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Jocelynn Drake

REVIEW:  Angel Ink by Jocelynn Drake

REVIEW: Angel Ink by Jocelynn Drake

Dear Ms. Drake,

My previous exposure to your novels didn’t work so well for me but I’m always willing to give a writer another shot, especially if it’s for a different series. I also admit that a couple years ago, I was in the midst of severe urban fantasy burnout. While I’m still jaded on the genre, I no longer flinch at the suggestion of my reading an urban fantasy and I consider this a plus. Besides the first novel of your new series was about magical tattoos and that sounded right up my alley.

Angels-InkIn a world where the supernatural world coexists freely with the human world, warlocks and witches are the top of the food chain. By which I mean they terrorize everyone else and consider regular humans to be little more than animals to do with as they please. A friendly group of people, as you can no doubt imagine.

Gage Powell was raised in the Ivory Tower to be a powerful warlock. (No, seriously, the warlocks have an Ivory Tower.) Except he didn’t like the way they did things and escaped. His choice was not without cost, however. In exchange for his freedom, he can no longer cast magic except in self-defense and lives under constant surveillance.

These days, Gage works as a potion maker and tattoo artist. And for a little something extra, he’ll add a special something to those same tattoos. When a young woman dying from cancer walks into his parlor one night, Gage decides to grant her wish of getting angel wings tattooed on her back. Against his better judgment, he also adds a little magical kick to her tattoo.

Unfortunately, the tattoo has unexpected results and Death is none too pleased. Unless Gage can reverse what he did, his days are numbered. And to make matters worse, his former warlock master is out for his head.

I thought the strongest aspect of Angel Ink was the portrayal of Gage’s relationships with his employees, the troll Bronx and the elf Trixie. They had an easy camaraderie, and I loved Bronx’s matter of fact ways. I guess you could say his personality was stereotypical of a troll character in a fantasy novel, but I liked it anyway. Steadfast and loyal and has your back in a fight. What’s not to like about that?

I also found myself enjoying the attraction between Gage and Trixie. I thought the way they danced around each other was believable. Not only are workplace romances tricky to navigate, the two of them have their secrets. Gage hasn’t told his friends that he’s a warlock and considering the way warlocks are viewed by the general populace, I can’t really blame him. And Trixie is an elf in hiding and Gage isn’t supposed to know that. But once they were past that, I loved how mutually enthusiastic their attraction was.

One thing I wasn’t quite as sold on was the internal strife within the Ivory Tower. It’s not so much that there was conflict amongst the warlocks. I can buy that. A bunch of egotistical maniacs with lots of power? Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. But the connection between that strife and Gage’s warden, Gideon, going easy on him seemed too neat and pat. Maybe if it hadn’t been revealed so late in the novel, I wouldn’t feel like it was a convenient development.

Speaking of Gideon, I actually wish we’d seen more of his character. For the majority of the novel, we only really saw one side of him with hints at the deeper motivations that get revealed later. But when the complete reveal finally does happen, it seems almost too much, too fast. This just added to the “too convenient” impression.

I’m also a little irritated that Trixie’s dilemma was introduced and not really resolved. I realize this is a series and future conflict needs to be set up, but I already got the idea that there was lots of existing fodder given the piece of soul Gage lost in this book. Without any movement towards resolution, that subplot ended up somewhat extraneous. Was it just for the sole purpose of adding conflict to the romantic subplot and to push Gage and Trixie together then?

I appreciated some of the sly humor in the narrative. Bronx dealing with vampires by throwing mismatched buttons on the floor made me laugh so hard. It’s hard to be a big, bad scary vampire when you stop threatening someone to pick up, count and organize buttons. It’s ridiculous but it ties back to some of the original folklore, which I like.

