before and a whole lot of confusion from the large scale, highly convoluted and multiple levels of conspiracy that was exposed but still pretty hard to follow in the last two books
Now we have answers. Now Tiger knows what she is up against and what needs to be done. And this born weapon is going to charge into battle and kill everyone she needs to do to bring this world ending conspiracy to an end. She knows who is responsible, she knows their sinister plans - now the investigation has finished and it’s time to blow it all up.
And can I say now that I was pretty wary of Tiger for a while - the fact that she was designed to be a seductive assassin made me think of a lot of terrible tropes: but we dodge that. She is a lethal trained commando and warrior: we have no lethal seduction, but a lot of guns and explosions.
This does come with some interesting moral quandaries: especially in relation to the experiments here. I.e. the people these illicit labs have created, the babies, what they are, whether they can be saved, whether they should be saved, whether they’re acceptable collateral damage. All of this is extra poignant to Tiger, an artificially created being herself who saw so many of her people, especially the children whose ghosts she still treasures, were destroyed as being unfit to live.
She and Jonas have also reached an interesting level. Their romance has been on the cards for some time and, no, I’m not a fan. But I do like that they are addressing their ancestral problems, their fighting on differing sides of the war, both being party to atrocities for their own side… it isn’t just ignored. It is addressed, they do talk about it.
Family history has caught up with Hattie: her father’s past and connection to a terrifying demonic revolver has lead to a lot of bad attention. Attention that robs Hattie of everything and leaves her desperate to find her sister; in a trek across the magical Wild West with a range of forces arrayed against her. She’s backed by a group of allies - but how many of them can she trust and what is their real agendas?
Well, this is different. Well developed magical steampunk western. Ok, bizarre quirk? I hate westerns but I love paranormal westerns and steampunk westerns. Especially if you throw in some really excellent world building
And this world building is excellent. The way magic is incorporated into the actual world and businesses. Like the Pinkertons are a magical detective agency, the use of Zoom tunnels not just as magical transport, but the way they’ve been controlled and used basically in the same manner as railroad companies. We have magical rich and poor areas but we also have a world where magic is very much integrated into daily life with common ranchers using magic to protect their livestock, competitions regularly checking if people are carrying magic and a general assumption of magic as a common factor in everyone’s world without turning it into an odd fantasy elves-and-wizards-story. There is a suggestion of greater than normal technology as well - a definite steampunk edge but we don’t explore that much because magic and technology don’t mix much and these characters are all magical but it does promise a lot for future books.
But it’s also interesting how the magical setting actually works with the prejudices of the era (which continue to this day) and how it’s considered how magic would change history - or not. Like there’s an exploration of massacred Native Americans and they talk about how magic doesn’t generally work on metal (except very limited special circumstances): and no matter how magically powerful Native tribes were, because magic cannot stop bullets and modern weaponry is just deadly. This is something we see reinforced a lot which does a great job of emphasising why the Diablo is so special: magic is impressive but if men are pointing guns at you? Or gatling guns are being brought out?
Or there’s how Ling, a main character who is Asian not only faces lots of prejudice for being Chinese but this is also linked to his magic - magic doesn’t free him from prejudice but is in turn seen to be a reason to suspect him: his magic becomes suspect because he’s Asian. Similarly there’s a scene where we find that one of the reasons racists hate magic and are encouraging anti-magic sentiment is because magic isn’t racist. They are outraged and furious that magic can give Black people power, that it makes Black people equal or more than them (since Black sorcerers also seem to have equal status in the world). They examine a lot of the rage and prejudice and evil Ling faces as well. It’s interesting to see magic not just erasing prejudice in the world; nor being ignored as a factor in the world building that would affect magic.
Our protagonist is Hettie and she’s pretty awesome. Her overpowering motivation is to save her sister. She doesn’t have any super powers but manages to inherit the Diablo revolver through the plot. She’s a pretty quintessential ordinary-woman-thrust-into-extraordinary-circumstances and having to stand up. But she does this while being neither an utterly useless burden in need of carrying nor by being super-woman who effortlessly masters skills she shouldn’t have. She relies on her team, but also contributes to it. She makes mistakes and she makes bad decisions, but they’re bad decisions that are understandable given the circumstances, emotion and lack of options. It’s also interesting that she is described as unattractive or vaguely “plain” even before the book starts and during the book gains a substantial facial scar. This appears not to be a classic case of she-doesn’t-know-she’s-beautiful Urban Fantasy thing but a character who just isn’t classically beautiful and is in denial. Romance also doesn’t appear to be a major element of her story despite some do-si-so between her and Walker.
