Saturday, February 11, 2017

Dawn Study by Maria V Snyder, Kitty Norville series # 9 through 13 by Carrie Vaughn

I've got six books to review, so I'm going to get right to it, once again.

Dawn Study by Maria V Snyder is the final book in her "Study" series that began with the sublime "Poison Study" 20 years ago, the year that I married my best friend Jim, and won the best job I've ever had as a reporter for the Mercer Island Reporter newspaper on Mercer Island, Washington. A banner year, all around. I was thoroughly enchanted with Poison Study, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on every new book in this and all the other series that Snyder writes. She's become one of my handful of authors whose works I automatically buy, because they never let me down with their superior storytelling skills and beautiful prose. 
Because Dawn Study is the last book of Yelena and Valek's story, I expected it to be fraught with emotional landmines, and though it had moments of sheer breathless terror and delight, there weren't as many explosions of emotion as I'd expected, which is a good thing. Here's the blurb:
New York Times bestselling author Maria V. Snyder brings her Poison Study series to its exhilarating conclusion
Despite the odds, Yelena and Valek have forged an irrevocable bond—and a family—that transcends borders. Now, when their two homelands stand on the brink of war, they must fight with magic and cunning to thwart an Ixian plot to invade Sitia.
Yelena seeks to break the hold of the insidious Theobroma that destroys a person's resistance to magical persuasion. But the Cartel is determined to keep influential citizens and Sitian diplomats in thrall—and Yelena at bay. With every bounty hunter after her, Yelena is forced to make a dangerous deal.
With might and magic, Valek peels back the layers of betrayal surrounding the Commander. At its rotten core lies a powerful magician…and his latest discovery. The fate of all rests upon two unlikely weapons. One may turn the tide. The other could spell the end of everything.
Due to Yelena's pregnancy, I'd also expected her to be more of the mastermind of operations, instead of being right in the thick of things, fighting and getting captured. Knowing Yelena as most readers do, I don't know why I'd make that assumption. She's a kick-butt heroine, and she spends a great deal of time in this book making sure that her life with Valek and their child will be safe and happy. Valek realizes that he's getting too old to be a master assassin, so he appoints an heir apparent (a woman, of course) and still manages to get rid of the evil influences and magicians trying to overthrow the government. I was surprised that the Commander wasn't killed, as he still presents a threat to Sitia, because he loathes magic and its practitioners, but he did state that he'd leave the city alone as long as the government remained stable and the people with magic didn't migrate into Ixia. I was hoping that, after being saved by good magic, that he'd turn around and accept magicians and stop being such a jerk about magic. Anyway, that's a minor quibble about what was otherwise a splendid book. Snyder has a way with characters, drawing them so well that they seem real and available to the reader. Her prose is lovely and bright, and her plots swift and strong. A well deserved A for this book and the whole series, with a recommendation to anyone who enjoys well written fantasy replete with excellent world building and memorable characters. 

I've read the following Kitty Norville series, all by Carrie Vaughn, books 9, 10, 11, 12  and 13 in the past 6 days, and I'm reading the final book, Kitty Saves the World, right now (I expect to finish it this evening).

Kitty's Big Trouble (book #9) has a title based on the movie "Big Trouble in Little China," because it's about Kitty dealing with various magical beings and Chinese gods and goddesses in San Francisco's Chinatown. Here's the blurb:
Kitty Norville is back and in more trouble than ever. Her recent run-in with werewolves traumatized by the horrors of war has made her start wondering how long the US government might have been covertly using werewolves in combat. Have any famous names in our own history might have actually been supernatural? She's got suspicions about William Tecumseh Sherman. Then an interview with the right vampire puts her on the trail of Wyatt Earp, vampire hunter.
But her investigations lead her to a clue about enigmatic vampire Roman and the mysterious Long Game played by vampires through the millennia. That, plus a call for help from a powerful vampire ally in San Francisco, suddenly puts Kitty and her friends on the supernatural chessboard, pieces in dangerously active play. And Kitty Norville is never content to be a pawn. 
During the battle to keep a "dragons' pearl" out of the hands of the ultimate evil, the two thousand year old vampire Roman, Kitty meets up with the Chinese Monkey King god and a goddess who help them understand how high the stakes are in the game that the vampires are playing by using other supernatural beings. Having studied Chinese and Japanese history in college, I found this particular installment of Kitty's story fascinating, and I love the way that Kitty doggedly pursues her tenuous historical/mythical tidbits to find out whether or not major historical figures were, in fact, werewolves or vampires. I'd give this book an A.

Kitty Steals the Show (#10)takes place at a supernatural convention in London, England, which is a place I've been longing to visit since I was a child reading fantasy stories based in the UK. Here's the blurb:
Kitty has been tapped as the keynote speaker for the First International Conference on Paranatural Studies, taking place in London. The conference brings together scientists, activists, protestors, and supernatural beings from all over the world—and Kitty, Ben, and Cormac are right in the middle of it.
Master vampires from dozens of cities have also gathered in London for a conference of their own. With the help of the Master of London, Kitty gets more of a glimpse into the Long Game—a power struggle among vampires that has been going on for centuries—than she ever has before. In her search for answers, Kitty has the help of some old allies, and meets some new ones, such as Caleb, the alpha werewolf of the British Isles. The conference has also attracted some old enemies, who've set their sights on her and her friends.
All the world's a stage, and Kitty's just stepped into the spotlight.
As per usual, Kitty gets herself into trouble,and with the help of her friends, back out again. She "outs" Roman as the big bad in her keynote speech, knowing that her words are her best weapons, and that in bringing darkness into the light, there's a chance that she'll be seen as a crackpot conspiracy theorist, even with her adoring radio audience. Still, I enjoyed this installment in the story, and I'd give it an A.

