Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Runes, Lies, & Magics

It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again--an author I like (or, make that used to like) puts out a piece of schlock, leaving me totally out-of-sorts about being cheated out of a respectable chunk of valuable reading time (not to mention, some hard-earned money).
The absolute worst is when an author you really liked suddenly starts producing dreck. Now, other people may be much more forgiving or tolerant than I am, but once an author loses me due to a run of bad books, it’s very hard--okay, nearly impossible--to ever get me back. (I can think of two popular authors, off the top of my head, whom I haven't read in years because of this.)
My willingness to give the author another chance is commensurate with his/her abilities, naturally; if the author showed impressive talent in the past, I’m more willing to give at least a couple future books a chance. If that writer’s abilities were only marginal at best, though, I’m considerably less inclined to reach for his/her latest at the bookstore. 
This time, my disappointment lies with Jennifer Estep and her Web of Lies, the second in her “Elemental Assassin” series. True, the first in the series--Spider’s Bite--fell far short of being a fabulous book, but it was nonetheless an entertaining-enough read, worthy of my time investment (and the cash outlay). And, it was certainly interesting enough to cause me to seek out the sequel. Unfortunately, that isn't the case after reading this time. [You can read my review of Spider's Bite by clicking on the author's name in the column to the right.]
The good parts are still there, of course; namely, an appealing mix of characters (headed by determined, ballsy heroine Gin Blanco) and an unusual setting (Appalachian coal country, right where Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia meet). The living is just as rough for all the regular folks, the cops are just as crooked, and the wealthy, powerful “haves” are just as dangerous and almighty as before.
This outing finds the former assassin (known professionally as The Spider) retired, doing nothing more strenuous than running the barbeque joint her former mentor/handler left her in his will, and auditing courses at the community college. The bad news is that the monotony is taking its toll; the good news is that there’s no more bloodshed or broken bones.
Trouble walks in the door of The Pork Pit soon enough, though. First it’s a couple of punk rich kids, high on a mix of drugs and drunk on their own self-importance, bent on robbing Gin and having their way with two female customers. Gin and Sophia (her dwarven, Goth cook) handle the bad boys, no sweat. Next, Donovan Caine stops by. The man who may be the only straight-arrow cop in the entire tri-state area--aside from that questionable, regrettable one-night stand he indulged in with The Spider--hasn’t been in touch with her since their last meeting, a few months earlier. Those confrontations are "excitement" enough for Gin... and then a young woman pushes through the door of the restaurant, asking for The Tin Man. 
Fletcher Lane, the only father figure Gin has known for nearly two decades, hadn’t gone by that nickname in a very long time--ever since Gin took over the assassin duties from him and he became her handler. After this many years, having someone seeking out The Tin Man is unexpected, to say the least. But, before Gin can find out more, her restaurant erupts in gunfire, someone shooting at it from a building across the street. While Gin dashes outside to catch the shooter, the girl flees, leaving Gin none the wiser.
Fortunately, Gin’s new handler--Finnegan Lane (Fletcher’s son)--possesses major computer skills, and is able to track the girl, a Miss Violet Fox, via her credit card slip. Once they finally catch up with her, it’s only to encounter an angry giant (yes, really) dead-set on raping and killing her. They rescue her and resolve to help her, since it’s now crystal-clear that she must have a really good reason for needing The Tin Man. Besides, it’s what Fletcher would have wanted.
So, that’s how Gin finds herself coming out of pseudo-retirement and doing a pro-bono job for Violet and her grandpa, who’s being squeezed by a neighboring coal-mine owner into selling his land. (It’s also how she finds herself doing a little breaking-and-entering, a little moonlighting as another sort of “professional” entirely, being in close proximity to Detective Caine once more, and taking an unplanned-for tour of a coal mine, among other things.) By the time Web of Lies is over, the main mystery is solved, and another one--continuing from book-to-book--has seen some progress. In that sense, mission accomplished, I guess. 
But the problems, alas, are many. A big one is that Gin--who’s portrayed as a smart and clever sort--is appallingly dim. Honestly, I knew the Bad Person involved in the continuing mystery from the very first time the character was introduced, early in the first book... yet it takes Gin until two-thirds of the way through the second book to kinda-sorta figure it out. There is no reasonable explanation for her slow-as-molasses-in-January thought process; she lives there and already knows the main players, so it should be more than obvious to her. That’s incredibly annoying to me. (I'm not really a throw-a-book-across-the-room-in-a-pique-of-annoyance kind of gal... but I swear, if I hadn't been reading this one on my Kindle, I'd have been sorely tempted to try out my throwing arm a few times.)
An even-bigger source of irritation, though, is the repetition. Good grief, if I had to read one more time as Gin described Donovan Caine’s personal scent (which consists of “soapy and clean... mmmm” at least a dozen times), I was going to scream. (No, I’m totally serious here. SCREAM.) It wasn’t just the eau-de-detective, though, which got my dander up; she also explained repeatedly why she was “listening” to the rocks and bricks outside her house, and outside her restaurant, and... well, everywhere she went. (Really, I caught on the first several times it was described--using the same words, even--so I didn’t need a recap. And another. And still another, etc.) Ditto on the repeated mentions of the spider-rune scars on her palms (how she got them/how they feel/what they mean). And, yes, you guessed it; more of that infernal repetition when it comes to talking about why a relationship between Gin and the detective just won’t work out. (In one of the many mentions of this, the same words and phrases were repeated nearly verbatim in the space of the same conversation, even!) To me, that’s just lazy writing and sloppy editing; this book could have been probably one-fourth shorter if all the pointless rehashing of everything were excised.
(My theory is that this series is being rushed into production at breakneck speed, undoubtedly to take advantage of the current popularity of Urban Fantasy. Spider’s Bite came out in February, with Web of Lies following only four months later in June, and the third, Venom, is set to come out only four months after that, in October. Do the math; that’s three books, in less than one year. While a lot of readers have been known to moan about the long wait between new releases in their favorite series, I think Estep is setting an excellent example of what not to do, and showing why a longer wait is a much better plan.)
I still believe that Estep probably has an interesting story to tell, but this portion was so poorly-executed that I honestly don’t know how willing I'll be to try the next one; being a glutton for punishment isn't high on my must-do list. It will take some serious persuading for me to pick up the third book... but at the moment I just don’t see much reason why I'd allow myself to be persuaded.
GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 2 out of 5 mousies