Mace Llewellyn has changed a lot since his teenaged years - now out of the army and all grown up so very well (and his lion’s mane now growing out to its full glorious length) but he never forgot Desiree MacDermot.
When a murder in his mother’s pride brings him home, he is again reunited with now police detective Desiree. Their attraction burns - but there’s a murder to investigate and Desiree knows nothing of the supernatural - or the politics of werelion prides
While Ronnie Lee, werewolf, has had a wild life and she thinks she’s ready to make better choices and settle down. But does Brendon Shaw, werelion ready to leave the pride life count?
I love so many aspects of the world building here. So many books have sued the concept of the supernatural to justify all kinds of weird and regressive ideas (like alpha werewolves being abusive arseholes for romance and everyone considering it perfectly ok). Which is why I really like how the concept of werelions here is so turned on its head. A society where the men basically do nothing but breed with multiple women and get fed? That sounds so ideal for creating said abusive nonsense. But instead we see female dominated societies, men traded back and forth as breeding stock and discarded when they’re no longer useful (Brendan is considered less useful to the Llewellyn family because he’s already bred several times; they have children from him they don’t especially need him any more). The men live lives of relatively idle luxury but it comes with being treated as very hungry decorative ornaments who can fight really well. One of the linking elements between Brandon, Mace and Mitch is that they’re all heavily opting out of the Pride system because they object to this treatment and usage.
The Hyenas also look savagly interesting. Again a strong sense of community and culture from another supernatural group. If I have any complaint about the world building and these excellent cultures it’s that we focus so much on the romance between the characters that we don’t actually explore these cultures, this world building (and anything else that may be out there) as much as I’d like - there’s something really excellent here but we’re focused so much on the, admittedly fun, relationship that we don’t really delve into it.
I also like the plot lines which explore the worlds far more - the conflict between the shapeshifter groups, the importance of various characters and how certain actions are considered “cheating” even in relatively violent societies and how investigating requires territory wrangling - the plot intertwines excellently with this and is fun to watch. And I quite liked that there were two stories here - because when we focused on Mace we kind of ignored Brandon despite him being more centrally a victim. It was nice to step back and revisit the person who had taken the most hits here
I wasn’t a fan of the sex scenes. Not so much because they were bad but because there were So. Many. Of. Them. And, again, it got in the way of far far far more interesting parts of the book. I found it especially frustrating when Desiree learns about the supernatural and doesn’t particularly examine it or ask many questions.
I have… a niggle. It’s a niggle that comes having already read book 3 (because I managed to completely get the first book in the series wrong). The thing is, Mitch (the protagonist in Mane Attraction), Brandon and Mace all feel…. Pretty similar? Lions who have, for various reasons, opted out of traditional werelion society. Men who are pretty light hearted, jokey and hilarious.
