Jumpdrives & Cantrips


Cry Wolf
September 13, 2008, 1024
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , ,

Cry WolfFollowing up a novella with a novel continuing the story and managing to hit the NYT Bestseller’s List at the same time is no small feat. That is exactly what Patricia Briggs does in Cry Wolf, the first book in a spin-off series set in the same world as her popular Mercedes Thompson books. Despite the travails of figuring out how to write a novel after a novella, this volume still presents an entertaining story that promises a series with a subtly different and subversive take on the werewolves found so commonly in urban fantasy.

Cry Wolf picks up where “Alpha and Omega” leaves off (you can read it in the collection On the Prowl; see my review here), though gives some small amount of back story. That said, reading the novella first would probably improve perspective on both character development and the unique twists Briggs offers in her heroine, Anna. Anna is an unwilling werewolf recently rescued from an abusive pack by Charles, the son and enforcer of the most powerful alpha werewolf in North America. She must now deal with both her own history, her new relationship with Charles, and being a rare omega werewolf, who tempers the violent natures of dominant wolves. Charles’ serious wounds necessitate her presence to calm him, but soon she finds herself trying to adjust to newfound independence and assisting in Charles’ search for a rogue werewolf in the back country of Montana.

This series in particular edges more into the realm of romantic fiction than the Mercedes Thompson books. We get to see much of Anna and Charles emotional interactions and a chance for some insight into werewolf psyches. Briggs’ writing in this volume places a central focus on character interactions at the beginning of the novel, though begins to slip into a more action-oriented tone towards the latter portion of the book. In fact, the action hits all at once when the characters realise it’s not just a rogue werewolf, but a different brand of ancient evil at the pack’s back door. Though the action struggles to maintain balance with the character depth encountered earlier on, it’s still nothing that upsets the book’s rhythm. The abrupt plot change lacks enough surrounding foreshadowing and lead-in events that it seemed like an easy way to Make Things Happen.

The ending also gave me pause since the post-action wrap up lasts a page and a half, yet several life-altering events occur for Anna. As a reader I felt cheated of the characters’ experiences, and I liken it to reading a series of “begats”from the Bible, where the writing became a list of things that happened next. Despite the sudden change in character importance with suddenly relevant pasts, and having a whirlwind ending, Cry Wolf remains a satisfying read.

Even with these faults Cry Wolf stands out since Patricia Briggs brings deeper themes to the table, infusing Anna and Charles’ story with meaning beyond themselves. Though certainly not all, a large chunk of urban fantasy on the shelves seems designed mostly for action and character entanglements, but lacks a means to connect to readers on a more intimate level. This is where Briggs’ writing excelled for me, more so than any of the Mercy Thompson books.

One of the themes in the book is acceptance and negotiation; of the self, of others, and of events. Werewolves must reach some sort of acceptance after experiencing the change in order to negotiate co-existence between their human and their “wolf” sides. While this creates a dichotomy between human and wolf (and the natural, or arguably the supernatural), the importance of merging these separate aspects resonated with me. And just as these two inner aspects must balance out, so must the social roles of werewolves–dominants and submissives. However, using the idea of alphas and omegas in hand with the socio-political pack structure allows Briggs to create that same brand of negotiation found on an individual psychological level. This draws the individual and the societal together in order to create links between characters and their social setting through deft structure in the story, and creates a greater sense of the importance of pack life.

While Cry Wolf isn’t a perfect book (what book is?) its faults were obscured by the emotional impact and meaning present in the story itself. Any writer can put together a werewolf story, but not that many of them can do it in a way that makes you suspend disbelief with ease and become truly involved with the characters. Patricia Briggs does it, and does it well. Now comes the hard part: waiting for the sequel.

Briggs, Patricia. Cry Wolf. New York: Ace Books, 2008. 294 pages. $8.99 (Canadian), paperback.

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News of the New

First off, Realms of Speculative Fiction, where one of my blog buddies (Thrinidir/Uros) resides, has put together an awesome list of SF-related blogs and included me along with a whole host of excellent bloggers (I feel a little odd being included with them). I even found some I hadn’t yet stumbled upon! Clearly he has superior blogging taste, and is very nice besides. I highly endorse his blog, which has multiple reviewers and other cool things.

But without any further ado, lots of interesting things out there the past couple of days, so this might run a little longer than usual…

