Book Review: Shadow Bound (Kellison)

June 2, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Shadow Bound will be released June 29, 2010 by Dorchester Publishers (Mass Market Paperback, $7.99 on Amazon). It is Erin Kellison’s debut novel.

Twenty-six years ago, the spirit called Shadowman fell in love with an ailing woman who lived only long enough to bring his daughter into the world. Six years ago, Adam Thorne’s brother used monstrously inhuman abilities to murder his parents. The events seemed unrelated from the outside. But when Adam, now head of the Segue Institute founded for the study of wraiths like his brother, goes looking for Talia O’Brien, expert on near-death experiences, he finds that the young anthropology PhD is something wholly outside of human or monster. She, too, has been affected by the growing menace of the wraiths, but this can’t account for her ability to wrap darkness around herself like a cloak and sense the thoughts of others through touch. Adam had wanted her for her expertise, but she might just be the weapon that he needs.

I picked this book out to read because I love the idea of Talia’s heritage and the powers she inherited from it, and for the first half of the book or so I immersed myself happily in Kellison’s rich descriptive pose and driven characters. Talia and Adam were both decently-developed, and carried most of the story without too much help from side characters. I liked them each well enough alone, until they started getting to know each other.

Almost as soon as they were in a room together and conscious, the two had the hots for each other. Well, okay, they’re both attractive adults– they’re allowed. What bugged me was the fact that this instant desire didn’t abate at all for the entire book and kept cropping up at inappropriate moments. Talia is complaining about having to save Adam’s ass? I don’t need to hear that it is a very fine ass indeed right that second. It also seemed somewhat improbable that Talia would be a powerful supernatural being, incredibly hot, and a doctor– this wasn’t a huge issue, but maybe Kellison should have picked two out of the three. I wouldn’t have minded if Talia was only decently attractive, since that would have made more sense in regards to the fact that she seems completely unaware of her own magnetism.

For all that they found each other so attractive that they couldn’t concentrate on much else without mentioning it from time to time, the pair had a lot of issues to iron out. It seemed like every time they bonded over something, they would instantly find a reason to shut each other out and feel bad about it, and themselves. For the most part these were reasonable things to have problems with, but they were repeated ad nauseam in a way that made me feel as if the entire relationship was a step forward and a step back over and over. This pretty much sums up my problem with Shadow Bound— it’s a great premise with suitably scary villains and a good high-stakes quest, but little flaws in and between the characters become progressively more irritating as time goes on and make it harder and harder to enjoy the book. By the end, I wanted to take Talia, Adam, and their ill-timed sexual urges and dump them all in a lake.

My last, smallest complaint– and this much I admit is me being a literary snob –is the fact that the author on several occasions drew connections between Talia and “Sleeping Beauty”. This was barely connected to the plot at all, and was more of a side note for interest, and the earliest version of “Sleeping Beauty” that I know of is called “Sun, Moon, and Talia.” However, the casual way in which Kellison mentioned this makes me think she’s never read “Talia,” as the story itself is one of the most morally perverted pieces of folklore I’ve ever read. If you want to see what I’m talking about and don’t mind a little gouge-your-eyes-out fairy-tale fun, you can read it here.

My final word on Shadow Bound: pick it up for an interesting mix of dark fantasy and modern fairy-tale, but only if you don’t mind a few character flaws that really should have been ironed out.

This book contains explicit sexual content.


Book Review: Ash (Lo)

March 6, 2010

From a distance, I thought she was a puff of ash. Clever.

I try to judge books by their characters and story rather than blunt subject matter, but when I heard that someone had written a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, I couldn’t help my gut reaction: Yes! You go, Malinda Lo!

