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REVIEW: Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

Dear Ms. St. Crow,

book review I’m familiar the urban fantasy novels you write under the similar name, Lilith Saintcrow.   I enjoyed your Dante Valentine series but wasn’t as keen on your next venture, the Jill Kismet books.   But I’m always on the hunt for new young adult novels to read so when I heard you had written one, I decided to give it a try.

Dru Anderson is used to not sticking around in one place for too long.   Her father hunts monsters: vampires, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night.   But despite the fact that Dru has the sixth sense — a preternatural ability to know when something bad’s about to go down — her father never brings her along on his actual hunts.   In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that her grandmother died, she might not even be tagging along with him at all.   As you can imagine, none of this pleases Dru, who wants nothing more than to help her father hunt the nasty things that prowl the night.

Then one night her dad doesn’t come home after a hunt.   Dru tries to hold out hope but she knows the worst has happened.   Shortly before her father left, she spied a white owl just outside the window.   For Dru, the white owl is a harbinger of death.   She saw one before her grandmother died.   But Dru’s problem isn’t that her father died.   Her problem is that her father died and then came back as a zombie.   And when he comes home in his newly reanimated, and very hungry, state, Dru has no choice but to deal with him.

Unfortunately, this leaves Dru alone and at the mercy of the person, or creature, that killed her father.   Because the denizens of the Real World — as Dru calls the supernatural world — have always wondered what secrets Dru’s father has been keeping all these years.   And much to her misfortune, it turns out he has been.   It’s her.

This book reminded me a bit of the Supernatural television series, albeit in a genderflipped, modified sort of way.   Dru is obviously an only child so the book doesn’t have the sibling dynamics of the aforementioned television series but she is a combination of the Winchester brothers: Sam’s more-than-human abilities combined with Dean’s attitude and personality.   I could argue that this is an advantage.   Fans of the television who want a more female-centric version wouldn’t go wrong here.

The downside is that this is a genderflipped version of Supernatural and if you’ve watched at least one season of the show, you will find nothing new here.   There’s nothing wrong with that, but in this era of paranormal malaise — of which I admit I am valiantly trying to stave off but am currently losing — that strong sense of familiarity and “I’ve seen this before dozens of times” will work against it.

I do think fans of your previous books, and in particular their heroines, will like Dru.   While I admit I’m weary these days of the standoffish, ultra-tough urban fantasy heroine who thinks she needs no one, I know the archetype still holds its appeal for many people.   For me, though, I was pretty ambivalent about Dru and she only added to the overwhelming sense of “I’ve read this book before” I was experiencing.

This is a dark and grim book, probably more so than other young adult novels I’ve read.   I actually like dark and grim so this didn’t bother me.   That said, I must add the caveat that I have a very high tolerance for gore so while nothing in this book struck me as extreme, I will be the first person to admit I am not the best judge of that because my scale is very skewed compared to the average reader.

I do think the cover copy might be a little misleading because it implies there will be a love triangle involving Dru, Graves who may or may not be a werewolf, and Christophe who is a vampire.   I wasn’t reading it for that — and honestly, I’m glad I didn’t read the cover copy before starting the book because that would have turned me off right away.   I am really tired of the heroine who must choose between the werewolf and vampire subplot in books.   So for readers who are hesitating because of that point, it doesn’t quite play out that way in the book.   This is the first in a new series, however, so that can always change in future books but for now, the love triangle isn’t as dominant a point as the back copy makes it out to be.

And speaking of reader biases, what was up with all the descriptions of Graves’s Asian features?   I’d be lying if I said the reference to Graves being lucky that he hadn’t drawn the “really slit-eyed card a lot of half-breeds have to play” didn’t make me frown.   And when that was followed by constant references to the color of his skin, his cheekbones, and his epicanthic eyefolds, I have to be honest.   I was really weirded out by the time I finished the book.   I don’t know if this was deliberate, as a way to show that Dru has never encountered an Asian person before in her life.   Maybe she hasn’t, in which case I suppose the first-person narrative is accurate, but it made me very uncomfortable because I really don’t like reading stories in which features similar to mine are described in this fetishized fashion.   I get enough of that in my day to day life that I would vastly prefer to keep it out of my escapist reading.

