Thursday, September 13, 2012

Double Feature: Devil in the Dollhouse and Devil Said Bang by Richard Kadrey

After reading Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews, I was beginning to think that my bad luck with picking out books was finally behind me.At the same time, I figured it would be in my best interest to pick out an author that I've enjoyed since discovering them, just to be on the safe side.  I'm beginning to think some malevolent force is taunting me now, because even with that choice, I'm beginning to sound cynical even to me.

Richard Kadrey is one of my all time favorite authors of Urban Fantasy (though the top three are still safe and secure) and my favorite as far as unique story-telling. Kadrey has written a number of novels, but the best, in my opinion, has been the Sandman Slim books. In the stories, the main character, James Stark, escapes from a tormented existence in hell to get revenge against the people who sent him there when he was still breathing.

Throughout the novels, we learn more and more about James: his origins, his dreams, his favorite way to kill things that piss him off. My favorite thing about these books is that while they are violent and repulsively destructive, they actually happen for a reason. James doesn't destroy everything just cause it's fun. He does it because the things that make the world go round keep crapping on him and he just wants to get by with his clothes unsoiled.

 What I love about Richards writing is that he is a master at imagery, and he uses it for purely destructive reasons. With a lot of books, writers try to give you a good description of things that are happening. Kadrey takes it one step further by giving some of the most mind destroying images you can possibly imagine and forcing you mind to go right to them. Early on in the book, Stark is giving his lackeys a description of what he wants hell to look like, based off the movie "Metropolis". As he's telling them about this movie, he goes one step further by telling them the buildings look like "dragons fucking a spaceship," and as awful as that image is, it's the first thing that popped into my head. My own personal feelings about cussing in books is that it should only be done to enhance a situation. James Stark cussing is like listening to two Germans having an argument about about soccer: it all may sound harsh, and I certainly couldn't understand any of it, but they don't mean anything bad about it.

Devil in the Dollhouse is a short story by Kadrey, taking place in between books three and four. Stuck in Hell by Lucifer and forced to take over, Stark does his best to get by, but is forced to take up a job that even Lucifer didn't want completed. As short as the story actually is, I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but I thought it was really well written, and gave me a nice taste of the Sandman Slim world while I was waiting to read the fourth book. I wish I had enjoyed it a little bit more, because Devil Said Bang was definitely lacking.

Devil Said Bang starts up where Aloha From Hell, the third book left off, and had a good running start. Stuck as Lucifer in Hell, Stark is forced to go through some meaningless work as a glorified politician, trying to get Hell back in working order after the fight between the forces of Heaven and Hell laid it to waste. Stark is just trying to get everything in working order so that he can go back to earth to get his life back in order.

The book was great for a good half of it. My eReader (yes I use one. Bookstores aren't open 24 hours like gas stations and when I have an itch, I scratch it) says the book is 231 pages long. On page 96, the story takes a trip from "I love this book so much I want to frame it," to almost tossing a $200 piece of metal out my window and into the rain.

The first half of the book is almost entirely Stark trying to find his way out of hell, and eventually getting his wish, but as soon as it happens, there is a gigantic gap the size of an aircraft carrier to drive through where not only is Stark back in L.A., but he's also mysteriously in the middle of a job where ten different people are being talked about that I've never even heard about. People he knew before he went down to Hell are interacting as if he was out for a smoke, though over three months have passed since he was gone.

And I looked, there's no temporal dissidence (the space that exists between when an event happens and when the author writes it). It's almost as if these are two different stories, in which someone cut the end of one book and the beginning of another and tried to glue them together before anyone noticed. Think the beginning of The Goonies when the kids knock over the naked statue and glued it back on upside down. I felt like someone was pissing in my face.

Now I'd like to give the benefit of the doubt, so I'm sure in the next few days I'll start looking for a hard copy of this book, but in the meantime, this is just bad work on the part of the publisher if this is some kind of mistake, and an awful job by Kadrey if he meant for his book to be like this. There are no reunion between friends. There's no explanation to who the people are in the story, some of them very old characters, and a few I never even heard about being treated as if they were there the whole time and I was too stupid to notice. What's even worse is that I looked ahead in the book, pages 161-231 are complete copies of pages 96-160, meaning while I was charged for 231 pages, I only got 160 pages worth of a story, and even that wasn't enough to be a cohesive whole.

I will look into this further, and do a completely different review if it comes out that there was some kind of mistake, but in the meantime, I really have to say, Devil Said Bang was a drastic let down. It really makes me wish I had held out for The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks. The book would have been more expensive, and the author isn't exactly my favorite, but at least he is consistent in his writing.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

What is the hardest thing about reviewing a book? When you actually know how to read and spell words, the easiest thing in the world is telling people what you thought about it. The hardest thing to do, in my opinion, is review a book that you like.

