Temeraire by Naomi Novik

Everybody, I have a confession to make. I’ve done a stupid.

On the last day of my trip I started a big, honking fantasy series and now I’m in so deep I don’t think there’s going to be anything else that I’m going to read until I’m done. And while the series is great, and I’m going to give it a little write up here, they’re not different enough from one another to give them each their own blog. The good news, it’s been about a week and I’m four books through, so we’re moving at a decent clip. The bad news, there’s six more books to go. So we’re probably going to be pulling from the backlist to write things about over the next little while.

You gals, this series is everything my hearts been wanting for the past few months. I’ve been reading lots of really good books over the last little while, but a few of them have been on the heavier side (which I like! I love, actually. I just like to intersperse my heavy, serious reads with some lighter, fluffier fare). I hadn’t actually realized until I picked these up how long it’s been since I’ve read a big, fun fantasy series. I can’t even remember the last time I latched onto one and burned my way through it (maybe the Dresden Files? Which itself is a series with great world building, okay writing, and some well-meaning, if not always well-executed, politics). It’s a thing I used to do a lot more when I was younger and didn’t have as many obligations eating up my time, dive into a world and lose yourself there for a few thousand pages, and I’ve missed it.

There’s so many things about this book that speak directly to me. I was raised in a fairly WASP-y environment (I wasn’t allowed to leave the dinner table as a child without saying “I’ve had ample sufficiency.” For real) and the stuffy, buttoned-up, very slightly before Victorian-era main character just…delights me. I love how proper and concerned with formality he is (he notices when people aren’t wearing their full dress coats and neck clothes, even when they’re in tropical environments, and does his best not to look down his nose at them because he’s a god damn gentleman). He also does that thing I remember, oh so fondly, from my childhood, where the angrier you get, the colder and more polite you become. Mmmm…childhood memories.

Now, because of the time frame and the place, his concern with respectability and his upper-crusty British-ness does lend itself to some…old-fashioned (sexist!) ideas about things, but Novik is aware of it, and addresses it pretty cleverly. She’s created a society in England at the time, The Aviators (people who’ve bonded with dragons) who, from necessity, have a more liberal viewpoint than most of the rest of the world. They don’t discriminate based on gender, babies out of wedlock are no big deal, they don’t bother overly much with status and the layers of planning and propriety that seem to go into every conversation because of it. By dropping her suuuuuuper British character among them, she gives him a means and a reason to learn, which he is both capable of and willing to do. You get to see that he’s a pretty good guy, and mostly just a product of his environment, constantly course correcting as he adjusts his ideas about what the right things to do are. Plus it’s just fun to watch him unwind a little (not a lot) over the course of the books.

And the dragons are great! Funny, likeable, smart. It’s a really good, fairly original take on the creatures, and Novik uses their intelligence and the weird position they hold in British society to make some smart social commentary. A lot of that comes from the main dragon character Temeraire, who acts as a good surrogate for the author. He’s smart and opinionated and gives a lot of kickback on the shitty thinking of the time, allowing the author to slip in her own opinions about some of the less appealing aspects of British society.

I’d recommend this series for lovers of fantasy (though don’t go in expecting high fantasy. Dragons are the only fantastical element), adventure, and people who like a little flavour in their historical lit (Novik seems to have done a buuunnncccchhhh of research for these books. I’m no expert, so everything she says could be completely and totally wrong and I wouldn’t know, but it feels authentic enough). Also recommended if, like me, stiff, emotionally unavailable British gentlemen make you purr like a cat.

With the Sincerest and Most Deeply Felt Affection,

Yours,

VBR

 

 

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Continuing my trend of being super contemporary and timely, (does doing something twice, poorly, count as a trend?) I’m going to write a review of this book that I read a few months ago, that was released a few years ago, because of a movie that’s coming out soon(ish? Or maybe it’s already out? I could just google the release date, but I’m not gonna).

I love this book. A lot.

I live in a really rainy, dreary, overcast pacific northwest city (ten bonus points and a hug if you can guess which one) that had a record number of rainy, dreary, pacific northwest-y days this winter. I’ve got a high tolerance, and even fondness most of the time, for that kind of thing, but by the end of this winter even I was starting to drag a bit. Worse than that, I’d been in a major reading slump for months, one of the worst I’ve ever had. No matter what I picked up, I just couldn’t really sink into anything. I’d grab something, read a few pages, and pop it back onto the shelf. Even the old tried and true method of action packed and fantasy oriented didn’t work. Eventually I gave up, increased my TV and podcast intake to fill the gaps, and went about my dreary, bookless days.

