Friday, August 8, 2014

Sanguine Eyes (Salt Lake After Dark #3) by J.K. Walker

With a werewolf gang moving into the area and starting a war with the local werecats, a new supernatural drug hitting the streets that makes people preternaturally strong and nearly immune to pain and injury, several disappearing vampires and a new werecougar who really needs Jazz to show her the ropes – everything seems to be happening at once for Jazz. It’s overwhelming, it’s non-stop and it threatens the supernatural in the city from several angles

Not least because of supernaturally-aware government agents showing up – and news of the supernatural finally being leaked to the world at large

This book has an immensely fast paced, action packed storyline. It pulls in all the characters we’ve seen before and faces off against threats from all sides that hit so many of them personally.

It has some really well written fight scenes, just designed to get the blood pumping with excitement  - which is hard to do in print and few authors manage to pull it off. We have an involved, complicated and multi-faceted investigation without dead zones, without it being too linear, without it being simplistic or obscure. We also have multiple storylines, each with complex, real threads, each of which demand Jazz’s attention, each of which are vitally important and show how overwhelmed she is – but at the same time they all manage to come together excellently.

And through it all we have Jazz, with her awesome (and predominantly female) friends, intelligent and skilled without unnecessary “chosen one” elements. A keen sense of duty that is really sold (even if she does go over the top, it’s really well portrayed as I mentioned in my review of Hollow Eyes  –her sense of duty is her sense of responsibility, her sense of professionalism and her way of proving herself.

It also continues with its diversity, with Jazz having 2 lesbian friends (albeit in more background roles since the earlier books but they’re still awesome with some excellent unique skills on Rachel’s part – and there’s some mention of homophobia Rachel faces from her family), being half-Chinese herself and having Japanese, Latino, Native American and Black characters all as important connections, friends and actors in the supernatural world and close to Jazz. We do have some elements that continue the shakiness – like the prevalence of Latino gang members (but they’re not demonised for it or presented as having just one aspect to their personalities) and an evil-voodoo practitioner (but we also have a voodoo practitioner who isn’t evil as well) but in general the main problem is simply having so many characters and not the time and the space to give them all screen time – especially since this book was very narrow to Jazz even while it involved everyone.

That’s a recipe for a lot of awesome. But there’s an issue. A big one

There’s a lot that happens that isn’t explored to the degree I’d expect it to – or doesn’t have the same kind of impact I’d expect it to. This is going to be hard to write about without spoiling so I’m going to do a lot of dancing around the subjects.

 Like Jazz suffers a severe loss in this book – but she kind of rolls with it. Yes she grieves but she keeps moving and doesn’t suffer the magnitude of loss I’d expect. I think part of the reason why it’s so jarring to me is that Jazz’s muted reaction also kind of mirrored my own. I don’t think we’ve truly been shown how much these people mean to Jazz, I don’t think the relationships have been properly established or the characters fully developed enough for the loss to be felt. When Jazz didn’t seem to feel the loss that deeply, it only emphasised how little the lost mattered to me in the story’s context. I considered it a distraction.

There was also the arrival of Jason who brought two things: a brand new and fascinating supernatural and a government agency involved in investigating and, it seems, policing the supernatural. Again, neither of these things are investigated to a huge degree but both of them are far too major to be discounted they way they were. Even if we count them all as being far too busy to be interested in a new supernatural, the government knowing about, being involved in and actively intervening in the supernatural is, theoretically, far more dangerous, far reaching and important than the actual plot line they’re dealing with. It wasn’t just during the action, but even at the end of the book everyone seemed inclined to let it go and move on without spending too many brain cells worrying about it.

While these are the ones that were the most glaring, there were also some elements that were interesting – but the book was far too full to properly develop them so they ended up being kind of untouched or hurried without the impact explored. Jazz’s friendship with Victoria, the vampire leader, for example. Or her dominance battles with Leon, the werecat alpha (which would have been so excellent to explore). Or there was Jim and his daughter Faith. Or Detective Tabatha’s whole friendship and working with Jazz – that needed to be there more. Just little tid-bits thrown in any of which should really have been a full story element.

There are other elements in this book that aren’t wrong, but feel like they’re happening too soon or haven’t been properly supported in the series to date. I can see them happening – I just think there needed to be a lot more development for them to happen, a lot more of the character’s lives or these storylines displayed before these events. Take the big bad. The big bad has apparently been the big bad throughout this series. And I can sort of see it if I remember and strain – but there’s been so little focus on him that it kind of lost me. These stories have been very much about Jazz and her friends, they’ve been very personal stories. Because of that, the whole concept of a big bad wasn’t really necessary, the meta-ties of the series were the relationships and character development; monster of the week would have worked. The big bad took too much of a back seat and when the big confrontation happened I was less “it’s HIM?!” and more “uh… who are you again?”

And there’s the big ending where Jazz’s relationship with the werewolf pack dramatically changes and… I don’t see it. Or, rather, I haven’t seen it. I have not seen Jazz develop this level of closeness to the pack, I have not seen her make lots of friends among the pack, I haven’t seen her spend much time with the pack. I have seen no foundation over the course of this series to justify this new event, it was jarring and out of place because it was a great big tower built on sand.

This sounds like I’m complaining a lot (and I am). But the core of all of my complaints is that this book – indeed, this series – has a lot of REALLY GOOD IDEAS. Some really brilliant, original, fascinating ideas and I want to chase down every one and see them all developed and explored for all their juicy fascinatingness. But there isn’t room to develop all of these ideas in the time provided so too many fall all limp and flabby and under-explored. There’s an excess of inspiration and far too many good things in this book. So many good things that so many of them just don’t get the time and the respect they deserve. There were enough ideas in this book for half a series – and they were just mooshed in.

There’s so much awesome here – but that awesome could have been far far more awesome if it’d been allowed to grow and develop over another 3 or even 4 books.