Friday, February 20, 2015

Grave Matters (Night Owls #2) by Lauren M Roy

Ellie has a home. And a family. And friends. She’s not entirely sure how to deal with having any of these things since they’re all somewhat alien to her. She’s a hunter, a nomad, a warrior – this new life takes some getting used to. Even including being hired as a hunter for the vampire Strigoi.

But a necromancer comes to town and starts causing trouble for the enter Night Owls’ family, raising ghosts, sending ghouls rampaging through Justin’s mentor’s home and threatening to bring spectres from Sunny and Lia’s past. Worse, he seems to be involved deeply in a brewing conflict between the Strigoi and a new vampire organisation, the Osin. War is being declared, but who is doing the declaring?

This is a book that, to me, is defined by its characters. I’m actually hard pressed to say who the protagonist is. I lean towards Ellie, simply because she was pretty much the protagonist in the first book and because there’s a slight emphasis on her. This multiple protagonist element works because they all have compelling storylines and characterisations – and actual character growth

Ellie has a lot of growth and building over such a huge change in her life. She has gone from a nomadic hunter of the supernatural with only one person to rely on (who is now dead) and now she has a family (a brother she has issues with due to what she saw as his previous abandonment), she has friends, she has a stable, static existence and she’s not entirely sure how to be this person. How to be domestic, how to have other people in her life – and that shows a lot with her still pursuing a hunting job not so much for morals or even money per se (though it’s a bonus especially since her viewpoint is constantly used for some excellent class commentary. She and Cavale spent most of their lives poor and have been denigrated and dismissed because of it) but simply because hunting and fighting is something she knows, something she can have without the others.

And there’s Cavale, her brother. He had strong reasons for “abandoning” Ellie and the despised man who raised them. But there’s the difficulty of Ellie still worshipping him and Cavale’s guilt and Ellie’s resentment. Like Ellie, even though he has been stable for some time, he has no experience of a domestic existence and now he has a sister, there living with him. His insecurity, his worry about how to make her happy, about whether she’s just going to leave and how he actually can make a household; which then leads to Ellie not knowing how to deal with her brother trying to play house.

There’s a brief suggestion that Cavale may be bisexual or gay – in one line he comments on the physical attractiveness of another man. It’s somewhat out of nowhere and never mentioned again which kind of bemused me and I had to go back a second time to check. It’s one line so I’m kind of waiting before flagging this.

Val is another interestingly conflicted character – she has her nice, safe normal life which was always very good for her because a life as a hunter had cost her loved ones. So she wants to be a nice, safe vampire. Buuut after all the action of the last book her blood is up

And there’s Chas. Val’s nice normal human Renfield who is a fun, snarky human. Just a human. Not a hunter, no magic, no fighting skills. He’s a book store clerk. He sells books – and realises just how much of a weak link in the chain he is and how vulnerable he is.

Side characters we have Lia and Sunny who are Succubi, lesbians and one of them a POC. I like them and they do have their own storyline even if they are side characters compared to the others – but they are clearly there as something concrete and interesting more than simple tokens.

One problem with the numerous developed characters with their own storyline is, well, that they have their own storylines. Each character in this book has their own set of issues and plot to work through – Val her vampire instincts, Ellie her insecurities, Cavale his family issues with Ellie, Justin becoming a new vampire, Chaz dealing with his feelings of inadequacy even, to a lesser extent, Sunny and Lia’s worry about being found

That’s a lot of plot lines. Not only is it a lot of plot lines but it’s a lot of plot lines that aren’t, especially, connected that closely. Up until about half way through the book it almost feels like several short stories have been mooshed together without a central plot, theme or antagonist. Yes there was the necromancer who was lurking around but, again, for about half the book it’s a vague threat kind of lurking in the background.

It’s not that the book is hard to read at this point, as mentioned above, these character stories are great fun. But it does lack focus

I also can’t say I’m a big fan of how it ended because I don’t think it held up. There’s a kind of “twist” that turns out that there was someone behind the whole thing doing lots of crafty scheming. I get the whole idea of crafty scheming and ancient, cunning beings playing long, convoluted political games but this didn’t work for me because even when it’s resolved I still don’t get WHY the character in question did what they did. I feel the author wants this character to be the shadowy cunning big bad to set up the next book and because it’s kind of iconic for this kind of character. But even with the plot revealed I’m still at a complete loss as to what the motivation behind this plot was which undermines it considerably.

So the plot doesn’t hold together that well. The writing is good in terms of pacing – which is quite an achievement given the number of different characters doing their own thing. It’s nicely balanced and these characters are good enough and interesting enough that the plot being really rather shaky doesn’t stop it from being fun.

I look forward to the next book – though I can kind of see the direction it’s heading, it promises to be interesting. And, ultimately, with these characters the plot is more a device to display them than the main focus.