Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Shades of Green by Rhonda Parrish

So, I'm a little shy today, because I got this book for review from the author, so it's a fair bet she's going to be reading the review shortly. Of course I'll be my usual honest, nitpicky self, not to worry. I was afraid I was going to have to be scathingly rude and snipey, but I'm shy because I liked it, so I'm a bit giggly, and I'm shy because I'm still going to be nitpicky right in her face. Am I allowed to criticize when she's published and I'm not? I'm going with a resounding "yes." This entire blog is me criticizing published authors, so I think my opinion on that should be obvious. But that's probably an essay of it's own.

Anyway, the book. It's a novelette, which means it could be considered a very short novel, but it has the structure and scope of a short story. It's about the a girl who is the last swamp elf in the world and lives with the big lizard people (the Reptar) who hate her guts. She meets a human, falls in love with him, and has to choose between him and causing the destruction of the entire Reptar race.

First, the sniping. There are a lot of what I consider simple mistakes in the first ten or fifteen pages: "as you know, Bob," fantasy names that sound made up, etc. There just seem to be too many words on the pages, when those sentences could be much more streamlined and get to the point a lot faster. I don't want to have to sit and decipher oddly phrased sentences when we could be getting on with the plot. I also think the Reptar are too human--just humans wearing crocodile suits, really. I would expect a reptilian culture to be noticeably different from a primate culture, just for starters. They wouldn't build things the same way. But that was less important as the story went on.

After about twenty pages, I was far too interested to continue making notes. Rhonda's strength definitely looks to be in the area of plotting, (Twists! Reversals! A totally unexpected ending, but still a square peg in a square hole!) and worldbuilding to a slightly lesser extent. A lot of it is pretty standard fantasy fare; some of it is fascinating. The Reptars have a post-technological society centered around a magic stone that seems to be alive in some way. It kind of creeped me out, but it's supposed to be benevolent. I'm terribly curious. It reminds me of Interstellar Pig, and oh, how I love Interstellar Pig...! Also, I thought the romance was done really well. It rang true.

You can read the first chapter at Rhonda Parrish's site, as well as see a bigger picture of the cover. (I'm not crazy about most of it, to be honest, but I love the Reptar in the background and you can't see his teeth in my little picture.) Keep in mind that it gets much better than the first chapter, after the plot picks up. If you like it, you can buy it here, or go here to browse her other work. (More stories set in this 'verse, surely?)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent

Kaylee screams when people are about to die. Her "panic attacks" have already landed her in the hospital once, so she doesn't want to tell anybody now, but if she really can predict deaths, what is she supposed to do about it?

These really remind me of something I might have written when I was a tween. "Girl discovers she has special powers and joins the awesome secret society of other people with special powers, at least one of whom is a hot boy" kind of thing. Not terribly original, but here at least, really good. Fair warning: I'm going to swear in a paragraph or two.

My Soul to Take, the first book of the series, is mostly about introducing you to Kaylee, her friends and family including boyfriend Nash, and the world she lives in. The characters are all good (all of them are more than they let on in the beginning), especially Kaylee. She's got a great mixture of personality traits, so it's hard to sum her up in one or two keywords. She's self-conscious, but doesn't have an inferiority complex, tempestuous but not exhausting, sometimes kind of an idiot but only when she's really upset, and sometimes selfish but always trying to help. The story is half mystery and half romance (published by Harlequin Teen, here) and it just has that indefinable something that draws you in and makes you care.

I was worried that the second book, My Soul to Save, would be mostly teen wangst and relationship issues. That it wouldn't deliver on the fascinating ideas and potential the series was offering But not to worry: Save takes everything that was good about the first book and makes it TOTALLY AWESOME. We know who Kaylee is now, we know what she's capable of, so now we go and do some shit. Trips to the Netherworld! Showdowns with demons! Fame and fortune! And of course, relationship issues, but these weren't boring or wangsty. This was one of the best treatments of teen romance I've seen; passionate, but uncertain.

Vincent has succeeded in doing the one thing that every urban fantasy writer wants to do: She created a supernatural world and made me really believe it was there, totally alien, but right next to me. Kaylee has matured already, she's brave, she's smart, and she strong. I could totally see her as the heroine of an adult urban fantasy series (like Anita Blake or Harry Dresden) in ten or twenty years. It helps that I'm convinced Nash is evil, and that would be great backstory after the fact. (I have no evidence for this belief, he seems perfectly nice, but there's something he's not saying. Such as "I'm a serial killer" or "I'm a hellbeast in disguise" or something interesting like that.)

The third book (My Soul to Keep) comes out in June, and if you have a Kindle there's a prequel story called My Soul to Lose that you can order. Somebody please read this series and come theorize (and spaz) with me! Some similar books I'd recommend are Sucks to Be Me by Kimberly Pauley (review here) and Need by Carrie Jones (review here.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gladiatrix by Russel Whitfield

Some other reviews led me to believe I was going to hate this and deride it mercilessly for being utter crap, but I don't and won't. I kind of loved it, and I'll tell you why.

It's not because of the historical accuracy. That obviously wasn't a concern here. The story was based on one image, and focused on what might have happened to achieve a moment like that. This is a highly stylized, highly fetishized, highly modern-opinion-ized version of Rome.

It wasn't because the heroine was likeable, because she wasn't. There's not anything likeable about her at all, really, except maybe her perseverance. But she's interesting. I'm not asked to like her, only to understand her.

It was because this is a really great pulp action novel. Blood, sex, violence, exotic locations, intrigue. The writing flows well and isn't too stylized or self-aware, and it's no chore to read. It's not a timeless work of literature or one of my favorite books, but it'll only take one afternoon to read. Embrace the glorious VIGOR of it, the intensity that's so serious as to be a bit silly. It's liberating. It's the perfect vacation book, whether you're on vacation or not. A bucket of popcorn wouldn't be amiss, either.

It sort of reminded me of Mara, Daughter of the Nile... Mara is a cut above, though, better history and focused on absolutely delicious intrigue.

Buy Gladiatrix