Tag Archives: vampires

Review: Night Myst

…I really wanted to start the week with a good one for my birthday, but I’m going in the order of my migraine-reading. (Next week will be a good one though!). And Night Myst should have hit all the right buttons for me. There’s a lot of fantasy elements in it that also factor into my own series, Sun’s Guard, and that I just like seeing played with in new and interesting ways. And in that sense, this series didn’t disappoint. But for the rest… Well, let’s get into the meat of things.

Night Myst by Yasmine Galenorn follows the return of the Indigo Court into a world where vampires, were-creatures, fae, and magic users are in an uneasy truce… a truce the new Court is about to break. Enemies of the vampire’s Crimson Court (and for good reason), they aren’t afraid of ruining the lives of humans or fae to get their revenge. Enter Cicely Waters, a witch with a crappy past who is finally feeling the call to return home. But her childhood/teenage sweetheart, the fae prince Grieve, has changed because of the new Court returning in his woods, and it is going to get Cicely involved in games of politics that will threaten her physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Okay, let’s get the ugly out of the way. I had severe, and I do mean severe, issues with the Crimson Court’s dealings with Cicely in the book, in particular the ending-up required blood giving. It was rape. Pure and simple. And the way Galenorn handled the aftermath of it was just as atrocious as her writing it to begin with. I expected better, I really did. I’m pretty open minded and have the philosophy that as long as your lifestyle isn’t hurting me or embarrassing the crap out of me, do what you will. And as a writer, I’ve got more curiosity than my moral senses are sometimes comfortable with. But the way this writer portrays the BDSM community is just as bad as Fifty Shades of Grey, only without any stupid attempts at redeeming, it’s just evil. This is further enforced by the rape scene. And having sex with your lover immediately afterward is not an instant band-aided, especially with the screwy relationship Cicely and Grieve have. Nothing like what you expect when the protagonist is of an alternative life style herself.

There. That’s done. To turn this into a more positive note, I did think the way the vampire and the ousted-fae court tried to manipulate Cicely was perfect. So many times, vampires or fae are humanized, even if the book tells us that these races are manipulative bargainers, we don’t see it. This book showed it, over and over and over again. It was impossible for Cicely to stay ahead of them, and she didn’t really bargain well with them, usually getting scared to the point of being dumb. Or being dumb on behalf of Grieve (I’ll get to this). It eventually got overwhelming, and not in a good way. Scene questions, from a writing perspective (have I talked about this, I should check) should end in, “No,” or, “Yes, but,” until the very end of the book. If there had been a couple more, “Yes, but,” endings to scenes, it would have been perfect, with us seeing the manipulative factors to the races, but less dumb reactions on behalf of our protagonist.

Characters time…only, there isn’t much to say. There was a decent sized cast, but so much of the focus was on being afraid, both of outside and inside causes, and Cicely kept running off to be alone or with Grieve, we didn’t see much of our motley crew, outside of the cousin’s boyfriend possibly being a butt-munch, and the cousin herself being messed up via ignoring her powers (which is always bad). Mostly by ways that don’t balance with the impression we’re supposed to have of deceased/missing characters. (Lots of characters are mentioned, then are revealed to be dead, missing, or otherwise not involved, get used to this.) Similarly, the other courts are so cluttered, it’s a constantly rotating image that is difficult to keep up with. In the end, the only two who are really solid…ish…as characters are Cicely and Grieve. This works for romance novels, but if that is where the focus is supposed to be, the side cast needs pruned down.

Cicely and Grieve. Oh lord. Okay, let’s establish this: I am okay with the reincarnated lovers thing. Believe it or not, this is a trope I like. I’m also okay, if it is written well, with immortal men watching a girl grow up and falling in love with her as an adult. But that’s not what happens here. Grieve loves Cicely…even if it is how Cicely will be as an adult..when she’s a child. And really starts the manipulation early. This is a particular kind of child offender, so while other people are cooing over it, I can’t get over that bit of backstory. It’s a delicate balance to write, I know (this is spoken as someone who ships Thor’s daughter with Fandral in MCU, trust me, I KNOW), and this one just strays too far. Grieve as a character is so bipolar and confusing, all it does is feed my image of him as this creepy man who needs cut out of Cicely’s life immediately. Some of this is plot related, but it again, wasn’t handled well.

