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REVIEW: Madhouse by Rob Thurman

Dear Ms. Thurman,

I can’t remember exactly how I first discovered your books. When your first novel, Nightlife, came out a couple years ago, I dismissed it as just another straight urban fantasy. We already have Jim Butcher and Simon R. Green for that. Then I read a couple favorable blog reviews that made it sound interesting and I decided to give it a try. And am I glad I did. Nightlife entertained me, its sequel Moonshine hooked me, and this third book Madhouse might have inspired a little dance when it arrived on my doorstep.

Caliban Leandros is half monster — Auphe, to be precise, which are not happy, little elves or beautiful, mysterious fae. They’re sadistic, bloodthirsty monsters from hell. Literally. He and his (fully human) brother Niko have been running from them since they were kids because the Auphe specifically bred Cal as their key to transforming the world into their own personal playground. The Leandros brothers have since stopped them from succeeding, and now they’ve done the one thing they swore they’d never do: They’ve put down roots.

They currently run a preternatural detective agency in New York City, their clientele consisting of denizens from the supernatural world. Unfortunately, work is slow and money is scarce so Cal works as a bartender at a bar that caters to non-human patrons and Niko works as a teaching assistant at a nearby college.

Then they get their latest case. The notorious cannibal Sawney Beane has been resurrected from the dead and he’s up to his old tricks — murdering and eating people and leaving bloody corpses in his wake. Two minor complications: Sawney Beane was never human in the first place and this time, he’s recruited a small army of revenants to help him. On top of that, the brothers have to contend with someone trying to kill their friend Robin, and Cal has to cope with his starcrossed relationship with neighborhood psychic Georgina.

There’s no point hiding it. I think the Leandros brothers are hot. They wield guns, serrated daggers, swords, and axes. I think if you love the Winchester boys of Supernatural, there’s a good chance you will love the Leandros brothers of Thurman’s books. The relationship between Niko and Cal is one of my favorite aspects of the series. Niko practically raised Cal because their mother was negligent at best, outright abusive at worst, and Cal owes a lot to his brother, even if he mostly shows his gratitude through his trademark sarcasm:

Niko Leandros. He had been one of those who disappeared on me, even if only temporarily. As brothers went, he was a good one, despite a horrifying obsession with health food, meditation, and things generally not revolving around pizza and beer. But we all have our crosses to bear… Mine was to be smacked when I wasn’t with the program, and his was to be overeducated, to be as self-aware as the Dalai Lama, and to keep my ass alive. Poor bastard.

As with previous books, one of Madhouse‘s strengths is Cal’s narrative voice, which is never anything less than sardonic. Another strength is the dialogue, which is just as sharp and depending on your sense of humor, hysterical:

“Happy? I’m happy.” I bared my teeth in a fixed grin. “See? Happy.”

“Gods save us. I haven’t seen an expression like that since Medusa went through menopause.” Robin Goodfellow dropped on a stool and shook his head. “Quick. Brandy before you destroy my will to live with your catastrophically bad temper.”

“Catastrophic temper?” I reached for the good stuff I kept under the bar just for Robin. A hundred years old, it was still barely fetal in age to his point of view. Yet another mystery: why Ish would stock it for him. “Come on.”

“Kid, everything about you is catastrophic. Your temper, your fighting skills, your attitude, and let’s not even discuss your look. Simply put on the eyeliner and join the rest of the Children of the Night knockoffs at the local Goth bar.”

Another thing I enjoyed was Sawney Beane. I realize how that sounds — I liked the cannibal? But for an antagonist that is undeniably evil, not once did I find him cardboard. I thought he was a lunatic, nasty, and deliciously entertained by his kills. That’s one of the traits I like about these books. The monsters are allowed to be monsters and when they show their teeth and claws, they don’t hold back. For example, Cal ends up losing a chunk of flesh to Sawney in a confrontation when the redcap bites him. I also like the fact that, in addition to the genre staples of vampires and werewolves, Thurman uses monsters not commonly seen in urban fantasy novels such redcaps, revenants, sirrushes, and boggles. There’s even a grosteque version of Black Annis.

On the down side, I had high hopes for Robin’s subplot. Robin is such a mysterious character, and he’s so long-lived you can’t wonder how he ended up a used car salesman. Unfortunately, the resolution of his storyline disappointed me. In retrospect, I would have been more satisfied had Robin been more responsible for the incident that led to the centuries-old retribution rather than it simply being a terrible coincidence and a result of his arrogant negligence. That said, I anticipate the possibility of a romantic storyline for Robin. I think it’ll be interesting to see what a “human lover” like Robin will do, given that the candidate is not human at all.

