Thursday, September 5, 2013

Beneath the Skin (Maker's Song #3) by Adrian Phoenix

Dante, Heather, Von and Annie head back to New Orleans, back home. But there are a lot of people hunting them after what happened in the last book – and Dante’s secret is now well and truly shattered

With multiple FBI agents, the Elohim from Gehenna, assassins, agents, vampires from several factions all vying for Dante’s attention, his life or his power, it’s a twisty maze to navigate

Especially since Dante’s mind is shattered, the past continually intruding into his daily senses and him constantly being brought down by agonising seizures as he tries to absorb his newly resorted memories and the horrors he’s lived through. Only Heather can anchor his damaged psyche to the present and control his omnipotent power.

I’m wondering if this book was held upside down and somehow this caused all the story to pour to the end?

Because it’s a 350 page book that has endless amounts of foreshadowing and the 8 gazillion characters all carefully moving into position before we actually get some stuff happening at about page 300.

It’s not that there’s nothing in the rest of the book – but it’s either from the VAST CAST of side characters or it’s repeating what we already know.

Dante is unstable, dangerous, has an extreme problem holding onto reality and keeps getting lost in flashbacks of his horrendous past which, unfortunately, means his quite literally omnipotent god powers go out of control. And it’s really well done – it’s extremely well written how these moments are described and you can feel the different realities colliding in his head. Sometimes with just a line of dialogue, sometimes a full seen which is brilliantly evocatively described. I take my hat off to this writing, it’s truly a master piece

And it was good the second time. And the third. And the fourth. The fifth was pretty good too and… ok, I get it! We don’t need more repetitions.

And Heather loves Dante and Dante loves Heather and Annie is disturbed and shouldn’t trusted. Repeated a hundred times.

Then there’s an FBI chase that gets called out. There’s an FBI cover up of the dramatic proportions – so we see all the detail. We see them discovering in shock and horror what happened, the sheer extent of Dante’s power and try desperately to put a lid on it. It’s, again, really well written, exciting and extremely evocative as FBI and SB agent after agent look at what happened and struggle to come to terms with the sheer power of what has happened. I love it, I love their realisation, I love their struggling to understand, I love their hurry to get control over it…

And then there’s a several page radio interview of civilians reporting on the FBI cover up… why? I already know what the FBI are doing. I saw them do it. Why do I need it rehashing? Why is this section even here.

Then there’s the FBI and SB agents running around and, in the revelation, more and more of them splintering into various factions as they grasp what is happening, what has happened and what that means for them.

So we have Merri and Emmet, vampire and human team who I like, agents of the SB they know their boss is lying to them and run away before being messed with. They go rogue and possibly hitting up a faction of vampires.

Then there’s their boss, Gillespie, who lied to them who has decided to go rogue and ignore his orders because of various reasons. He’s a separate rogue from them.

Then there’s Rutgers, who we remember went rogue last book, well she’s gone well and truly rogue now to be a full blown loose cannon.

Then there’s Underwood, the woman who drove Rutgers into going rogue. Guess what? She’s going rogue! Only less dramatically, she’s being all sneakily rogue instead.

We have Caterina, SB assassin, who already went rogue last book. But her handler is going rogue a DIFFERENT way to kill his boss because he disagrees with the rules. And she disagrees with both the boss and her handler, so she’s like rogue twice over.

Seriously, this many agents ready to go rogue it makes me wonder how such ethically questionable (in fact, let’s not mince words about assassins and torturers) managed to hold it together at all! How do they make any decisions without half of the organisation heading to the hills with guns to play loose cannon? I look forward to the day they switch to decaf – and then the caffeinated hordes of SB and FBI agents will head to the Starbucks, gun in hand ready to bring down the system and do what is right – no matter the cost (it sounds better if you read it in a dramatic movie voice over style).