It was during one of these podcasts (All The Books. It’s great, you should check it out) I was reminded about this book. They’d talked about it a bunch of times before, and one of them even mentioned it was one of her favourite books. I had it sitting on my shelf at home and I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.
I was instantly sucked in. I’ve never met David Grann before, he has absolutely no idea who I am, but I can’t help but feel, down in the deepest parts of my bookish lil’ heart, that this was designed specifically to delight me. It has an eccentric, larger than life, Alan Quartermain/Indiana Jones-esque main character, an old school society of adventurers, history facts (my favourite!), more information about the amazon than you could shake a stick at, war, intrigue, murder, aspiring movie stars, hapless wanna-be explorers, and just about anything else you could ask for. Did you know that there was actually a group in England called the Royal Geographical Society that trained “gentleman explorers” to head out and explore the world, mapping it as they went, and that these adventurers, loyal to the Empire, often acted as spies for the crown? How fucking cool is that? (And yes, I am aware that they helped to propogate the British Empire, which was most definitely a bad, one of the baddest bads. But you gotta admit, it’s also crazy interesting). By page two I was intrigued. By page fifty I was considering calling in sick for work.

Even though this story is bananas and chock-full of interesting characters and natural narrative hooks, I don’t think it would’ve been the same if anybody other than Grann had written it. The guy’s got a great eye for what makes a story compelling (I will admit that we seem to share a common love for obsessive types. I think all the most intriguing stories are, in one way or another, born out of obsession), and he writes about the people involved with genuine enthusiasm and empathy. As you’re reading you get the sense that he’s just as invested in getting to the bottom of the story as you are.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I loved this book. I’d recommend it for anybody who loves history or adventure or fun facts or even just a good story well told. And i’d especially recommend it for people who are going through a reading slump or a month-long case of the Mondays. I’m not going to pretend that it completely wiped away my blues, or that it caused the sun to shine or the birds to sing. But, for a few hours, it did make me forget about the rain.

Love you folks,

VBR

Sunset and Sawdust by Joe R. Lansdale

Hey there my beautifuls!

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and because of my crippling laziness and attachment to sweatpants and my couch, I’m going to avoid all those gross outdoor things and write a second review today!

Huzzah!

Now for a severe tonal shift.

Disclosure at the top. This book has a lot of misogyny in it. It opens with an attempted rape, and there’s shitty dudes treating women shittily all throughout. It’s the type of thing that would normally put me off a book but…I dunno. The author treats the misogynists in the book like they deserve to be treated (badly), and the female characters have tons of agency and grit. The people who discount them are quite clearly framed as being, not just villains, but short-sighted, close-minded, and stupid. It didn’t really bother me at all, but I know some people don’t like any of that kind of thing in their stories, and I get it.

I love Joe R. Lansdale. There’s something about his voice and the way he writes dialogue that just gets into my head, under my skin. His books are always fast and fun and filthy (in real life I’ve got the mouth of a Victorian era dock worker, but every now and again he’ll turn a phrase that catches me off guard). They’re also really unpredictable. He has this way of making it seem like everything is unstable- who the main character is, what the plot is actually about, who’s going to make it to the end. And not in a “bait the audience for cheap thrills” way *cough cough* walking dead *cough*, or in a “wait till you see what ridiculous twist I have in store for you, even though it isn’t really properly motivated by the story” (do I have to do another cough thing, or do we all know that I’m talking about M. Night Shyamalan) way. It’s just that these people seem to get themselves into legitimately dangerous, precarious situations, and you feel like if the story called for their deaths, Lansdale wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

There is a little bit of male-gazey stuff with the protagonist (she’s hot and chesty and e’rybody knows it), but again, it didn’t bother me too much. My engagement with the story and my investment in the characters just carried me right past it.

Anybody who knows me knows I love a good mystery/crime book, and I’m a sucker for anything set in the south, but even if you’re not as into those things as I am, you should give this book a shot. Quick, fun, and well done. More Sunset please!

