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Rob Thurman

REVIEW:  Downfall by Rob Thurman

REVIEW: Downfall by Rob Thurman

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Dear Ms. Thurman,

I’ve read your Cal Leandros books since they first started coming out. It’s been a ride. I can’t believe we’re already on book 9! It’s rare that I stick with a series this long. In many ways Downfall feels like the end of the series — it’s not (I think there are a couple more books slated to come), but if someone wanted to say goodbye to the series, this would be a good place.

(Note: This far into the series, I can’t talk about anything without spoilers so I apologize for that.)

Downfall splits the narrative between Cal and Robin. As we learned earlier in the series, Cal and his brother, Niko, have reincarnated throughout time and Robin has the (mis)fortune to know them in all their previous incarnation. I say misfortune because the boys have a thing about dying young and badly. Readers can probably guess where I’m going with this — the time to collect has come.

Cal’s half-Auphe side has finally won the battle within him. It’s starting to come out. Cal’s hair starts turning white. His eyes start turning red. His already shaky moral compass becomes shakier. To make matters worse, the Vigil is determined to assassinate him. His ex-girlfriend, Delilah, now controls all of the werewolves in NYC. And his brother, Grimm, isn’t done with him. Suffice it to say, the cards are stacked against him.

Now Robin, who recognizes the signs and knows that the brothers’ end is near, isn’t willing to let them die without a fight. He’s tried to save their past incarnations without much success but this time is going to be different. Why? Because he’s done with them trying to save themselves. They obviously suck at it (no kidding) so he’s going to have to do all the heavy lifting. So he does.

I think the reason why Downfall has a sense of finality around it is because it refers to a lot of things that have happened in the brothers’ pasts. Previous books, previous encounters, familiar faces reappear (George!), all of that. It’s not that things get tied together into a tidy bow because they don’t, but it seemed like things had come full circle. This isn’t a criticism, but it’s an observation. I can tell there are still options to explore in future books, but they almost seem anti-climactic after this one.

Robin’s always been once of my favorite characters, so I was glad to see him get more attention. I also liked the glimpse into his relationship with Ishiah. I laughed at the thought of this angel not knowing what to do about this puck who lusted after him, then “watching out for him” (yeah, okay, Ishiah, talk about self-delusion), and then when he fell/retired/whatever, ended up with said puck — who then proceeded to thoroughly corrupt him. It’s epic, and I love that. Even if Ishiah did a shitty thing to the boys when they were younger.

On the other hand, I normally associate this series with energy and over the top emotion (which I like) and, in my opinion, both were missing here. Downfall is more introspective than previous installments and for me, that made it easy to stop reading and put down. I obviously finished the book, but it had a different tone and I think that is partly what contributes to the “final book” feel.

One thing I keenly felt in Downfall is a lack of major female characters. I get it. The series is about the brothers and Robin, and the focus should be on them. But I felt like women were more prominent in previous books so the cameo from Delilah and her Lupa pack and a phone call from a certain psychic didn’t feel like enough.

I wouldn’t say I was let down by this book exactly, but I’m not sure I got the Cal Leandros experience I’ve come to expect. Maybe I need more time to process. I did love Robin in this book though. C+

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  Carniepunk

REVIEW: Carniepunk

Dear readers,

Ah, carnivals! Cotton candy, funnel cakes, ferris wheels and rigged games. Definitely a mainstay of summer. Of course, many a novel has been written about the carnival and it was only a matter of time until a new anthology made them its theme.

carniepunkCarniepunk is one of those anthologies that features stories written by various novelists. In this case, they’re urban fantasy and paranormal authors. Some authors you’ve read, some of them you’ve heard of, and others are new to you entirely. Many of the stories are geared towards enticing readers to check out the author’s existing books; most of them are tied into their signature series. The good thing about this is that if you like a story, there are other books you can check out right away. The bad thing about it, however, is that more often than not, the short story depends too much on the reader being familiar with the series it draws upon and fails to stand on its own. Dangerous for readers who’ve never been exposed to a particular writer’s work before.

Carniepunk opens with “Painted Love,” a quirky and unusual story by Rob Thurman. The story itself is fairly average — a violent carnie with homicidal tendencies — but the reveal at the end, while rather WTF-inducing, really sticks with you. I’m still not sure whether I liked this story or not but it’s very memorable. Let’s leave it at that.