Cicely herself is very much a power-fantasy, wish-fulfillment character (which makes the rape scene even creepier, actually, in a way). Judging by author pictures, it might even be a case of author insert, though that could also be wrong. Regardless, I don’t have problems with these characters, as my hatred of the term Mary Sue can attest to, and outside of her plot, I like most of Cicely well enough. I have to say most. Her background got hella-complicated with the half-fae, reincarnated vampiric fae, thing she ended up having, which irked me to have dumped all in one book, and her love for Grieve made her dumb to the point of being a complete idiot who I couldn’t like for that reason alone, levels. But if those had been toned down, and the writer didn’t steal any agency her character had with her plot, this was very much a character I could have gotten behind. Seriously, if she had focused on the reincarnated thing for this book and left the half-fae part for the second book and just foreshadowed, I’d be okay (as long as it doesn’t go too far beyond this). Similarly, I know love makes you do crazy things, but Cicely was having all the markers of an abusive relationship, which is not cool. But if she gets slapped out of it later, this could work. So not a bad character overall.

Here’s the really good note: the world building was well done. Cramped, but well done. Seriously, when the only problem I have is everything is too conveniently located in the same town for no real reason, that’s a good sign. This writer has good ideas, has a good knowledge base, and builds accordingly. The antagonists aren’t just evil for no reason. Myst has valid reasons for what she is doing, completely valid, and they are explained well. When it comes to things like being too cramped, usually why things are happening in a particular place can be explained in a future book, if there just isn’t room without making things clunky, so it’s something I’m pretty quick to forgive. Now, did the ice spider things freak me the crap out? Yes, but I’ve got serious arachnophobia. I can’t even handle dead Aragog from Harry Potter. Again, free pass (except okay, I wish we’d seen earlier hints of spiders, but maybe I had blinders on and missed them. It happens).

Will I read more of this series? No. I can’t. The vampires left too big of a sour taste in my mouth, as did Grieve. Unless the very next book involves some character deaths of a very specific nature, this series is unsalvageable for me. I honestly can’t even recommend this series to others to read. But, and this is a big but, I am willing to give this writer another shot…with a different series.

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Review: Charming

I always was more of a Prince Adam girl rather than Prince Charming, which ironically is perfect for this book, Charming by Elliot James. It takes the conventional role of Prince Charming (this time referring to just a general prince-hero type in fairy tales, rather than the Disney reference), and tries to throw a spin on them. Is it all that original? Not really, but A for effort.

The novel follows John Charming, who is the black sheep of the family…or should I be punny and say the wolf of the family? But everything has gone to hell, so he’s living under a false identity, tending bar in a small town. Or at least, he is…until a valkyrie and a vampire walk into the bar. John is being dragged back into the world he thought he’d left behind. The question is, will he make it back out again unchanged?

I think I’ll start with world building this time. I actually thought there were some things to it that were really well done…and others that came across misogynistic…and then a couple that could have used some fleshing out. For example, the Knights Templar and the idea of the Pax Arcana I thought worked well. The Knights weren’t made into this blanket of sameness that covered the whole world, the geas made it clear that there were going to be Knights whether they wanted to be or not, and the other elements just flowed together well. There were degrees and layers to it. Similarly, it touched on other orders founded by different cultures where the idea of feudalism hadn’t taken root yet, which helped give dimension.

But for our particular Knight, I find his existence as the only one of his kind to ever exist really illogical. The odds just don’t seem right to me. Rare, sure, but I feel like there should be history there. Similarly, even though a ghost ended up being kind of a big deal for subplots and others for red herrings, they really weren’t touched on beyond Sig’s “I see dead people” shtick and what little she mentions. John should know at least enough about this, and the book has enough info dumps in it, one more really couldn’t have hurt. (More on this later.) Without the explanation, it left the ghost elements feeling like an after-thought to try and make Sig work in the story and be vital to it.