As for the Cal and George relationship, I alternate between understanding Cal’s perspective and wanting to shake some sense into him. If this were the main focus of the series, I suspect Cal’s determination to keep George safe from his Auphe heritage and to end the hybrid Auphe bloodline by having no children (the Auphe are frighteningly fertile so normal methods of contraception are unlikely to work) would drive me insane. Fortunately, it’s a minor storyline so I don’t have the opportunity to fixate on it as much. I still believe George would be good for him and don’t care for the choice he ultimately made but Cal has some more growing up to do first, and that’s sure to come given what happens in this book.

Without fail, the Cal Leandros books always end with a line that leaves me wanting more and that’s no exception here. As I said in the beginning of this review, the Leandros have done something they’ve never done before by putting down roots. Considering the note Madhouse ends on, I expect the repercussions of that choice will be brought up in future books. This reader can only hope so. B+

My regards,

Jia

This book can be purchased in mass market.   No ebook format found.   This book’s official release date is February 26, 2008.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

20 Comments

  1. Vicky
    Feb 25, 2008 @ 18:06:05

    I really like this series and I can’t wait to read Madhouse. I think it’s release date is tomorrow. But, erm… isn’t Rob Thurman a dude (Mr. rather than Ms.)?

  2. Jia
    Feb 25, 2008 @ 18:11:40

    No, Rob Thurman is actually a woman. Rob is a nickname of hers, I believe.

  3. Vicky
    Feb 25, 2008 @ 18:17:13

    You’re right, my bad. I was looking at a different author on Wikipedia, Robert Thurman :)

  4. Anna
    Feb 25, 2008 @ 18:22:35

    I picked up Moonshine and just never got into it. It kept wanting to hook me, but … something was missing. I kept feeling like I was missing an inside joke or something. Probably because I never read the first book. I put it down about 1/4 the way in (which hardly ever happens for me). Eventually, I’ll pick up the first one and give it another try.

  5. Mara
    Feb 25, 2008 @ 22:31:13

    Anna, start with Nightlife. It’s fantastic.
    I love these books. They’re a lot of fun to read and I can’t say that about a lot of urban fantasy. The POV character has such a vivid voice and all the other characters are just as vivid. Even the bad guys are fun. And creepy as hell at the same time.
    Best part is, there are several cute guys and a couple of sweet romances that are not all about teh sex (thank you)–but still good with the sense of attraction and passion. Especially with Caliban and Georgina–the UST (and the unresolved romantic tension) is just maddening. I wish they’d get together.
    Really good reading.

  6. Kathy
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 13:01:59

    I loved the first two books and have this one is being shipped as we ~speak. I am so happy they are continuing to improve and cannot wait for my delivery – it will be a long night!

  7. Tuesday’s Review Round-Up « Urban Fantasy Land
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 13:31:19

    [...] Dear Author reviews Madhouse by Rob Thurman.  (Sounds like there’s a different type of monster here, for those of you who are bored with vamps, weres, witches and fey.) [...]

  8. Mikou
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 04:48:51

    There is an ebook version of it for the Sony eReader. It can be found at the Sony Book store.

    I’m just sad that my eReader is out for repairs. I would have been reading it already. Instead, I have to wait until tomorrow to get Madhouse at the bookstore. I’ve been looking forward to this book for months!

  9. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 09:15:11

    Dang, I just remembered I had the first book on my shelf and haven’t read it yet.

    Since I’m not going anywhere today, might be a good time to get started.

    **and I say anywhere, because at last glance, there was a good seven inches of snow on the ground, and snowdrifts up to the doors on my SUV. :-O And I had a signing today too…

  10. Kathy
    Apr 06, 2008 @ 11:00:46

    I have now read all three in the series, and they keep getting better. The characters are being developed well; the relationships are maturing; the worldbuilding is consistent and vivid. Can you tell I love these? One of my favorite aspects of these books is the dialogue between the brothers and with Robin. I get so drawn in sometimes i can just “hear it” versus reading it. Between the dialogue which conveys the brothers’ close relationship along with the physical gestures of “stinging” affection, their relationship is very convincingly portrayed. I cannot wait to read the next installment. And I just read that Rob has gotten a contract for three more in the series, so we’ll be enjoying these for some time to come -YEAH!

  11. Carycomic
    Jun 29, 2008 @ 22:44:21

    Dear Ms. Thurman:

    I love this new series, too. Especially, the latest one; MADHOUSE.

    Most people are filled with self-doubts about their worth in life. But, Cal Leandros has more cause to doubt himself than others. And, that’s why I applaud your courage in giving him the courage to drive Georgina off!

