Saturday, July 17, 2010

Strickly a Book Review

by Rachel Vincent
Mira Books
3 spangles out of five
Heat: mild, especially if you disregard the one unneeded explicit (and somewhat violent) sex scene

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many reviews. I find myself unfamiliar with some of the leading names in paranormal/fantasy/sf, so I’ve been checking various “favorites” lists and ordering books that have been recently released. Rachel Vincent showed up in several, so I tried her out.

Let me say here at the top that I’m not a huge fan of vampires and shapeshifters, though they’re all the rage. There are some of this genre that I do indeed follow, but they have to demonstrate creativity. Come to think of it, any book has to demonstrate creativity to me to make me stay with a series. (Except Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. For some ungodly reason I keep picking up new volumes. Sigh.)

First of all, color me confused with this particular book, because the copyright says 2008, when Amazon reports that it was just published in February of this year. Second, I’m still confused. It’s volume 2 of the series about werecats and one “tabby,” Faythe, in particular. This is her first-person story.

But she doesn’t really explain where we are and what events have already transpired that are important to the current book, not until we’re more than halfway into things. Even toward the end I was still learning important data that probably would have caused the story to have more impact and suspense for me. It's one thing to dribble in backstory (a good thing); it's another to be stingy on explaining basic plot elements so that a reader can understand what's going on from the start and be emotionally invested.

Faythe is one of those “kick-ass” heroines you see so much of these days, tending to think with her fists before letting her brains kick in. She is tempestuous and wants freedom from her Pride, but we don’t know why. She doesn’t seem to have any interests outside her Pride. She’s in a hot relationship with her Pride’s second in command, Marc, but won’t commit to him in any fashion.

It’s clear that the author knows her characters and loves each of them, but I can’t tell most in the pack apart. They all act in cute macho ways (including Faythe), are all super-hot (including Faythe) and don’t seem to possess any real differentiating factors. Faythe's a girl within the guy culture, so that helps.

The action of the book often consists of conversations punctuated with Faythe’s internal musings and parsings, as the entire group moves from the Alpha’s office to the kitchen, to the office, to the guest house, and back to the office. It gets to be a bit claustrophobic.

There is action and horror in the book, but it’s too little, too far between, and doesn’t really have a sense of urgency to it, since we don’t know all the significant backstory as to why it should be so urgent. Also, Faythe does some really dumb things over and over, so you wonder why she's supposed to be so disturbed about them if she doesn't treat them like a threat.

What I’d like to see in further volumes of this series is a serious trimming of Faythe’s parsings as well as more threads summed up, more events touched upon, by a book’s end. I want more substance in plot as well as Faythe. I want explanations and emotional consequences. I'd also like to see more consistency in power and skill sets. In this book, though Faythe is supposed to be highly skilled in martial arts, she can't counter the attack of an extreme amateur. She also conveniently doesn't display basic werecat senses at times when doing such would reveal threats to her, while at other times she's got those senses at her full disposal.

Also, I’d like to see why the author has made these people werecats in the first place instead of, oh, some kind of goofy militia that has a reason to do strange stuff alone out in the Texas boonies. They don’t seem to be werecattish enough, does that make sense? I want to see their werecat-dom play a difference in how they approach life. I want to see more how their society is put together that they have to remain so separate from humans. Show us werecat culture and legacy. I want the book to REEK of werecat instead of bringing it up every now and then seemingly only because it’s sexycool... and because wounds heal quicker in werecat form.

Overall, I think that people who have read the first volume of this and know what is going on, will enjoy this installment well enough. I think they’ll probably skip over a lot of the internal musings and long conversations, as well as the extensive descriptions of minute actions (ie, reaching for a Coke), while looking for some action or some scenes in which something actually happens.

I'm very glad I read this, because one of my wips has quite a few of the same problems. (As do many books out there.) Reading this book allowed me to see them from a new perspective; I think I can now be quite stringent with the material and "kill my babies," as it were.

I do think the author has a very positive future ahead of her. Every now and then the prose comes through with some beautiful imagery or poetry in the way the words are used. Once or twice there's a bit of dialogue that leaves you thinking, "Wow." I just wish she'd had a better editor for this book to help her get there sooner.


Beth Caudill said...

Rachel Vincent is not an author I've managed to get into yet. Great review.

Also have you added Deborah Cooke to your list? Her dragons are great and I think she addresses some of the issues you've brought up. You very much get their dragonness.

She has 4 or 5 books in the series now. I've read all that have been released so far (a new one is due in the next month or so.) While I generally recommend reading any series in order, I think the first 3 you can be read without too much trouble at any point. I would not recommend reading book 4 without reading the others. Too much happened to the hero in previous books for you to just jump in with this as the first book.

I look forward to future reviews.

Carol A. Strickland said...

Oh dear, something I have to read other books to "get"? But what if I'm not into her? Decisions, decisions... Oh, I'll try to hit that Deborah Cooke as it's released. Thanks for the heads-up! (Hope the book will be Kindle-friendly.)

Take the Miles Vorkosigan series as an example of how to do a great series. Each part stands very much on its own, but it's SO NICE that the publisher has collected the work and published it in chronological order. Not chronological as to publish date, but chronological as to Miles' life. ("Miles hits forty. Forty hits back." That's my favorite synopsis in the entire galaxy.) You can read the books separately but it's satisfying to know where the characters have come from and the adventures they've had in their past.

I love Miles Vorkosigan.