I've done bad reviews. Anyone who has read anything I've done here knows that I don't hold back. But when it's a good book I always get this dull look on my face and feel the need to write out in big letters, "THIS BOOK WAS AWESOME!" and not much more than that. On the opposite end of things, when I read a book I hate, I can tell you in what flavor of hate it , anywhere from the "I didn't care for this book, but maybe it's just not for me" category, to,"I wouldn't recommend this to anyone with two brain cells to rub together." That being the case, reviewing Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews is somewhat of a challenge because I love everything about her books. But bear with me, I'll do my best.

I could go on an on about the intricacies of Ilona Andrews books in great detail, but put simply, the women in her novels kick ass. From a femanist perspective, the women of Ilona Andrews take charge in a way that is refreshing and inspiring in a way I don't see in other books with female protagonists, but still retain their female perspectives. The reason why, is that the women in her books aren't just protagonists, they are heroes.

Gunmetal Magic takes place in the same literary world as her other books about a character named Kate Daniels. In this world, magic returned to the world and caused a semi-apocalypse. Sky-scrapers fell, worn down by magical forces while forests grew. Technology began fading, monsters began appearing, and people began changing. Shapeshifters and Vampires became prominent focal points of society, as well as magicians and necromancers (specifically people who can control vampires with their will).

After a while, magic and technology began fighting for control, making it that sometimes technology works fine and sometimes it shuts off and world starts a never ending battle to survive with magical forces. Kate Daniels, the main character of many of Andrew's books taking place in a post-shift Atlanta, Georgia, was a mercenary with strange powers, a mysterious past, and a sword that can cut through undead like a hot knife through...well...undead. She has a connection to the Pack, the local group of shape shifters living under the rule of the beast lord, Curran, and over the stories, develops a more romantic entanglement.

One of my favorite things about the characters in the Kate Daniels books is that while the men are all masculine and dominant, the women have no problems going toe to toe with them and even coming out on top. This was true of the original series, and is no different in the spin-off book, Gunmetal Magic.

The main character in Gunmetal Magic, is Andrea Nash. Andrea started out in the second or third book of the original series as a close friend and colleague of Kate's, working for The Order of Merciful Aid, a form of law enforcement in the series dealing with specifically magical issues. Andrea came off as a gun nut and a blond bombshell all mixed into one, and I loved as the character filled out of the series and was given a more prominent roll.

Andrea is secretly a beastkin. In the series, humans who develop Lycanthropy, otherwise called Lyc-V, become shape shifters. On the other side of things, animals can also develop the virus and change into humans. It's been a while since I first read about them in the story, but for the most part, these kinds of shape shifters are almost always killed on sight. This gave Andrea an interesting plot because not only does she avoid the Pack, but the Order didn't know about her either because they frown on non-humans to the point of bigotry.

In the story of Gunmetal Magic, Andrea is finding her way in the world after being outed as a shape shifter and losing her job for the Order. She now works for her friend, Kate, as a kind of private investigator, and is coming to terms with being who she is. During the course of the story, Andrea is given a job by the Pack to investigate the murder of four shape shifters working for her ex-lover, Raphael.

The books is a lot of fun to read. It sounds silly saying it, but while there were a lot of serious things take place, the characters get breaks to be frivolous and even kind of funny (the scene with Andrea getting revenge on Raphael was particularly hilarious, as well as watching Raphael getting territorial.) The fight scenes were well done and interesting and everyone just meshed well together.

Now comes the inevitable slide down to what I didn't like about this book. While it was well written and the characters are unique and fit together so well, there are points in the book that are harder to follow, especially if someone were a first time reader. Characters and events were brought up in the story, but not given greater detail, which was the same problem I had with The Spirit War. If you are starting fresh on this book, you probably wouldn't know who many of the characters are, and Andrews doesn't go into great detail about who they are or what happened that she is bringing up. I find this is harder on the plot because I keep feeling the need to go back through previous books and read about what she is talking about.

The only other thing I didn't get was the continuity issue she had at one point, and I know it's just me nit-picking, but continuity should never be optional in the editing process. When Andrea goes to interview a possible suspect in the murders, there is a big sign at the front desk saying "Happy Birthday Boss". When Andrea asks how old the boss is, the secretary says 48. When she actually gets introduced to the boss later on in the story, she describes him as being in his late thirties. As far as errors go, it's small, but a small error in The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks gave away the plot twist in the first quarter of the book by saying the wrong name, and a single decimal point mistake can kill a person.

All in all, Gunmetal Magic was a wonderful read that I would recommend to anyone already into the series, but for people who are interested in getting into it, you should definitely start with Magic Bites, the first book in the series. It's an equally great read, and much less confusing that way.