Sunday, February 21, 2010

Once Bitten, Twice Shy, by Jennifer Rardin - Review

This is apparently not the most common cover for this title, but it's the one I have, so I wanted to use this version for the post. Anybody else have this slightly-weird little tic?

Anyway, I can thank Jackie for nudging me into this League of Reluctant Adults mini-challenge, because Jaz Parks is my favorite new heroine in a long time. It's possible that Ms. Rardin's husband said it best - in the author blurb at the back of the book under "extras" is this conversation:
...when I finally confessed to him my love for all things vampire, ... he said, "Then maybe you should write a vampire novel." To which I replied, "It's all been done already." And he said, "Not by you."

And I have to say, the man was ten kinds of SO RIGHT. (That must be hard to live with, eh?)

Sometime in the late 80s, popular action-hero movies underwent a bit of a shift. To make them the perfect date movie, they needed to appeal more to women. Before Die Hard, most of them < alert: sweeping generalization ahead > consisted of car chases, shoot-outs, explosions, and beautiful but diabolical female double-agents in bikinis. Sometimes all at once. With Die Hard, we got a really unexpected dose of humor but no let-up in the suspense or thrills, and IMO it changed action-thrillers forever.

This alchemy that romance and vampire mythology has got going on has been explosive and effective, but it's becoming a little bit old hat. It's not easy to come up with interesting twists. What Rardin has done is to throw in a little bit of Die Hard-style action into the UF/PNR mix, and done it so well that the next Die Hard sequel really ought to involve vampires.

The Same Only Different
Per the Official UF Style Guide, Jaz is a kick-ass, heavily armed, slightly neurotic red-head who tells her story in first person. However, Jaz's voicing of this story is outstanding. It's appealingly conversational and wise-cracky; perceptive and smart but fallible; layered and full of personality. Jaz has a complicated history but there's no info-dumping -- the tidbits about her character are handed out in the perfect balance between tantalizing and satisfying.

I also like that the term "kick-ass" doesn't actually appear anywhere; and Jaz has a professional approach to her abilities. She trains; she's a professional soldier of sorts; she understands what she can do (physically, anyway) and it's all handled without neurosis or disingenuous surprise at her abilities "under duress". The kick-ass is merely factual and comes through in the unfolding of events. I'm not sure I'm expressing this right, but bottom line is -- she pulls off the professional thing for me, refreshingly.

I really liked the political plotting of the story -- it's a modern "problem" that the team of Jaz and Vayl need to solve, and the paranormal elements are... well, I wouldn't say "window-dressing," exactly... What I mean is, this is the sort of story that has been told repeatedly through the ages: about power and betrayal and politics and double-cross. What makes it unique to us today are Rardin's wonderful characters and the unique paranormal world-building. It has the clean spare pacing of military-style contemporary, and the paranormal bits are treated matter-of-factly; in the same way another author might treat hostile terrain or enemy weaponry.

Speaking of weaponry, anybody who's a fan of Bond's Q or Inspector Gadget should get a kick out of Jaz's goodies. The scenes where they're introduced are exactly like every classic spy movie where the agent gets briefed on how they work, which seemed a little tongue-in-cheek to me in a fun way. Imaginative, useful, and within the realm of possibility, the gadgets have a high "cool factor" and are an entertaining bit of frosting on this cupcake without overwhelming or bogging down the action.

The only thing that did not come off flawlessly for me was, to some extent, the paranormal world building. I really liked the vampires, and the take-it-in-stride way that Jaz and the other human characters have just absorbed the fact of their existence. I liked most of the world-building to do with Vayl.

However, the stuff that was specific to this book's plot spun into the Very Very Complicated, with a side order of Over The Top-- demons, soul-eating, the Mysterious Happening that Happened to Jaz (I still don't really get what exactly Happened there), Cassandra (nice name for the seer!) and the Enkyklios ... I dunno, I guess it all worked out in the end but I was pretty close to getting lost there for awhile. My sense is that much of this is underpinning for the rest of the series, and that maybe some of it could have been parceled out later.

Overall though, this is the most promising new (to me) series I've started in a while; I love Jaz's voice and military-ops style of the pacing and I can't wait to find out more about Vayl and what, exactly, Jaz is to him.

League of Reluctant Adults Mini Challenge

Reviews for the Challenge

For my League reviews, click on the tag "League of Reluctant Adults" - this will show you everything I've talked about on these authors, whether it's part of Jackie's challenge or not.


Sayuri said...

I LOVE this series. it wa son of the first UF series I read.

I still haven't read the newer titles.

Great review. Ahh Vayl..

But Jaz is great, One of my all time fav heroines. Aww man, my re-read list is getting longer and longer.

Mandi said...

A professional heroine who is not "kick ass?" Dare I read?? ;)

This one sounds pretty awesome!

Thanks for the review.

Nicola O. said...

Mandi, she *IS* kickass, it's just that she doesn't need to TELL you that. It just comes through in the story.

Which is very kick-ass, in a meta sort of way.

Carolyn Crane said...

Oh, fabulous review. I love this part:

"It has the clean spare pacing of military-style contemporary, and the paranormal bits are treated matter-of-factly; in the same way another author might treat hostile terrain or enemy weaponry"

I haven't read this book, or series, but now I have to, now that I see what's up with it. And I want to read the other leaguers books anyhow. Okay, I so know what you mean about Die Hard. That was a hell of a movie and hero! So real. And, he cried at one point, too. Oh, so good.

Brenda Hyde said...

I actually have read four of the Jaz books but started before the mini-challenge so I didn't use it for that. I need to get my butt in gear and review them.

You really hit it on the quote Carolyn commented on. I'm not sure I could even put that into words so I might have to link to your review and quote it. BAHAHAHA

Oh, and by the way, the books just keeping getting better as you read them!


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