Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Web of Lies by Jennifer Estep, book 2 of the Elemental Assassin series

Gin has entered her retirement as an assassin - she's now a college student and BBQ restaurant owner, hanging up her knives after her mentor died. Or so she thought.

An old friend of her foster-father shows up in her restaurant looking for help – and someone tries to kill her. Pulled in by the need to help her foster-father's friend (and because she's not tolerating any hits in her own restaurant) she finds them being intimidated into selling their land to a mining developer. Dragged in, she has to find out why their home is being threatened – who is doing it and how to solve it. And as an assassin, she only has one solution.

To add to the confusion, Detective Caine is again involved. Ashland's only honest police detective and he is faced with accepting Gin's less than legal solution, or pretending that there is any other chance at justice.

Of course, in addition, Gin has managed to anger one of Mab's chief lieutenants – and Mab herself seems to be increasingly more interested in her

While I liked this story I felt it was something of a climb down from the first book. I think Gin had much less personal (or monetary) stake in this book compared to the last book, which made me think she was much less of a self-lead character than she was before. She devotes her time, her energy, no small amount of money and risks her life for something she has very little stake in. Yes, it's altruistic but it also removes a sense of her power.

The world remains huge and compelling and I am still fascinated by the various beings living together in such a completely assimilated society. I want to see more of this and see it develop further with more information. Sadly, I wanted to see more of this in this books as well, but I don't think, world building wise, we're any further along than we were in the first book, it hasn't been developed further. It's still an awesome world, but I expected it to grow or to be shown greater depth.

In the first book, I found her relationship with Caine to be distracting, and the same applies. They have sex at the most inopportune times and often the story feels derailed either by Gin lusting after Caine or them bumping into some quasi-relationship issues. I think it distracts from the much stronger and much more interesting main plot.

POC-wise there are a few bit parts, and the primary love interest is Hispanic. Detective Caine plays a much smaller part in these books though. There is a vague suggestion that Mab may be a lesbian or bisexual. Yes, the sociopathic, depraved, torturing, murdering mob boss may be the books only GBLT.

I find Gin a less compelling character in this book, there's more angsty-self-analysis, more romantic navel gazing and, as said above, she seems less self-ruling than she was in past books.

I had hoped that Detective Caine would grow more, step off his pedestal and accept the world for what it is. And for a lot of the book we had that theme, him increasingly realising his rosy view of the world was unrealistic and did nothing for the victims, him adding shades of grey to his rigid black and white world... I enjoyed this and thought it had great potential to develop further. Until we got to the end of the book and the whole house of cards collapsed, it was a disappointment, I'd hoped for better and a nice, nuanced portrayal. I have a feeling we're going to return to this theme though.

This review feels very critical – and it is. But it is criticism that comes from high expectations and a high bench mark. I loved the first book, I loved the characters and I loved the world and I loved the story. The first book set a high standard and I was hoping to see it developed, hoping to see the characters develop, hoping to see Gin develop, hoping to see the world develop, hoping to see the meta-plot develop. And it didn't. None of these things really grew or advanced beyond where we left them in the first book.

But don't get me wrong, this book is still a good book with a good story. It is still set in this world I love and it still involved the characters that interest me. It hasn't gone any further and it doesn't live up to the standards the first book set, but it's still a great book, I never had a problem finishing it and I will happily – eagerly – pick up book 3. But I did expect more.