The Iron Druid series

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IronDruid

Here be spoilers.  I am reviewing the first 3 books of the series simultaneously, so there will be spoilers for them.  You are safe for later books though.

This series revolves around Atticus, a magic-weilding Druid.  He’s the last Druid, he’s able to stand toe-to-toe with gods and survive, he looks young but is thousands of years old, he’s… a male Mary-Sue (aka Gary-Stu). Seriously. It was easy to ignore at first, but the further I got into the series, the more it bugged me.

First, the age thing.  He’s thousands of years old, but somehow knows how to talk, dress, and act to fit in.  In real life, most older people are not up-to-date with modern technology and trends, and yet Atticus, who is many times their age, seems to have no such problem.  He even teases Lief the vampire about seeming antiquated, and Lief is like half of Atticus’ age.

Then the power thing.  A couple of times the book tries to describe the boundaries of Atticus’ power, and try to make him sound limited, but he killed a god.  He also managed to create a magical necklace that other gods hadn’t even thought to make.  At the point where I finally stopped reading, there was nothing Atticus had encountered that seemed like a real threat.  Not even the Bacchants; by the time they showed up, it felt like they were just an excuse to have Atticus make a promise that would lead to the next book.

The female representation isn’t the best.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s sexist, but a lot of it is shallow and/or stereotypical.  There were no female characters that I identified with or liked.  Almost all of the women were beautiful or sexy, except for a funny one, a couple of older ones, and maybe some evil ones.  Granted, this is true to some extent for the male characters too, but the main character is male, so it doesn’t feel as glaring.

Were the books all bad?  No. There were some good points.  Atticus is able to communicate with his dog, and his dog is funny.  In the first book the dog is obsessed with poodles, but overall his thoughts are amusing.  The idea of all the various gods being alive isn’t original to this book, but it is entertaining (most of the time).  There’s witty banter and quips that are funny when in the right dosage, though sometimes the author drags it out.

Overall the first one was pretty decent – maybe a 6.5 or 7 out of 10 – but the second one wasn’t as good, and obviously I didn’t finish the third one.  The books may not be very original, but they still have some fun ideas to play with.  If you like supernatural stories and don’t mind Gary-Stus, you’ll probably get further in the series than I did.

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River Road

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RiverRoad

This is the second book of a supernatural/fantasy series set in Louisiana.  My review of the first book is here.

Several years have passed since the events of the first book, and in that time, apparently nothing has happened.  DJ hasn’t talked to Jake or Tish, and Jean Lafitte hasn’t called in her debts to him.  After some serious mixed signals between them, DJ and Alex are still just partners/co-sentinels.  The only difference is that DJ is now renting a space in a strip mall to act as her office.

Right from the start, the author has irritated me.  Either DJ has horrible coping mechanisms to go along with her chronic stupidity, or the author is lazy.  I’m inclined to believe it’s a combination of the two.  DJ is flaky enough that I could see her thinking avoiding situations is a good way to handle them, but I also suspect that the author didn’t want to deal with explaining events that happened between books.

Once we get past the “introduction,” we learn there are two clans of mer-people living in southern Louisiana, and they’re getting sick from swimming in the Mississippi River.  Both clans insist the river is poisoned and blame each other.  DJ is asked to step in, mediate between the clans, and figure out what’s going on with the river.

As the book progressed, we were treated to more examples of the DJ-brand stupidity and tepid “romantic intrigue” I disliked from the first book.  We also got hints that DJ is a speshul snowflake, shoving her into firmly into Mary-Sue territory.  My already less-than-impressed opinion of her slowly ticked down throughout the book.

Yes, this book was set in Louisiana.  Yes, it had magic and supernatural stuff and a potentially interesting story idea.  But while I could tolerate it in the first book, the flaws seemed more glaring and the missed potential more depressing in this book.  Unless you are a fan of YA romance triangles like Twilight, I’d suggest you steer clear.

Rating: 4/10 (At least I finished it)

SpoilerAlert

It’s already obvious to the readers that there’s something between Alex and DJ, even though Alex is supposedly seeing someone else.  At the end of the book – after DJ has been on dates with both Lafitte and Jake, mind you – Alex makes it clear he intends to pursue DJ too, to which I said “fucking finally.”  Not because I was interested in whatever feelings they might have for each other, but because I was so damn sick of the waffling and dancing around each other.  Maybe other people think it’s cute or romantic, but I thought it was just dumb.

