Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

CertainDarkThingsCertain Dark Things
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
2016

This book was listed on the tumblr post Adult fantasy books not by straight white men and only realized afterwards that Anna was already reading a book by the same author. This book was summarized as “vampire noir in Mexico city.” It is really good!

It’s a vaguely futuristic dystopian world where there’s so much extreme poverty that the futuristic elements are minor flashes that just highlight how nothing has changed for the vast majority of people. It’s also a world where all the vampire legends from different lands are based on real beings, and there are ten confirmed types of vampires. It’s only been a few decades since vampires were revealed as real creatures but it’s now the norm, and the norm is that vampires run several of the major drug cartels. So in addition to the conflicts between government and drug cartel, there’s also conflict between government and vampires, between different vampire species, and between different drug cartels. And it all gets extremely messy and extremely bloody.

While the novel switches out point of view between several different characters, our main character is Domingo, a human guy in his late teens I think, who starts off feeling pretty good about himself and his place in the world: he’s got a steady income picking through trash and finding things he can sell and a place of his own in an abandoned metro tunnel. And then he sees a beautiful woman and tries talking to her and she actually acknowledges him! How lucky is he?

And just, he is kind of lucky because of all the vampires that he could have met she needs help that doesn’t involve him dying. Mostly.

It is also very much a noir. The bad guys are the bad guys because they are truly horrifically evil and the good guys are the good guys because at least they’re not as bad as the bad guys. But it’s a gritty world and no one is truly innocent. In the end everything works out in the best possible way but there’s just no real chance at a happy ending.

Actually, I take that back, spoiler alert: the dog lives. So that’s happy.

Midnight Crossroad

A Novel of Midnight, Texas

By Charlaine Harris

Midnight_CrossroadI enjoyed Charlaine Harris’ True Blood series, both the books and the TV show, at least the first few issues of each, so I figured I’d check out her Midnight, Texas series. I watched the pilot episode and the characters and acting were all flat enough that I couldn’t stay engaged, but I was curious enough about the mystery itself that I decided to try the book.

Well, if the protagonist was blandly irritating in the TV show, he’s downright dislikeable in the book – self-centered, arrogant, and deeply uncharitable toward the other characters. Manfred is a psychic – mostly scam artist but with the occasional true sight, which is of absolutely no help in this first book – who needs to lay low for as yet unexplained reasons. The ghost of his grandma directs him Midnight, a simple crossroads of a town in Texas just chock full of eccentric characters.

I sort of assumed he was starting off unpleasant to create an arc of finally realizing his place among all the other supernatural weirdos in town, but it never really materialized. If anything, the other characters got increasingly unlikeable as the book went on.

We first meet Manfred’s landlord, Bobo, who initially seems attractive and pleasant, but then increasingly “naïve” to the point of stupidity. His girlfriend has disappeared, without leaving a note or taking any of her things, and he is currently bummed about being run out on. Of course the girlfriend is soon found dead in ditch, and his “aw, geez, I’m just so sad my girlfriend is gone, but there’s nothing to be done about it” attitude naturally makes him the prime suspect.

Manfred is our primary protagonist, but a good chunk of the book is also told from the perspective of his next-door neighbor, a self-identified witch named Fiji, who is quickly established as the heart of the community and I guess this story. She has been secretly pining for Bobo for years, and quickly mobilizes the community in his defense. I would have liked Fiji a lot more if she hadn’t had quite so constant an internal dialogue about how much she didn’t care that she was “curvy,” and “softer” than the other women in town.

Harris’ writing is always on the pulpy side, but this one seemed especially thinly sketched out, even for her. It was written just a few years ago, and I wonder whether her success in television has led her to focus more on that. With the concentration of varied ensemble of characters and sort of loosely tied together action scenes, it reads much more like the outline for a script than a novel to me. Unfortunately, it didn’t make for an engaging show, either.