The majority of “The Three Lives of Lydia” by Delilah Dawson was rather ho-hum for me. Set in the world of Dawson’s Blud series, it tells the story of a girl with a sad past who has found herself in another world. Not the biggest fan of portal stories, this was a major hurdle for me. But I loved the ending, which was twisted and grim. Probably more of a horror story than a straight up urban fantasy or paranormal.

“The Demon Barket of Wheat Street” by Kevin Hearne was very much a standard UF story. Part of the Iron Druid series, I think this would appeal to fans of Jim Butcher. It’s a good enough story, but as jaded as I am about the UF genre these days, I need more to impress me than the same old “investigation, danger, fight the bad guy, win!” pattern.

“The Sweeter the Juice” by Mark Henry actually featured a trans woman as the protagonist. That’s still rare enough these days that it deserves mention. It asks the question of what happens to pre-op trans patients after the zombie apocalypse, in a world when most doctors have been killed. I’ve never been a fan of Henry’s gross out tendencies so I’m a hard sell on this story.

In Jaye Wells’s “The Werewife,” a couple finds their marriage strained after a visit to a carnival. It was an interesting examination of how the supernatural can show the cracks in a relationship, but I found the wife rather unsympathetic. That likely was the intent but I think a more nuanced portrayal would have given the husband’s choice at the end more impact.

“The Cold Girl” by Rachel Caine is my favorite story of the anthology. It’s about a teenaged girl who discovers her boyfriend has been up to no good (and not the usual “he’s cheating” no good either), what happens when he finds out she knows his secret, and how she retaliates. It’s a very well put together story, and I loved the Cold Girl and the way she shows mercy at the end.

In Allison Pang’s “A Duet with Darkness,” we return to the world of Pang’s Abby Sinclair series. I admit I wasn’t a fan of the first book, so I didn’t expect much. Because the story is a very straightforward presentation of what happens to the prideful, I found it mediocre overall. Might be worth a look for people who love music and bands, though.

“Recession of the Divine” by Hillary Jacques makes excellent use of Greek mythology without falling back on the usual suspects. A nicely self-contained short story that’s actually a short story and not a novel masquerading as a short story. Another one I liked.

“Parlor Tricks” by Jennifer Estep features characters from her Elemental Assassin series. Another story that follows the usual UF plotline. I’m normally a fan of lady assassins, but I unfortunately haven’t been able to get into this series. I think I would have been more into this story if it hadn’t fallen back on a tired cliche: the female antagonist is evil because she wants to be young and beautiful forever and will do whatever it takes to remain that way. Boring.

In “Freak House” by Kelly Meding, a half-djinn tries to find and rescue her missing father. I liked this one because it revolved around family relationships and the fact that the heroine’s father was not one of those jerkface dads you see so often in fantasy. I also thought her special ability of causing conflict was interesting.

“The Inside Man” by Nicole Peeler is set in the universe of her Jane True novels but features a different set of characters. While it relies on that now-cliche “clowns are scary” trope, I do have a weakness for female detectives. And in this case, it’s three detectives who work together and who are friends. The three women go to investigate some strange happenings but two of them fall prey to it, leaving the last one to rescue her friends and save everyone else affected. Not sure we really needed the rape backstory for one of the women, but I like the fact that all of the women were nonwhite.

Jackie Kessler’s “A Chance in Hell” picks up where her series about Jezebel the succubus left off. Jez is trying to learn about humanity in order to fight the King of Hell for his throne. Or something. I definitely felt like I was missing something. One of the weakest stories in the entire anthology, in my opinion.

“Hell’s Menagerie” by Kelly Gay is set in the world of the Charlie Madigan series and features the daughter of that series’s heroine and her quest to rescue some hellhounds who’ve been stolen for an underground fighting ring. This is one of those stories where I felt like I should have liked more than I did. Nothing is wrong with it. I just couldn’t care less what happened.

“Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” by Seanan McGuire is a haunting story about, you guessed it, mermaids. It’s about growing up, family secrets, and relationships between mothers and daughters. It has an ending that, while not what I’d exactly call happy, hits you hard and lingers for a very long time.

Carniepunk is a mixed bag of stories. That said, I don’t think there were any stories that were standout terrible — not the case in other anthologies I’ve read — and a couple that were excellent. Overall, I think the anthology warrants a B-. Definitely worth checking out if a few of these authors interest you.

My regards,
Jia

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