And Sissy, Ronnie Lee and Desiree are… also quite similar. All tough women who prefer casual encounters to relationships and all are pretty severely adamant that they will not will not will not have a long term relationship (either in general or with this specific man). Until the above man continues pushing until she surrenders to the inevitable. The basic frame of the plot, the basic frame of the characters
Nulls are infertile. Everyone knows this. Scarlett certainly knows this So being pregnant was… unexpected to say the least and raised all kinds of implications which she has to learn about quickly But the luparii witches have arrived - they want their Barghest back (Scarlett’s cute pet abomination) and more - they plan something big - possibly apocalyptic and Scarlett is the key to stopping it and likely much much more. I think this book represents a rather excellently timed shift. After two books that have established Scarlett’s life, her relationships (fraught and in flux as they are), her friends, her purpose in the city and how she relates to the city’s leadership, this book turns more outwards and even a little grander. While, at the same time, not necessarily pulling the focus from Scarlett or her more regional concerns The arrival of the Luparii brings not only a sinister threat to the city to be hunted down before they bring carnage. They also represent the greater supernatural community, the wider supernatural politics The examination of null physiology, null breeding and how this relates to the witches also adds a much larger scale to the whole world, the nature of magic and the nature of the supernatural. It expands the world from a relatively narrow circle around Scarlett and puts and entirely new spin on it looking at her world and especially her place and importance within it. Again, it doesn’t shift the focus but it does expand it far more with consequently raised stakes I also think it brings some really fascinating stakes to Scarlett herself. She’s always been a good character - capable and strong without being wonder woman, confident without being too reckless (as far as urban fantasy protagonists go - let’s face it this is a genre where everyone has major overdoses of recklessness) and she’s caring without setting herself up as a martyr. She has friends but a lot of them she doesn’t entirely trust especially within the supernatural community, while she also has some excellent, powerful friendships with people like Molly who are clearly in a very different mental category for her than her political allies. But now her very very personal decisions have such a broader context including for the future of all magical races and at a time where global supernatural politics just became very very confused and very subject to change. It is both very personal to her while also having vast implications which promises a whole lot of exciting storylines in the future. I think this works well with the renewed focus on both Scarlett dealing with her pregnancy and her reconnecting with her brother and considering the deep implications of him being involved in her life. While we’re widening the lens we do have this excellent call back to Scarlett;s personal life so the focus of the story doesn’t change entirely. The direct plot itself is a search and destroy - not so much a mystery as a hunt with a hidden enemy with considerable power. There’s not a lot of questions as to motives or who is behind this but a lot of action and hunting and running. There is an unfortunate habit of the hunted protagonist deciding she really needs to wander around alone going on. But generally it’s an exciting well paced plot full of sinister enemies and desperate good guys with a few fascinating twists which is always good
Mitch has a price on his head - he’s due to testify and the very bad man who he’s testifying against would rather he didn’t. This didn’t stop Mitch, a werelion, attending a wedding full of shapeshifters with his best friend Sassy; but the evening was rather ruined when he was shot
Sassy decided the best way to keep him safe was to take him home to Tennessee to heal where none of his enemies should suspect him being. Of course with her brother, pack politics and an upcoming football game this definitely isn’t a quiet life, especially when friendship creeps into more
I do quite like how the animals that each person turns into informs their culture and personalities. Like the werewild dogs are playful and completely lacking in any kind of shame, extremely communal and convivial and have all kinds of fun while being super, ridiculously over-enthusiastic. I can see these people virtually wagging their tails as they hit the dance flaw with their terrible moves or sing karaoke, all the while the werewolves look on with embarrassment and the werecats are utterly horrified.
Even when this skirts close to reinforcing dubious tropes - like the male lions eating a ridiculous amount and expecting the lionesses to serve them (while at the same time it’s clear the lionesses only tolerate a certain number of lions in the pride) but at the same time it being very clear that there’s a whole lot of veiled tolerance going on and the lionesses in general considering them nigh useless because of this. It’s a nice subversion of having animal traits translate over to their were equivalent without upholding it as good and proper or justified or something to be happy about.
I like the idea of shapeshifter villages and towns in rural America with their own customs, shops and hobbies, linked with how different they are from urban shifters because, in their own towns, they can be so much more openly themselves and develop these practices without humans watching. At the same time I also like that they’re clearly affected by human culture as well, not necessarily unified as one shapeshifter unit or by breed (like a werelion who feels more alignment with southern shapeshifters than she does a yankee werelion)
This book may be one of the very few romances out there that I was actually invested in - because it was one of the very few romances where I could truly believe Sassy and Mitch as a couple long before they had sex. Because they’re fun - they’re so much fun together. They’re friends, and it shows. They can actually have a conversation beyond their relationship or the mission. They can spend time together and laugh and joke and generally enjoy each other’s company without having to be constantly having sex. I never realised just how rare it is to see a couple actually laugh together, a couple willing to make jokes, spend time together and genuinely enjoy each others’ company. They’re both silly, (especially him), enjoy humour, fun and yanking people’s chains for the sake of it.