But what I think is the book’s biggest weakness is that it’s really all introductory set-up for the rest of the series.   An origin story, if you will.   We find out about Dru’s dead mother, why she’s so special, and the secret world that her father moved through, but we don’t have much of an actual story that stands alone in this book.   This won’t bother some readers but I’m sorry to say I’m not one of them.   I like having stand alone storylines in my series books and what was present here was slight at best.   And because of that, Strange Angels was a C- for me.

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in trade paperback from an independent bookstore or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

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]!

16 Comments

  1. Meril
    Jun 02, 2009 @ 15:40:22

    A biracial guy named Graves? Oh, really? IIRC, his nickname was something like “The Assassin.”

  2. Chrissy
    Jun 02, 2009 @ 15:56:23

    I actually ran out and bought this when Gwen Hayes interviewed Lili for Fictionistas. My reaction was nearly identical. I’m left to wonder if something happened in editing or was lost in writer-to-reader translation.

  3. K. Z. Snow
    Jun 02, 2009 @ 16:19:45

    Is the Graves character Asian, Jia, or (as you put it) maybe-a-werewolf whose shifterish features were carelessly described in racial terms?

  4. Jia
    Jun 02, 2009 @ 16:28:56

    @K. Z. Snow: He’s half-Asian.

  5. Donna
    Jun 02, 2009 @ 16:35:04

    I bought this one awhile ago but haven’t read it yet. I have to agree that I’m growing tired of these heroines who are always on their own and don’t think they need help from anyone.

  6. Kohdi-b
    Jun 03, 2009 @ 01:28:42

    Graves being lucky that he hadn't drawn the “really slit-eyed card a lot of half-breeds have to play”

    .
    Oh wow, so I’m unfortunate then for having that so called “slit-eyed” feature. Only Caucasian-ish features are considered beautiful I guess. The rest of the world who were born different are just “unlucky”. *Time to go get that double-eyelid surgery done then*
    Really, I was just wondering why casual racism toward Asian still go unnoticed in fictions. I wonder if she would have wrote about a half-black character something like he was lucky his skin wasn’t as dark. I wonder if she ever thought about the young Asian girls who read her book and what it does to their self-images. Or in her mind, her readership consists of no Asians at all.

    Authors, we really appreciate you trying to feature people like us in your story, but if you are just gonna use stereotypes or make degrading comments about our features, we rather you not include us.

  7. Leslee
    Jun 03, 2009 @ 03:59:21

    I have to post this in Ms. St. Crow’s defense. Her significant other is Asian (I don’t know if he is biracial or not). I don’t think that she was trying to make it sound like he was unattractive or alien. I read the book for review and I enjoyed it but that is me (www.nightowlromance.com). I found Graves to be a very attractive character. I liked the fact that he was part Asian as I haven’t seen that in a lot of books. I think that because he knows what it is like to be on his own just like Dru that he and Dru will rely on each other in the next book because he is the only one that she can trust.

  8. Mfred
    Jun 03, 2009 @ 08:02:11

    I find that I really like the idea of a Lilith Saintcrow novel but not so much the reading of it. The blurb hooks me but when I sit down with the novel, I end up frustrated.

    She writes great scenery and great action, but the characters fall flat for me, and I really dislike her heroines. On the surface, they seem very powerful and independent, but they spend the entire story making terrible choices and loathing themselves.

  9. DanceChica
    Jun 03, 2009 @ 09:36:33

    I find that I really like the idea of a Lilith Saintcrow novel but not so much the reading of it.

    This perfectly describes my reading relationship with Lilith Saintcrow. Couldn’t have said it better.

