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Urban-Fantasy

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:  Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

REVIEW: Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Dear Mr. Aaronovich,

I enjoyed all your earlier books in the Peter Grant urban fantasy series, from Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London) to Moon Over Soho to Whispers Under Ground, although I put off reading book four, Broken Homes, because I had mixed feelings about your comments in the discussion thread following this post.

BrokenHomesThen my husband and a good friend urged me to read the book, saying they enjoyed it a great deal. I decided to read Broken Homes to see what I was missing, but while I enjoyed some of it, it wasn’t to the same degree that I enjoyed your earlier books.

The book begins with a strange car accident. The driver, Robert Weil, runs a red light and hits another car, but when the police investigate, they find blood in the backseat but no sign of the missing passenger.

Police constable and magician’s apprentice Peter Grant receives an email alert because Weil is a member of the Little Crocodiles, an Oxford University dining club investigated by Peter and his cohorts in earlier books for dabbling in magic.

The car accident case turns up nothing of a magical nature, however, and life goes back to normal, which means that Peter and the coworker he’s had a crush on, Leslie, study for detective classes, learn Latin for their magic practice with their supervisor Nightingale, and begin work on crafting their wizard staffs.

Then a few other unusual things happen. A man named George Nolfi is hospitalized with burns after conjuring a fireball for his six year old granddaughter’s birthday party. He claims he hasn’t practiced magic since early childhood when his mother taught him a few spells.

Another man, Richard Lewis, kills himself, but his apparent suicide may be no suicide at all. And Peter stumbles on a German book whose title translates to On the Fundamentals that Underlie the Practice of Magic in the London Stolen Art Directory.

Of this handful of cases, one on further investigation inarguably points to the Faceless Man, a magic practitioner whom Peter and Nightingale have been fighting for three books now. But are these cases connected? What is the Faceless Man plotting? And are Peter, Leslie and Nightingale adequately prepared to face an opponent of the Faceless Man’s power and skill?

The beginning of this book felt exciting, with one incident of magical violence following after another. But that level of excitement wasn’t sustained and Broken Homes didn’t hang together quite as well as the earlier books.

As the most helpful positive review on Amazon points out and this plot summary shows, the structure of this novel is different from that of the earlier books. Rather than following one case, Peter and company work on a few cases before one turns up something that leads them to their archenemy, the Faceless Man.

Consequently, the book feels more disjointed and episodic than the earlier books. It meanders here and there but doesn’t gel into anything cohesive until the final third of the story.

On the upside, there is an interesting development in Leslie’s personal life. On the downside, I really missed the London history that was woven into the first three books. It felt like a significant loss.

The novel’s pacing feels off, too. After the exciting beginning, not enough headway is made on the cases being investigated during the long and sagging middle. In the final third, the engine of the story revs up and things finally start happening again.

Fortunately the writing is as witty as ever. Here’s an example:

Negotiating the inerface between the Folly and the rest of the police is always tricky, especially when it’s the murder squad. You don’t get to be a senior investigating officer unless you have a degree in skepticism, an MA in distrust and your CV lists suspicious bastard under your hobbies.

And here’s another:

Tracking down the exploding granddad’s antecedents was yet another thing that was still sitting in the low priority things-to-be-done pile. It might have to be moved up.

“Indeed,” said Nightingale. “I’d like you to have a look at the house today.”

“Today?”

“If possible,” said Nightingale which meant, yes absolutely today.

I still love Peter. He still has the same core of human decency and honor, and he still makes me laugh. He still comes up with creative solutions to the problems that he faces. He still wants to do the right thing by the people he cares about and by the people of London, whom he serves.

I still like Peter’s companion characters, from by-the-book Leslie to bright, curious Dr. Walid, to snooty-but-impressively-good-at-magic Nightingale to magic-sensing dog Toby. I still like the Rivers and the goblin Zack and the Quiet People and the other magical characters. The diversity of the cast (Peter himself is biracial—his father a white jazz musician and his mum a black immigrant from Sierra Leone) appeals to me as always, and the Faceless Man and those aiding him still scare me.

But much of Broken Homes feels like groundwork being laid for future books, and for the explosive twist that comes at the end of Broken Homes. For a reader who doesn’t foresee what happens, the big plot turn is likely to be impactful, and I’m sure its reprecussions will reverberate through the upcoming Foxglove Summer.

Unfortunately for me, I first started suspecting that this might be where the series was heading two books back. So for me, the twist wasn’t as twisty as it is for some readers. Rather than having the surprise come out of nowhere, I felt helpless as I watched what I’d predicted unfold, and a little frustrated that one or two characters who should have been able to anticipate it didn’t see it coming.

The introduction of two new characters with magical abilities makes me anticipate good things in book five, so I suspect I will be reading it. Then again, when I finished book three, Whispers Under Ground, I was sure we were in for some big things in this, book four. And to be fair I think that readers who don’t figure things out ahead of time may get that from this book to a greater degree than I did. C.

Sincerely,

Janine

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