 

The Malazan Book of the Fallen Series by Steven Erikson

Even though now, when asked, I always list this as one of the best fantasy series of all time, I actually went at this one a couple of times before I was able to really sink into it. I remember my uncle, the man who introduced me to fantasy in the first place, gave me this as a gift when I was maybe twelve or thirteen years old (and I know, some of you out there are thinking about the sex and the violence in these books and wondering if that’s an appropriate gift for a twelve year old and I just want to say…cool it, okay? The internet exists. There’s dicks and boobs and karate fights everywhere. This battle you’re fighting is already lost). He really recommended it, and I thought he was just the coolest, so I gave it the ol’ college try, bounced off the first chapter a few times, then shelved it and moved on. Thinking back on it now, I’m pretty sure the thing that pushed me away from it the first time, is the same thing that made me love this series when I actually got into it.

It’s completely and totally fucking bananas. It starts off in the aftermath of this huge magical battle, with a flying castle thing and hell hounds being teleported into a wizard’s tent and a marionette doll with a powerful mage (or maybe a demi god? It’s been a while you guys) trapped inside and a whole bunch of other batshit things just flying around. And it just spirals out from there. There’s a whole race of undead soldiers and weird loner sealmen things that can bring on ice ages and four armed giants and gods from different dimensions and just about everything you could think to shove in a fantasy series. I love it. It’s so crazy. As you can probably tell, I’m all about the weird now, the weirder the better, but back then it was a little much for me. And if it’s a little much for you too, I get it. No judgement.

But you guys, you should really stick with it. This series is sooooo big and well thought out and well written and epic and surprising and amazing and weird (are you allowed to put half a dozen conjunctives in one sentence? I guess that’s what happens when you drink a vat of coffee for your morning meal. Looking back on it, this whole post has been a little more Burroughs-y than normal. Ah, the wonders of cheap and readily available drugs for breakfast). I had a hermitty, indoor summer a few years back where I read through all of them and, even though this series has ten books in it and each are around a thousand pages, at the end of it I was still sad. Don’t get me wrong, the ending is perfect, one of the best I’ve read in a fantasy series. The problem was, I didn’t want it to end at all. What I wanted was to spend more time in this world, more time with the characters and the cultures that Erikson created…..After ten thousand pages. If that doesn’t sell you on this series, than I don’t think I really want to be book friends with you anymore.

Great for readers of epic fantasy who are looking for something a little different, history and anthropology nerds (there’s tons of stuff about ethnic groups and races, meaning other than human, migration patterns of people etc. etc.), and people interested in worlds with a deep, well-conceived mythology and history.

Okay, I’m going to go run a few laps or maybe take a Xanex or something.

Love,

VBR ❤

PS. As a brief side note, I’m aware that there’s somebody else out there writing more stuff in this universe (or was, I haven’t really kept up) but…it’s not the same. I gave it a go a few years back and it just didn’t hit it for me.

PPS. I’m kidding about the book friends. I want to be book friends with all the book people. Even if you don’t like outstandingly written, bonkers epic fantasies. Is there an emoji that I can use that looks like a mildly threatening, sort of joking, sarcastic looking side-eye? You know, that look that you give where you’re like “I’m kidding, but also I’m trying to tell you something”? Asking for a friend.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

So….I just watched the trailer for the new movie coming out and….blegh. Which is a shame, because I had actually managed to get myself excited for this one. I love Idris Elba, and ol’ Matty McC is a really good casting choice for the Man in Black. I mean, I never really thought it was going to do the books justice (which is a really complicated, next to impossible thing for a movie to do. The only time I think I’ve ever seen a movie that I liked more than I liked the book was No Country for Old Men. I love that book, but the definitive vision of it in my head is, and always will be, the movie), but I was hoping it would at least be interesting and weird. Apparently, action-shlock, uber-hollywood, “I’ll save the world for the both of us, just after I figure out a cool new way to load my six shooter” was the way they decided to go. Double blegh.
It’s such a dumb, predictable, terrible direction to take this franchise. To keep the big and the action packed, but remove all the zany parallel world, sf/fantasy stuff. The things that I liked the most about all these books were how batshit weird they were. Even this first one, which adheres the closest to the old school tropes, a good ol’ western vengeance, has streaks of strange marbled throughout (like our hero does mescaline sometimes, just to put a little pep in his step), and it only spirals out from there. I can’t think of any other series that would be able to pull off having an Arthurian culture that uses six shooters instead of swords, nineteen twenties style gangsters, and doombots with explosive golden snitches and lightsabers in the same world. And with Stephen King at the helm, the journey may have been big and wacky and sprawling, but I always felt like I was in good hands. He may not have known from the getgo where exactly the story was going to go, but I always felt like he could get there.
These books are great, and fucking weird, and so much fun. By all means go and see the bland ass movie they’re making (and let me know if I’m wrong about it, because I’m giving this one the firmest of passes. And yes, I realize I have a big, bitter pill stuck in my craw about this, so I’m being more harsh than I need to be but I feel the way I feel), but please, please, if you’re going to do that, put a little time and effort into the books first. There’s a lot to get out of them.