    If Strange Angels leaves me feeling as frustrated as The Demon’s Librarian and the last three Dante Valentine books, I’m afraid I’m going to have to give up on Saintcrow.

  10. Jia
    Jun 03, 2009 @ 11:31:05

    I find that I really like the idea of a Lilith Saintcrow novel but not so much the reading of it.

    This perfectly describes my reading relationship with Lilith Saintcrow. Couldn't have said it better.

    This seems to be an ongoing theme with many readers, myself included.

  11. Pamela Turner
    Jun 03, 2009 @ 14:46:56

    Oh, dear. I’m not well acquainted with Saintcrow’s work, except for Working for the Devil, which I like. I’ve read summaries of the Jill Kismet series and a few reviews. I’ve also read summaries of The Demon’s Librarian and this novel and follow Saintcrow’s posts on the Deadline Dames blog. All look like interesting reads.

    Perhaps it’s because I’m a newcomer to the urban fantasy/paranormal/etc. world that I haven’t become tired or jaded yet. I’m willing to give Ms. Saintcrow a chance.

    Maybe I should read what her readers are saying to gain some insight.

    Excuse the stupidity of this post. Haven’t eaten and my brain cells are working in reverse. :-)

  12. FD
    Jun 03, 2009 @ 20:27:11

    H’mmm. I haven’t read this one, but I’ve read several reviews saying similar things. Might wait for the library, what with money being tight.

    It’s funny, peculiar, not haha. I’ve read all of her books and enjoyed them all to varying degrees. I read the author’s blog and I admire her work ethic and attitude immensely. Most of her writing has the virtues of its vices – it’s competent, and honest and she has great ideas.

    I tend to come away though with the feeling that she hasn’t really written the books that she has it in her to write yet, if that makes sense. I think that’s why I keep reading even if the books aren’t quite hitting the spot.

  13. Jia
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 02:56:11

    @FD: That makes perfect sense. I have a few authors I do that for myself.

  14. flip
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 10:14:19

    I really liked this book. I love Lilith Saintcrow. The Dante Valentine series was awesome. I was ambivalent about the Jill Kismet series. Jill’s relationship with her mentor creeped me out, but the second book sold me on the series. I think that we are going so see a much deeper, more character development in this series.

    I really loved Strange Angels. I read it in one setting. Since I love heroes of mixed caucasian and asian history ever since Bruce Lee played Kato on the Green Hornet series, I enjoyed the character. Graves. I found the book to be fast paced and full of action. I would have been shocked by a 16 year old with the toughness of Dante Valentine. The heroine is 16 years old; the character was a realistic 16 year old.

    I suspect that you haven’t read a lot of YA. Holly Black writes a much darker YA in her Tithe Series. As far as I am concerned, she is the queen of YA fantasy.

  15. bluetulip18
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 22:25:44

    Dear God, this book was painful to read. Granted I’m not a fantasy lover, but even if there weren’t all these inexplicably wtf werewulfs, loup-garous, and svetochas running around, I still would’ve choked on the indulgent, pretentious writing style of Ms. St. Crow. She manages to write in a way that sounds really deep and flowery but conveys absolutely no meaning at all.

    At other times, she simply over-describes: “A funny quivering feeling was pushing its way up through my chest. I didn’t need a dictionary to know it was called fear.” Sometimes it’s okay to just say, “I was scared.” In the absence of a plot, we spend way too much time inside Dru’s lungs, stomach, heart, and other bodily organs. Seriously…enough is enough. I’ve read my share of crappy YA books, but (sorry Lili fans), this has got to be the worst — it even makes Jackie Mitchard’s sloppy Midnight Twins series look good. Please, leave the sassy vampire heroines and action-fantasy novels to Richelle Mead.

  16. Do You See What I See? « Tez Says
    Jul 26, 2009 @ 19:52:28

    […] of Dear Author did here: And speaking of reader biases, what was up with all the descriptions of Graves’s Asian […]

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