My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Joanna Archer, representing the Light-side Sagittarius sign in the Zodiac troupe of Las Vegas, continues to juggle her new-found life in her sister’s body. Not only does she have to keep up appearances of being the sole progeny to the richest man in the city, she also has to protect society from the Shadow organisation hellbent on terrorising the innocent. Finding herself in a rather peculiar predicament, Joanna reluctantly makes a deal with a Shadow initiate; one that she might come to regret.
(WARNING: This review contains spoilers.)
I’ve always been fond of the good ol’ fight between good and evil, so the aspect of superheroes was definitely refreshing to return to. Whilst finding The Scent of Shadows to be rather average as a whole, I believed this instalment (Signs of the Zodiac series is six instalments long) to be a large decline – primarily because of the heroine herself, Joanna Archer. I personally love the first-person perspectives that dominate the genre; it gives an in-depth and intimate picture of the character, however it can be especially unforgiving if that character happens to be someone you dislike.
And boy, did I dislike her.
I’m a firm believer that characters should be flawed, because people are flawed, however there’s only so much I can take when I can find very little redeeming qualities. Joanna repeatedly made the exact same error and refused to learn from it, instead putting herself and her troupe at risk over and over. I’m legitimately shocked how anyone could find her actions reasonable, and how anyone could consider her a good protagonist. Being vengeful is one thing, but being stupidly selfish is another thing entirely.
Let me give a rundown of her transgressions; the ones that bothered me the most. 1: She kept going off alone after the bad guy, with the knowledge that her enemy was stronger. Thus, he would obviously get the better of her and she would need rescuing by her team. This happened three times, if I remember correctly. 2: The gateway to the Light side’s secret hideout, she compromised it twice (the second time she was well aware of her actions), and so put the safety of her group, not to mention children, at risk. 3: Due to jealously, she couldn’t allow her ex-boyfriend to move on, so she forced herself back into his life, when he was just beginning to be happy again. And she spent a night with him, then disappeared again.
The third one bothered me the most, I think. This is a woman whose identity needs to be kept a secret, yet as soon as she caught a whiff of a new woman in Ben’s life, she didn’t waste any time to metaphorically urinate all over him. The fact is, she can’t have any sort of relationship with him, she can’t even allow him to see her physical appearance unless she uses a prepubescent’s shield-mould-thing. Am I the only one that found it creepy, that she had sex with Ben whilst using that little girls essence or whatever it was?
I’m going to end the rant about our dear Joanna there, if I can bring myself to it.
I can’t say I favoured any of the other characters either, except maybe Regan. She really did play her role expertly, and I daresay she’ll be one hell of a villain for the team to battle in the future. I’m looking forward to seeing what she has in store for the Light side. Sometimes you just have to root for evil, because in this case, the Light doesn’t exactly offer anything substantial. I mean, what do we have? Hunter? Well, he took a page from Joanna’s book; his selfishness actually resulting in someones death. I’m not a fan of love triangles anyway; I’d much rather he or Ben be removed from the equation altogether. Warren and Tekla’s frustration throughout was understandable – they were definitely the adults of the situation.
The plot itself could’ve been better. I honestly expected the plague to have more of an impact, but it didn’t even occur until a hundred plus pages. The focal point seemed to be Joaquin, and because of such the tone of the book was needlessly dark. Joaquin was portrayed badly; his entire thought process being about rape, despite him apparently being an avid collector of the comics. It was basically telling us he had depth, yet every time he was on-page he was constantly sexually abusing and / or harassing women. At one point he even yelled: “I will rape you, Joanna!”, which in itself summed up his character perfectly.
In conclusion: I like the premise of this series, I do, but I got pretty sick and tired of Joanna’s mess. I dearly hope she’ll develop into something better.
The Touch of Twilight is the third book in this series, and was first published in 2008.
“Uh… good doggie?” I said, taking in the sight of an animal with the muscle of a bear and the angular ferocity of a wolf. He let a warning rumble loose in his throat, and the deep reverberation jarred through my immobile bones like a jackhammer through concrete.
© Red Lace 2018
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Alex Sawyer finds himself in Furnace Penitentiary; a pit in the ground, its sole purpose to cage away the youngest of offenders. The thing is, Alex may be a thief, and he may have broken the law, but he certainly doesn’t belong in Hell. Facing a lifetime underground, of never seeing the sun again, Alex is determined to escape. Good thing he’s made friends, for he’ll need all the help he can get.
(WARNING: This review contains spoilers.)
This wasn’t a bad book (the Escape from Furnace series is five instalments long); I actually quite enjoyed it on some level, however certain questions got in the way and became an obstacle I unfortunately couldn’t bypass. Without sufficient world-building, I just couldn’t fully appreciate the premise of the plot; it seemed too far-fetched to me, lacking in any form of realism. But this is a book, right? It doesn’t need to be realistic, it’s fiction, after all. Well, if a story’s told correctly, if sense is made through the writing, then the author makes you believe, no matter if it’s about elves and goblins or whatever else. Words are a tool to be used, to transport us to new worlds that in themselves need to work. This didn’t work.
Sure, there was a bit of background on the world, and it touched upon why society believed it imperative to lock away children, but it was minimal and certainly not enough. Logic and reason just kept worming its way into my mind, asking why. Why create the most horrific prison for teenagers? Adults commit appalling crimes just as much, if not worse in comparison, yet this prison – this hell – isn’t for them? Let’s get the important facts out of the way, shall we?
– Each and every prisoner is there serving a life sentence. LIFE. I recall there being kids younger than fourteen.
– Inmates have zero rights. No visitation, no health checks, nothing regarding the law.
– They’re killed and / or transformed into monsters regularly. Basically guinea pigs for the warden and his experiments.