Love you folks,

VBR

PS. As a side note to all the entertainment big wigs that read this blog, when you have a series this big, this sprawling, MAKE IT A TV SHOW YA DUMMIES. There are tons and tons of Stephen King fans out there (even just the mild ones, like me) who would tune in to a Dark Tower series done right. And you just can’t collapse something this large into a two, or even three, hour movie. You’re setting yourself up to fail.

PPS. Did you guys hear about the fact that they’re trying to turn The Sandman into a movie? INTO A MOVIE?! AAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

Where to start with this one?

I almost didn’t write this review. In name and subject matter it’s a lot like the last one: tough female protagonist moving through a harsh environment, surviving on her wits and her skills, and a western-ish tone and setting (although in this one it’s a wintery, post apocalyptic northern BC). There are differences, stark ones, but they were close enough together that I was concerned this would be a little boring for ya’ll.

However! Despite how much I love the two or three people that read this, I write this for me, not for you. So, boring or not, here we go.

This book could have been so good! I won’t go too much into the setup, but it’s a pretty great idea for a story. I love the idea of a character being raised and trained by the antagonist, using the skills she learns to best him later on. I also really liked the frontiers-y, northern BC setting and the characters she used to populate it (mostly).

Even with all that going for it (and maybe in part because of it’s potential), this book was such a fucking drag. I was really pushing myself to get through it by the end, reading not for the enjoyment of it, but for it to be over so I could move on to something else. My problems with it are many, but I’ll list them from least important to most.

The first is the patois that the book is written in. Even though the story took place in Northern B.C., the narrator and main character had a weird, faux American South accent. While it was fine most of the time, sometimes it was so janky and off sounding that it took me right out of it. I learned later on that Beth Lewis is actually British, which makes a lot of sense, because it sounds like somebody that’s only experienced American South accents through TV trying to write one (I have a lot of family from the American South, so maybe I’m a little more sensitive than most). I know this is a really strange thing to make a point of, but I’ve been running into it a lot lately and it just…bothers me. It seems like such an unnecessary complication, one more thing that, if not done right, can pull your reader out of the story. If you can’t nail that accent down, just leave it. Also, just as a side note to anybody British reading this, people from northern BC sound more like people from Minnesota than Texas or Kentucky, but I guess that’s neither here nor there.

Okay, that was a lot of writing on accents, so I’m gonna whip through these next two points.

The next is the psychological stuff. Wolf Road uses a story trope, the suppression of important memories due to trauma, that I have a really hard time buying into. I don’t think it’s ever very believable, and it always just comes across as a cheap way to build suspense. Here’s an idea, maybe make the protagonist of the book fully aware of what it is that she’s done in the past (how can you mistake a boy for a deer? I mean…what?) and arc back from a monster into a human being. Have her struggle with her natural inclination towards selfishness and violence. Give her something she’s never had before, love and community, and see how it changes her. Which kind of seems like what the author was trying to do, but instead of making her protagonist accountable and aware, Lewis tried to protect her from being blamed by the reader with a bunch of really dodgy mental loopholes (she doesn’t remember, she didn’t know what she was doing, she shielded herself from the horror of her actions by pretending that the young boy she murdered was actually a deer or something). Blegh.

The next is editing. This book could have used a cut and a half. There was a tonnnnnn of passages of her struggling with moral quandaries, her trying to figure who it was that was following her (hint: it’s the Trapper. Of course it’s the Trapper. It’s so bloody obvious that it’s the Trapper that it’s almost insulting to the main characters intelligence that she can’t seem to make up her mind about it), her arguing with herself that the Trapper and Kreager Hallet are different people, over and over again. I felt like I read her rehashing those same things at least a dozen times throughout the book. That’s probably an over-exaggeration, but the fact that I remember it that way is not a good sign.