Similarly, I have some issues with how he decided to interpret the Valkyrie myth. Obviously, I’ve done my own dabbling in this, so I’m a little biased. I think I’m capable of keeping my distance and respecting other people’s vision…but this one just irks me. I know someone out there is going, “As long as she doesn’t have a kid, it’s fine, right? You’re over-reacting.” And maybe I am. But for a Valkyrie to lose their immortality, and if I inferred correctly a good chunk of their power, just by having a daughter seems like a really messed up weakness, and a way of removing agency from this particular kind of creature. You don’t see gender or physical sex factoring into other creatures’ weaknesses. I understand how it can seem like I’m splitting hairs–my swan maidens are vulnerable by their swan skins being stolen, which are taken by human men to capture them for wives. But I make it clear that this is an assault in all meanings of the word, no matter how “nice” the man is. This has the overtones of it being a choice and responsibility of the woman, when it isn’t.

Okay, moving on. Plot. It actually wasn’t that bad. It definitely lagged at places and could have used some tightening up. I get that there was some play going on with the full moon, and that’s why he had the number of days leading up to everything, but it was a bit too much, meaning there was a lot of dead space. And when writers have dead space…they info dump. I do it, other writers do it. It’s a fact. And sometimes editors let us get away with it. In this case some of the information was helpful. In others…not so much. I could have done without it, or done with some more information on the parts that were left gaping (see ghosts and such). I did like the fake out before the big confrontation in the white room of pain. Weaknesses was the relative doppelganger (really, really lame), and the romance as a whole.

Which brings me to characters. John on his own was a strong voice. Not a unique voice, but a strong one. His sudden glee over his soul felt like it came out of nowhere. I mean, I get that he was raised to believe that he was a monster, but I guess there just wasn’t enough of this worry conveyed before his revelation. Side characters were about as strong as I expect from side characters. The priest in particular had a wonderful freshness to her that I wish John had, it would have helped him stand out more among the crowd of werewolf (or almost werewolf) male protagonists out there. There was a distinct lack of a villain voice. The antagonist feelings were split between a member of the group and hunting for an enemy vampire…who we didn’t really see until the end. We learned about her, never actually saw her. The plot survived, but it left us lacking a secondary strong voice to combat with John and bring balance to the book.

I think James realized he needed a second strong voice, which is why the romance subplot got introduced and Sig got pushed more to the front. It was a strong-arm attempt, and it was an awkward situation to read. I like Sig, I just don’t know if this was the best way to write her into John’s life. Heck, I’m not sure I even like her and John as a thing. Was there chemistry there? Yes. But even with how drawn out the timeline was, it felt rushed. Surprisingly, I wish she had been pushed back a little bit more until a later book, and let things progress more naturally.

For all my nitpicking, I actually loved this book. Ginny wasn’t sure enough of where it was going for sequels, which I can understand, so I might try the second and see how it goes on my own. But even if you are just reading the first as a stand alone, I recommend it. Yay for starting the New Year off on a good foot! Hopefully the rest of 2016 goes just as well.


Review: Three Days to Dead

And we dive into the Ginny box! This time with Three Days to Dead by Kelly Medling.

Evangeline “Evy” Stone has been dead for a few days. Not that you would know it, since she’s still walking around. Just…not in her own body. She doesn’t remember what happened, not even how she died, for the last couple of days. All she knows is the other members of her team are dead, her organization has a kill order on her, and someone brought her back from the dead for a reason. She doesn’t know who to trust, but what she does know is she has a deadline before she goes back to being dead to figure it all out.

…Sorta… I’ll get there.

Let me start off by saying, this book started off so strong. I mean, amazingly strong, I had high hopes. The female lead was strong and powerful, completely capable of taking care of herself but also with working as part of a team. The male lead had an actual fault that came around to bite him in the ass. Hugely. Multiple times even. There was a healthy bit of mystery, an obvious plot going on that I could track. The setting was described just well enough that I knew how things appeared without it getting in the way, and I really liked the world building that was done with the gargoyles and the vampires.

Okay, the only nitpick I had was there were a lot of terminology being thrown around for the various fantasy creature. Bloods, Halfies fae and Fair Folk, blah blah blah. Pick a word and stick with it, please.

