Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Legend of Michael, by Lisa Renee Jones - Review

Niche Marketing
Just when I think the number of sub-genres in romance has every possible angle covered, along comes another, even narrower one.  Lisa Renee Jones has kicked off a special-ops/military, paranormal, futuristic romance... and she's not the only one.  Readers who enjoy  Joss Ware's "Envy Chronicles", Jayne Ann Castle's Harmony series, Cindy Gerard and some of Lora Leigh's Elite Ops, and so on, will feel right at home here.

Jones' premise of genetically modified super-warriors is not unique in and of itself, but I really enjoyed her personal spin-- the windwalking talent is mysterious and sexy and dangerous and super-cool.  Love it.  Michael and Cassandra's world teeters on the brink of apocalypse, with the super-race bifurcated into Team Zodius, with the naked goal to rule the world and force ordinary, unmodified humans into slavery; and Team Renegade.  The thing that makes this series potentially Very Interesting is that Team Renegade is a long ways from white hats and rainbows.  Power struggles, loyalties, and betrayals abound, so if you enjoy political intrigue, this should be right up your alley.

While the redemption of Michael is a major theme, Legend  is more of a plot-driven story, in my opinion.  I never really bought into Michael's "badness" so the redemption was a bit less dramatic than it could have been, but this is a tough line to walk.  You can't make a hero too bad or the reader loses empathy.  Overall, I'd prefer an author to err on the side of "not quite that bad," as Jones perhaps does.  That line is highly individual though, so your take may differ.

Cassandra was an entirely adequate heroine, but more or less along for the ride and a bit of a Mary Sue if one were to be picky.  The villains are pretty much over the top evil, which leads me to...

World Building
I'm not always a fan of the military books, but I did like this one.  It starts out with a somewhat odd mix of the way-out paranormal and the mundane routine you might expect from a more realism-based contemp, but an early plot explosion sets the stage for the post-apocalyptic -- or more accurately, a pre-apocalyptic-- feel.  There is a sense throughout the story of a world on the edge of disaster, while Our Heroes struggle to contain and prevent the cataclysm.  The factions each live in something of a bunkered fortress while the rest of the world carries on more or less unaware.

Jones' Zodius world is consistent, creative, and compelling - it's a worthy scene-setter for a new paranormal romance series.  The foundation is laid and there are a number of interesting directions it could go.  This is another "fated mate" trope, and it doesn't really make any more sense to me than any of the others out there... but it's no worse, either.  There's a definite similarity to Leigh's Breeds in that lovemaking bilaterally "seals the deal" for the bond between them, changing both of them physiologically and emotionally/psychologically.  Personally, it's not a trope I dig that much but it's not the central focus here and didn't get in my way too much.

The one criticism I have about Jones' world is that the villains are too evil.  The genetic intervention takes a permutation that basically causes certain individuals to go insane, but I dunno.  I think it's less interesting than a "grayer" set-up.  Perhaps future books will have more nuance; I think she's left adequate loopholes and I hope she takes advantage of them.

Bottom Line
While I can't honestly say that this is the very best book I've read lately, I do think it's a well-written paranormal romance with strong plotting and world-building, and I would happily pick up Zodius #2: THE STORM THAT IS STERLING when it hits the shelves this November -- and that's really the acid test, isn't it?

Around The Blogosphere
The Minding Spot
Black Lagoon Reviews
A Buckeye Girl Reads

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

To Read or To Blog, That is the Question

I've been on a total book bender the last week or two, which partly explains why the blog is so silent.  I've read some great great stuff lately: I absolutely loved Afterlight by Elle Jasper and the buzz about Thea Harrison's Dragon Bound is 100% justified, if you ask me.  Devon Monk's latest Allie Beckstrom book delivered her customary awesomeness; I completely adored Nora Roberts' Bride Quartet and I'm dying to write a post about how she integrates characters with their careers and maybe another one about how much I love the way she writes a kiss scene; I'm in the middle of a fabulous Mary Jo Putney; I need to re-read this awesome Roberta Gellis re-release and review a new paranormal/special ops series by Lisa Renee Jones (liked a lot!); I think we need a discussion about the latest generation of vampires; I'm noodling on a post about romantic/erotic chase scenes and frankly I'm reduced to looking up synonyms for "awesome" to complete this paragraph.