The last thing, the thing that really irked me about this book, is the framing device at the start. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?! The story starts in media res, sort of. But, whereas most in media res starts put you in the final conflict and then cut away before the resolution, this one has the ENTIRE END OF THE CONFLICT THAT IS MEANT TO SUSTAIN THE BOOK IN IT. It shows her defeating Kreager. And not only that, it shows her leaving him for the other person that’s hunting her throughout the book, tying all her problems up in a neat little bow. It completely deflates any potential tension in the story’s conflicts. I know she’s going to make it through all the scrapes that she gets into, and not only that, but I know she’s going to make it through them relatively unscathed, because at the end she’s fit and strong and talented enough to overcome everything. It’s…infuriating. Maybe it would work better if the writing to get us there was more engaging (I’ve always said that having a story *spoiled* shouldn’t really matter), but the author seemed to lean pretty heavily on the tension created by the various cat and mouse games being played throughout the book (the protagonist and the Trapper, Lyon and the Trapper, Lyon and the protagonist), but we already know how they all play out, so who cares? It’s like watching a trailer for a movie that’s just the last five minutes of the film. And just…why? If she had taken out those first five pages, just started the story at the start of the story, this book would’ve worked so much better. It was such an odd, baffling choice.

Okay, I should really wrap this rant, thinly disguised as a review, up. I know I’ve been really harsh on this book, and it’s not bad bad. I think I’m just giving this author shit for doing things that have continually bugged me in books in the past, so she’s bearing a bit more of the brunt of this than she probably deserves.

Whew! That was a lot of negativity all at once. I promise the next one will be about a book that I like. Take care of yourselves my lovelies and don’t, just don’t, put the end of your novel at the start of it.

Okay? Okay.

VBR

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

This book was an absolute and utter delight.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and you’re not wrong. A western, a badass lady seeking revenge, gunslinging goodness. It all sounds a lot like Wake of Vultures (another book that I gave a fairly positive review to a while back), and to some extent the two are very similar. But rest assured dear readers, the two are not identical (if they were I wouldn’t bother to review this one. What would be the point?) and there are two main ways in which I think the novels differ.

The first and least important is the supernatural element. Unlike Wake of Vultures, the only monsters in Vengeance Road are the greedy, shitty characters who steal and murder to get what they want. And while I did think that the book pushed a little too hard on that old western trope of “just plain rotten” as a defining character trait for it’s villains (they were almost comically bad or nonsensically greedy. *Mild Spoiler Warning, I guess, I mean if you’re really concerned about that kind of thing, which, as a side note, you shouldn’t be. If you’re reading an engaging narrative, spoilers shouldn’t have much of an impact. A story that relies on it’s ending to be effective or interesting isn’t much of a story at all. Although, I guess everybody goes to books for different things, and if that thing is wanting to be surprised, who am I to judge?* What was that woman doing hiding in the mountains? Why wasn’t she out living life and spending the cache that she found? If she knew that Kate’s father had the map the whole time, why didn’t she take it with her when she left? Why didn’t she go back after him herself? There were a lot of questions there, but anyways, I digress), for the most part I really liked the straight up western setting and characters.

The second way that this novel differs from the first is in the quality of the writing. It’s not really fair to compare one writer to another, every novel should be judged on its own merits, but I already started this review as a comparison and it would be SO MUCH WORK to go back and think of another idea, so…yeah, here goes. Lila Bowen (Wake of Vultures) has heaps of imagination, her novel is (honestly a little over) stuffed with it, but Erin Bowman is the superior of the two when it comes to the nitty gritty of the writing. Her novel is very well structured, compact and fast-paced without seeming rushed, the romantic tension in it is skillfully woven in and unobtrusive (though you’d have to be a real grade A dumby not to know that the tall, handsome, infuriating cowboy was going to be the love interest from the get go), and her prose, on a sentence by sentence level, can be really beautiful at times, without drawing attention to itself and pulling you out of the story. Now I’m willing to admit that part of my love for this story might come from my fondness for the simple “person needs to head to this place and take revenge” story structure, kick ass lady leads in general, and the western genre in and of itself, but…my name is The Very Biased Reviewer. So, you know, shut up about it.