– Oh, and they’re all male. No females in sight. I can’t say I agree with the exclusion, but I get this is supposed to be a book catered to young boys.
They’re thrown away, forgotten about, and whilst I understand the “Summer of Slaughter” may have been a horrendous thing, the plausibility was severely lacking.
Moving on, before I just keep on repeating myself! Another thing that occurred to me throughout the chapters – this series is labelled as “young adult”, however I found there to be sensitive material that younger readers could very well find disturbing; including the murder and abuse of minors. This isn’t something that bothered me per say, but even I felt a chill or two down my spine at the horror elements Smith included with vivid description.
Despite my complaints and belief that it’s extremely flawed, I didn’t hate it. I kept wanting to read more, to see what would become of each and every character introduced. I found it interesting to read about Alex’s range of emotions; from desperation, to fear, to that spark of hope. The place had an effect on the boy; weighing upon his shoulders until he felt he’d been trapped there a lot longer than the mere days in which was reality. Alex may have made mistakes throughout, but I found him likeable. He had spirit, and despite his mistakes in life, he had a good heart. He wasn’t my favourite, though, as Donovan took that position. Older, more mature, he strived to take care of the group. I believed it was completely reasonable for him to question Alex’s ideas, and for his mindset to be cynical. I actually felt something when he was taken – some sense of sadness.
Whilst some things got repetitive in regards to the writing (the same thing would be described in different ways, over and over, such as the voices of the “blacksuits”), it worked for me. A lot was able to be conveyed; the sheer ugliness of Furnace itself. The dogs, the “wheezers”, and in general the frightening side of the plot, were all written superbly. I felt entertained until the very end, and the cliffhanger promptly made me buy the next one. I guess that was the intention!
In conclusion: I found it to be entertaining, however it failed in convincing me how Furnace could be allowed in any country. I’ll be continuing on with the series, with the hopes of having a history lesson.
Solitary is the next instalment of this series, and was first published in 2009.
The monster was standing outside my cell, staring at me with eyes so deeply embedded in its shrivelled face that they looked like black marbles. The contraption that covered its mouth and nose was coloured with rust and verdigris, and this close I could see that the ancient metal was stitched permanently into the skin.
© Red Lace 2018
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Celia Graves, bodyguard for hire, takes on a job to protect the Prince of Rusland (which in this world is a small kingdom located in western Ukraine), but little does she know the chaos about to befall her and change her life forever. Nothing could prepare her for a group of rampaging vampires, especially when one attempts to turn her, yet is interrupted. Thus Celia is stuck – an abomination – neither belonging, nor accepted, in human society, or amongst the shadows with the monsters.
(WARNING: This review contains spoilers.)
I never thought I’d question my love of this genre (UF is what, after all, got me into reading at a relatively young age), but lo and behold, it actually happened throughout this excruciatingly long drag of a book. It wasn’t even the typical cliches that bothered me; you know the type, the not-so-special protagonist turned special, the not-so-attractive woman that every man just happened to want. I can deal with the common urban fantasy tropes, because in the end it’s ultimately how it’s executed that deems how much enjoyment I get out of it. However, this one just didn’t miss the mark, the mark was nowhere to be seen. I don’t particularly like getting such a bad impression of the first in a series (Blood Singer is seven instalments long), but I can’t exactly force myself to like it, either.
So, let’s get into why I thought this book was rather poor. For starters, the blurb of the book gives reason to believe that the plot is centred around Celia’s transformation, yet whilst it played a prominent role in the beginning – be it the looming threat of the mysterious vampire that semi-turned her – it’s utterly dismissed when he’s killed in the background by a character that has very little time on-page. As a result of this, not only was it misleading, but the story itself jumped all over the place and didn’t seem to settle down.
I mean, for the love of God, don’t intermingle plotlines if you can’t do it well.
Next, there’s the characters; the individuals we’re supposed to connect with and therefore get attached to. There’s nothing worse than feeling nothing for them, but sadly that happens when each and every one are written without depth. Sure, there were quite a few; the ex-boyfriend that was sort of the current boyfriend(?), the other male friend that sent tingles to her loins, the one heterosexual female friend, the older mentor-type that died within a few pages and the best friend that held a significant presence, yet wasn’t even in it to begin with. Character death should be impactful, it should elicit an emotional response, but these people were lifeless; we weren’t given time to even remotely acquaint ourselves with them before they hit the bucket. It’s why I believe this to be a weak series debut – it’s as if it was already several books ahead, and I’d somehow missed out on prior instalments.
Characters also had a tendency to disappear and offer no further relevance. There were multiple hints at a love triangle, however Kevin (the werewolf), played such a minor part, I quickly forgot about him. “John Jones” also could’ve been interesting, but he vanished early on and was never seen again.
Another thing that didn’t sit quite right with me, was the whole Siren revelation. Why it needed to even be a thing, I have no clue. It added very little – basically, straight women will automatically dislike Celia, whilst men will want her and be inclined to do things for her. It’s
almost laughable. I’m not saying that Celia was a terrible heroine; in fact she didn’t do much at all to either endear me to her, or to incur my disapproval. She had the normal attitude the majority of women have in these types of books, and moaned often about her situation – again, the usual traits.
There was one thing I appreciated, however. The dysfunctional family dynamic added an aspect I could grasp onto. It was nice, and true enough is a quote from a brief note at the beginning of the book:
“… for the most part, happy families do not make for interesting reading.”
In conclusion: I didn’t enjoy this one. A part of me wants to give the series a second chance, that maybe it gets better over time, and that other part of me just wants to forget its existence. Initially I rated this two stars, because I wanted to be generous, but after a lot of thought, I’m subtracting one and leaving it at what I feel is appropriate.
Siren Song is the second instalment of this series, and was first published in 2010.
© Red Lace 2018