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review: Dying Bites

 Dying Bites (The Bloodhound Files #1) -by- DD Barant
(Published by St. Martin’s) 

My grade: 4 1/2 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  A Her job description is the “tracking and apprehension of mentally-fractured killers.” What this really means in FBI profiler Jace Valchek’s brave new world—one in which only one percent of the population is human—is that a woman’s work is never done. And real is getting stranger every day….

 I FOUND AN INTERVIEW WITH D.D. BARANT on from April 2010 on Amberkatze’s Book Blog, where he (I understand that D.D. is one of three pseudonyms used by this author) talks about this book and the world it is set in:

The Bloodhound Files is about a world where the supernatural races—vampires, werewolves and golems—are the dominant civilization. Human beings make up just one percent of the population and are considered a federally protected endangered species. The main character, Jace Valchek, is an FBI profiler from our world, specializing in deranged killers. She gets yanked into this parallel universe for her skills—the supernaturals are immune to mental diseases as well as physical ones, so they have no experience with craziness.

We meet Jace in bed, nursing a hangover after yet another social faux pas – drinking tends to make her somewhat inhibited when it comes to sharing details about her work, most of which is not suitable for cocktail party small talk. She falls back asleep and has a weird dream that turns out to be no dream at all; she is being pulled into a parallell universe in order to assist the National Security Agency, NSA, profile and apprehend a serial killer.

World building can be tricky – you don’t want to infodump your reader, but at the same time enough details must be provided to make the story believable. I prefer the kind of books where details about the surroundings – especially if they are new to the main character – are provided where it fits the story best. And I think it is done in that manner in Dying Bites. Jace’s reaction to the information about her whereabouts, the existense of (go)lems, (lycan)thropes and (vam)pires – the short versions used regularly in the book – feels natural, as does her curiosity and acceptance of things that are different compared to our/her real world.

Jace is a tough cookie, after all she is one of FBI’s best profilers. And even though she is extremely unhappy about the situation she finds herself in, she is a professional and gets to work to solve the murder case/s – it is, after all, her only way to make sure she will be transported back again.
She is chasing a human, perceived to be psychotic. The thrope and two pires who are the victims by the time Jace is forced to take on the case, have been killed in extremely gruesome manners, meant to send a message both to the dominant species and to the remaining human population. A monster is a monster, but Jace cannot help contemplating the crimes that humanity have be subject to – especially during this world’s version of world war II. I won’t go in to details here, but as the story progresses, Jace finds out more and more, information kept from her by her new boss Cassius.

Every detective needs a partner, and Jace’s is Charlie Aleph – a golem. Thropes and pires look mostly human, but lems… not so much. Cassius first describes golems to Jace thus: ”… a golem is an artificial person, usually man-shaped but sexless. Basic animist magic: shape a humanoid form and charge it with life force”. This makes Jace expect Charlie to basically look like a sack of sand. But this is her first impression:

…a broad-shouldered figure a little over six feet tall, wearing a very sharp pin-striped suit of dark blue, matching fedora, and polished black leather oxfords. His skin is darker than his shoes, and just as glossy; his features seem sculpted out of black chrome. His tie appears to be alligator skin.. He stops in front of our table and looks at me. At least, I think that’s what he’s doing; he doesn’t seem to have actual irises or pupils, just eye-shaped indentations. It’s like looking at a mask, one with strong, angular features: square chin, heavy brow, Roman nose with a pronounced hump to it.

Jace also works closely with Damon Eisfanger, a lab thrope, and Gretchen Petra, a pire who works with intel. All the characters introduced feel three dimensional. Their individual traits and quirks become apparent as Jace gets to know them better and they grow on her (and the reader).
As mentioned, Jace is tough and in the beginning she comes across as a little too angry. But then, as you get to know her, you understand where it is coming from. She has a sense of humour and does realize quickly when she has made an error of judgement – she can be very hasty at times. One thing that is frustrating to her is that her gun (until it is somewhat modified) neither scares nor affects the pires or thropes significantly. In a showdown with a Japanese oyabun, this is very apparent:

I’ve got the drop on Isamu, but of course that doesn’t mean anything to a target who isn’t afraid of guns. He leaps straight at me, probably intending to rip my arms off and beat me to death with them, and I shoot him many times. Many, many times. He refuses to explode in a disgusting display of gore and instead is merely propelled backward to his starting point. This produces a look of intense irritation on his face, which just doesn’t work for me. I was hoping for something a little more satisfying—fear, horror, maybe the dawning realization that he is well and truly hooped.
Oh, well. You take what you can get.

If you like Ilona Andrews’s books about Kate Daniels, there is a very good chance you’ll enjoy Dying Bites. I am already reading book #2 in this series!

(read in December 2011)

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review: White Cat

White Cat (Curse Workers #1) -by- Holly Black
(Published by McElderry) 

My grade: 4 1/2 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn’t got the magic touch, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family.

AT FIRST I was not sure that this was going to be my cup of tea. It starts with Cassel waking up, dressed in boxers only, on the roof of his school after a very vivid dream. Such a start pulled me in to the story, but then I felt it lagged for some 20 pages or so, until sucking me back in again and not letting me go. I even dreamed of being a curse worker (that’s what happens when you fall asleep with the Kobo on your tummy at 01.30 in the morning).

This is the third book I have read recently with a male POV, first person. The other two, Hold me closer necromancer and Anna dressed in blood, have become firm favourites – as has White Cat.

Cassel is not a happy young man, for many reasons. The main one is that he believes he did something absolutely awful a few years back. It was covered up by his family, but he obviously has a hard time letting it go – especially since he has no real recollection of the event. Another reason is his dysfunctional – there is no other word for it – family and the fact that he has always felt like a failure, being the only non-worker of them all. I have a hard time getting with his mum, I mean, how can you be sure you really love your brothers when on so many occasions these feelings were forced upon you by your mother working her emotional curse on you?

And those brothers… well, judge for yourself how lovable they are.

Cassel’s family is a worker family, this means that they are gifted with the ability to make something magical apply to whomever they touch. The most common ability is that of bringing luck, but some can work emotions (like Cassel’s mum) or kill someone (like Cassel’s grandad). The cursing always comes with a blowback – for instance, for the grandad, part of his body blackens and dies every time he kills someone. He is now retired and, curse work is sort of illegal, anyway. The setting for the book is around New Jersey, USA and everything else but the workers being part of society – with their own history and holocaust to boot – seems like present time.

Cassel is doing his best to fit in at school and being normal. He wants to have an ordinary life with none of the complications he is used to from home and looking at his childhood, I don’t blame him. But he feels like he is constantly acting, pretending to be someone he wants to be. He also has a hard time staying from the con; the one part of being a curse worker that he does really well. He runs a betting scheme at school despite being aware that it is really not in line with what he is trying to achieve. However, when he is forced to leave school for a while due to the roof top incident, the facade he has cultivated starts to crumble and I believe that in the end the truth actually does set him free.

I am not going to go in to how the story progresses after Cassel temporarily goes home to his family for a while. But I can tell you it is definitely worth your time and money. I have the sequel waiting for me now, and I am really going to take my time and enjoy it, because the third instalment is not yet out and waiting for the next part of a really good series is so jobbigt as we say in Swedish.

(read in September 2011)

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