Along with having some elvish blood, DJ’s magical elven staff is apparently rare and famous in the elven kingdom.  Because, you know, being pretty and having 3 good-looking guys interested in her wasn’t enough to make the readers see that DJ is awsum-sauce and that they should want to be her, so she had to have a speshul weapon too.  A speshul weapon that let her circumvent the restrictions/limitations of other Green Congress wizards, because wouldn’t it be boring if she had to use her smarts and creativity to deal with those limitations instead?

Considering what’s happened thus far, I’ll make some predictions about the rest of the series:

  • In at least one more book, Jake, Alex, and Lafitte will all continue to show interest in DJ, and there will be more waffling.
  • DJ’s ability to use the staff will prove significant.  Likely it will be because it’s a sign that DJ has a lot of untapped power/magic, that she’s descended from some royal elven bloodline, and/or because there’s a prophecy associated with the staff.
  • DJ’s heritage will eventually be a key plot point.
  • A hot male elf will appear at some point, and will be interested in DJ too.
  • DJ will play a pivotal role in a war between factions of the Beyond and the wizards/Elders.

I don’t intend to read the rest of the series, so if someone else does, maybe they can let me know if I’m right.

Royal Street

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RoyalStreet

As a Louisiana native, I have a special interest in books set in Louisiana.  So here’s a book that’s set in Louisiana, AND revolves around Hurricane Katrina, AND has magic and supernatural creatures.  This should be a smorgasbord of awesome, right?  Well, no.

The book starts off a couple of days before Hurricane Katrina makes landfall in New Orleans.  We meet DJ and Gerald, two wizards that basically police the supernatural community in Louisiana.  It’s decided that one of them should evacuate as a safety precaution, and Gerald, as the senior of the pair, decides DJ will be the one to evacuate.  She does so reluctantly, and then is stuck outside the city when Katrina hits and floods the city.  The wizard council of Elders contacts her, informs her that Gerald has gone missing, and that she has to return to New Orleans and take up the role as head wizard – aka sentinel – in the area.

Back in New Orleans, DJ encounters many problems.  The most obvious are the hurricane aftermath: security checkpoints, flooding, no electricity, etc.  But there is also supernatural trouble brewing.  The low pressure from the storm punched holes through the barrier between our world and the supernatural, and supernatural beings have started crossing into New Orleans.

The ghostly/undead pirate Jean Lafitte has a grudge against DJ.  The new partner assigned to her, Alex, seems to blow hot and cold and has an obsession with weapons.  DJ is trying to figure out what happened to Gerald, while both Alex and the Elders think he’s turned turncoat.  And DJ is an idiot.  No, seriously.  Her stupidity was one of my biggest gripes with the book.  I’ll go into detail in the Spoiler section.

Alex, Jean Lafitte, and Jake – Alex’s cousin – are all presented as interests to DJ.  She finds them all attractive, even the undead/ghost Jean Lafitte.  Even though Lafitte is old, a murderer, and doesn’t belong in our world according to the Elders. She’s defensive and mentally tags men as sexist, but she herself ogles and stereotypes guys herself.  Ultimately, she comes across as a stupid, hormone-driven teenage girl instead of an adult wizard in an import, respectable position.

It’s unfortunate that DJ is such an idiot lemming, because the rest of the book has so much potential that you can see the possible greatness, and almost forgive the author for making the hero someone you want to strangle; almost, but not quite.  The idea of supernatural and regular people living in two parallel realms, separated by a barrier that’s policed by wizards is a neat idea.  I like the idea of historical figures being powered by memory, and I like the the different factions of wizard magic/society.  Hurricane Katrina was handled respectfully, but even there potential was missed.

For me, the saving grace of the book was really the Louisiana setting and Hurricane Katrina.  I like that the setting mattered and was utilized, instead of being a story that could’ve been anywhere but just happened to be in New Orleans.  As I said, Hurricane Katrina was respectfully handled, and as I read those parts, I liked to think that they’d help non-locals reading the book to better understand what happened and how we felt.

In short, if you like stuff set in Louisiana and/or can tolerate nonsensical romantic elements, you may enjoy this book.  If you do not like stuff set in Louisiana and hate nonsensical romance, you may want to steer clear.