—Anna

Strange Practice

61KZB80mVgLAnyone who spends ten minutes reading this blog would be able to tell pretty quickly that Strange Practice was going to be right up my alley. This initial entry in a series of magical mystery stories by Vivian Shaw follows Greta Helsing (yes, yes, her family dropped the van some time ago), a London physician dedicated to treating the city’s magical inhabitants. Mummies with feet problems? Vampire anemia? Ghouls who need psychiatric assistance? She herself may be human, but she has a calling to provide health care for mystical creatures likely to have issues accessing the NHS. There is an actual mystery here (crazy monks are murdering people, there’s a sort of nameless power from the dawn of time, etc.) but the real draw of this book is the assortment of characters that end up surrounding Greta. Some of the magical creatures she knows fit better into the modern world than others, but they all have to work together to save London and protect the secrets of its less-well known inhabitants.

This is Shaw’s first novel and the writing isn’t always effortless–there were definitely times when it felt like she was trying too hard to be clever and was getting in her own way. And I found that the point of view switched around too much for me to ever really feel settled into the story. Greta is nominally the main character and she is definitely the reader’s entry point into this world, but other characters (vampires, humans, demons, the villains of the story) also get so many chapters told from their perspectives that the ratio felt off to me. I’m hopeful that Shaw was trying to cram as many cool ideas and cool characters as she could into this first book, but that as she goes along she’ll start letting things breathe a little more.

But despite those quibbles about some elements of execution, I really enjoyed the book. The overall world created here was fascinating and very specific. I was left with the impression that this version of London has many more creatures with complex lives ad backstories that need Greta’s help, and that the group of vampires, demons, and humans that circles around her is well on the way to be becoming an odd little family. My Kindle version of this book included a teaser for the next one in the series, so it looks like I’ll have the chance to see what Greta and her team are up to next.

Kinsey’s Three Word Review: Entertaining urban fantasy

You might also like: Anything by Patricia Briggs or Ilona Andrews–I think the official Biblio-therapy position is that we are strongly in favor of those series. But Ben Aaronovitch’s supernatural mysteries, also set in London, would be good companions to this.

More from BookBub

The Witch Hunter

By Nicole R Taylor

Witch_HunterI wanted to keep my BookBub free-book lucky streak so badly that I tried to convince myself that The Witch Hunter was a good book until I just couldn’t lie to myself anymore. It starts off promising, if extremely derivative of Charlaine Harris’ True Blood series: antebellum vampires feuding with backwoods werewolves, with various women caught in the middle, all in swampy, small-town Louisiana.

Now, I actually liked Harris’ books quite a bit (before the series went off the rails entirely), but there were a couple of points that detracted for me, and this book actually corrects those issues right off the bat. The Witch Hunter features three female protagonists introduced early on, and all three are given distinct identities and relationships to each other, unrelated to the male characters. The central male protagonist comes across as a complete asshole, but in a refreshing change, all of the other characters fully recognize and deprecate this about him, though they also then excuse it to a ridiculous degree.

So that’s the good; here’s the bad. The writing and plotting are amateur-level sloppy. In fact, there are enough typos that I wondered whether the book was self-published without the involvement of any sort of editor. As the plot picked up, the characterizations, which I’d previously admired, couldn’t keep up and shifted so wildly from scene to scene that they all appeared either mentally deficient or psychotic. It was a drag to the final scene, which ends in a cliff hanger that I will not be following up on.

Entangled

By Nikki Jefford

EntangledEntangled had the reverse affect: I was groaning right off the bat, but once I’d settled into hating just about every character, protagonist and antagonist alike, I was drawn into the plot itself and looked forward to seeing where it went. The absurd plot was what originally drew me to the novel (well, that and being free): teenage witch Graylee dies mysteriously in her sleep, and even more mysteriously, wakes up several weeks later in the body of her twin sister. Only handsome, brooding warlock Raj, who had been lurking around Graylee recently, suspects the switch!

Well, that’s not exactly true: Graylee tends to tell just about everyone she meets, until a good half dozen people are in on the secret. This so-called ‘secret’ is that she and her twin switch off consciousness, each having control of the body on one day and then unconsciousness the next. Graylee complains extensively about how shallow, jealous, and malicious her twin is, while at the same time mocking less attractive classmates and the differently abled. She also seems to have an oversized antagonism toward her twin, which made me suspect an unreliable narrator, giving the book a greater sense of suspense and intrigue than it would otherwise have had. In the end, the unpredictable insanity of the plot saved this book for me – it wasn’t a good book by any stretch, but it was sure an entertaining one!

