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REVIEW: Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

REVIEW: Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

Dear Ms Briggs,

I’m not just an avid reader of your Mercy Thompson series and your Alpha & Omega series, I’m the sort of fan who counts off the days until your next book like a kid counting the days until Christmas. But the problem with Christmas is that the wait can make even good gifts seem like something of a let down. Though I genuinely enjoyed your new novel, Fair Game, there were aspects of the story that disappointed me, too, and I think I might have been more forgiving if I hadn’t expected quite so much.


Patricia Briggs Fair GameFair Game
, takes the Alpha & Omega series’s werewolf protagonists, Charles and Anna, to Boston to help the FBI search for the kidnapped victim of a serial killer. At the same time, Charles, who acts as an enforcer, is haunted by the ghosts of out-of-control wolves he has put down at the order of his father, Bran, the leader of the werewolves.

One of my favorite aspects of this series is Charles and Anna’s relationship. I would have loved to see them confront Charles’s problem together, but that isn’t what happens. Instead, he keeps his problem secret out of fear that the ghosts will hurt Anna and/or she will leave him. This issue persists through much of the book, with Anna feeling miserable that Charles won’t talk to her, and Charles fearing that Anna will stop loving him if she is exposed to the terrible things he has done.

The lack of communication is so bad, that it actually gets to the point where this happens:

He’d intended to talk with her, he remembered, to tell her … But neither of them was in shape for talk.

That passage made me want to scream at the book the way sports fans scream at the TV when their team fumbles a play. It’s frustrating when the lack of one timely, honest, five minute conversation between the hero and heroine creates major complications — especially when characters know they should communicate, but don’t.

The other thing that frustrated me about this story was the villain. I am not a fan of serial killers as villains because I think they’re simplistic and overused. I also dislike the horrific oneupmanship of how every new fictional serial killer seems to have killed more people more horrifically than the last. I can set aside my dislike in cases where the story offers a twist on the formula, but this serial killer offered nothing new. I pegged the killer from the killer’s first scene, and then had to spend most of the novel waiting for Anna and Charles to figure it out.

In any other book, I think my frustration with the above-mentioned plot elements would have made me dislike the book as a whole, but that is not the case with Fair Game. Even when the plot bothered me, the wonderful world-building and well-drawn characters kept me engaged and enjoying the story.

I love how you used the Alpha & Omega series’ third-person point of view to give the reader insight into the thoughts and lives of secondary characters, and to show how Charles and Anna are perceived by the people around them. Particularly striking is difference between the way other characters see Charles, the way Anna sees him, and the way Charles sees himself. The narration from Anna’s and Charles’s point of view shows that he’s kind and thoughtful.   The scenes from other characters points of view show that even the characters who know him best don’t fully understand the toll his duties take on him. But Anna sees and understands, and her efforts to help and protect Charles even as he pushes her away show how their relationship has grown, and how Anna has grown.

When you introduced Anna in the novella, Alpha and Omega, she had been horribly abused. In subsequent books, we’ve seen her struggle to overcome the emotional effects of her abuse, and, with effort, succeed. In Fair Game, she’s smart, resourceful, and strong, but what makes her strength worth mentioning in a sub-genre filled with strong heroines is that Anna’s strength is a choice. When she’s in a tough situation, we see her consciously making that choice. In a sub-genre where the heroines and heroes are often stronger than human and larger than life, Anna’s vulnerability and honesty make her one of my favorite characters in recent years.

One of my favorite new characters is FBI agent Leslie Fisher, whom we meet for the first (but hopefully not the last) time in Fair Game. Her story gave me a glimpse of what life is like for ordinary people in Charles and Anna’s world. And what a world it is–deep and detailed, filled with black and white, and so many shades of gray.  Be they mortal or monster, everyone in this world does what they feel they need to do in order to survive, but even the scariest characters like the witches and the fae have their sympathetic moments. I love how it is ultimately those sympathetic, human qualities that shape the story for good and ill.

Overall, Fair Game wasn’t everything I’d hoped it would be, but it did deliver all the things I love most about the Mercy and Alpha & Omega books: easygoing-yet-immersive writing style, well-drawn characters, and excellent world-building. It passed my three R’s test—Readability, Recommendation and Rereading. I read the bulk of it in one sitting, I’ve already recommended it to another Briggs fan, and I know I’ll end up rereading it while I’m waiting for your next book to come out.

This book might not be the best place for new readers to start, but it is a recommended read for fans and series followers. I didn’t love Fair Game, but I did like it. The ending left me excited to read future installments in both series. I’ve already marked my calendar for spring, 2013, when the next book hits the shelves.