The problem started roughly in the third act. To begin with, we had the restoration of part of Evy’s memory, which included a violent rape which is part of how she died. We all know that I hate rape as a backstory or even in plots at this point, it’s just never handled well and I think it just helps spread its power over women, which is screwed up. I will give Medling credit, since Evy does have issues from the rape that remain, so she isn’t instantly better. But I still don’t like it, especially since it felt rather unnecessary at that point. We had known it had been a violent death, and torture had been part of it. Did we really have to go down the rabbit hole of fantasy rape? I don’t think so. It was done to add more layers of drama.

And then things got weird. It had started out really well as this gritty, urban fantasy mystery story, with the fae sort of being mentioned but not being the focus. And then suddenly, we’re thrown into not only fairies and gnomes and earth spirits, but summoning of some Big Bad, Bad Guys who have had various names throughout history. I was tracking a bigger-purpose behind what all had happened besides it being a bit personal against Evy, but this took it too far. I was left wondering what happened to the book I had started with, since this wasn’t it.

Final nail in the coffin: the ending for the romance. Through most of the book, it had been established that one was going to die or the other. The whole thing felt very shoe-horned in to begin with, since Evy wasn’t set up to love the character the same way, but he kept pushing his affections on to her until she agreed to them. But because the writer had written herself into a corner, she actually broke her own rules of magic in order to save her (rather weak) romance. I was annoyed.

Signs that a book is very good but has a bad ending is I will unconsciously try and fix it. About two days after reading this book, just that happened. I probably would have cut (most) of the fae aspects out, focusing on our main villain. He could be up to many of the things we saw earlier in the book with strange creatures appearing, but I’d give him a different goal, since there is a lot that he could have been doing. Then, I honestly would have left the love interest dead, kicked Evy over to the Handler who just would not die, which makes him all sorts of awesome, and is old enough that feelings won’t make things unnecessarily complicated on either side, and then bam, room for new love interest in a second book. An easy fix, but someone just didn’t see it.


Review: Moon Called

So I dug into the Ginny Box (which is officially its own tag now) and pulled this beauty out. And actually, it’s pretty decent, which I know is a welcome change of pace around here.

Moon Called follows Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson, who despite growing up with werewolves and having one for a neighbor, is in fact not a werewolf. She’s something a little bit different (spoiler: she’s a play on the Native American walker myths, more on this later). But that doesn’t stop her from getting snout-deep in werewolf politics. When a runaway new wolf shows up on her shop’s doorstep, it drags her back to a world she thought she left behind and into a future where werewolves are no longer a secret…like a lot of fairy kind.

I’ll start with the elephant in the room. What the heck is a walker? Well, in Native American myth, it’s someone who has the ability to walk in another skin (usually a coyote or mountain lion). Now, this is the first real issue I have with the book. I don’t think that Natives have first dibs on their own stories, to a certain extent. There are some universal concepts that I think all writers should be allowed to play with. The walkers, for example, are similar enough to werewolves that I honestly feel like that as long as they are treated the same and don’t have ethnic ties, we’re cool. So instead of being “walkers,” with the Native ties, they are all shapeshifters, just some are wolves and some are coyotes and others mountain lions. The other alternative is if the writer his/herself is Native, in which case I back off, since I’m obviously not in a place to argue about Native culture and it’s all on them at that point if they link it to their culture or not.

Not the case here. Not only is Brigg’s a non-Native as far as I can tell (feel free to correct me, folks), but her character is supposedly half Native but ignored by her father’s family and people. That irks me. That beyond irks me. Maybe it’s because I’ve taken enough Native American studies/literature courses to know the boundaries, maybe it’s because I’ve grown up more culturally aware because of where I’m from. I don’t know. I just know that the Native aspects of this story really weren’t given the respect they deserved. If you are GOING to go there, you need to be respectful of the culture and at least attempt to give them some sugar with the bitter…instead of just bitter. At least with the first book. Maybe the rest of the series gets better?

Okay, enough with the pessimism. The good news is that Mercy is awesome. We have several powerful male characters in this book, and not only does Mercy stand up to them, she thumbs her nose at them a couple of times, which I always appreciate seeing. She’s also in an unconventional career, and even before her degree change to history, she was in engineering, which is another (sadly) unconventional choice. In the process, she never lost her femininity or her own integrity as a character, which I value. The only thing that I wish was that there were more like her. Like, we sort of get hints about the vampire lady and one or two of the females being on the same level of Mercy. But most of the attention that isn’t on Mercy is on the boys, so we don’t get to see it.

