The Voodoo Killings: A Kincaid Strange Novel – Kristi Charish

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Summary:

For the first time since we launched Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, Random House Canada is thrilled to announce the debut of a new urban fantasy series. Kristi Charish’s The Voodoo Killings introduces Kincaid Strange, not your average voodoo practitioner…

For starters, she’s only 27. Then there’s the fact that she lives in rain-soaked Seattle, which is not exactly Haiti. And she’s broke. With raising zombies outlawed throughout the continental USA, Kincaid has to eke out a living running seances for university students with more money than brains who are desperate for guitar lessons with the ghost of a Seattle grunge rocker–who happens to be Kincaid’s on-again, off-again roommate.

Then a stray zombie turns up outside her neighbourhood bar: Cameron Wight, an up-and-coming visual artist with no recollection of how he died or who raised him. Not only is it dangerous for Kincaid to be caught with an unauthorized zombie, she soon realizes he’s tied to a spate of murders: someone is targeting the zombies and voodoo practitioners in Seattle’s infamous Underground City, a paranormal hub. When the police refuse to investigate, the City’s oldest and foremost zombie asks Kincaid to help. Raising ghosts and zombies is one thing, but finding a murderer? She’s broke, but she’s not stupid.

And then she becomes the target…As the saying goes, when it rains it pours, especially in Seattle.

Normally, I’m not much of a zombie person. Or at least, I’m not really much of a horror zombie kidn of person. The apocalypse (which usually comes with zombies) doesn’t interest me and beyond serving as a metaphor for death that is nipping at ones heels, they just aren’t that interesting of a normal paranormal creature to me.

Normally.

Kristi Charish’s Voodoo Killings has made me a fan, of at least her special brand of the classic creature.

Kincaid Strange lives in a world where zombies, ghosts and poltergeists are all quite real, and the latter common place enough that they even have their own enclave hidden beneath the streets of Seattle. Thanks to a police captain (that is the Mayor’s sister’s husband) that somehow believes that it’s your own damn fault if a ghost comes to visit, Kincaid’s primary means of living – raising zombies for things like will disputes and helping the police with preternatural crimes – was outlawed and now she’s stuck doing seances with the Kurt Cobain analogue of Nate Cade.

Then she’s called to do something about a zombie that randomly shows up outside the bar of a good friend and it all goes to pot from there.

If it sounds like their are vague similarities to Anita Blake (the zombies for wills, helping the police) there are, but that’s about the full extent of it. Kincaid isn’t a medium, she has no innate *need* to raise them like Anita does, and she’s very much on the outs with the police in this book, not only because of the outlaw on her craft but because one of the cops happens to also be an ex. Kincaid is very much her own woman and this world is very much its own place.

Like Charish’s other protagonist, Owl, Kincaid is a bit of loner in this book too, but that seems to be more by choice as opposed to just pissing everyone off  the way that Owl has a knack for. Still, the book has some rather interesting side characters from the aforementioned ghost Nate, to the century+ zombie of Lee Ling who runs the Seattle underground, to the aforementioned ex boyfriend where there’s some nice push and pull action between the pair and even a bit of jealousy. Ultimately, for someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends, she still feels a heck of a lot more human than a lot of urban fantasy protagonists can often come off as.

As far as Voodoo goes Charish kept her discussion of Voodoo to the actual Otherside – something that obviously none of us are going to have any experience with, so that it can be whatever she wants it to be. Voodoo/Vaundun is a real religion and it would have been easy to go with the obvious stereotypes, and she didn’t. It’s very much the kind of touch that I personally appreciate when people are putting their own spins on real-world religions and just a bit of an added bonus for me.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remark on the design of this book. From the hand-drawn appearing title page, to the mirrored page numbers, mirrored author’s name and the snakes along each page, the team at Random House CA put a lot of love into this book and shows because rarely does a book get this much attention  for such small details. It’s fantastic.

