Friday, May 29, 2015

Red Blooded (Jessica McClain #4) by Amanda Carlson

Jessica is forced to make the journey to hell after her brother is kidnapped by the Prince of Hell.  With a little help from the witches and her very unusual pack, this is set to be the biggest challenge of her young lycan life.  Can Jessica manage to get in and out of hell undetected and save her brother, without being forced to answer for the trumped charges which have been placed against her by the Prince?

Red Blooded is the fourth novel in the Jessica McClain series and by now, Carlson has clearly fallen into a very recognizable pattern. Trouble appears on the horizon and Jessica rushes in head first without much a plan, backed up by the unusual pack she has gathered around her.  Tension ensues and Jessica pulls some woo woo out of her ass, masters it and defeats the big bad.  The rest of the book is then used to set up the next story.  It's as though Carlson is writing by rote at this this point.  There is so little variation that at times, it's hard to get excited about the story.  Yes, the protagonist is not going to die because she has plot immunity but the story should not play out the same way each time regardless of who the antagonist is.

Shortly after arriving in hell, Jessica meats a demon named Lilly, who is the former mistress of the Prince of Hell.  Stop and think about that for a moment.; the demon's name is Lilly.  We get this long drawn out drama before it is finally revealed that the demon in question is the daughter of Lilith.  How this could have come as a big surprise to Jessica is absolutely beyond me and yet I am supposed to believe that she is an intelligent young woman.  Lilly practically had a neon sign on her head which said don't trust me, yet Jessica kept coming up with reasons to justify doing so. Lilly is of course defeated in what has become the typical fashion in this series - Jessica gains new powers.  Jessica is after all the chosen one right?

Red Blooded could very well have been called the gangs all here.  Carlson brought back Selene, a character which should have stayed dead, briefly re-introduced Juanita the sole character of colour to date and of course included all of the characters in her weird pack once again.  Red Blooded isn't a reboot of the series but really but more than any book thus far, it really felt repetitive because Carlson relies on the same bag of tricks that she has been employing since the first book in this series. I get it, Jessica is super duper special but the character needs to grow and evolve.  For that matter, since Jessica is supposed to be a werewolf, how about we have her shift every once and awhile instead of having internal conversations with her wolf?

Though Jessica is fighting the forces of hell and her actual werewolf pack is in mortal danger, Carlson still manages to allow for Rourke and Jessica to have sexy times.  Hello.  People are tying to kill you, now is not the time to have sex.  It's a common trope in urban fantasy but that doesn't make it any less irritating each time it pops up in a story. In terms of gender, it certainly is subversive to have Rourke always follow Jessica's lead.  Carlson however has to claim that it is because Rourke's beast cannot stand to be separated from Jessica even for a few moments. The problem is that Rourke is the older and more experienced supernatural.  Rourke is clearly more sensible than Jessica, so some woo woo reason had to be created to explain why it is that Jessica is the one taking the lead all of the time.

One of the things that has bothered me about this series is the lack of  interaction between female characters.  It stands out so much because Jessica is the only female werewolf.  She did manage to get two new alliances this fourth installment but one can hardly call the Queen of hell and the Queen of the vampires friends.  Marcy is Jessica's best friend but she is barely in the novel.  In fact, thus far we have been told repeatedly that Marcy and Jessica are best friends but have seen no real evidence of that so far. Tally, the leader of the witches, appears at the beginning of the book but really doesn't have much to do with the story.  I do however like the fact that the supernatural council - the final arbitrators of the supernatural community is to be made up of women but it is an idea which really hasn't been explored yet. Red Blooded does manage to pass the Bechdel test but that is a really low barometer.

As far as inclusion goes, there really is none to speak of. As aforementioned, Juanita makes a brief appearance at the end of the book to inform Jessica that her life is in danger.  Juanita is Jessica's neighbour and in previous books functioned largely as comic relief.

To date, there isn't a single LGBT character either.  The more supernatural characters that Carlson either creates or adds to this story makes the lack of inclusion that much more galling. Why is it that we can have cupacabaras, werewolves, vampires, witches, shifters, etc., only a nominal character of colour and no LGBT characters? The Jessica McClain series is sorely lacking in originality and adding marginalized people would give Carlson the ability to tell a unique story.  There's also the issue that marginalized people deserve to be represented. 

I finished Red Blooded rather quickly but the best I can say about this book and in fact this entire series to date that is that it's simply meh.  Carlson uses the same tricks in each of her books and I am tired of the ending always being used to set up the next book in an attempt to hook the reader.  The Jessica McClain novels are just one gimmick after another with nothing new added to how the books read.  It's the fourth book and the protagonist hasn't grown at all or changed significantly which is alarming considering the things that she has seen and done.  The entire series just seems to be on auto pilot - hovering and going nowhere.  At this point, I have given up hope that it will change.