    I know that Niko et al. (including 90% of your readers) think Cal is stupid for doing so, even though they understand his reasoning. But, I’m one of the other 10%. I think Georgina is half to blame for that, and here’s why.

    I realize she thinks using her precognitve gifts, for her own benefit, is the ultimate selfishness. And, that would be true if she were trying to get a winning lottery number, or something else of a material nature. But, in regard to her having any kind of future with Cal? She would have been doing it just as much for his benefit as hers. To allay his fears, whether they were groundless or not.

    I think the real reason she kept refusing to “peek” ahead is her own fear that he might be right. That they might _not_ have a future together; short-lived or otherwise!

    And, that kind of self-denial could get her killed, in Cal’s world. Something he loves her too much to let her risk. I’m not saying Cal won’t regret the “how” of what he did! But, I’m certain he won’t regret the “why” (no matter how many times Niko smacks him up behind the head).

    That would be similar to Cal trying to run out on Niko, for the latter’s own good, and demanding him not to follow. Both Leandros know that would never happen.

    In short: certain people’s minds are just as unchangable as some of Fate’s ways. It’s just a pity George couldn’t bring herself to see that.

  12. Carycomic
    Jun 29, 2008 @ 22:59:04

    P.S.—When Laura K. Hamilton found out about all the “Anita Blake” pastiches being posted at Fanfiction.net, she requested that the pasticheurs cease and desist. And, they kindly–if reluctantly–did.

    Would you be just as distraught if some of your fans started being on-line pasticheurs, as well?

  13. Pamela
    Jun 30, 2008 @ 00:14:01

    I don’t believe Georgina was being selfish in not complying with Cal’s request for her to look at their future. She adopted and adhered to a personal code of ethics, of not looking into her own future, long before the Leandros brothers entered her life, despite the tragedies that had befallen her family. I believe both Cal and Georgina are suffering from–and through–the obstinacy of youth. They are both right and they are both wrong in the stances they’ve taken, but I believe Niko is right in saying that Cal has underestimated George and her ability to survive [him]. In this, Cal shows less faith in George than she has in him. I was saddened by their breakup. I hope this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Georgina in the series, but I suspect it may well be.

  14. Carycomic
    Jun 30, 2008 @ 10:23:05

    I think it’s more like Cal has less faith in _himself_ than George does.

    Such being the case, he would rather see her live to a ripe old age as someone else’s wife/mother/grandmother, than see her killed (at his hands) as the result of that misplaced faith.

    I’m sure he silently agrees with Niko and the rest that he’s making a mistake. But, at least, he’s erring on the side of caution.

  15. Rob Thurman
    Sep 23, 2008 @ 15:08:03

    To Carycomic: all fan love is good love. As long as no profit is made and proper attribution to the original author (me) and artist (Chris) is given, I say play in my sandbox all you want. Fanfiction.net does have a Cal Leandros category under books for fanfic. Understandably, I can never read fanfic on my own work…too gray a legal area…but I don’t mind it’s out there. Hell, quite a few authors wrote fanfic before they were published, including one author I can think of that has two whole shelves to herself in the sci fi/fantasy section of the bookstore and has been around over ten years.

  16. fino
    Jan 31, 2009 @ 16:49:58

    Yeah,

    I cant choose sides in what happened in madhouse. But i must say cal seemed to be coming into his power and enjoing it:).
    I am currently waiting on death wish and will have to pick it up when i get my Leave for vacation in april to get it. yeah they wouldnt let me order it to be sent at this FOB alas i have to wait . Thank you ms. Rob thurman for you series I really wish i could stop myself from reading it to save for this deployment but i got hooked when your nightlife first came out.

  17. REVIEW: Deathwish by Rob Thurman | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Mar 23, 2009 @ 04:00:31

    [...] 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 [...]

  18. allen
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 00:24:00

    I don’t think George was being selfish at all she doesn’t look into the future for her own benefit Cal needs to respect that and have enough faith in their love that things will work out. If anything is it Cal who is being selfish he won’t enter into a relationship with her unless he can guarantee that she will be safe with her at the end, there are no guarantees in life, which is what George is saying, you just have to take a leap of faith any enjoy what you have for as long as you have it.