My only complaint about this book is that right now this book has only been released in Canada, and as far as I can tell, there aren’t any plans for US distribution yet. I really hope that changes as this feels like another fresh entry into one of the most tropey fantasy sub-genres. Do yourself a favor and pick this up from Amazon.ca. Hopefully we can get demand up high enough so more can read this awesome book.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now, at Canadian retailers only

P.S. Though not technically labeled as a series, the ending is absolutely setting up a second book. It makes me think that it will only actually become a series if sales justify it, so please take a look at this, I’d love to read more!

 

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Autumn Bones (Agent of Hel #2) – Jacqueline Carey

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Summary:

New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Carey returns to the curious Midwest tourist community where normal and paranormal worlds co-exist—however tenuously—under the watchful eye of a female hellspawn……

Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism, and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel.

Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer, she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one.

He’s descended from Obeah sorcerers and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything……

Review:

I’ll let you in on a secret: writing a year-end Best of list is harder than it seems. Oh sure, there are a few books that you know will be on the list without a doubt, but for every one of those, there are one or two where you think that maybe will be on there, but then with hindsight you realize that while that book was good it wasn’t as great as you thought which makes rounding out that list tough. And that’s where I’m at now: trying to round out my list as we rapidly approach the end of the year. I bring this up because for a while I was debating putting Dark Currents on the list. I liked the world building and the characters and was excited to read this. That excitement held through the first half of the book and then eventually petered out. Is that previous book still worthy of placement if the series falls off almost immediately?

My problem with this book comes from its bi-plot nature: the first book which focuses on Daisy’s relationship with Sinclair and general duties as Hel’s Enforcer. Come midpoint, we finally meet Sinclair’s mother, she unleashes said spirit magic and things devolve into somewhat generic novel about the dead causing issues. Meanwhile, we literally never see his mother again, meaning that her very existence was to set up the second half of the book, and that’s it. That’s the very definition of cheap writing. Why go to the bother of introducing the characters and setting them up as the bad guys to summarily dismiss them? Why couldn’t Carey have found another towns person to unleash the magic? The book covers the period of Halloween, it would have been easy enough to have dumb kids disturb the dead and it would have felt a lot less forced.

I feel like I’m seeing a real and notable trend in Carey’s books: she creates amazing worlds and sticks some fantastic people in them…and then can’t really figure out where to go from there. The first three Kushiel books all had variations of Phedre being held captive and being used by her captors to varying degrees. The second three Kushiel books used magic to varying degrees of success and here the book really does derail when we lose the characters to focus on the plot. In this case the plot isn’t terrible, it’s just generic. We’ve been there before and it’s just not that interesting and not really what I want to be reading.

That being said, there are some things that I liked: I did like how the relationship between Daisy and Sinclair was handled. It was surprisingly mature and realistic in a genre that tends to go for rom com tropes or endless romantic angst in the ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ sense. I like how Cody the werewolf is written in such a matter that you know that he is 100% serious when he says he’s going to marry another wolf, and that he’s not just going to toss that aside because Daisy is the heroine. The side characters here for the most part are quite likable, from Stefan and Cooper the Outcasts to the Fabulous Casimir the head of the local coven and dealer of magical knick-knacks. It’s not all perfect . One character gets turned into a vampire (willingly) and the character does a complete 180. I get the motivation behind the heel-toe but it also doesn’t seem believable. At least, not as fast as it occurs.

As much as I complained about series like The Others being a bit too much character driven, I kind of wish that had been the focus here because that’s honestly where she shines. When she gets away from it, you realize how mundane Pemkowet really is, and that’s a shame.

Finally, I did go ahead and read some spoiler-filled reviews of the final book of the trilogy and I’ll just say that it was wince-inducing and the kind of thing that makes me absolutely NOT want to read it. I ignored that feeling during the second Kushiel series and regretted it, I won’t make that same mistake again. I will also mention that the last book keeps up this sense of it being two books in one, as many reviewers stated that the first and second half of the book don’t feel related, but more like novellas mushed together. That’s not a good sign. As comparatively short as the books are, she should be able to manage a single plot all the way through.

Verdict:  A weak Borrow It – if you like the world, there’s still something here for you, but maybe not as much as you might like.