As far as the plot is concerned, it gets a little tangled up in the middle, which is normally for the first book in a series where the writer is trying to blind side you. There were just too many false trails being placed to figure out what was going on with Mac, made further complicated by the attack on Adam and Mercy going back to the pack that raised her. Add the vampires and it became an absolute monster to keep track of, especially since most of the names are on the forgetful side. Don’t get me wrong, this is much preferable to Lucas making syllables up. But it did make keeping everyone straight in their allegiances…entertaining, to put it mildly. It was full of action, though, and the main character is constantly sticking her nose into things, so you aren’t being told what happened. You’re seeing Mercy figure it out herself or being an active part of it.

This is not the first world where the fae/vampires/werewolves/whathaveyou have come out of the supernatural closet, even for someone like me who doesn’t read much urban fantasy. I do think the approach was interesting, with the set up of fae reservations and the way some fae were forced out while others made the decision for themselves. Again, I feel like this could have been awesome to relate back to Mercy being half-Native and could have been a really cool tie in, but…nothing was done with it. I’m not even sure of its place in this world, other than Briggs thinking it was a logical/cool idea. But the dynamics of the werewolf pack (as misogynistic as it is) were well-thought out, I thought, though obviously females being set as submissive annoyed me.

Overall… Eh. It didn’t completely blow my mind, but I didn’t want to throw it against the wall. It was fairly well written, if a bit troubled in places because of plot, with more zigs and zags than it needed but plenty of action. I liked the main characters fairly well, I just wish we had another strong female on Mercy’s side, rather than lurking in the shadows as existing, just not relevant. And the concept had good legs, it just…wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own. Maybe the second book will be better? We’ll see if it’s in the Ginny Box!


Blood + (anime) Review

Part 2 of my little series here, this time with the anime that got me interested in the franchise to begin with. I think Blood + will always be my favorite anime, so it’s nice to review it and share some of why I love it so much.

Much like Blood: The Last Vampire, the series follows Saya on her hunt for monsters. But there were some definite changes for the anime series. For one, Saya begins the first season as a normal high school girl and part of an adopted family. A monster attacks her school one night, trapping Saya. But a mysterious man known as Haji forces her to drink his blood, hypnotizing Saya. She uses a sword laced with her own blood to crystalize the monster. At first, Saya is horrified by what she’s done, and refuses to fight, despite the near-orders from a man named David on behalf of Red Shield. But when her father is injured and almost turned into one of the monsters, she takes the first steps on her journey. It takes four seasons for the truth to come to light about Saya’s past and her relation to the enemy Red Shield is sworn to fight. In the process, we are given a huge cast of colorful characters, each adding another piece to the past and to the present. The ending of the anime is full of sorrow and grief, but with an edge of hope for the future.

Obviously, I’m leaving details out of that summary, but that’s because a) it would take way too long to summarize four season (fifty episodes) neatly and b) I don’t want to spoil anything. Animation wise, it’s spectacular for its time and it still holds up today, at least in my opinion. Saya’s skirt length in the first half annoys me a little, but it gets better, so I let it go. When it comes to the historical character designs, they did very well with the costumes being authentic. Lewis’s design is a little racist, but I’ve seen much worse in anime, and all things considered, I let it go. It really doesn’t hit you how bad it is until you look at it in hindsight. The only thing that sort of irks me is there is a bit of generic work for the background or arc specific characters. I wish they had been given a little more effort.

The huge cast of characters and the sheer level of back story might be why I love this series so much. To begin with, for once we don’t have this airheaded whiny baby for a protagonist! Oh happy day! (You have no idea how happy this makes me, seriously.) Admittedly, Saya doesn’t want to fight, and often struggles with being expected to, but I found it didn’t really bother me as much, especially as more and more of her back story came to light. Considering her relation to the enemy, without the hatred she rightfully has for them, she wouldn’t want to fight them. Once her memories are back, it makes a lot more sense, as does her final wish that she managed to get Haji to agree to. And when she comes to terms with what she is, after what it costs her, you can see that she is trying so hard to be tough when all she wants to do is fall apart. Even in the end, that tough part falls aside as her kind nature comes through towards her greatest enemy. It takes the combined efforts of both Kai and Haji to get her to change her mind about what she deserves.