And look at all those factions guys! That’s just the FBI and Shadow Branch – perhaps the most minor of the players in the book and we have a stunning 6 different factions and agenda. And every single last one of these characters has a backstory, some information about them. Ok, it’s wonderful to flesh out side characters but when you have this many there’s a huge amount of time spent on them. I know about Merri’s past as a slave when she was human. I know about Underwood’s murdered son. I know about Gillespie’s wife who left him and his drink problem. I know a whole lot about Rutger’s angst about Sherridan, one of her agents.

None of this is bad in and of itself – but when you add it all together you have an awful lot of trivia about an incredible number of characters.

Because from there we have 3 vampire factions and one, the Circle de Druide, led by Renata (Catrina’s mother, sort of) is actively involved and linked to the Shadow Branch. And her representative wings his way over the Atlantic. But the local vampires hate Dante for killing Etienne (remember him? I barely did) so they have their own agenda.

Then there’s the Elohim and Gabriel and Star and Lucien with their own machinations.

The thing is, I love all of it. I love the humanising of these characters, I love that they’ve been turned into actual characters rather than just names. I love several of the different factions. The scenes are dramatic and well explained and full of evocative emotion and description. I get a really powerful sense of theme and location and true emotional impact from everything that happens, from every person. I cannot exaggerate in saying just how well the epicness, the power, the impact of every scene is so excellently conveyed. I love so much of this book

But there IS so much of it. And the same repetition I’ve mentioned with Dante being beautiful and tortured happens frequently throughout the book. We have an excellent scene conveying some powerful emotion – then another scene to do the same thing, then another and then followed by another.

Between the repetition and the sheer number of characters and the development of the sheer number of characters and their factions as well as building this vast world with angels, vampires, nomads, the FBI and the Shadow Branch – there just isn’t any room for the actual plot any more.

When the plot does hit – at the end of the book – it is epic and fun and just what I’ve been waiting for. But the rest of the book was spent positioning the 8 gazillion characters. It meant I loved and enjoyed this book and was completely and utterly hooked by it – but equally I was immensely frustrated by it.

Inclusionwise, we do have a few POC in this vast class – including Underwood, a big head honcho in the Shadow Branch being a Black woman along with Merri, the vampire rogue Shadow Branch FBI agent. I’m beginning to think that Von is white though I’m still very unsure – but unless Merri gets developed (which I’m hopeful that she will be especially since her maker is another WOC vampire and seems to be involved with one of the factions at least) it does put these interesting, non stereotyped, capable women in relatively minor roles. With the sheer number of characters, it would nice to see some of the POC actually play a more active part of the story rather than be part of the vast sea of background.

I think Emmet may be gay or bi, there was one side reference that said he found Dante attractive (but, then, EVERYONE finds Dante attractive because he is the super sexy avatar of amazing sexiness with extra sex on top), so I’m going to go with a tentative possibly. Another nail has been added to the coffin of Dante’s potential bi-ness with Heather being jealous of him feeding on someone – then being relieved because he fed on a man not a woman. It doesn’t make sense for Heather to be jealous of anyone in the context, but if Dante is bi she should have equal irrational jealousy to men as women.

Annie continues to hang around looking for a chance to snark off, push people’s buttons, be a burden or sabotage them whenever she is able. No, really, this is the sum total of her role. May something eat her soon – except then I’d have to wade through pages of Heather angst.

Thankfully, with so many characters we do have a number of capable, competent women being finger sketched. Underwood and Rutgers hold high levels of authority and respect in their various agencies. Caterina is a capable and deadly assassin. Merri is certainly capable, has an excellent dynamic with Emmet and her maker. And we have Renata, head of the Circle de Druide who seems awesomely cunning and manipulative – of course this is all backed with Heather as well. A lot of the women are strong in the “no nonsense detective with gun” sense – but then, so are most of the men in the book.

I want to love this book but it is such hard work. The repetition, the shifting points of view, the vast glut of character, the random incidences of Italian and Cajun French and made-up-angel words that sounds kind of like Welsh thrown together with Dante’s own hallucinations and flashbacks (and now Heather’s having them as well about her mother) make it a really hard book to read. When I make the effort, it’s awesome and I love it – but it is a lot of effort.