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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:  Slashback by Rob Thurman

REVIEW: Slashback by Rob Thurman

Dear Ms. Thurman,

It’s rare that a long-running series can hold my attention. Very few authors have successfully have kept my engagement levels high over extended periods of time. (And one of them I freely admit is done so with no small amount of resentment — George R. R. Martin, I’m looking at you.) Usually my interest starts to flag around book 4. But your Cal Leandros books have kept my interest through the years, and I can’t believe we’re already on book 8!

slashback-thurmanSlashback picks up the next thematic arc set up in Blackout and then launched in Doubletake. Concerned by the threat presented by Grimm, Cal is grappling with the monster side of his hybrid heritage. He needs to become stronger and what easier way to reach that goal than to tap into your supernatural heritage? But when your monster side comes from the Auphe — an entire race of homicidal creatures — doing so can mean falling down a slippery slope of amorality. Cal’s spent most of his life denying that side and trying to be human, so does accepting his Auphe side mean becoming the very thing that’s fueled his nightmares?

This internal conflict is exacerbated by the arrival of a serial killer. In the supernatural underground of NYC, this is perhaps not so unusual in and of itself. A monster targeting humans for giggles? We’ve seen that before. The Leandros brothers have tackled such problems in the past. But what makes it strange is that the supernatural community wants no part of it and is in fact actively avoiding any and all possible involvement. Even stranger is that hardly any of them knows a thing about the perpetrator despite his long-standing infamy within their world.

Interwoven with the present-day serial killer plot are flashbacks from Cal and Niko’s youth. Not only do these scenes offer insight into Niko’s mentality (they’re from his POV), they delve into the relationship between the brothers while telling the story of their first encounter with a serial killer. The past and the present mirror each other until, of course, they collide.

Despite the jumping back and forth between the past and the present-day, the plot was pretty straightforward. I figured early on that the serial killer from the brothers’ past was related to their current problem. Why else make each other chapter a flashback? Despite that predictability, I enjoyed it. These books have always been more about the experience and the journey than inventive, unpredictable plotting. I love the brothers and the people who surround them, so getting a glimpse of their past was great. Even more so because we learn why Niko is the way he is about protecting Cal.

There were a couple big revelations in this novel. One of them was not very surprising if you stop to think about it, but it makes me curious about how this will be incorporated into future books. I just don’t see how you can introduce something as major as [spoiler] the existence of heaven and angels [/spoiler] without doing something with it. The events in Slashback only seem like the tip of the iceberg. Maybe I’m wrong.

The other revelation could be considered twee by some readers. It didn’t bother me at all and made me feel sorry for the brothers’ friend, Robin Goodfellow. He’s ancient and has lived for so long, but it’s been mostly solitary due to the nature of pucks. He has dear friends who come into his life but they’re invariably human, mortal and by virtue of their chosen life paths, die young.

I don’t read much urban fantasy these days but I still consider the Leandros books to be go-to reads. They’re entertaining and fun, and Cal’s sarcastic narrative voice never fails to make me laugh. Throw in a rare situation where we see the normally composed Niko crack under the pressure, and Slashback re-confirmed my fondness for this series. Bring on the next one. B

My regards,
Jia

P.S. – Are we ever going to see George again? I miss her!

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