Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cursed by Fire (Blood & Magic #1) by Danielle Annett

Aria Naveed is a mercenary and a pretty good one; but one with a secret. She’s a pyrokinetic, when she gets angry, things burn. This makes her very deadly – but very much in demand

But when her investigation into the death of murdered child uncovers a complicated plot that could bring the vampire Coven and shapeshifter pack to open warfare, she finds her secret perilously close to be revealed

And an intriguing stranger is ready to recruit her – but even with her long dead family involved, she’s unsure about exactly what it is he wants her to join

I was immensely frustrated by the writing in this book. It is so terribly overwritten and full of redundancy and repetition that it made it a bit of a slog to read. Descriptions maundered on for far too long, dialogue was just a bit too long winded to be taken seriously, everything was drawn out and repeated over and over in an attempt to establish setting and theme while failing to do either. Like the opening scene of the book is Ari being upset about a dead child – but she maunders on for so long, repeating herself in the most melodramatic way that any actual emotional impact the scene could have is just rather lost.

Or there’s how she describes Mike, her colleague at the mercenary agency, is no longer in peak shape for active duty:

“Did he seriously think he was up for this? I mean he was great and all but he’d been playing desk duty ever since the day he hired me. And in those two years, Mike had visibly grown soft in the most literal way. A good twenty pounds of softness if you asked me. He was nowhere near the shape he needed to be in to hunt down murderous vampires. At best he’d slow me down, at worst, he’d get both of us killed. Having Mike along was a liability and he knew it.”

Just look at the redundancy in that paragraph! The point was made by “the day he hired me” but we have to revisit it in 5 more sentences each saying exactly the same thing. Or there’s this on how vampires don’t like sunlight:

“The draperies though, I assumed were either new or had been relined to block out the sun during daylight hours. Vampires were not impervious to the sun but neither did they particularly care for it. It had something to do with their chemical makeup and the reaction sunlight caused. There was a reason that legend said vampires couldn’t go out in the sun they were almost right on that point. The truth of the matter though is that if exposed to the sun for a long enough length of time, their bodies experienced something like an allergic reaction. The effects varied based on a vampire’s age, the newer vampires were able to withstand the sun’s harsh rays for a longer length of time since their bodies contained more moisture. If they were less than five hundred years old, they could typically withstand sun exposure for anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour as long as it wasn’t direct. Any old and the vampire’s skin would begin to wither and if they were out for more than a minute or two, they would die. It had something to do with the lack of water contained in their bodies after the change and the sun basically causing extreme dehydration. I’d seen a vampire die from sun exposure before. Several years ago when I was visiting Seattle, Washington the local Coven decided to make a demonstration. I wasn’t sure what the crime had been but the coven tied a vampire to a post in the middle of Pike Street Market with silver chains and left him for dead. When dawn came and the sun began to rise the vampire’s skin began to boil and blister. Within minutes his body had withered to a dry husk. Within an hour, he has deteriorated further and nothing but ash remained. It was a ghastly sight and the stench of the burned, rotting flesh was one I’d never forget.”

Good gods WHY?! Even aside from the fact the mere description of the draperies being lined in the very first sentence gave us ALL the information we needed to know, this vast dump makes no sense (even ignoring the sentence that suggests the author doesn’t know what “not impervious” actually means). Is the vulnerability an allergic reaction, chemical make up or dehydration? If the latter how do they “blister and boil”. If allergic, how do they turn to dust. If burning how come they smell rotten? Don’t try to EXPLAIN a supernatural element if you don’t actually have an explanation and are just throwing word salad around (also, Seattle is in Washington there’s no need to specify).

This is how the whole book is written – the same thought will be reworded 4 or 5 times to hammer home points that really don’t need hammering home.

The worst part of this is that it’s not actually a very long book and so much of it is spent on redundancy that there’s a sore lacking in development. A character dies, for example, and clearly this is supposed to be a devastating loss to Ari but we’ve had very little development of this character and of his relationship to Air.