Rating: 5.5/10

SpoilerAlert

Jean Lafitte shows up at DJ’s house and attacks her.  He actually fires his gun at some point.  Later, DJ tries to insist that Lafitte wouldn’t have actually killed her, that she was more useful to him alive, or some such nonsense; to be honest, I didn’t pay much attention.  The reasoning given was dumb, and felt like an excuse by the author to make DJ’s ogling of someone that attacked her seem OK.  But it’s not.  It’s really not.  Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, after Lafitte attacks her and Alex makes it clear that she’s not very good at keeping herself alive, she sends Alex off on a wild goose chase so she can go confront Lafitte.  On his turf.  Surrounded by his men.  WTF?  At this point I was hoping someone would stab her with a sword, because she deserved it.

And Jake.  What the hell?  They don’t want to explain the whole magic/supernatural thing to him because they don’t “want to involve him,” but they sent the ghost of Louis Armstrong to live with him!  And naturally he charged into a dangerous situation, ignorant to the full danger thanks to DJ and Alex, and gotten bitten by a werewolf.  Bravo.  I hope DJ and Alex feel like asses.

My Life as a White Trash Zombie

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I have lived in Louisiana my whole life.  I also like zombie stories, and the TV show iZombie.  So I found this book, which basically sounded like iZombie set in Louisiana, and I had to read it.  Had to.

Like iZombie, this book starts with a girl who is turned into a zombie after a tragedy.  Both characters get jobs in a morgue, both use the morgue to supply their new dietary requirements (brains), and both are only loosely what you’d call zombies.  From there, the differences become more apparent.  For example, a mysterious benefactor with connections gets the book’s main character, Angel, her morgue job.

Angel is a loser, and easily labeled as white trash, hence the title.  She dropped out of high school, has been fired from multiple jobs, lives in a trailer, has a pill problem, and has OD-ed once already.  Being turned into a zombie and being given the morgue job may be the best thing that’s ever happened to her, assuming she keeps it together.  And I mean that both in the figurative “don’t fuck things up” sense, and in the literal sense, because going too long without consuming brains means Angel starts rotting/falling apart.

I must stop here to say that calling Angel a zombie is a stretch.  I think Angel is to zombies as the Cullens from Twilight are to vampires.  The Cullens are “vampires” because they drink blood, but sunlight doesn’t hurt them, they’re not nocturnal, they don’t have to be invited into houses, and they can subsist on animal blood if need be.  Angel is a zombie because she needs to eat brains or will start rotting and become increasingly aggressive, but as long as she has a regular supply of brains, there’s little to tell her apart from regular humans.  In fact, being a zombie basically gives her superpowers: increased strength, healing rate, pain tolerance, nausea resistance, inability to get high/intoxicated, etc.  She is not the mindless, shambling, disease-ridden flesh-puppet most people think of when they hear the word “zombie.”

Assuming you can get past that, the book is pretty fun.  And no, don’t go thinking it’s another Twilight just because I mentioned it earlier.  The romance is a secondary element in the book at most.  In fact, most of the book is just about Angel getting used to life as a zombie, and trying to figure who turned her and why.  The mystery with the serial kills doesn’t start really playing a role until the second half or so of the book.

I like how the book takes a stereotype, applies it to the main character, and tries to get you to see it in a different light.  “White trash” is a term usually used to demean and/or laugh at someone.  The book uses it to a degree for entertainment, but not in a “ha ha, look at the redneck, isn’t it funny” sort of way.

It could’ve been better.  There were times I was like “really, you still haven’t figure out you’re a zombie?!” And ending was so neatly tied up that I couldn’t fully buy it without letting things slide.  Still, if you like “zombies” and/or Louisiana and aren’t too critical of books, you should have a fun time.

Rating: 7/10

SpoilerAlert

There’s a moment when a police cadaver dog tries to point out that technically Angel is a walking cadaver; I thought that was a clever scene.

The way everything fit together and tied up at the end felt a little too neat.  That guy had a zombie vendetta and killed multiple zombies already, but didn’t realize his BFF of several years was a zombie too?  That just seems too convenient, and arranged for the sake of the plot rather than actual logic.

Locke & Key: Volumes 1 and 2

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LockeNKey

This series has good reviews, so I decided to give it a shot.  Considering the cover art and the fact that the first volume is called “Welcome to Lovecraft,” I should’ve known that this was a horror series, but for some reason I went in expecting something different.  I am not a horror fan, so the books were already at a disadvantage when it came to impressing me.

One of the main things that stuck with me about the books is the tone of them.  They almost feel like Tim Burton, but turning down the “pure weird” factor slightly and turning up the “violence” factor.  In some ways I feel these books were more violent than a lot of movies, because a movie keeps moving, so you don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the moment of decapitation, for example.  In these books, if a character is shot or stabbed or whatever, you’re seeing it out the corner of your eye the whole time you’re reading the panels on the open pages.

