Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Crossbow toting assassin nuns? Yes please!

 Violence, Adult Situations

I was pleasantly surprised by Grave Mercy. And considering the fact that I had been eagerly anticipating this book for months, that's no easy feat! I fully expected it to be an entertaining story, it just wasn't exactly the story I was expecting. Set in medieval  Brittany - which is now part of France, but was then a duchy fighting to maintain its independence - Grave Mercy is the first installment of Robin LaFevers' His Fair Assassin series. Told in first person, the book centers around Ismae, who flees a brutal arranged marriage and is raised in a convent. But she didn't get your usual Catholic school education. The nuns at the convent of St. Mortain didn't whack people on the knuckles with rulers. Think battle axes instead!

Actually they'd lean toward subtler weapons: knives, daggers, garottes, crossbows, poisons. The convent of St. Mortain raised assassins. Not your typical convent, but then Mortain wasn't your typical Catholic saint. He was the Breton god of death, dressed up in Catholic robes to appease the Church, which didn't look too kindly on local pagan deities. Ismae was marked from birth as belonging to Mortain and the convent trained her to do his will.

Crossbow toting assassin nuns? Yes please!

You can see why I would be so excited to read this book. I was all geared up for an 549 pages of bloody action! Maybe the page count should have tipped me off that I'd be in for something a little different. What starts out as a medieval version of Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series - minus the boy troubles and with far less comedy - quickly turns into a story of aristocratic intrigue and court politics as Ismae leaves the convent in order to protect the adolescent duchess of Brittany from scheming advisers and backstabbing barons. I've got no problem with that! I happen to love history and politics. I found it very interesting learning about medieval Brittany and its struggle to maintain independence from France, especially since LaFevers faithfully carried over most of the people and events from the documented annuls of history. (Read the author's note for more on the subject of historical accuracy.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Badass, Katana-wielding Vampire Heroine!

The Immortal Rules
Author: Julie Kagawa

 Violence, Language

I have yet to read the immensely popular Iron Fey series, so The Immortal Rules was my introduction to the work of Julie Kagawa. Based on the first installment of this action filled vampire series, I need to further acquaint myself with the writing of one of the Young Adult world's brightest stars.

Set a few generations in the future, the Blood of Eden series centers around Allison Sekemoto, an unregistered scavenger living in a vampire controlled city were she must beg, borrow, and steal just to survive. During a foraging mission outside the safety of the city's walls, she and her gang are attacked by a swarm of rabids - creatures which were once human but are now mindless almost vampires. Think of the rage-consumed zombie-esque monsters from the film 28 Days Later, but with vampire strength, fangs, and sensitivity to sunlight. The monsters kill her friends and are about to finish her off when she's rescued by a dark stranger who offers her a choice. She can either die of her wounds or become what she hates most. I'll let you guess which she chooses, but just remember if she went with "A" then this would a shorter, much less interesting story.

So that's the background, now for my thoughts and ramblings. I have to admit that it took me a little while to get into this story. But once Kagawa was able to fully sink her fangs into me, she just wouldn't let go. I couldn't explain why until I finished the book and began analyzing it for this review. It turns out that I didn't find Allie all that likeable. I didn't completely dislike her like I did Ember Morris from Kristen Simmons' Article 5. (Read that review here). And it's not like she went off the deep end for 300 pages when her vampire boyfriend she's known for two seconds abandons her to the cliff-jumping werewolves in order to keep her safe. So I didn't hate Allie, I just didn't really like her. That is, until she became a badass, katana-wielding, rabid-slaying vampire. Allison Sekemoto's character was a little reminiscent of the character Selene (played by Kate Bekinsale) from the movie Underworld.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

I Hunt Killer Stories!

Author: Barry Lyga

Violence, Gore, Language, Adult Situations

And finding Barry Lyga's book was one of the most satisfying ends to a hunt I've ever experienced! I knew from the start that I was on the trail of something really good. Finding a story about a guy whose father is a notorious serial killer (over 100 murders) who raised him to follow in daddy's bloody footprints made me feel like a lion catching the scent of a particularly juicy gazelle. And with each masterfully written page I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins.

I love the concept for I Hunt Killers. It's somewhat reminiscent of the TV show Dexter, what with a kid being taught from an early age the best methods of brutally murdering a person without getting caught. In both cases, the protagonist struggles mightily against the monster within them. Barry Lyga did a fantastic job of keeping me in suspense about whether or not Jasper "Jazz" Dent would be able to keep his own demon at bay. He made me feel Jazz' agony about the horrors he had seen as well as the paralyzing fear of what he might become as a result.

As far as Jazz' father, Billy Dent is one of the more terrifying characters I've encountered, even if he is largely absent, appearing mainly in dreams, flashbacks, and discussion of his past crimes. The other primary characters, Sheriff G. William Tanner, friends Howie and Connie, The Impressionist, and Gramma are all well rounded, realistic characters who add depth to the story of Jazz' struggles to hunt down a serial killer and avoid becoming one himself. Lyga also includes enough potentially shady secondary characters to keep you guessing about the true identity of the latest monster to unleash a reign of terror on the small town of Lobo's Nod.

Realistic details of crime scene investigation and human physiology add even more realism to this dark tale which is part murder mystery, part psychological thriller, and all around great read. I would just like to include this one reader's advisory: Reading this book is likely to cause you a lot of sleepless nights, either through fear of nightmares involving serial killer Billy Dent or Christmas Eve style anticipation of the sequel which Santa Lyga currently has scheduled to deliver through your chimney in Spring 2013.