In some ways them having sex actually dragged the story down because that’s it, that’s what they do. The minute they start having sex that’s all they do and their relationship suddenly feels so much less powerful: the connection between them fades under a wave of endless sex (though I do like Sassy’s horror in realising how much sex her parents are having)
One of the main flaws with this book, especially in the beginning, is the sheer number of characters (of course it turns out my google-fu fails and this is book 3 in a series damn it). There’s a wedding with everyone from very very large families all come together and there are names after names after names and I have no damn idea who half of these people are. Half way through the book I just have so many names in my head I have no idea whose Sassy’s friends whose Mitch’s relatives which of Sassy’s gazillion brothers I’m supposed to like, which are the enemy and… gods alone know who all these people are! It makes it very very hard to follow and recognise what is happening. It made things frustrating until the number of characters were pared down.
Catherine Helstone is determined to find her brother. He has been missing for some time on his mission to bring Christianity to the fae of Arcadia. She’s finally received permission to follow him
The land of Arcadia is like nothing she imagined, with mystery upon mystery to uncover and cryptic inhabitants who never seem to let her get close to the truth. Even finding her brother does little to solve the constant mystery of the castle they’re confined to, the world that is so alien and the inhabitants that do little to encourage their presence
Laon is convinced that the way to learn the truth - and bring the fae to Christianity - is to gain access to the interior. But to do that requires the favour of the alien and frightening Queen Mab.
This is not an easy book to read.
Not because it’s offensive, or badly written or otherwise broken. But because it’s intelligent, it has layers and to truly appreciate it you need to sit and think and examine and explore every line, the implications, the nuances and the thinking. A decent grounding or interest in theology wouldn’t go amiss either (which, honestly, I don’t have, but still appreciated the wrangling over holy writ and lots of awkward questions and wrangling).
The foundation for this book is less a story and more an exploration. Oh we have lots of Catherine’s journey to Arcadia, her living there and the relationship with her brother Laon (more on that later) but the main point of this is exploration and thought. What is faerie, how alien is it: and I have to say here that I have rarely read a depiction of faerie as alien, as fanciful, as weird and as downright creepy as I’ve seen here. From the nature of the individual fae, the the bizarre sun and moon to distances being measured in dreams and epiphanies to the seasons and how things change - it’s utterly perfectly alien. The use of salt on the food, the nature of changelings and Mab and her terrifying, ethereal court: the aesthetics, the theme, the whole feel of this world is excellent. It’s worth reading this book fro this alone.
And to this we add the missionaries - Laon and Catherine, so utterly out of their depth, desperately trying to apply their faith to a world that seems utterly unrelated top it, trying to find the secrets from past missionaries, trying to understand the very nature of the fae and faerie. Complete with twist at the end and excellent machinations from the fae queen
I think I would have appreciated more challenge from the fae at the very idea they need a missionaries - or even a challenge to the nature of missionaries themselves., especially within an Imperial Victorian context. Seen through Cathy’s eyes we never really have any doubt that missionaries do the right thing or bring anything other than truth - despite the theological challenges that are excellently raised throughout the book
Pacing wise, it has to be said, this doesn’t make for a fast or exciting book. In fact it’s damn slow, very verbose and there are huge periods of the story in which nothing really happens. Normally this would be a death knell for me - but I didn’t feel the slowness. The beauty of the setting, the sheer alienness of the fae and the layers of thinking and examination all let me see past that. But it was an issue even if it didn’t break me as it usually would.
Dana McIntyre has always had an issue with vampires, even more than your average vampire hunter. They have history and she holds a grudge
So she does not take being bitten and turning into a vampire well. She fully intends to die before she turns. But not before taking all of Las Vegas’s hundreds of vampires down with her.
There is a possible cure- but is Dana willing to risk that? Can Vegas survive without Dana? And can it survive her vengeance?
I am now becoming ever more intimidated and by S.M. Reine’s world - because she has written about 300 series each of which have eleventy million books in it, all of which are connected and linked to a vast meta plot and world changing activity - and I AM SO BEHIND. So finding this new series my reactions were both lots of glee and a kind of gibbering terror. I will catch up with all her books! I will!
I was going to skip this until I caught up. But the cover. You know I’m not resisting that cover, right?
