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End of the world

REVIEW:  Lethal Rider by Larissa Ione

REVIEW: Lethal Rider by Larissa Ione

Dear Ms. Ione:

This book was really a struggle for me and I wasn’t quite sure how to approach the review.  Ideally books should be reviewed based solely on what happens within the contents of the story.  Yet Lethal Rider is the third book in a series of four about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and because there is an overarching plot thread, it is difficult to pick up in the middle of the series and be able to fully comprehend the machinations and goals of the characters.  Further, important events leading up to Lethal Rider happen on page in Immortal Rider.

Lethal Rider Larissa IoneRegan is an Aegis Guardian, a human who is charged with protecting the world from evil.  She intentionally impregnated herself on an unwilling Thanatos.  Thanatos is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  His “seal” was to remain unbroken in order to prevent the Apocalypse from coming, according to the prophecy.  Thanatos believed that his seal was sex and he guarded his virginity for five thousand years.  When Regan takes his virginity and his seed, Thanatos and those around him fear his seal has been broken. (har har har)  His brother and sister choose to paralyze him with hellhound venom for eight months after his night of sex leads to a deadly rampage by Thanatos.
Thanatos one day is able to free himself, capture Regan and return to his stronghold.

This is a complicated world, one that has been built up over a series of books dating back to Pleasure Unbound, the first in the Demonica series.  Because of that, it is important that a reader reviews the glossary at the beginning to get a sense of the world. It’s not always imparted in the text.  There seems to be a conscious decision that those who are reading are assumed to be familiar with the ongoing struggle. Unfortunately, I think that the book could use some judiciously placed info dumping because even I, who have read many of the books in the series, often felt lost and disoriented.  What was the “evil” that the Guardians, demons, angels were fighting?  What is the Apocalypse? Why was Thanatos suddenly able to free himself? Why was it this time that the hellhound venom wore off enough that he could escape?  It was so easy to capture Regan and spirit her away that it was laughable. A few threats, a few humans dead, and he and Regan are off to safety (for him).

I had a hard time relating to Regan.  Despite being human, she exhibits a certain disregard for humanity.  She appears to care little for Thanatos’ feelings.  Stealing his virginity, his seed, does not appear to be violative to her.  She has no plans to raise the child herself, instead giving it to another Guardian.  She’s had some intense sexual encounters with Thanatos in Immortal Rider but still seems to be clueless about the emotional damage she was inflicting.  Conversely her feelings are hurt when Thanatos intimates that he doesn’t want her but only the baby.  Regan has a history of being unloved and perhaps both her hurt and supposed lack of feeling stems from her upbringing but the dichotomy in her presentation was difficult for me to grasp.

Thanatos was not apparently concerned about having sex with Regan or even being violated by her.  Instead, his focus was on her betrayal.  She had come to him under subterfuge and he had feelings for her.  They exchanged some heated sexual encounters before Regan raped him and the text of Lethal Rider seems to want the reader to understand that it wasn’t the sex, but the emotion behind it and then the subsequent actions that intended to keep his child from him was the real source of his distrust and animosity.  Later Thanatos tells Regan that they both wanted each other but that the drugs took their mutual choice away.  “I wanted it. We both wanted it.”  Thanatos absolves Regan of any wrongdoing.

What a reader does get from an Ione book is humor, sexiness, and interesting characters.  This novel is no different.  The seriousness of the issues are offset by biting banter.  Thanatos’ naiveté about sex was humorous.  I rolled my eyes at Regan’s nimbleness at being 9 months and counting which includes everything from trying to run away from Thanatos to rambunctious bouts of nine month pregnancy sex.

I appreciate the complexity of the world but I felt like it is ever changing. I could not get a handle on the boundaries.  Even though “evil” is referenced, the line between good and evil is quite blurred.  Everyone seems to be engaged in rampant and senseless killings. There is a power struggle between factions but the morality of the characters isn’t sharply defined.  In some sense, it is every person for themselves and sometimes, while objectively appreciating the provocativeness of this, it is hard to allow myself to sympathize with any of the characters.   I vacillated between a C and C+ in this story but eventually went with a C.