Anyways! I enjoyed this book a lot. There were some problems with the ending, and the big reveal, which I sort of spoiled, but also didn’t really spoil, before. But they weren’t huge, and they didn’t have an impact on my overall satisfaction with it. Read this book. It was lots of fun.

VBR

 

Uprooted By Naomi Novik

You guys, I really, reaaaally loved this book. After the last couple of dark-as-fuuuuck books that I’ve read, this was just such a warm, light, heart-hug of a novel. Don’t get me wrong, people die (so many people. Thousands of people. Almost all the people) but…I dunno. It just felt so fresh and fun to me. The language is clear and clean and to the point, the story is great, and the protagonist is a dope-ass, take no shit lady (something ya’ll know I have a weakness for).

But it wasn’t just light and fun. For some reason, despite the big buzz around the novel (I’ve only ever heard people gush about it), I had moderate to low expectations for it. I was, and I’m ashamed to admit this, using it as a palate cleanser. I just wanted something fun and easy, something that would suck me in and carry me along. And I got it! But I also got something else. It had a moral centre, an intelligence and thoughtfulness to it, that I wasn’t expecting. Novik’s use and subversion of fantasy and fairy-tale tropes was subtler, smarter, than I thought it was going to be.

Before I wrap this up I also want to give a quick shout out to the ending. I’m not going to say much about it, because I want you to discover it on your own, but I really enjoyed it. As an avid and life long fantasy reader, I find nothing more disappointing than the “kill the monster and everything is better” ending to a novel, and I’m happy this book avoided that trap.

In case it wasn’t clear throughout the entirety of this wet, sloppy kiss of a review, I am definitely, one hundred percent recommending it. Normally I would put some sort of a caveat on there (if you like fantasy, or if you like fairytales, or if you like blah blah blah), but this one is pretty unequivocal. Just buy it and read it, okay?

Enjoy!

VBR

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

(Brief disclaimer. I used non-gender specific pronouns-they, them, their-to refer to Nettie throughout the course of this review, which is not something that I’m terribly accustomed to, so it can lead to things feeling a little stinted here and there. I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry about it at all).

Hey, guess what?

I read a book and actually liked it! Hurray! I have good things to say about it! Double hurray!

So this is one of the books I picked up while gleefully burning my way through my yearly holiday bookstore gift card fortune (you know, the one that comes in twenty and thirty dollar amounts from relatives you’ve only met once, but who still feel obliged to send you something, even though the only thing that they know about you, besides your name, is that you’re “kinda bookish”?). I landed on this one because the cover art gave me a strong Miriam Black by Chuck Wendig vibe, and when I picked it up to inspect it, I saw that not only was there a recommendation from Mr. Wendig himself, but that Patrick Rothfuss had done a little blurb for the book as well.

Done. Sold. I’m in.

And it was so good! There were a few issues, ones that I’ll get into later on after I’ve gushed a bit, but I had such a fun time with this book. It was fast-paced and witty and absorbing, with a set of unique and fully fleshed out characters, the best of which was the main, Nettie Lonesome. Nettie is one of the most original fantasy novel protagonists I’ve come across in a good long while. A non gender binary, bisexual, POC, gun toting monster hunter? Yes, more of that, please and thank you.

I’ve talked a little about this before, but I love it when authors, especially genre authors (because that’s most of what I read and love) try and bring a new perspective into their stories, rather than the same old stale stuff. Nettie has some pretty valuables lessons to teach the teens this book was aimed at. Don’t let people intimidate you and don’t take their shit, don’t let anybody tell you what you are and what you aren’t, and don’t worry too much about the way you feel about other people. Do they fall into the categories of people that are acceptable for you to be attracted to? And if not, what does that make you? Nettie doesn’t give a shit, and neither should you. If you love somebody (and everybody is of consenting age and nobody is getting hurt), you love them, and don’t let anybody around you make you feel weird about it. I’ll grant that maybe the messages were laid on a little thick from time to time, (there’s a good deal of inner monologuing from Nettie laying out exactly why they’re confused and upset, exactly what the problem appears to be, and then resolutely coming to the conclusion that they’re going to do whatever it is they damn well please), but the message is important, and it’s not so bad it yanks you out of the story.