I felt the story got off to a slow start.  I just assumed the plot would be “move to old house, play with magic keys”; I didn’t realize there’d be more to it until at least half-way through the first volume, or maybe once I started the second volume.  There is a plot/mystery, and of course it’s creepy.

Do I like it?  Meh.  It’s kinda like, I dunno, peeling the dead skin off a sunburn; gross, but oddly fascinating.  I can’t say I like the books, but the story is picking up in the second volume and I’m still reading them, so I guess that’s something.

idkfeel

Rating: 6/10

Blood Trail

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BloodPriceOmniThis is the version of Blood Trail that I own.  It’s technically an omnibus, having both Blood Trail and its prequel, Blood Price.  My reaction to these two books can easily be summed up with memes.

Blood Price:

NotSUreIf

Blood Trail:

FItGiveUp

You can read my review of Blood Price here, which I wrote before attempting to read Blood Trail.  I didn’t finish Blood Trail and had no desire to, which lowered my opinion of Blood Price too.

In Blood Trail, the biggest problem is Vicki.  I want to like her.  She seems like a strong female character, and she has a distinguishable personality.  Unfortunately, Vicki’s personality rubs me wrong.  She’s stubborn, argumentative, and a little hot-tempered, and not in a cute or funny way.  No, she’s the sort of person you hate getting in a debate with because you know it’s going to turn into an argument, and regardless of the outcome you’ll end up with your blood pressure raised.  I know people like this, and I avoid them, and now that I’ve made that association with Vicki, I can’t forget it.  The only parts of Blood Trail I liked were the parts that she wasn’t in, and since she’s the main character I figured that meant it was time to stop reading.

Blood Trail Rating: 3/10

Blood Price

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The first books I read by Tanya Huff were her Valor series, which I loved.  It had humor, action, and a strong female hero.  Blood Price also has humor, action, and a strong female hero, so I should love it too, right?  Wrong.  But let’s talk about the story first.

Vicki Nelson used to be a homicide investigator.  She was good at it and loved it, but quit because of bad eyesight that was only getting worse.  So she became a private investigator.  She gets hired by a college student to look into the death of a classmate/lover, and along the way partners up with a [non-sparkly] vampire and learns that demons are real.  This book is not Supernatural though.

Crowley would've made things more interesting.

Crowley would’ve made things more interesting.

Yes, there are supernatural elements and humor and fight scenes, but it left me underwhelmed.  Since the vampire, Fitzroy, is nocturnal and doesn’t interact much with Vicki, the author tries to interest you in him with flashbacks of his past.  I didn’t care though, and skipped over most of them.  Vicki has what is described as a “stormy” relationship with Mike Celluci, meaning they scream at each other 90% of the time and have sex the other 10%.

So this is love, huh?

So this is love, huh?

The villain is pitiful.  Not in the sense that he’s a worthless villain, but rather that I almost pitied him.  I understood his motivations, and while he was creepy, I kinda felt bad for him by the end.  I’m not sure if that was the author’s intention or not.

The book was decent, I finished it, and I intend to read the next one, but that’s partially because book I have is a 2-for-1 deal that has both Blood Price and Blood Trail.  Hopefully the next book is bit better though, because after the Valor series, Blood Price was a bit disappointing.

Rating: 6/10

SpoilerAlert

So, about the villain.  Norman Birdwell is an oddball.  He’s the sort of person that, if one day they snapped and did something drastic, deep down you wouldn’t really be surprised.  That’s Norman.  He wants to be liked, to fit in, to get a girl, but instead he gets laughed at and shrugged off.  Repeatedly.  To his face.  And then he starts summoning demons, making the demon steal cool things for him, and when he still doesn’t get the girl, he orders the demon to kill.

Crowley would hate being compared to Norman, but...

Crowley would hate being compared to Norman, but…

I got the feeling that maybe Norman wasn’t aware that when the demon he summoned needed to “feed” it was actually killing, because when he finally gave it a direct order to kill it seemed like a big deal.  That makes Norman even more pitiful, because that means he wasn’t an intentional killer at first.  Granted, the fact that he thought summoning demons was an any way a good idea is not a point in his favor, but it doesn’t seem like he started with malicious intentions, but rather was corrupted by the power he was trying to control.  Almost more of a victim than a villain.  And since I can’t tell how much of this is intentional on the author’s part, it makes Norman a bit of a problem for me.