  19. Shar
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 22:31:25

    “As for the Cal and George relationship, I alternate between understanding Cal's perspective and wanting to shake some sense into him. If this were the main focus of the series, I suspect Cal's determination to keep George safe from his Auphe heritage and to end the hybrid Auphe bloodline by having no children (the Auphe are frighteningly fertile so normal methods of contraception are unlikely to work) would drive me insane. Fortunately, it's a minor storyline so I don't have the opportunity to fixate on it as much. I still believe George would be good for him and don't care for the choice he ultimately made but Cal has some more growing up to do first, and that's sure to come given what happens in this book.” — Jia

    I’ve read in quite a few reviews that a lot of folks think Delilah was “a lot of fun” in this book — sorry, I find it more accurate to say Delilah is a lot of $LUT!! ["But that's just MY opinion, I could be wrong." Dennis Miller. :-) ]

    The impression I get is that she’ll f*@k anyone or anything (plus at ANY TIME AND PLACE, the idiot bimbo caring not at all that there’s a mass-murdering Sawney and his merry band of revenants roving the campus, which means that if they got caught with their pants down they WOULD die — and horribly, too). I SO hope Cal isn’t stupid enough to start loving her…. he says he feels maybe he could have something ‘real’ and ‘genuine’ with her, but I’d just about bet money that he’ll end up stumbling across her in the act of really and genuinely satisfying her ‘whirlwind of wants, needs, and demands’ with a fellow werewolf (or ten), leaving him to realize that he pretty much means little-to-nothing to her…. just another piece of meat she’s tasted, as far as she’s concerned.

    As for Nik’s concern about any Auphe possibly coming after Cal when he’s out getting some and Nik or Robin or Promise aren’t nearby to help and protect him, I think that worry is extremely well-founded seeing as Delilah was CONVENIENTLY unavailable for the next battle when they needed her help. Being a WW, she truly can’t help the fact that Pack/other WWs are her hard-wired priority in life and, if Cal needed someone to cover his back and help protect him when he was with her, she’d be too busy getting all of her nearby furry kith and Kin together to get them to safety, and just hang Cal out to dry, completely at the mercy of the Auphe and/or other enemies. Also, I have my doubts that Cal needs to add to his problems with possibly catching fleas, ticks, sarcoptic mange, and the like [LOL].

    Either Nik or Promise (if not Cal and/or Georgina themselves) should’ve realized that the best way to protect the love of Cal’s life would be to have Promise and Niko train Georgina, and that way Cal could have someone true and decent who has real love and loyalty for him and whom he truly loves, and would NOW be able to hold her own in Cal’s nightmare world, instead of Cal having to make do with a seemingly semi-retarded “$lut du jour” like Delilah whilst stabbing Georgina in the heart. My guess would be that poor George might’ve psychically felt each and every touch given Cal by Charm and Delilah and I know, if I was in her shoes, that would be an almost fatal wounding [myself, I just about barfed reading his astoundingly ill-advised romp with De$lutsky, I mean, Delilah]…. poor George probably had to move WAY far away to keep from getting stabbed in the heart every time Cal stupidly does whatever $lut he gets his hands on!)

    Plus let’s not forget, shall we, the archetypal Delilah…. the betrayer of her love, Samson. He had true affection and care for her, opened himself up to her, and got tortured and enslaved for it.

    And, ya know, Cal is such a good-hearted kid who has MORE than enough problems and hardships to begin with, and he deserves no less than a chance at a good and decent loving relationship with his beloved Georgina, as Nik has found with Promise (I quite like Promise, she really cares for Nik AND she can kick some major league butt!). And they might have to do some overkill to keep the fertility worry at bay (if the vamps can even GET pregnant) but, hey, that’d be do-able with his & hers va$ectomy and tube-tying, and Promise could get them in good with someone who can access an MRI machine and/or a testing laboratory so the happy couple would regularly be tested to make sure no quarter-Auphe babies are trying to use Georgina as a gate. (DUHHHHH.)

    I truly hope that R.T. gives Cal and Georgina a frikkin’ break in the next installment (or at some point, anyway) of this gripping, un-put-downable series! Nik isn’t the only one who deserves a decent love-life :-) .

    But, hey, that’s just MY opinion, yadda-yadda-yadda…. :-D

    S.

  20. juniper
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 15:18:30

    it’s really hard to find a dark urban fantasy with good dialogue and narration that doesn’t include raunchy sex or under dressed heroines’ (did i spell that right?) It’s a breath of fresh air to see something jam packed with (my everyday) sarcasm that doesn’t cut into the action or take away from the raw animalism that Cal and Niko generate all on their own… no ammo required. ;) And Shar, Cal/Georgina would be awesome to develop but let’s face it, we love to see Cal beat up on himself and see Niko (and now Robin) swoop in to stop him. Cal’s self torture can get boring but that is what helps make up this series. I do hope Robyn can do something about this obvious pair. :)

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