The Harlequin (Anita Blake Vampire Hunter #14)
Laurell K Hamilton
Orbit (Hachette Australia), 422 pp
I’ve been an Anita Blake fan for a long time. I’ve read many of the complaints by readers as the series – and indeed – the main character, changed significantly over the course of the books. I’m not sure I agree with all those complaints, but I have had my concerns about the growth of the character, which has been exponential to the length of the series. The concern has been about the sustainability of this growth. Every time she comes up against a more powerful creature, Anita seems to gain some new power in order to defeat the enemy. How long can this go on? Anita is a supernatural being herself, but she doesn’t fit any of the “rules” that other supernatural creatures adhere to. She has also lost many of her inhibitions and now “dates” at least six men, and has sex with more, sometimes MANY more, in the course of the novels. Some of the past few books have been more about the sex than the story, and readership has supposedly dropped off because of it.
Interestingly, in this story, Anita is trying to come to grips with a more emotional block, as opposed to the sexual ones that we’ve been bombarded with in the past. The plethora of sex that has been a concern to many fans, is wound back a bit in this novel (although there is a bit of girl on girl for what I think might be the first time), and the character development takes a step forward. And Edward is back – yay! He’s one of my favourite characters, and I love how his relationship with Anita has changed – I read him like a big brother figure to her, although I’m not entirely sure I should. Continue reading
I hate to say a book is “in the tradition” of anything, because saying this can give a false impression of the writing style. So, while Once Bitten, Twice Shy is in a similar vein (heh) to the Anita Blake series, this should not unduly influence your decision to read it. The similarities between Hamilton’s world of vampires and Rardin’s work in this novel are there, but at a superficial level. In both worlds, vampires are a known race and co-exist, to some extent, with humans in a world that is very much like ours.
And that’s about where the similarities end. Rardin takes this trope and successfully builds a complete world of intrigue and back story that draws in the reader and leaves you begging for more. Continue reading
This is the second book I’ve read by Sarah Kuhn, and she certainly has a handle on the geek aesthetic in her work. In One Con Glory, Kuhn basically unpacks the life of a die hard fangirl. In Heroine Complex, she explores superheroes (heroines) and throws in a bit of demon slaying on the side. What’s not to love?
Evie Tanaka isn’t a sidekick, merely the personal assistant for San Francisco’s only proper superhero, Aveda Jupiter. Evie and Aveda had been friends since preschool, but when a demon portal opened up eight years previously, Aveda gained a (smallish) superpower and transformed herself through strength of will and damn hard work into a kick butt superhero. Evie, on the other hand, was more than happy to ignore the unwanted gift she received that day, and after college subsumed herself in supporting Aveda’s lifestyle. Until the day when she has to take Aveda’s place and a threat means her own, unwanted, power is unleashed.
This book reminded me a little of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ “Cookie Cutter Superhero” and “Kid Dark Against the Machine” stories, in that it goes some way to interrogating the genre of superheroes – in this case, Kuhn makes a clear case for representation of non-white characters. Both her female leads are Asian-American (of different backgrounds, gasp!) and the point is made about them being inspired by a movie they loved in their youth, which had three Asian female leads kicking butt. I don’t think the importance of this can be underestimated – I love the quote from Whoopi Goldberg about seeing Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek and deciding that she could be whatever she wanted to be (and oh my, what goes around comes around – Ghostbusters‘ Leslie Jones gushes about Whoopie Goldberg being the reason she knew she could do comedy). In Heroine Complex, I think Kuhn both makes the same point (representation is essential) but also progresses the cause by offering protagonists who are not the generic white urban fantasy heroines we so often see.
If I have one complaint about the book, it’s that the worldbuilding was a little fuzzy for me, but to be honest, it didn’t really matter – the pacing was great, the story rollicked along at a good pace, and the characters were well-drawn and distinct from one another. Quite a big cast of characters but I never got lost in who they all were, although I would have liked more “screen time” for some (Rose the cop was fab!). And the sex scenes, while not prolific, were nicely steamy! I understand this is the start of a series and while it stands alone beautifully, (so don’t be put off!), I will definitely pick up the next instalment and would love to see more like it!
Hachette Australia (July 2016)
Half-breed “Weryd” Verity Fassbinder has the unenviable task of ensuring the human world and the Weyrd in Brisbane don’t trouble each other. It’s not easy and has already almost got her killed, despite her unusual strength. So when sirens start dying and children disappearing (again), alarm bells ring and Verity is on the job to try to solve the mysteries before more people die, especially those closest to her.
Building on Slatter’s story “Brisneyland by Night”, first published in the Twelfth Planet Press anthology Sprawl, Vigil expands Verity’s life and crime-solving journey far beyond that short (somewhat incorporated) piece into a rich and dark world that hides in the shadows of the almost-real. With several seemingly unconnected cases on her hands, Verity bounces from one mystery to another, often slightly behind the eight ball but trying desperately to prevent disaster, while at the same time managing to get involved in a relationship with a wonderful and entirely normal man. There’s a lot going on in this book, and at times it gets a little confusing, particularly in the first half of the novel (my one complaint), but there’s a good payoff for the reader in the end and it’s worth the tangled character web Slatter weaves.
It’s been a while since I’ve read much urban fantasy, but I very much enjoyed the Brisbane setting and seedy surreal nightside of the city. It made me laugh out loud when Slatter name-checked Nancy Napoleon (the lead character of fellow Aussie Tansy Rayner Roberts’ novella Siren Beat) and now in my head, the world of Verity is of a certainty the same one that Nancy inhabits, along with Peter M Ball’s Miriam Aster (from Horn), Steven de Selby from Trent Jamieson’s Death Works books (also set in Brisbane), probably with Dirk Flinthart’s Night Beast and Keri Arthur’s Riley Jenson characters… Look, it’s MY head canon and I’m going to stick with it!
Vigil is the first in a contracted trilogy, and I’m on board for this ride. Slatter has proven herself in the short form (and in extended interconnected worldbuilding with several excellent linked story collections), and I trust that the seeds sown in Vigil will bear fruit in the books to come. Recommended for readers who loved the Australian urban fantasy books mentioned in the previous paragraph, as well as work by Patricia Briggs and Seanan McGuire – the strong characters, detailed world building and action-packed story will not disappoint.
Narrelle M Harris
Pulp Fiction Press (2007)
There are a lot of supernatural dark fantasies about at the moment, so for Pulp Fiction Press to take a chance on a relatively unknown author in this genre, they must believe the story is something special. In this case, it’s a pleasant surprise to find they were not far off the mark. In The Opposite of Life, Harris has taken quite a different turn in the paranormal field. Continue reading