Similarly, one of the characters she begins to form a connection with seems to turn on her – but it happened pretty soon after she met him, there hasn’t been a whole lot of work in making that connection real and tangible. Even Ari’s relationship with her mother, which becomes especially relevant, is shallow and completely fails to deliver any emotional impact

There are also lots of things hinted at that haven’t really been expanded on. When the supernatural was revealed to the world (how? Why?) society and civilisation seemed to collapse. Now one thing that was really well done was presenting all these little hints to the dystopian world without overwhelming it (such as treating pain killers as a huge luxury) but there’s no real indication WHY society collapsed. Another example is where Ari‘s father decided to train her how to fight as soon as he learned she was a psychic, even criticising her for having long hair that was a liability in combat. But there’s no connection as to why learning she was a psychic drove him to train her in battle – no indication she would be attacked or that her attackers couldn’t simply be burned to death or even if fighting techniques were a way to focus and control her powers. It’s like someone saying they realised they had a legendary talent for bass so their dad taught them the intricacies of fly fishing; it’s just presented as an obvious thing when the connection completely eludes me. Or there’s her panicky claustrophobia which, again, begs for some explanation or development (though “tragic past” is stamped large all over her).

Sadly, I can’t say I’m a big fan of the plot. Again, I have to emphasise that this isn’t a very long book so there’s not a lot of space. So when a substantial chunk of the book is given over to a very shallow love triangle, complete with her having lots of sexy thoughts about James and falling in insta-lust with Inarus, all in the middle of trying to solve the murder of a child and stop a war was pretty frustrating. It had no real compelling

To finish that off, the actual mystery wasn’t that mysterious (you want your organisation to sound like something a character would want to join? Don’t call it PsyShade. Seriously. Evil Geniuses United or Bad Guys Social Club would be more subtle). Most of it was predictable and Ari solved what she did simply because the Coven (vampires) and Pack (shapeshifters) were apparently so gung-ho for war (or written as lacking logic simply because it makes Ari look better) that they missed the blatant attempt to drive them both into a mutually destructive battle. The actual big bad that is behind it all appears briefly but, again, isn’t really developed – and the book ends without really addressing anything. The murder isn’t solve, some monsters that attacked Ari are never really explained, the defeat of the enemies is more of a twist you’d normally find in the middle of the book. This is didn’t feel like a cliffhanger set up for book 2 – it felt like book 1 simply hadn’t been finished.

In terms of diversity our protagonist is Aria Naveed, a WOC (mentioned tangentially and with no sense of culture or experience though also free from stereotype). She’s obviously powerful and independent with your standard tragic past, dangerous woo-woo and super skill in weapons. She manages to avoids a lot of tropes about sexual purity or rage for no reason – there’s really nothing wrong with her. I can’t champion her particularly because I can’t think of any moments that made her especially compelling either.

We have some other women around the side in the pack (and Melody the harpy who is kind of fun) but not a lot of development – but that applies to all the characters but Ari, James and Inarus. So the same applies to POC, some members of the pack we meet are definitely POC but don’t have huge roles

There is a poke at the idea of shapeshifters being super protective of women and how sexist and silly that is, but at the same time there’s no explanation as to why. I don’t see why, especially since these shapeshifters seem to have at least some female warriors, as well as physical super strength, they’d develop this paternalistic attitude.

More intriguing elements are some very brief poking at the idea of people, especially poor people, doing what they can when society collapse and a nice moment when Ari hears that an alcoholic werewolf is being forcibly entered into rehab and is uncomfortable – naturally wanting him free from addiction but not at all on side with it being done without his consent.

There are no LGBT characters in this book. There are also so dubious comparisons made between an anti-supernatural organisations and real world hate groups. There’s a world of difference between hating creatures that kill and eat people and hating POC.

I will say the world setting is somewhat interesting if not original (I have to say there were a few turns of phrase – like being a werewolf being caused by “lyc-V”, or the way the larger wereanimal pack is divided into individual clans by species which I have seen in other books, but that could simply be because of the amount of this genre I’ve read) it has a lot of elements that could make for a fascinating story. We have the vampires and wereanimals on the brink of war. A human society that has been virtually destroyed by the revelation of the supernatural has so much depth to explore. An organisation of humans trying to fight back the supernatural and restore humanity to prominence – or at least to holding their own, could have so much nuance as people fight to find the balance between hate group and self-preservation. The psykers being caught in the middle – purely human but with supernatural abilities, would be perfectly placed to have so much conflict and confusion. Drop a lot of politics between the different factions on the edge of war and throw in some fun extra creatures like the Harpy Melody and her wonderful quirks and there’s a lot of potential here.

This book could have been amazing, it has all the elements necessary to make it an excellent book and the foundation of a really compelling series. The main character is decent, the world setting rich and an excellent backdrop to tell a whole array of stories all with some epic meta. But it is completely destroyed by its terrible, repetitive writing. The plot is murdered by being simplistic and under developed, the characters and their relationships are too rushed and nothing actually goes anywhere. It’s a real shame.