Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review of Unbound by Kim Harrison, Melissa Marr, Jeaniene Frost, Vicki Pettersson and Jocelynn Drake

We don't normally read anthologies here at Fangs for the Fantasy, but having read many of the authors in this book, I decided to give it a chance.  

Ley Line Drifter by Kim Harrison

In The Hollows series, Rachel is the protagonist, with Ivy and Jenks forming her version of a scooby group.  Ley Line Drifter takes a different approach because Jenks is the protagonist and Ivy and Bis are his backup.  He is approached by a Pixie named Vincet for help.  Vincet's children are being attacked by  a statue in his garden and he has already lost one of his newlings. Jenks is originally surprised that he has been approached to do a run all by himself, but he jumps at the chance to prove what he can do.  

He takes the time to think about his actions determined not to leap head first into things the way that Rachel does but inevitably makes the same mistake, with Bis having to save his life twice.  Jenks is excited to take his son, Jumoke on the run because he understands that because the young buck has brown hair and brown eyes, that he will have difficulty finding a wife and tying himself to the land.  This means that Jumoke must develop some sort of skill/trade in order to feed himself. I loved their interaction because often in the books, all we see is Jenks yelling at his children, and in this short story, we really get to see him as a parent, and his love and concern for his family.

We learn more about Pixy society and how a short hard life, makes every single victory important.  There isn't anything that Jenks won't do for the stability of his family but now that he has everything he finally wanted, he begins to question the wish he made for sterility.  He and Matilina can have no more children, though this wish has probably extended Matilina's life, he still misses the joy that comes with an infant.  This is something that I can relate with as mother who no longer has any babies in the house. 

Reading this story, for the first time in a very longtime, I didn't find Jenks irritating.  Most of the time he is busy ranting on about Tinks panties that it is hard to take him seriously. I really feel as though Harrison invested in making Jenks a fully fleshed out character for a change, and it saddens me to know that she didn't carry this through the rest of the The Hollows series.  

Reckoning by Jeaniene Frost

As someone who is not familiar with Frost's work before this short story, I feel that it was a great introduction to what her world might be like.  It was a touch cliche in that it was set in New Orleans and had a British vampire but I can forgive her because at least Frost manages to avoid the tell tale bleedin' and bloomin' nonsense that writers normally use to ensure that the character is read as authentically British.

Bones, a vampire, took the job of killing two ghouls under the false assumption that he was hired to do so by the voodooo vampire queen of New Orleans.  Marie is strong not only because of her age as a vampire but because of the fact that in life she was a voodoo princess.  In many ways, this once again constructs voodoo as a dark force behind power.  Vampires themselves are descended directly from Cain, which not new origin myth for them.  This was not expanded upon so I have no idea how Frost differentiates this from similar vampire stories with the same origin myth. I assume that this is something that she delves into further detail in, in her series.  In this story ghouls are created simply be drinking a vampires blood before they die.

This is one of the few stories in the genre that I have read that actually includes a disabled character. Jelani is a ghoul who had his arms and legs eaten by a ghoul before transition.  His body has the ability to heal; however, injuries before transition are permanent.  Apparently during life he was a slave, which judging from where they are located he is a man of colour; however, other than this fact, Frost did nothing else to make this clear.  Jelani contracted Bones to kill the ghouls because he wanted revenge on those who had killed his wife and turned him against his will.  Even though he knew the cost for this betrayal of Marie would mean his life, he was determined to act.  I liked the fact that Jelanie was given the agency to act but I don't like the fact that he was still described as helpless relative to the able bodied characters in the book.  A great deal was made about the fact that he could not defend himself and that without Marie's protection he would be vulnerable.

I really liked this story though the only strong female character was largely absent for most of the story and the protagonist is a White male.  I didn't like the fact that Bones was more than willing to use women to get to his end objective, though he did seem at the end to be sorry about what happened to Becca.  It really felt that women were indeed disposable to him, though this of course was justified by her humanity.

I loved Frosts writing and found that the story moved really quickly.  When it was over, I found myself wanting more and that is a great sign of a good short story, though I worry that over time, Bones arrogance might be a barrier to enjoying her work.

Dark Matters by Vicki Pettersson

Those familiar with Pettersson's work will recognize immediately that the purpose of this short story is fully flesh out Hunter's history.  I begins when the Aries champion was known as Jay - a man who found himself struggling to fulfill the role that he was born to, even as he continues to suffer the trauma of watching his parents die before his eyes, by the agents of the dark.

It isn't until he meets Solange, that Jay believes that he has finally achieved the happiness that he is due.  The problem of course is that Solange is from the dark side of the zodiac.  They form a truce when they are together but he wonders about whether or not he can trust her.  Jay cannot help but love her and feels deeply that the fact that she has chosen to engage in a relationship with him means, that it may be possible to sway her to the side of the good.  Birth he ponders, does not have to be destiny, even as he understands his desire to play hero and save her is a problem and extremely unrealistic.