  • Fantasy Book Critic reviews & interviews Lois McMaster Bujold and Kate Elliott (aka Alis A. Rasmussen). I urge you to read both of the excellent interviews, and then the books of these excellent writers.
  • Juno Editor Paula Guran posted her notes for a panel on urban fantasy that she didn’t get to. It’s a very good look at urban fantasy in the context of its cross-genre nature and points out some tendencies. My only wish it that it was in a more chronological format, as it tends to jump around a little without putting things into context time-wise, but if I really wanted I suppose I could edit it. Unfortunately, I’m unabashedly lazy (via Dark Parables).
  • This is why I hesitate to fully embrace eBooks–so much potential for paper-bound beauty! Take a look at Jordan Crane’s Cover Art for a Michael Chabon essay collection (via Making Light). It makes me drool a little.
  • John Scalzi on book remaindering and The Android’s Dream. Which is, by the way, a great piece of comedic SF and satire, and I encourage purchasing of the remaindered books, so keep your eyes peeled in the near future if you want a copy.
  • Jim C. Hines’ LOL Books. I highly endorse LOLing in general, and LOLSF is even better! I’m particularly be-snickered by the missing forehead one…
  • A new book by Farah Mendelsohn called Rhetorics of Fantasy is a work with scholarly slant that tries to categorise fantasy in a new way. Instead of looking at content specifically, she analyses how characters relate to the world they are in (via SF Scope). I’d be very interested to have a read of this volume, and I’ll have to see if she’s published any articles.
  • And the newest Compton Crook Award finalists have been announced. There’s only one I haven’t seen a significant amount of buzz about: Baen’s Mark L. Van Name volume One Jump Ahead (via SF Scope).

With that, I am off to pillage and rampage across countryside from the comfort of my home. I love computers 😉



Magic Burns
April 11, 2008, 2233
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , ,

Magic BurnsMagic Burns by Ilona Andrews is one of the fastest reads I’ve had in a while. This urban fantasy book is the second in a series (following Magic Bites) featuring kickass-heroine-with-a-sword™ Kate Daniels. “Ilona Andrews” is actually a husband and wife writing team, and they are currently contracted for a novella and two more books in the series according to their site. Which I’m happy about, because they’ve hit on something good here. Magic Bites was a nice read, but not outstanding. Magic Burns is a definite improvement.

In Magic Burns, Kate Daniels shares time as a Guild Mercenary and a member of the Order (think of them as oft-magical knights with swords, books, sometimes guns, and an interest in helping people). Rampant gods, weres, vampires, undead, witches, and other magical sorts show up as Kate tries to protect a young street girl with a rare magical talent. And figure out why a disappearing crossbow-bearing thief keeps stealing the Pack’s maps. And find the missing witch coven. And survive the magic flares.

…And pay the bills.

Kate is nothing if not pragmatic. She’s not a genius, but she can figure things out with persistence and she has street-smarts. I love this, because it always annoys me when characters figure things out for no apparent reason. She is tough, and much as in the first books, her big mouth and impulsive nature gets her in frequent bouts of trouble. While she is far from perfect–especially emotionally speaking–her fighting ability and super-human ability to wield magical Words of Power sometimes seemed a bit much. Kate’s mysterious magic-laden past gets some air-time, but only teasers so we never really find out her full history.

As in Magic Bites, one of the main pleasures in this book is the world-building. Magic returns to the world after humans push things to the technological end of the spectrum (Andrews describes it as a pendulum in the book), but it flares in unpredictable waves that knock out some technology as this change occurs. Sometimes the magic works better, sometimes the tech does. But the magic keeps getting stronger. This makes for a neat plot device and also adds tension. The story takes place in a magical yet crumbling Atlanta. It has an apocalyptic feel, peppered with ruined skyscrapers and slums in areas with unstable and dangerous magic.

Two other things grabbed my attention. Most notably: the witty banter between various characters. It was paced well and often warranted at least a chuckle. The second is Kate’s love life, or lack thereof. Kate is a loner, and while she has hormones she is definitely afraid to listen to them. The well-constructed sexual tension between Kate and her main love interest, who just happens to be the Grand High Muckety-Muck of the Pack, is thick enough to plunk into a Jello mould and save for dessert. Which, in a way, makes me hope it doesn’t get consummated because it is so delicious.

However, while the book was a quick read, it kept speeding up in terms of action and events. It was as though there wasn’t enough time to unpack everything that happened in the last portion of the book. I understand some of the story needed to be cut for length, but I found things flying too fast and furious–except for an odd section that dragged as Kate tried to elicit a plot-turning gift from another character. I suspect the flow would have benefited from a slightly higher proportion of description to action in some parts to break up the action. I also would have liked to see more of other characters, especially Julie, the girl Kate spends her time protecting, and Kate’s colleague Andrea.

The fight scenes didn’t parse well for me; the flash and shine in the words felt as though it concealed a lack of knowledge and detail. For instance, Kate (who is kickass™ and all) suddenly decides to wield two swords instead of one, and I’m not sure she’s that kickass. From my limited experience wielding one sword is plenty hard enough to do without chopping off your own leg, much less two, and using both would be a lot more tiring if Kate doesn’t regularly train for it–which is something we never see as a reader.

Despite its faults, the words fly by and Ilona Andrews presents engrossing characters in a fascinating world. Magic Burns really caught my attention and held it despite the lulls. This is one urban fantasy series that pulls the scattered mythos of urban fantasy together into a cohesive mosaic. I’m curious to see where this series takes Kickass Kate™.

Andrews, Ilona. Magic Burns. New York: Ace Books, 2008. 260 pages. $6.99 (Canadian).