That said, despite the utter terrifying vastness that is S.M. Reine’s excellent world building and the truly massive amount of events that have passed, this book still works on its own even if you’re unfamiliar with the vastness. It does refer to major events in the larger world - events I’m only vaguely aware of - but this isn’t a vast world changing story. This is the story of Dana, Las Vegas and activities there. This history matters in terms of how the supernatural took over, how people were transformed by the Event and how much changed - but the details of it are not remotely necessary to tell Dana’s story. Ok, the gods thing? The gods thing lost me. I definitely need some severe elaboration on the whole deity thing.
That doesn’t mean the world isn’t amazing and broad and rich and weird. With the very conventional supernatural vampires and wereanimals, but throwing in some truly terrifying and alien fae with a very different take on anything I’ve seen before. And the cutest orc you ever did see
In fact let’s hit Dana and her wife Penny. First of all wife - yes, Dana is a lesbian, yes we have a lesbian protagonist, no she’s not “lesbian for Penny only” she is attracted to women and definitely loves Penny. Their relationship is not in any way fairy tale - there’s a lot of conflict and difficult there: but it’s down to Penny’s previous trauma as a victim of a serial killer, it’s Dana’s obsessive hatred of vampires, it’s her drinking too much - there’s a lot of complexities which make Dana not an easy woman to live with or love but they definitely do love.
Penny is also an orc - which means she’s huge and sweaty and has horns - and is still much gentler, more timid and generally more delicate than the touch talking, hard drinking rough and tumble - though much smaller - Dana. I like that because all too often depictions of same-sex relationships feel the need to throw gender roles in there - and here we have a relationship that turns these stereotypes on their head and has two big, not-conventionally attractive, yet still very powerful women leading it
We also have a trans woman who is an integral part of the city and the story and what i love is that her being trans is not oblique or subtle - we’re very very very clear including the party Penny and Dana had with her to celebrate milestones in transitioning - while also making it clear she’s a fully developed integral character beyond that. She does use being trans as a rhetorical tool a little too extremely to try and poke Dana into action in a way that doesn’t feel appropriate in both the coarse terms and draws unnecessary comparisons with the supernatural.
To me the most compelling character was Nissa, because she was so far away from anything I expected. And I’m frustrated that I can’t reveal anything about the empathic vampire without spoiling so much what makes her so surprising, unique and her story so utterly chilling. This is an excellent, completely unique take on this kind of character that I have never ever seen before and left me confused, slightly in awe and very very disturbed.
We also have Anthony Morales, a major figure in Dana’s organisation who is latino, the second in command of the vampires, and definitely the mover-and-shaker behind the scenes is Indian: both are important in this book and likely to be much more so in future books.
Mallory the Death Witch can talk to ghosts which should really help her as a murder detective. But cryptic messages from a drowned ghost aren’t that helpful in actually solving their murder
When a second almost murder happens nearly right in front of her - and both victims seem to be heavily politically connected which brings even more of a level of pressure and complexity - and personal risk. These are powerful enemies to make
This book adds nicely to the world building in nicely gentle, non-info-dumpy ways. I really like how the book expanded on Selkies, giving us lots of hints about their culture without necessarily sitting us down for a lecture. Similarly the references to how magical beings had obviously faced brutal persecution and predation was referenced - and by referencing it we got the full history and ideal without actually having to lay it all out there. Similarly we have references to different magical creatures beyond the immediate ones we’ve seen as well as the different gods of the witches: and how those can blend with other traditions (one of Mallory’s friends is Jewish and a witch)
I really like how the world building is done in this book - in this series - this general gentle build, the exposure to many elements of the world time after time but never actually throwing a lot of it at us in a way that is false or confusing or irrelevant, making it all grow naturally
And I really like its depiction of police work, complete with so many red herrings, frustrations, complete lack of leads, going back, trying again, and again, looking for some clue. No easy fx, not quick answer with lots of wild theories on the way. And at the same time the police actually have lives, none of this idea that they should all spend every waking moment on the job. Yes they have lives and friends and hobbies and exercise and go running on a full moon through werewolf haunted woods (hey I didn’t say they did sensible things in their free time. Though, honestly, while I this is the kind of decision that would normally make me roll me eyes, I really like how this was portrayed. With mallory planning her perfect day, having it disrupted and promising herself that she could still salvage it, she could still get in that run, even as it increasingly became obvious she couldn’t, she promised herself it and couldn’t let it go. I can see that - because it’s the sort of thing people who do. Who like running, I guess. I mean, i find the whole thing quite bizarre, but if you sub in “pizza” for “run” then it makes a lot more sense). And they don’t spend all their time focusing on one case either. This murder matters - but there’s a lot of crime out there!