As a brief “public service announcement” (as Lo herself calls it on her blog): yes, I myself am gay, and I’ve been openly so since the day I figured it out. I am also a lover of fairy-tales and their retellings, especially those by Robin McKinley and Donna Jo Napoli, Shannon Hale, Gale Carson Levine, and others like them. Their romances, I might note, are straight. I like to read about love between men and women, but there’s a certain thrill to picking up a romance that speaks to me in a highly personal way. Part of what appeals to us as readers in fairy-tales is the understanding that yes, you too can have a happy ending. Love really can conquer all. Ash sends a much-needed message to young adults and all of its readers, I feel: Happy endings aren’t reserved for those who want “traditional” love. Love conquers all no matter what form it takes, and love isn’t wrong.

At the same time, though, this isn’t a book where the author beats you over the head with “OMG guys look at me I’m writing about lesbians!” Lo has mentioned in the teaser video for Ash that the fact that Ash falls in love with a woman is secondary to fact that she falls in love,  and says elsewhere on her website that originally, she did fall in love with the prince. It was only upon rereading her own manuscript that Lo realized, at the prompting of a friend, that it wonted for romance with Kaisa.

Okay, so /rant. On to judging the book by its characters and story.

Since this is a retelling of Cinderella, some elements are to be expected: the dead mother and cruel stepmother, the father that is often absent and soon dies as well. Aisling, called Ash, (which I felt was a delightful transformation of the impetus for “cinder” names) has two stepsisters, the younger of whom is traditionally kinder to her, and she is the sole hardworking servant of the household.

In this story, however, there are a few key differences beyond the LGBT twist. Instead of a fairy godmother, Ash has Sidhean, a mysterious fae man who warns her of the danger of his realm even as he presents a promise to steal her away. Ash, still grieving for her mother and downtrodden by her life as a slave, wishes to be stolen away by the faeries, tales of whom she has always loved. This changes when she meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress.

Without revealing too much about the book, it’s a wonderful retelling which contains elements of both the Perrault and Grimm’s versions, but is still entirely original. I believe that Ash’s original desire to be stolen away by the fairies is an allegory for something which real teens feel far too often: suicidal thoughts, and that this makes her finding Kaisa as a reason to live again that much more powerful. Neither of the young women is masculine or “butch,” and though Kaisa is the picture of a strong, confident young woman, Ash herself is somewhat submissive. I credited this to a quiet nature and to her last several years spent being trod on. All the same, even as Kaisa rescues Ash from her misery, in the very end the young heroine must save herself from Sidhean’s entanglement.

The ending itself was somewhat confusing, but for the sake of the rest of the story I’m willing to go along with it on the premise that Ash herself isn’t quite sure what happened. Perhaps someday (yeah, right) I’ll have a chance to speak to Malinda Lo and see how she defends it. Four stars.

Book Review: Iron Kissed (Briggs)

February 19, 2010

*Spoiler Alert*

Fun fact: Mercy's tattoos change on every cover.

I have read the first four Mercy Thompson books and loved each of them, but Iron Kissed is by far the best, though, due to a graphic rape scene, it is not for everyone. Wow, you’re saying, she’s sick: her favorite book in the series is the one with the rape? However, part of what attracts me to this book is how Patricia Briggs portrays the psychological impact it has on the victim; to me, at least, it seems very accurate. Though she’s no sniveling coward, it is, perhaps more often than we would like for a character we love, overpowering in its horror. Briggs doesn’t downplay this, nor does she overstate it.

Apart from the rape, the mystery of the book, a grisly string of murders on the fae reservation, for which Mercy’s friend Zee is being blamed, keeps you guessing, or at least it did for me. The world is as rich and real as ever, and of course there’s the ever-present tension with Mercy’s relationship problems.

All in all, Briggs has crafted a lovable character who can stand up for herself without being an unrealistic Superwoman, and who lives in a richly layered world of that includes romance and intrigue as well as broken-down cars and homemade brownies.

New Readers: The first book in the series is called Moon Kissed, if you want to find it. There is also a rather excellent graphic novel prequel called Homecoming.

Five stars.

This book contains explicit sexual content and scenes of graphic rape which may offend some readers.