Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review of Curse The Dawn by Karen Chance Book Four in the Cassandra Palmer Series

I think that I have a love/hate relationship with this series.  At times, the characters, world and plot are absolutely fascinating, and at others, I struggle not to roll my eyes and toss my ereader across the room.  Curse the Dawn turned to be more of the same. 

At this point, Cassie has been the pythia for one month, but she still has not been crowned, because the circle refuses to acknowledge her right to fulfill this role, though the power clearly chose her.  At every turn, Cassie is being manipulated because if a group does not want her dead, they want her under control because of the strength of the office that she holds. I must say that I like the fact that Cassie is particularly resistant to being used and continues to hold onto her moral beliefs despite the fact that everyone around her continually encourages her to put them aside.  Even when she is under attack, the one thing that Cassie clearly respects is life and she will go to extraordinary lengths to protect it.

I wish that I could say more good about Cassie.  She is clearly devoted to doing what she thinks is right however unfortunately this too often takes the role of spunky agency.  She does not think through her decisions carefully and continually runs head long into trouble that in most cases could be avoided with a little bit of forethought. This makes the fact that Mircea keeps her in the dark about his plans perfectly acceptable.  It is hard to be upset with fact that both Mircea and Pritkin are condescending and paternalistic because at times, Cassie clearly needs to be lead around just to keep her head attached to her neck.  This of course takes away from the whole strong kick ass protagonist thing that Chance has going on.   Having a strong female character should mean that the majority of the time she uses the brain God gave her rather than continually rushing brashly along from one crises to another.

With Pritkin the war mage by her side, Cassie travels through ley lines and battles war mages in an attempt to save the world from the return of Apollo, who wants to reassert his power on the earth, by any means necessary.  At one point in the story, Pritkin and Cassie change bodies, which leads to some of the most hilarious scenes in the book.  How does a woman suddenly transported into a mans body suddenly deal with waking up with an erection that is demanding to be satisfied?  Even though this new male body is filled with strength and the ability to heal, it is still male and things like leg hair just don't feel right.

For the first time in this series, Chance decided to include LGBT characters.  The fact that it took her four books to do so, does not win her any awards from me.  It is further problematized by the fact that her gay male drag queens exist to serve the protagonist Cassie and serve as comic relief. They are loud, sassy and completely camp. Was it really necessary to have her gay male drag queens express and obsession with Jimmy Choos and sing Liza Minnelli and I'm Coming Out by Diana Ross? If that were not enough the drag queens also taunt the war mages about potentially being gay in order to throw them off balance, and of course, it works. For all of their fabulous dresses and shoes, they exist with only minimal power and their only real tangible ability besides cramping their large feet into shoes that are not their size, is the ability to sense power. If that sounds unimpressive, it is because it is.

The other first in this series is real inclusion for people of colour.  Because this is yet another example of four books in the making, Chance once again gets no cookies from me.  It was ridiculous to set a story in Las Vegas of all places and then have a Lilly White world and a plethora of supernatural beings. Caleb is a war mage but unlike Pritkin, he is still sworn to the circle and therefore does not respect Cassie standing as Pythia.  This as it turns out is naive and it troubles me to some degree that the White Pritkin could so easily see the truth, while Caleb could not.  Really, a Black man with complete faith in the system?  Uh Huh.  

One of the major flaws with this series has always been the constant time shifting.  I understand why Chance chose to include it as a plot device, but it often made the books difficult to follow and at time extremely repetitive.  I am happy to report that in Curse the Dawn, there is very minimal shifting involved and in fact Cassie learns that in many cases, playing with the timeline could lead to disastrous results.  Unfortunately, though Chance avoids this pitfall, she jumps right into another, with her attempt to write an action book.  To be fair, I completely understand that because the council and Apollo both want her dead that it makes sense that there are numerous attempts on Cassie's life however having the book devolve from one battle scene into another was actually quite boring, and took away from the plot. After a time, the battle scenes began to feel like filler, as though Chance had become bored with her own story. 

In Curse the Dawn, Chance finally stopped introducing us to important historical figures.  At first it was cute to do things like bring Elvis back as a zombie, but by the time she had Cassie talking with Jim Morrison in his graveyard in Paris, in the last book, it all became irritating and trite. 

It is certainly fair to say that in Curse the Dawn, Chance finally let go of some of the issues that have plagues the Cassandra Palmer series to date; however, she simply added new ones to take their place.  Reading Curse the Dawn was like watching as potential slowly got poured down the drain and this is a real shame, as Chance is clearly a talented writer with a vivid imagination.  To tie all the threads together, eliminate problematic elements and then throw in isms for shits and giggles detracts from what cold otherwise be a brilliant story from a talented writer.