The plot just works with all this, her friends work with this and I love the world building
An element about Mallory and Jakob’s relationship - it is rare and interesting to have a series start with a relationship rather than have them fall in love and build a relationship during the series. I like the idea of that as it starts us in a very different place and also avoids fast forwarding the relationship. We also have Mallory and Jakob living very different lives which is also very different from most of the genre. Jakob is a vampire but he’s also a businessman, he has his own life and job and it doesn’t really intersect with Mallory’s job as a police detective. This is, again, really unique and I like it - I like that they have a relationship and don’t constantly live in each other’s lives and Mallory doesn’t have to fall back on Jakob’s woo-woo, resources or anything else. It’s surprisingly unique and I like it a lot
But… and I feel nitpicky saying it… I don’t have a huge sense of their relationship. Certainly not that they’re in love to the point of her moving in with them because they don’t seem to spend a lot of time together… I mean they spend time together - and have sex. He cooks for her - which is nice; and I really like how this goes into his past about how he faced famine and lost family members. This is excellent on several levels because it stops romanticising the past and adds an extra level of pathos to what living hundreds of years means and how it can leave long lasting scars. I mean it’s great about his development - but for their relationship? The one thing they willingly share together is now kind of pathologised… and it was all they had was sex (and they have a lot of sex - and I’m not against sex but they need something other than sex, desperate feeder obsession and Painful Conversations About Vampires). The few social occasions they spend together - going to his church for mass (she’s not religious), a birthday party for E (which Mallory spent all evening being kind of a less than pleasant grump), watching the super-bowl (which Jakob isn’t really interested in). I get tolerating your partner’s hobbies, believe me, I’m endured a lot of inept attempts to learn how to play musical instruments - but your relationship needs to be more than sex, deep-seated insecurity and then tolerating each other.
I really like that they have seperate lives and we didn’t see the beginning of the relationship - but now we need to see that actual relationship
Last book Angel, literally, fell apart. It’s a zombie problem.
She’s back together now - but there’s another zombie problem: Shamblers. Mindless, hungry, aggressive… and contagious. Suddenly all of those fantastical images of a zombie apocalypse seem very real. And no matter what the outcome, it won’t end well for the zombies of the Tribe
The Tribe is willing to go to extreme levels to find a cure as soon as possible, even work with sworn enemies like Christy Charish. As more and more of their human loved ones are at risk, time is running out and Angel worries her own past choices may be responsible for the growing body count.
Angel struggles to find a cure, to be taken seriously, to protect the ones she loves even as she resolves their complicated relationship. And she has zombiegators. Which are awesome.
The plot here is a wonderful investigation of a new zombie plague which draws upon… everything
Y’know, while acknowledging that I am an utter fanpoodle here, I have to say how good Diana Rowland is doing this. She takes these wonderful long series, pulls together many themes and events - and then when getting to the later books in the series manages to bring together EVERYTHING - yet at the same time makes it work! She did the same thing with the equally awesome Kara Gillian series. We’re drawing on Angel’s relationship with her father, we have her ex boyfriend and his family and conflict, her relationship with the Tribe, how they survive, the moral quandaries they face, keeping their secret and not going into the dark side, Sabreton’s shenanigans, her job, her love life: all of it is here. And all of it works.
We continue the world building of the Tribe, the conflicts they face deciding how to keep surviving. We have some really excellent explorations of zombie history, the nature of Mature Zombies and their abilities and even a moment where a past assumption/theory is disproved. I really like this because how often is mystical world building presented as solid unquestionable fact? That isn’t how science works, it’s never how science works.
