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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.

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]!

17 Comments

  1. Ana
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 05:17:15

    I am sorry you didn’t like it. I am rather new to Urban Fantasy and Paranormals and don’t mind vampires and werewolves (it is all very fresh to me still) so I actually enjoyed Nightwalker very much. I thought the world building was interesting with the addition of the Bori and Naturi.

    I also rather enjoyed Mira’s narrative voice and was very much into her relationship with Danaus and her bodyguards.

    Having said that , you are right about the lack of other female characters. I hadn’t thought of that and it’s a good point.

    I also agree that this is clearly a prologue but to be honest, it didn’t bother me at all. I am in fact, waiting anxiously for book 2. LOL.

  2. Ana
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 06:06:19

    Jia, forgot to say. If you would like to read Fantasy/Paranormal without a single trace of a vampire or a werewolf, I would recommend the new series by Kathryn Smith , the Nightmare Chronicles – the main character Dawn, is half human/ half Nightmare – in charge of protecting dreamers from Night Terrors. It’s rather original. The first book is called Before I Wake and it came out last week.

  3. Tez Miller
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 06:33:51

    While she’s growing increasingly disenchanted with the urban fantasy and paranormal subgenres…

    I can so relate to that. Which is why I’m more interested in futuristic nowadays, because they’re still new and fresh to me. I have enjoyed Vicki Pettersson’s first two Zodiac books recently, but I hadn’t read superheroes before so they seem more original than the usual UF.

    Here’s hoping a great book comes your way soon, and have a lovely day! :-)

  4. Naomi
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 07:51:26

    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

    Amen to that! It’s surprisingly hard to find an urban fantasy novel where heroines have female friends and it’s completely unrealistic that none of these women associate with other women.

    (Unrealistic for stories about vampires and werewolves, I mean).

  5. cecilia
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 09:40:58

    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.

    I think it must have something to do with the other common conventions of that heroine being centrally important to saving the universe, and/or her having the all-powerful irresistable sexuality. The girlfriends would want to bitch about their annoying bosses or whatever, and the urban fantasy heroine is going to talk about her tired magic vagina? Alternatively, how long would you want to be friends with that heroine? UF books often seem structured around a massive ego trip, so it doesn’t compute that the protagonist would actually have friends. That said, I’ve seen some science fiction stories lately that manage to balance the warrior-type heroine with having actual friends (of both sexes) without all the men being potential or actual sex partners, so it should be doable. So to speak. (I’m with TezMiller – tired of UF, but finding other futuristic and SF is filling the bill nicely)

  6. Samantha
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 10:03:05

    I actually had this on my To Buy list, but now I think I might get it from the library instead.

  7. Joely Sue Burkhart » Blog Archive » Urban Fantasy Trope
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 10:19:56

    […] was reading a review over at Dear Author this morning over my first cup of coffee and I realized I could write an UF […]

  8. Thea
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 10:56:46

    Jia, forgot to say. If you would like to read Fantasy/Paranormal without a single trace of a vampire or a werewolf, I would recommend the new series by Kathryn Smith , the Nightmare Chronicles…

    There’s also Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series–which has a heroine, I might add, that does have female friends and is not abrasive and ‘kickbutt’.

    I think it must have something to do with the other common conventions of that heroine being centrally important to saving the universe, and/or her having the all-powerful irresistable sexuality. The girlfriends would want to bitch about their annoying bosses or whatever, and the urban fantasy heroine is going to talk about her tired magic vagina? Alternatively, how long would you want to be friends with that heroine? UF books often seem structured around a massive ego trip, so it doesn't compute that the protagonist would actually have friends. That said, I've seen some science fiction stories lately that manage to balance the warrior-type heroine with having actual friends (of both sexes) without all the men being potential or actual sex partners, so it should be doable. So to speak. (I'm with TezMiller – tired of UF, but finding other futuristic and SF is filling the bill nicely)

    I feel like this is an unfair generalization of the genre–certainly, generalizations like this could be made for ANY genre of fiction (be it romance, SF, fantasy, etc).

    I read somewhere recently the statement that “Urban Fantasy is the modern Western”–and I think this speaks to the ‘lone hero/heroine’ pheonomenon. You have your gunslinger that has to go it alone in order not to protect others from getting involved. Certainly there is an abundance of snarly kickass abrasive heroes in this genre–but I think their lack of female friends usually has to do more with the ‘mission’ they are on as opposed to their magical vaginas. (The magical vagina variety usually seem to reside in paranormal romance, at least from my reading experiences)

    I can name quite a few UF books whose heroes DO have other friends–see the aformentioned Weather Warden books, or the Mercy Thompson books, or Richelle Mead’s Succubus books, or Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan books (where friendships are actually a major thread to the series)…

  9. cecilia
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 11:14:26

    Thea, I wasn’t trying to characterize all, but comment on a common convention. And the big one about the universe-saving importance of the protagonist – I’m not sure how you would make that generalization about other genres without watering it down beyond recognition. I was being somewhat sarcastic about the magic vagina, but the lone heroine thing (which you connect to westerns, fair enough) is still very annoying, whatever its provenance. And I don’t think that the Weather Warden books or the Rachel Morgan books are all that different. Joanne has connections, but I don’t think any of her “friends” are friends – her importance and uniqueness always seems to come first. And in terms of the Rachel Morgan books – there isn’t a lot of sex going on, but there’s the ever-present sexual tension, with both of the closest “friends,” so you still have the irresistable sexuality. Haven’t read the Succubus books, and don’t remember female friends in Mercy Thompson, to be honest. Obviously not all books are slaves to the conventions that annoy me, though an example that would stand out to me is Kelley Armstrong’s series, which shines just for the fact that there isn’t only one heroine, and avoids all the pitfalls right off the bat.