Overall, I thought Angel Ink was a decent read. It is very much the first novel of a series, intending to introduce readers to the various movers and shakers of its UF setting, but it stands well enough on its own. That said, I think the characters were the strongest aspect of the novel. It’s not a plotless novel by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not something to jump up and down about either. C+

My regards,
Jia

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Dear Author

REVIEW: Nightwalker by Jocelynn Drake

Dear Ms. Drake,

book review I’m afraid I’m reaching my saturation point for urban fantasy. If I never have to read about another demon, werewolf, or vampire ever again, I will be a happy woman. It’s not so much that I hate the trademark species of the paranormal subgenres; it’s the fact that lately I feel like I’ve been reading the same book over and over again, just by different authors. There are many readers who like that, and I don’t begrudge them their reading pleasure. It’s just that I sometimes wish we had more variety in plots and character types.

Mira is a six-hundred year old nightwalker, or vampire, who makes her territory in Savannah. While not on the level of an Ancient (vampires over 1,000 years old) or an Elder (the ruling vampires who govern the race), she commands an infamous reputation because she is able start fires using only her mind, earning her the nickname of the Fire Starter.

A few centuries ago, Mira was imprisoned and tortured by the naturi, or faeries, who are the enemies of the vampires. While she can remember her time in the naturi’s captivity, she can’t recall the day she was rescued except for a few details. This becomes crucial when a legendary vampire hunter named Danaus shows up in town, bringing with him the very same naturi who tortured Mira all those years ago — and whom Mira believed she’d already killed. It turns out Danaus needs her help. The naturi are seeking a way to break out of their supernatural prison and unlike previous attempts, they’re close to succeeding. Bad news for the vampires because they’re at one of their weakest points in history.

I really enjoyed the mythos introduced in this novel. The cosmology consists of two ruling races: the naturi (faeries) and the bori (angels and demons). In this hierarchy, werewolves serve the naturi, although slaves would be a more accurate description, and vampires are on the side of the bori, although they enjoy a similar status as werewolves as well. I’m not too clear on what exactly happened to the bori; all I know is that they are no longer present for one reason or another. I do know the majority of the naturi were magically sealed in another realm, and those who managed to escape imprisonment have been trying to free their queen and the rest of their people ever since.

The interesting worldbuilding is one of the reasons why the actual plot disappointed me a little. We have yet another kickbutt heroine surrounded mostly by men, many of whom adore her, hate her, or both love and hate her at the same time. I think this is rapidly becoming one of the genre’s conventions I would gladly do without. What’s wrong with a little more female presence? For that matter, what’s wrong with a little more female presence that’s not considered antagonistic to the lead heroine’s role? I refuse to believe it’s impossible for an urban fantasy heroine to be friends with another woman, but books in which this is the case seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

Mira’s quest to stop the naturi resulted in globetrotting travels that I enjoyed while reading but in retrospect, find unsatisfying. The travelling to Egypt and London, plus mentions of Spain and Machu Picchu, were a nice change from the settings we typically find in this subgenre but at the same time, they seemed more like exotic wallpaper than actual settings that impacted the characters and events.

I normally don’t comment on the prose itself but there was trait in the writing here that didn’t work for me. Ultimately, it ended up preventing me from fully enjoying the narrative. Nightwalker is told from the first person past tense point of view from Mira. I enjoy first person POV, and there is nothing I love more than a very distinctive narrative voice. On the other hand, I think it also calls attention to narrative flaws more easily than its third person counterpart. At times in the novel, we are immersed in the action-packed narrative and it proceeds at a brisk, snappy pace. But at other times, the narrative will slow as Mira lapses into telling mode and tells us things that, as readers, not only do we already know but also things that will happen in the future, sort of the opposite of a flashback. Maybe a flash forward. I personally hate that, especially when I’m more interested in the events taking place in the here and now, rather than what could or will happen in the future.

I think it’s very obvious this is the first in a series. Many of the things that bothered me — the globetrotting to various locales without much cultural immersion, the introduction of several characters with only superficial relationship development — can be attributed to setting up a world and the conflict. But then I ask myself what ever happened to books that stand well alone? I don’t think we should give passes to books just because they’re the first in a series but sometimes I think we do. All things considered, it failed to live up to its potential for me. C+

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.