For her part, Solange is never dishonest with Jay. She tells him from the beginning that the only interests she supports are her own and that more than anything, she wants to be relevant.  The business of living and dying are in many ways immaterial to her.

Jay's love for her, causes him to ignore all of the warnings that she issues and even when she so clearly betrays him, he goes back to her because of the promise of a child.  He commits betrayal against his troop convincing himself that the two of them can remake the world as they see fit, and this is yet another example of his naivete and patriarchal desire to save a woman, who has told him repeatedly that she does not wish to be saved.  

In the end Solange does just as she promised she would, and betrays the father of her child.  Those who have read the entire series are well aware of what becomes of Solange, and so I won't spoil it for those of you who have not.  All of the hardship that Jay faced could have been avoided had he listened to his instincts instead of his dick and then later his heart.  He forgot all of the lessons that his parents tried to teach, in favor of his own selfish desires. Solange may have been evil to the core, but she never lied.  I loved the fact that Pettersson went to such great lengths to disturb the idea that it's a man's job to save a woman from herself and this is something that we rarely see in urban fantasy.

The Dead, the Damned, and the Forgotten by Jocelynn Drake

This short story is set in Savannah Georgia, before Mira meets Dannus.  It is not nearly as nuanced as Nightwalker, the first book in the Dark Days series. Someone is killing vampires and humans in Mira's territory.  If that were not enough, Bishop a messenger for the coven is threatening to remove Mira from her territory if she cannot uncover who the guilty party is. We are told that the coven has a history of torturing newborns and that Mira participated, but we are given no real reason as to why she would fear this outcome.  Having read the first  two books in the series, I know that Mira is suffering from PTSD due to the torture she was subjected to.

Mira seems to wonder aimlessly from place to place, always arriving after all the clues have disappeared.  In terms of mysteries, it is not really compelling, and the person ultimately behind the murders is readily obvious from the get go, to anyone who is remotely familiar with the series.

The short story does include two lesbian characters for the first time, unfortunately, one partner is murder by the other.  Would it really be to much to have a loving GLBT couple in urban fantasy?  Lauren kills her partner after Mira refuses permission for Katie to be turned.  Part of the protocol for refusal involves wiping the memory of the applicant, and this caused Katie to forget all about her long term relationship with Lauren.  I can't have you, so I'll kill you is not love.  To me this like just another failed effort at inclusion.  To make matters worse, Lauren was manipulated from start to finish, making the murders about about property, rather than love denied.

I was not overly impressed by the story; however, it's pretty on par with what I have read of Drake's so far.

Two Lines: Melissa Marr 

This short story was my first exposure to Melissa Marr and I am extremely impressed.  Eavan is a glaistigs virgin, which means that she has not reached her maturity because she has not had sex and she has never killed anyone.  Her goal is to remain human because she sees her glaistig heritage as evil.  The galistigs are matriarchal society and to be born a member of this fae culture, one must have a galistig mother and a human father.  They entire clan is run by Nyx, Eavan's grandmother.

Eavan is absolutely desperate to live a human life, though her family very much approves.  She uses routine to keep her from giving into her urges.  Despite many years of fighting when she meets Daniel a drug dealer who crushes the bones of the innocent into his cocaine, she is drawn to hunt him.  She knows that this is dangerous but she justifies it by feeling a need to save his largely young female victims. She wants to kill him and steal his last breathe.  

This entire story is about whether birth is destiny, or if you can choose to be something which you were told you always had to be.  Eavan is very sure about what she wants and why but the temptations just keep coming. Suspecting that Eavan is in way over her head Nyx, hires Cillian to protect her.  Not only is this an inconvenience to Eavan in terms of trapping Daniel, Cillian is extremely attractive, thus fueling her desire to have sex.

There were no people of colour, or GLBT people in this story whatsoever.  I did however very much enjoy seeing a matriarchal world.  Though Cillian is supposed to protect Eavan, she outsmarts him repeatedly.  The Nyx is chilling and strong.  

When this short story was over, I absolutely wanted to read more of Marr's work.  It was so very good that I was shocked to discover that this story is not part of an expansive body of work.

I found that each author gave just enough for us to have a taste for their world or their writing style.  Some stories are obviously better than others but that's what you get with an anthology.    This book is 317 pages long but it was intensely fast read and I never found myself feeling bored.  I do however wish that there had been more diversity amongst the stories that were selected.  It seems that no matter the format, as long as it's urban fantasy historically marginalized people still have to struggle for good representation.