Which gets us to our male leads. For the first two seasons, it’s pretty much Haji and Kai, Saya’s older adopted brother. I could never get behind Kai/Saya, just because they were raised as siblings, plus he was just annoying to me. Very much the usual anime protagonist, thankfully this anime proceeded to smack him down and show him exactly how ill-suited he initially was to help his sister. After he was pretty much removed as a romantic interest, I liked him much better. By then, he had matured a good deal, and was taking his sister’s fight a lot more seriously. Haji came into the series with the obvious markers as being the romantic interest. His devotion to Saya can border on the creepy occasionally, but considering their relationship and what has happened to him over the years, I can’t blame him. He had a horrible burden to carry with him over the years, and he did so out of love. The second half introduces a third love interest, Solomon, who is on the enemy’s side. I’ve always felt like Solomon was just in love with Saya because instinct, or what his big brother Amshel convinced him was supposed to be their instinct, told him he was supposed to. And because he was that sort of dreamer type, he went along with it, even if it went much further than Amshel had intended.

The rest of the cast is far too huge for me to go into detail. There’s Red Shield, there’s the historical allies and enemies, there’s the Sif (my favorites), there’s the Cinq Fleches Group… To go into explaining them would not only spoil the series, but take me more words than I want to spend. I will spend a little time on who is described as the primary antagonist, though I really consider her the secondary one: Diva (Amshel is the primary for me, always will be). My god, she is amazing. I think one of her lines in the end of the series describes her best, “Now Saya, that’s not fair. Only you were treated like a human.” She really raises the question if what is wrong with her is nature or nurture, and she inspires pity from the audience rather than straight hatred, a nice change. As for why the Sif are my favorite… They are set up to be this force to be manipulated, and they fight against it, struggling for survival even as they die one by one, just because of how they are created. I can’t help but wish they would get that chance at life.

Plot wise, there is a lot going on in this series. It really can be divided into two halves: before the destruction of the Red Shield’s headquarters, and then a year after (yep, there’s even a time skip). Before, it really focuses on the memories that Saya has forgotten, and trying to find their main enemy, Diva. There is also the Sif’s sideplot, and the actions of the antagonists, who aside from Diva are leading up to something. Then there is what Diva is wanting, which is really ambiguous at that point in the series. The second half is Saya desperately trying to find Diva before she goes to sleep (her big sleep which lasts for thirty years), while the plans of the Cinq Fleches group, the survival of the Sif, and Diva’s wants all come together in a climactic final two episodes. I really didn’t find a lot of plot holes, and what few there were would have slowed the series down too much, so I can understand why there was no follow-through. Even the timeskip made sense to me. The plans we saw being put in place in the first half need time to ferment, and at least two of the protagonists needed time to grow and deal with their grief. I wish the ending had pushed on the hope aspect (as I’m covertly referring to it) a little more, but that’s a personal opinion, and there’s fanfiction for that.

The setting was possibly the most far-reaching I’d seen in a serious anime like this. It doesn’t stay in Japan like a bad cliche. Instead, it goes from Japan to Vietnam to Russia to France to the US… Very much a global-span, which makes a lot of sense with the plot. Some of the world-building is confusing as it is presented to you, but once you lay it all out after seeing the series, it does make sense. Basically, the world-building on vampires requires a bit of Fridge Logic to make it work. Of course, that’s fine by me, I like that element to a show, where it makes me think about it, as long as it makes sense. Don’t get me started on when it doesn’t. At times, it felt like it was pushing it (my fan theory is that the Sif aren’t created, they were initially real humans, but that only has limited backing. The cloning still feels stupid), but I was able to swallow it while I watching it, and it didn’t kill my love for the story, so I guess it got away with it.

Overall, the show is a bit like a very rich desert. Let’s say one of those giant slices of chocolate cake they serve at Cheddar’s (never eat one alone, seriously. It is meant for sharing. With like, four people). There is a big cast, a complicated story, and an equally complex world, and it takes its sweet time telling it to you so you don’t get overwhelmed. Layer upon layer upon layer. It is one of my favorites, and I definitely recommend it. Just, pace yourself.