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW: Cast in Chaos by Michelle Sagara

REVIEW: Cast in Chaos by Michelle Sagara

Dear Ms. Sagara,

I’m a longtime fan of both your Michelle West epic fantasy novels published by DAW as well as the Elantra series put out by Luna. Your books never fail to remind me of why I love this genre. I also can’t believe we’re already up to six books about Kaylin Neya, a young woman with a mysterious destiny who’s just trying to make a living working as the second world fantasy equivalent of a beat cop.

Cast in Chaos by MIchelle SaguraTo bring new readers up to speed, the world of Elantra is one co-inhabited by six different races: humans, Leontines (lion-people), hawk-people, Tha’alani (a telepathic race with tentacles growing out of their heads), Barrani (the equivalent of faeries), and dragons who rule over them all. It’s an uneasy peace at times and the constant shifting of this balance has been explored in previous books. As a Hawk, Kaylin’s job is to uphold the law set down by the Dragon court, and the Elantra series chronicles her adventures doing just that. In addition, Kaylin is a human with unexplained magical ability of unclear origin. She can heal but she’s also capable of doing other things, the most pertinent to this book’s plot being that she can read magical sigils and glyphs, even if they are from a long-dead language.

Cast in Chaos opens with Kaylin and her partner, Severn, doing rounds on their latest assignment, Elani Street. Elani Street is, to put it tactfully, an area known for charlatans and swindlers. Fortune tellers, vendors of magical elixirs, you can find it all on Elani Steet. So imagine their surprise when a hair restoration potion actually works and gives a client a new head of hair and when a well-known fortune teller provides an accurate reading, which both upsets her client and inadvertantly endangers an ongoing investigation.

What Kaylin and Severn soon discover is that a magical disturbance has begun, centering on Elani Street and surrounding regions. Sometimes the results are benign, such as fake hair tonics delivering what they promise. Other times, babies are born with third eyes in the middle of their foreheads and the sky literally rains blood. The reason for this disruption? A magical portal between worlds is opening. What will come through it, however, is another matter entirely.

Cast in Chaos took a little while to get going for me as a reader. A good chunk of the beginning was devoted to laying the foundation for the plot and at times my attention wandered. It wasn’t boring, but I think I might have grown used to the instant gratification of simpler plots so I’m not as patient as I once was. In some respects, this lent to an impression of not much forward momentum. I discovered, however, that once I hit halfway, I couldn’t stop reading. The plot is one of those that slowly builds until it snowballs hard and fast, so I ultimately felt rewarded for sticking with it.

At last, the great question of why Elantra has so many disparate races has finally been answered! I know this has been a worldbuilding quirk that’s niggled me since the first book, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment. But the revelation in Chaos made perfect sense as well as fit into the existing magic system, explaining why certain races have access to true names while others do not. To be honest, I usually don’t care for multiple world theories in fantasy simply because I tend to think of multiple realities as a science fiction trope but I think it worked very well here.

Kaylin also has more interactions with the dragons in this book. You can just see the impending meeting with the Dragon emperor looming on the horizon. I wonder how long it will take for her to meet him because after the events in this book, it’s become readily apparent they can’t keep putting it off forever. Kaylin is just too connected to many different races and has access to magic they can’t afford to let run loose unchecked. I’m personally looking forward to this meeting because I find the dragon race very fascinating. They’re the only original race we don’t really know much about at this point, though what glimpses we received in this book were interesting.

And finally, the other aspect readers will want to know — the question of Nightshade versus Severn. People may be interested to know that there are developments. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they constitute forward movement because that would require Kaylin to take some action, but I also see that the time is coming when Kaylin will have to do something eventually because even she can no longer ignore what’s there.

In the end, I was very satisfied with this read. It features a more self-contained plot than we’ve seen in recent installments but I also think the cast of characters has expanded such that newer readers who jump straight in might get lost easily. While the cast of characters is nowhere as large as that of the major players in the West books, it is still bigger than some people might be used to. The series has also become more epic in scope and straying further away from its beginning as second world police procedural fantasies. That isn’t a criticism but readers expecting the latter might not be entirely satisfied. Still, it was worthwhile and I look forward to seeing how the events that take place at the of Chaos impact Elantra’s future. B

My regards,
Jia

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