What's got you excited about romance lately?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wickedly Charming, by Kristine Grayson -- Review

Appealing, vulnerable characters
Who doesn't love a good fairy tale?  I'm convinced that my love of romance in general dates back to the stack of well-thumbed fairy tale books of my childhood -- Grimms, Anderson, and their descendants and variants.

I must say I struggled a little bit with this book in the beginning.  I don't think I've ever run into so many parentheticals and nested parentheticals in so few pages before:

It was going to be hot-- California, too-dry-to-tolerate, fifty-bottles-of-Gatorade hot-- but it wasn't hot yet. Still, she hoped she had on enough sunscreen (even if it did make her smell like a weird chemical coconut). She had her hands on her hips (which hadn't expanded [much] since she was a beautiful young girl, who caught the eye of every man) as she surveyed the stunningly large building in front of her...

The first couple of chapters are riddled with paragraphs like this, in both the heroine and the hero's viewpoint. My guess is that this sort of stylistic choice was employed to add the light-hearted, gossipy, "wacky" voice, in kind of a satiric version of an omniscient narrator, or a parent-to-child effect as though the story was being read aloud. I found it a little overdone/awkward, but it eased up relatively quickly.

Prince Charming
While this is really a story about the heroine, I found the hero's arc to be very appealing. He starts out feeling defeated and past his prime, divorced and powerless.  At times, this characterization even teeters toward unattractive, but his character progression saves him. In letting the people he loves shine on their own, this prince discovers true power, true magic.  Charming is one of the better-drawn beta heroes I've seen, re-imagining his strength from the shallow "sweep you off your feet and into the sunset" style hero to the kind of man who provides a bedrock and battles villains, but stays out of the spotlight most of the time.

Stepmothers get a bad rap in fairytales, let's face it.  Really, "step-mother" is shorthand for "amoral greedy woman who comes to a bad end."  In this day and age of mixed families, it's time for an update.

I once read about a stepmother who listened to her stepchild relate a fond memory of something she'd shared with her mother.  The child mis-remembered; it was something that had happened with the stepmom.  But this particular biological mom was not the fairy-tale, loving, sadly deceased parent; she was alive and unwell and was not very capable of creating fond memories.  My friend, the stepmother, in one of the more selfless gestures I've ever heard of, said nothing, allowing the child to re-imagine that lovely memory with a woman who really, really didn't deserve it...because it made the child happy.

All this is by way of saying even the best stepmoms-- you know, the ones who don't lead the kids out into the woods and dump them, or make them pick cinders out of the fireplace ashes-- have it tough.  Grayson imagines a dark, intriguing backstory for this particular stepmother-- sometimes I was more interested in the backstory than the story-story.

The Story-Story
Frankly I'm always a little leery of a story where the main character is an author; frequently it feels a little too self-referential.  On the one hand, I can see how "telling her story" and the analog to the problematic (to the heroine) fairy tale genre makes it an obvious choice.  On the other, it's... a little obvious.  And a little self-referential. 

And if you're tired of bitter unsatisfied women being cast as the villain, don't look to this book for any major changes.  It seems that yesterday's Princess is today's Witch, with Charming's ex cast as the villain of the piece.

I thought the most interesting piece of the plot was the glimpse we got of the darker magics of the Kingdoms, but that element was a bit player at best.  Still, it served to play up Charming's brains and protectiveness, which helped balance his slightly over-done "geek" element, and there's a seed or two that might come back in other books in Grayson's fairy tale universe.

Bottom Line
Overall I enjoyed this character-driven story, mostly because it takes me back to my childhood enjoyment of fairy tales.  It's a story about second chances, and the message is a real one: you have to work for your happily-ever-after.  I thought it was uneven in places and sometimes felt like it was trying too hard; but it soon hit its stride and pulled together a readable reminisce with characters you'll root for.

Note: a review copy was provided to me by Sourcebooks.


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