The world building remains solid. The investigation is fun, well paced, full of heavy emotion and with several wrong turns and red herrings capped off with some really excellent twists. The balance of all those world elements is excellently mixed with the plot so the pacing remains good - in fact it works even better because these red herrings and frustrated lack of leads never makes the book feel slow (which can be a problem in investigation books)
And seeing Angel spar with Christy, especially at the end, is excellent. Seeing Angel hold her own is generally always fun
The main, joyous, most perfect part of this series has always been Angel Crawford herself. Her story, her growth, her journey has just been amazing since the very first book and a perfect take on class and gender and disability and growth and maturity and education vs intelligence and so much more. In the beginning she was a drug addict and didn’t generally have her life together - but becoming a zombie we have followed her from book to book to see her get things sorted. We’ve seen her kicking her habit, get her education, hold down her job, put her relationship with a dad on a much better level. This book continues all of this and more: we see Angel becoming more and more confident in herself. We see her actually now having goals and ambitions for herself and even considering a full career and realising she can be so much more. And she’s setting those ambitions high - encouraged by excellent people who support her like Dr. Nykas - things she considered impossible are now within her grasp and she believes she can do it - get a degree, become a scientist and researcher alongside Dr. Nykas. Just the fact that she now believes she can do this just shows how far she has come in terms of confidence
We also see some how she’s grown with her relationships - because she’s no longer taking any condescension from the people around her. She isn’t stung by Christy taking jabs at her intelligence because she knows she’s wrong. We have seen her challenge Marcus in the past about the condescending way he’s treated her - but this evolves into her standing her ground with everyone: including Pierce leader of the Tribe. What I especially really really really really really really love here is how she challenges Pierce and others for looking down on her, giving her orders or otherwise telling her what to do EVEN WHEN she may be wrong. Even when she concedes she makes a mistake or something she does doesn’t go as well as she’d hoped - she is still very clear that her being wrong doesn’t mean she’s stupid or doesn’t have good judgement or needs to do as she’s told or not take the lead. Angel has arrived at a place where she knows she deserves respect and demands that. And it’s beautiful. Angel does her own thing, makes her own decisions and demands to be respected as an equal by everyone. And there’s no spunky agency at all! Every decision Angel makes, even wrong ones - are excellently made and reasonable
James has managed to get a scholarship for Oxford University. He expects challenges from academics, from sports, from being a poor notherner in the elite college. He even could handle a dangerous and unpleasant room mate
He did not expect murder. He certainly didn’t expect witches, witch hunters and being in the middle of an ancient war.
One of the hardest kind of reviews to write is for a book that…. Isn’t terrible? Especially when that kind of covers everything you need to say about it. Honestly I find reviews like this are both harder to write than a review that condemns the books very existence and an utter offense to the eyes of everyone who read it and in some ways more damning. I mean, everyone can read my passionate loathing for a book yet somehow it feels better than my… mild amusement?
But unfortunately mild amusement is the best this book gets from me: I don’t dislike by any means, I enjoyed it, it was an entertaining read, but there was nothing especially unique or compelling about it that drew me in or made me want to pick up the next book
Like the enemies - they’re witches. I do appreciate that the book took steps to distance evil, non-human witches and actual wiccans so we’re not demonising a whole religion, so applause (I also like that secrecy in this case is maintained because past witch hunts have shown what damage revelations can bring). But the book also did very little to define what witches were other than “evil”. Inherently evil - evil for being born, power hungry, ruthless and dangerous. It feels.. Cheap to just decide “hey evil” especially when your antagonist is so very near-human. This leads to things like the Council “binding” witches magic so they can’t use power - does this happen every time or just witches who commit crime? Is there any kind of nuance in terms of sentencing? Can witches be seen as possibly innocent? Do all of them need binding? These are all elements that aren’t explore and even james, as a man who chatters incessantly as he tells us, fails to look at even remotely.
There’s also very little exploration of magic beyond “it exists” and less real making magic an actual appreciable of the story or the witch’s existence. You could, honestly replace “witches” with vampires, demons or wereracoons and not appreciably change the story. The actual nature of the bad guys is pretty much irrelevant, they’re just a rather Generic Bad Thing to fight
Similarly, while there’s a little more information on the Hunters, in that we know they have a council and Generations, with each generation having more abilities. But there’s, again, painfully little exploration of this. How do they get these powers? (And their large stash of magical artefacts for that matter) WHAT are these powers (beyond an ill-defined magic sense?) Are they human? What counts as a generation? Does one or both parents have to be a Hunter? What about James who is a “first gen” does that mean his children would become second? If so how is this inherited?