  10. Thea
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 11:40:58

    And the big one about the universe-saving importance of the protagonist – I'm not sure how you would make that generalization about other genres without watering it down beyond recognition.

    Hi Cecilia, I have to clarify myself. I didn’t mean applying the universe-saving protagonist to all these other genres (although this is a very common theme in fantasy and to a certain extent scifi as well). I simply meant that generalizations can be made for any genre and its conventions: i.e. all historical romance novels are about a woman in need of a husband who elevates her beyond her rank/ends her monetary troubles/saves her from her family/etc whilst giving her unimaginable pleasure in bed and they live happily ever after. While this is a theme that pervades the genre, it is an unfair generalization that does not really capture any of the different nuances of the genre.

    And I don't think that the Weather Warden books or the Rachel Morgan books are all that different.

    I can see what you’re saying about Jo (of the Weather Warden books), as her female friends don’t play as prominent a role to the story–but they are there. Her coworker from the weather station, for example, or even the presence of her sister. In the Rachel Morgan books I have to disagree with you–the sexual tension is there, but the whole series revolves around the relationship between Rachel and Ivy, and how they try to come to grips with their friendship. I thought the initial point made in the review above was asking for more of a female presence in UF books, and why heroines seemed to antagonize other female characters–which is definitely not the case in the Rachel Morgan books, as the two main characters are friends, and are female.

    All that said, I do understand where you (and Jia) are coming from, being a little burned out with urban fantasy. Different strokes and all that :)

  11. Jia
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 11:42:45

    Richelle Mead's Succubus books

    I’ve read these books. I don’t think the heroine has any significant female friends there either. In fact, Jane noted that lack in her review of the latest one. And I have to agree with Cecilia about the Mercy Thompson books as well. The important figures and friends in Mercy’s life are almost all male.

    It’s not enough to have just token female friends in a book. They need to have personalities, purpose, and agency that don’t revolve around the heroine and her life.

  12. Thea
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 11:57:24

    It's not enough to have just token female friends in a book. They need to have personalities, purpose, and agency that don't revolve around the heroine and her life.

    Fair enough, Jia. I would then still point to the Rachel Morgan books, where both main characters are female. As for the Mercy and Succubus books, you’re completely right–both protagonists have friendships, but these are predominantly male characters.

    With this gripe in mind, one of the reasons why I love Urban Fantasy is the fact that the protagonist is usually a strong female character, with personality, agency and purpose (to borrow your phrase). I’m more interested in reading about the heroine and her struggle as it pertains to the plot, as opposed to her friends, female or male. Of course, this is just my opinion, and I don’t only apply this to UF, but other genres as well.

  13. cecilia
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 12:27:32

    I'm more interested in reading about the heroine and her struggle as it pertains to the plot, as opposed to her friends, female or male.

    I think most people who read UF would agree, but I think you can have this, plus good friend characters, as opposed to figures that are there just to make the heroine look good. Books that have the heroine with no female friends and a host of males who all want the heroine have missed an opportunity to create a character who can be kick-ass and seem more authentically human (rather than a sex object who’s really good at violence) at the same time.

  14. Thea
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 12:56:22

    Books that have the heroine with no female friends and a host of males who all want the heroine have missed an opportunity to create a character who can be kick-ass and seem more authentically human (rather than a sex object who's really good at violence) at the same time.

    I can definitely relate to this sentiment–I have no patience for characters like the later Anita Blake, and even characters like Sookie Stackhouse can be trying with their magical irresistable sex appeal. Just…no. At the same time, I do find (again, my opinion) that the majority UF books don’t have heroes as friendless sex mavens (in fact, many heroes/heroines are “off of their game,”–ala Harry Dresden, Kate Daniels, Mercy Thompson, etc). A lot of the time, they are outsiders with a few friends (be they male or female) and a love interest on the side, with a focus on solving whatever the mystery/crisis is at hand.

  15. Tez Miller
    Aug 06, 2008 @ 18:21:14

    Cecilia: You didn’t leave an email address or website, but if you ever want to discuss UF and futuristics, you know where to find me ;-)

    Have a lovely day! :-)

    P.S. There’s actually a copy of this on eBay Australia. But combined with the postage price, it’s a little over my budget. May have to think about this some more…

  16. Jessa Slade
    Aug 07, 2008 @ 10:43:29

    her tired magic vagina

    Ack. Choking on choco chip cookie.

    I guess I’m one of those readers happily devouring paranormals (paranormals are dying!) just as I happily plow through historicals (historicals are dead; all those virginal heroines) and Westerns when I find them (westerns are dead dead dead; all those damn cowboys). I understand the desire for fresh meat, especially if you read deeply in a genre, but I’ve never minded convention if the story is well told. I wonder if that comes from a love of fairy tales & mythology where the same story repeats endlessly.

  17. REVIEW: Angel Ink by Jocelynn Drake
    Oct 22, 2012 @ 08:02:07

    […] 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. […]

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