REVIEW: Deathwish by Rob Thurman
Dear Ms. Thurman,
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love your Cal Leandros series. Its blend of fast-paced action, sarcastic humor, and supernatural mayhem should appeal to anyone who’s ever loved the Winchester brothers on Supernatural. Except in these books, not only do we have the above but we also get a multicultural cast and female characters that don’t get killed after a few episodes. (Come on now, we know it’s true.) Last year’s Madhouse was one of my favorite books of 2008 and while this latest installment was satisfying, it’s not exactly what I signed up for.
Starting immediately after Madhouse, Deathwish opens with Cal fleeing from his homicidal relatives from hell, the Auphe. For readers unfamiliar with the series, I’m not exaggerating. The Auphe are really demonic elves from hell. In fact, they’re elves, period. One thing the series emphasizes is the fact that myth and legend get it wrong. With the Auphe, they seriously got it wrong.
Cal and his brother, Niko, thought they’d wiped out the Auphe. They were mistaken. What’s worse, Cal notices something strange about the Auphe attacking them now: they’re all female. It takes a while for Cal to work it out but I think any savvy reader will figure out early on what that means for our half-human, half-Auphe protagonist.
And if the Auphe weren’t enough to deal with, the Leandros brothers end up with more trouble when an old lover of Promise’s (Niko’s vampire girlfriend) hires them to figure out who’s been stalking him. Even more inconvenient is when Promise’s long-estranged daughter, Cherish, shows up and asks for help. An immortal hunter is out for her head because she stole something valuable from him. And it’s the latter that may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, in more ways than one.
The first thing fans of the series will notice is that this book is no longer written solely from Cal’s POV. It alternates in first-person narration between Cal and his brother, Niko. As I’ve mentioned in the past, this can be tricky. It can really shine when the narrators have distinct, contrasting voices. Otherwise, they can blend together. The brothers have different enough personalities that it’s easy enough to keep them separate, but I admit I vastly prefer Cal’s voice. There’s a plot-related reason for why Niko’s POV was included but even so, his voice lacks Cal’s bite and world-weary cynicism. Under most circumstances, Niko is calm, controlled and honorable, and truth be told, that doesn’t always result in the most interesting of perspectives to filter through in a novel. I liked the insights into his characters but I’m not certain I needed them, if that makes sense.
The Cal Leandros novels also tend to have many things going on when it comes to storylines and intersecting plots. It usually results in a frenzied, exciting pace. But here, the pieces never quite came together for me. The book jumps from one storyline to another, but I never experienced the nail-biting tension I’ve grown to expect. I’m not sure if that’s because we saw from both brothers’ individual perspectives. It’s possible the conflict was diluted because we switched back and forth between perspectives. Other readers may have a different reaction and find it increased the suspense, however.
Something that struck me about this book is a lot of page time was spent on the brothers’ relationship and how they’d do anything for each other. I’m not sure why the emphasis seemed stronger in this book than in previous ones. The bond between the brothers is the foundation of the books and they’ve shown time and time again that the brothers would do anything for each other. This is a double-edged sword because while I liked the exploration of their relationship, I sometimes wished the plot would get on with it.
I admit I’m a little disappointed by how Robin’s eventual relationship played out. I realize we couldn’t have gotten very much since we only see from the brothers’ perspectives. On the other hand, I’m biased because the omnisexual puck is my favorite character. I just would have liked more build-up to what ultimately happens, which seemed very sudden. Then again, this is Robin we’re talking about so maybe it won’t be a lasting relationship. I like to think that’s not the case given observations Cal has made, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve jumped to the wrong conclusion.
I’m also saddened by the continued state of the relationship between Cal and George. Perhaps it’ll never resolve the way I wish it would because the book rightly brought up that George’s gift produces a frightening lack of compassion on an individual level. So despite my wishes otherwise, I just don’t know if those two will ever be able to work it out.
Even though I hoped otherwise, Madhouse was a tough act to follow. Like I said earlier, I appreciate the multicultural bent your series takes, from the ethnic backgrounds of the various characters to the various mythologies that get drawn upon, but I still wish the exploration of the brothers’ relationship had been more balanced with the external happenings. (Best scene that serves as a PSA for wearing your seatbelt though!) For now, I’ll think of this book as a bridge between where the series has been and where’s it going. Considering what happens, I think that’s fair to say. Now if only Rafferty and his cousin would return sometime. I miss that cranky doctor. B