Available: now

Positive – David Wellington

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Summary:

In the bestselling vein of Guillermo Del Toro and Justin Cronin, the acclaimed author Chimera and The Hydra Protocol delivers his spectacular breakout novel—an entertaining page-turning zombie epic that is sure to become a classic

Anyone can be positive . . .

The tattoed plus sign on Finnegan’s hand marks him as a Positive. At any time, the zombie virus could explode in his body, turning him from a rational human into a ravenous monster. His only chance of a normal life is to survive the last two years of the potential incubation period. If he reaches his twenty-first birthday without an incident, he’ll be cleared.

Until then, Finn must go to a special facility for positives, segregated from society to keep the healthy population safe. But when the military caravan transporting him is attacked, Finn becomes separated. To make it to safety, he must embark on a perilous cross-country journey across an America transformed—a dark and dangerous land populated with heroes, villains, madmen, and hordes of zombies. And though the zombies are everywhere, Finn discovers that the real danger may be his fellow humans.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome meets World War Z and I Am Legend in this thrilling tale that has it all: a compelling story, great characters, and explosive action, making Positive the ultimate zombie novel of our time.

Review:

It’s not uncommon to see me review books about vampires or angels and demons. Heck, I’ll even dip my toes in werewolves and shifters now and again. What you won’t see from me are books about zombies. For the most part, unless you’re talking the original witchcraft flavored varient, zombies are creatures of horror, not fantasy. As a monster, zombies are little more than animals in a human body and as such they don’t make for compelling characters. Despite a novel existing because of zombies, zombie novels are never <i>about</i> zombies and as such, they just don’t hold much appeal for me.

But, as is my wont, occasionally I feel the need to read something a little bit different and when solicited with a pitch for this book, I decided to give it a shot. And if based on this introduction, you’d guess that I have practically no experience with zombie novels, you’d be right.

Therefore, I have to say that it’s a bit disappointing that for a genre I never read it (nor watch, for that matter) this book feels like it hits the beats I expected it to hit, by the time the focus shifts to something that feels a bit more unique, it may well be too late because you simply may not care at that point. You see, the first half of the book is spent hitting all the basic notes of the genre: guy who is not zombie is thrown out of the protected enclave he grew up because of the chance he might become a zombie. He discovers that life outside of said enclave is incredibly dangerous, not only because of the zombies, but because of the humans that choose to live out there. He has to learn both how to survive, but to keep his humanity in a world where violence, slavery and subjugation of women are the norm outside of the enclaves.

The second half of the book the story becomes less about his struggles and how he inadvertently becomes a leader of men who wants to try and create a new life for the people him, branded and unwanted by the clean population, plus the story of a cult that brings in human sacrifice because they can. It’s a bit more interesting than the first half for sure, but it still feels somehow lacking, something I have to attribute to Finn himself.

As a character, Finn is fine. He’s certainly likable enough, but that’s as much due to the fact that he’s only one of the decent humans you meet for a large stretch of the first half once the story picks up. He’s not quite a goody-two-shoe, but he certainly has this sense of nobility and honor and whatnot that, while admirable, does seem questionable given that he is of the generation born after the zombie-virus hit and he’s never known a world where such morality could have existed in. I get that he was raised in a relatively safe area, but still. He feels too much of our time, or of what we should aspire to, and not like a product of his time. He wouldn’t be as hard as some of the characters he meets, but still. I don’t know that I quite buy in to it.

At the end of the day, I don’t know that this book feels like an “ultimate” zombie novel. Is it a good zombie novel? Sure. Are the characters or the story so compelling to make them truly memorable? Eh. I suspect that actual fans of the genre might not find too much here to write home about. Those of us who don’t normally dip our toes in this sandbox may still like it however: though there is action and there is violence, this book is more of a survival story than a slasher fic so it may be a good place to start to see if you want to dig deeper.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: April 21st

Note: The violence, while not the most graphic I’ve ever seen is still up there on occasion and there’s some disturbing implications about how women (and little girls for that matter) can be treated by some of the looters. While it isn’t enough for me to want to call this an 18+ title, I would still suggest this book is better for the 16+ crowd.