However, there were a few issues with the book that I found a little harder to get past. Not a lot! And you should still read it! But the name “review” barely applies to what I do on this site as is, and if I skip over the stuff I didn’t like just so I could recommend it full-heartedly, I’ll have to change my name to “Very Biased And Sometimes Dishonest Rambler About Stuff”, which would make introducing myself at dinner parties even more tedious than it already is. Anyways! I digress. The main issues that I found in this novel seemed to be ones of location and pacing (and sometimes plotting).

Now, by location I don’t mean setting, the setting was fine, and the geographical location of things has never really been something that’s tripped me up. It was more about the location of objects and important things within the story. Keeping track of things, so to speak. Sometimes items were brought up and highlighted, and then completely forgotten about, only to be brought up and used again when needed. Nettie gets a sharp, silver knife from the beastie that attacks them at the beginning of the story, but then when they’re wandering through the desert and need a weapon later on, Nettie forgets all about it. So I think, okay, maybe Nettie lost it or something, left it behind when they fled the ranch, but then boom! at the end of the novel when Nettie needs something made of silver, there it is. That happens a couple of times throughout (where did the vampire’s gun go? Why did he never use it? etc.). It was never really enough to ruin it for me, but it did cause my brow to furrow a time or two.

It wasn’t just items that the author seemed to lose track of sometimes, but people within scenes as well. There was a part where Nettie is fighting a Siren, and while Nettie is walking across a room towards the creature, the rangers manage to ride up, dismount, enter the same room as they’re in, and somehow one of them gets to the Siren before Nettie can stop him. Why did it take Nettie so long to cross the room, and not the Ranger? It says Nettie tried to catch him, but can’t. So how did the ranger get past them? Nettie entered through the same door as he did, and they’re crossing the same room. It seems like a pretty small quibble, but it’s actually kind of important. The audience needs to be able to trust that the author knows what they’re doing, that they know what’s going on and where everything is and we’re just along for the ride. Every time we get that dissonance of “that doesn’t really make sense” or “where did that thing they brought up before go?” it undermines that trust, and removes us from the story a little.

The next issue for me was the pacing of the novel. I know it was set at a breakneck pace for a reason, that the novel is set within the confines of a very specific time frame (between one full moon and the next), but I couldn’t help but wonder if the framing device was necessary, and if this novel wouldn’t have benefited from a little more room to breath. As it is, Nettie goes from sort of slave to ranch hand to professional monster hunter in the span of maybe two weeks, I think a little less, and in that same span of time goes from never having seen a monster before to bumping into dozens of the things (that also leads you to wonder, if there are so many of the god damn things everywhere, why aren’t they more common knowledge? I know they don’t look like monsters to regular people until you kill one of them, but with the sheer amount out there you’d think the cat would’ve been let out of the bag a long time ago). It all just seems a little hurried, and that feeling of being rushed along undermines most of the impact of any of their losses. Nettie loses the life that they love on the ranch, but you never really got the feeling that they were sinking into it because they only did it for like three days. You don’t have to make to make it any longer, word count or page wise, the novel was pretty much the perfect length, but just devote a paragraph or two to explaining how time flew by as Nettie settled into the role of ranch hand, that the months they spent at the ranch were the best of Nettie’s life etc etc. That way, when Nettie is forced to leave, you get a real sense of loss. Here it’s just kind of “oh well, that was lame, onto the next thing for Nettie!”

The last thing I’ll say before I wrap this up (this has been waaaay longer than I thought it was going to be), is that some of the plotting doesn’t reaaaally make sense. So, why does Nettie go alone with the werewolves? Why do the werewolves trade Rangers for Nettie when they could just kill Sam? Why would they ever let any of the Rangers go, when the Rangers are clearly enemies that will hunt them again? How does that in any way seem like a good idea? It doesn’t make any sense, at all, and seemed more to me like the author just wanted to put Nettie into a bad spot, alone with the werewolves, to have them be sexually aggressive and gross to Nettie, and then have them pull out of it at the end, and she couldn’t think of a better way to do it.

Okay, now, having done the thing that I do (pick things apart relentlessly, because that’s just the way that my brain works) I want to re-assure you that this is actually a recommendation. The book was fast, fun, and kick-ass, the protagonist was great, the concept was inventive, the execution was shaky, but pretty good, and overall I had a helluva time with this book. If you’re looking for something thrilling, something that will suck you in and spit you out, bruised and battered and grinning, then pick this novel up. You won’t regret it.

Sincerest regards and bestest of all wishes,

VBR

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