B

~Josephine

 

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REVIEW: The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams

REVIEW: The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams

Dear Ms. Williams:

I admit I passed this book over when it first came across my desk. The cover, the story blurb all seemed a little twee to me. It’s largely about the fae and I’ve never really been interested in that fantasy world. Months later (the book was released at the end of October 2011), I’ve heard quite a bit of buzz about the book and two of my trusted recommenders, Elyssa Papa and Has Bookpushers, told me it was right up my alley. It is in first person present tense which I often profess to hate but frequently read with great enjoyment. You slide right into the view point of the heroine and the tense of the words disappears.

sandy williams shadow readerI enjoyed the concept, the plot and the world but the ending was disappointing. The story is told in the first person and the way in which the story resolved was unsatisfactory. I wasn’t ready for McKenzie to make a decision and I thought the decision she made wasn’t made with much thought.

McKenzie Lewis is a shadow reader which means she can read the location of fae when they “frissure” or trace from one location to another. This skill of hers was discovered when she was a late teenager. When she began to see and talk to people that no one else could see, this led her family and friends to believe she was having a mental breakdown. At one point, McKenzie was even institutionalized. Sadly, large swaths of McKenzie’s backstory is glossed over, particularly how she escaped the psychiatric hospital. The human roots of her life which played an important motivational factor in McKenzie’s story was the weakest drawn.

A series of events played out which made McKenzie amenable to an offer from the King’s sword master, Kyol, to help them hunt down a rebel faction of faes. For ten years, McKenzie has helped the Court fight its civil war. McKenzie never doubts for a minute that she is on the right side of things until she is captured by the rebels and made to rethink her position with the Court. The rebels present to McKenzie the most desirable fruit of all – acceptance of a fae/human relationship. McKenzie and Kyol have loved each other for 10 years, but romantic liaisons between humans and fae are forbidden by the court and Kyol, a man devoted to his king and his service to the Court. In fact, at one point, McKenzie voices her admiration for Kyol’s principles:

I protest, but he smoothes down my clothes with an apology and a light kiss on my cheek. His fingers slide from my skin, and the heat of his lightning fades away. It feels like a part of my soul fades, too. I’m still breathing hard, but the air I draw in is cold and empty. When he fissures out, I want to be angry. I want to hate him for his self-control, for leaving me when I’m craving more than his touch, and for not being a typical, human male. But I don’t hate him. If anything, his restraint makes me love him more.

Aren, Kyol’s shadow in the rebel court, apparently falls for McKenzie right away. I’m unsure why. Both Kyol and Aren are a mystery. This is a problem in first person books but it was heightened here when the interaction between all the characters are limited. Aren begins a campaign to place seeds of doubt in the rightness of McKenzie’s work for the Court. The Court had never taught her their language but Aren will. The Court forbids romantic relationships between humans and fae but Aren shows her that they support that relationship within the rebels. The Court is engaged in nasty inhumane acts against the rebels and the rebels are just fighting for survival, says Aren.

The love triangle between Aren, Kyol and McKenzie is used to highlight the opposing sides and to show that neither side is wholly good or wholly bad which I think was one of the better reasons to incorporate a love triangle. Yet, the insertion of the romance occurred at ill timed moments when I thought the various entities should be more interested in protecting themselves than kissing. I was also concerned that she was fae spelled. It seemed like the fae’s natural charisma could affect her, even against her will. Time and again, McKenzie mentions being affected by the edarratae

I break eye contact, willing my body to cool and berating myself for reacting to those soft silver eyes. I try to tug my hand free again. I need his edarratae gone so I can think clearly.

///

This close, I can become lost in them, especially with the heat of his edarratae traveling up my arm. He dips his head, staring down at me with mirth on his lips.

and one human’s reference to it:

“I highly recommend it,” he continues. “Sex with the edarratae . . .” He shakes his head and a small smile tugs at his lips. “Trust me, you’d love it. You’d never want to be with a human again.”

The largest problem I had with this book is that McKenzie makes a choice at the end of the story. On the one hand, perhaps it is good because while this is clearly the beginning of the series there is a definite end to this book. On the other hand, the conditions under which McKenzie makes her decision are full of emotion and heightened danger. I wanted her to step back and say to both men that she need time to herself to evaluate the role she wanted to play in the fae world, how she was going to reconcile what was happening to her with her desire for a “real” life.

So why the B-? Because the voice is great, the pace of the book is just right, and I enjoyed a book about a fae which means the storytelling was compelling enough to override my initial hesitations. I would recommend it to others with the caveat that the ending might be a let down. B-

Best regards,

Jane

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