The City of Mirrors

By Justin Cronin

city_of_mirrorsI wasn’t going to review this book because it is the third in a trilogy in which I’ve already discussed the first two. However, the third book pissed me off so much that I had to rant. I am also about to spoil the hell of this book, starting right now, though I’ll throw a page break in before the more specific spoilers.

The City of Mirrors has a problem, and that problem is Timothy Fanning. The character Fanning is also known as “Zero,” as in Patient Zero, the original vampire. He is the main villain of the whole series, having orchestrated the spread of the vampire virus purposefully, though he has stayed mostly behind the scenes in the first two books.

Unfortunately, in the third book we get a much more in-depth look, via a 100-PAGE MONOLOGUE in which he gives his entire history, starting almost from birth, and it is just the most undiluted example of white male entitlement that I think I have ever read. I really wanted to believe that this was on purpose, to make a commentary on how dangerous this kind of unacknowledged privilege can be, but I had increasing suspicions that Cronin intended it to create a more complex villain with a sympathetic backstory. The monologue itself was insufferable, but the recipient of it, a previously strong woman, appears to receive it with sympathy and understanding.

Here’s where I’m about the spoil the hell of this book, by sharing a breakdown of his backstory.  Continue reading

The Passage

By Justin Cronin

The_PassageI’ve returned to apocalypses, this time with vampires! The Passage is basically the opposite of On the Beach; still very good but also very stressful. This apocalypse is caused by a virus that turns people into what the survivors call vampires, but also have some elements of zombies to them. The infected have an insatiable hunger and are very, very fast and strong, reminding me a great deal of the movie “28 Days Later,” which I also loved.

Author Justin Cronin gives this premise an amazingly wide scope, addressing the inner lives of the surviving humans, the viral-infected “vampires,” and the ineffable plan of the Old Testament God over almost a century of time. He is able to do all this because this book is over 700 pages, which I didn’t realize until I saw the long line of dots on my kindle. I was initially extremely daunted, but it starts with three very different storylines, told from multiple points of view, so it almost felt like reading three different books, thus breaking it up a bit. I was almost immediately hooked, but while I found it really hard to put down when reading, I also found myself resisting picking it up again, too, because it was just so emotionally devastating.

The thing is, both good and bad things happen to the characters, but the good things tend to be basic survival, like they were sure they were going to die and then they didn’t, while the bad things are horrible, heart-wrenching things done by garbage people in a garbage world. It wouldn’t be so rough if the author wasn’t so good at writing realistic characters. The first chapter was the most difficult for me, though: such a grim look at humanity that I felt that the vampires would be a relief. (They weren’t.)

It was both a relief and a bit of a shock to the system when I finally finished it, but it turns out The Passage is just the first in a trilogy. I wasn’t sure my heart could stand it, so I took a break for a week to read my previously reviewed Mycroft Holmes, and then jumped right back in with the second book, The Twelve.

The_TwelveThings…don’t go well in The Twelve. Even though there is a third book due next spring, I wasn’t convinced that anyone was going to survive this one. While some do, humanity itself has gotten even worse, so this book has less of the small hopeful details of the previous book, while it ups the game on the gritty ugliness.

Spoiler/trigger warning: Continue reading

Magic Breaks

By Ilona Andrews

Book CoverEach of the first three books of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series was better than the last, but once they passed that trilogy mark, each subsequent book got a little more joyless and plodding. Magic Breaks is the seventh book (of what was initially planned to be a seven-book run, but has now been extended to ten planned books) and the first to be released in hard cover,* so it was the first that I decided not to buy and instead checked out from the library. By halfway through the book, I was starting to think this might be the last book of the series I read at all.

I had initially been attracted to the series because it has such an unusual approach to the vampire/werewolf genre and it was laugh-out-loud funny. The last several books have lost pretty much all humor, just sort of slogging through long gory descriptions of violence. The first half of this book felt like a bit of a chore.

However, much like Patricia Brigg’s vampire/werewolf series, this one ends with such a game-changer that I am once again hopeful for the series. The violence continues to escalate, until things (temporarily) resolve in a very interesting way that should clear out some of the distracting clutter of previous story lines in a very interesting and potentially very funny way.

—Anna

*Unfortunately, as much as the authors and publisher try to market this hard cover edition as a possible introduction for new readers, it really isn’t a stand-alone book, and has to be read in the order of the series.