Kitty Rocks the House (#11) has something of a misnomer in the title, as you'd expect it to be about a rock and roll band of supernaturals, when it has nothing of the sort in the text. This installment is about a vampire sending an arrogant creep of a werewolf into Kitty's territory to try and wrest her pack and her power from her. There's also a secondary storyline with Cormac and the spirit possessing him, the uptight magician Amelia Parker, trying to get past the shields of a vampire priest who claims to be part of a supernatural organization founded by the Pope, run out of the Vatican, that hunts down evil vampires and werewolves and kills them in the name of the holy Catholic church. This priest charms Denver's master vampire, Rick (who is a 500 year old Catholic from Spain), with the idea that he can still be a member of the church while being an immortal vampire who has killed and drinks blood to "live." Here's the blurb:
In Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Rocks the House, on the heels of Kitty's return from London, a new werewolf shows up in Denver, one who threatens to split the pack by challenging Kitty's authority at every turn. The timing could not be worse; Kitty needs all the allies she can muster to go against the ancient vampire, Roman, if she's to have any hope of defeating his Long Game. But there's more to this intruder than there seems, and Kitty must uncover the truth, fast. Meanwhile, Cormac pursues an unknown entity wreaking havoc across Denver; and a vampire from the Order of St. Lazaurus tempts Rick with the means to transform his life forever.
Cormac and Amelia seem to be more irritating than helpful in this book, as they seek to remove the shield that the priest has around an old church. What they end up doing is summoning the demon that the priest is trying to hide from, and once he's killed, Rick decides to leave Denver and become a member of the Order of Lazaurus in his stead. Unfortunately, after Kitty defeats the werewolf who challenges her for leadership of the pack, having an ally like Rick gone leaves her even more vulnerable to Roman's minions. I'd give this book a B, mainly because it feels like a bridge from one book to another, and not a stand alone in the series.

Low Midnight is something of a one-off, as it's a story from Cormac/Amelia's POV, and once again, I found that the title was somewhat misleading. Since there's no "high midnight" why "low midnight?" Though I'm not a fan of the tightly wound and terse Cormac, the former supernatural bounty hunter who comes from a militia background, I was hoping we'd at least get to see him in some more upbeat moments, or attempting to have some kind of relationship, any kind, with a living woman. Manly men like Cormac, who has spent his life around weapons, wildlife, woods and correctional facilities generally have a fairly high sex drive, and tend to either have a series of one night stands or use prostitutes to deal with their basic urges. For some bizarre reason, Vaughn has stripped Cormac of any sexual instinct or desire, only allowing him a flutter every now and then when he thinks of what "might have been" with Kitty, who is married to his brother and best friend, or when he renews his acquaintance with his high school sweetheart, whose brother is a wacko militia leader.The only woman he actually "talks" to is Amelia, a 100 year old spirit who was hanged for a crime she didn't commit, and who was a magician/spiritualist before she died. She inhabits Cormac's body, with his permission, so the two of them can fight evil with spells and magic that doesn't require guns or other weaponry that Cormac isn't allowed to have, as a felon who was recently released from prison. Here's the blurb:
Cormac, the Kitty Norville series' most popular supporting character, stars in his first solo adventure.
Carrie Vaughn's Low Midnight spins out of the series on the wave of popularity surrounding Kitty's most popular supporting character, Cormac Bennett, a two-minded assassin of the paranormal who specializes in killing lycanthropes. In his first solo adventure, Cormac, struggling with a foreign consciousness trapped inside him, investigates a century-old crime in a Colorado mining town which could be the key to translating a mysterious coded diary…a tome with secrets that could shatter Kitty's world and all who inhabit it. With a framing sequence that features Kitty Norville herself, Low Midnight not only pushes the Kitty saga forward, but also illuminates Cormac's past and lays the groundwork for Kitty's future.
Much as I tried to like this book, I just couldn't get past Cormac's lack of emotional connection and his tough guy exterior that houses this prim Victorian woman who is also virginal and uninterested in sexuality. It's like listening in on the adventures of a monk and a nun with magical powers, which is just as boring as it sounds. I don't have much time for people with soured outlooks who can't express themselves and don't have human desires, which are what makes life worth living. So I'd give this rather boring installment a B-, and it's the only one of the series that I wouldn't recommend to Kitty fans, as it doesn't really illuminate anything about Cormac that's worth knowing.

Kitty in the Underground is again somewhat misleading of a title. This book shows what happens when fanatical cultists kidnap Kitty and hold her hostage in an old silver mine in Colorado. She's held captive by a were-lioness who is partnered with a werewolf, a weird female magician who is enraptured with a three thousand year old vampire named Kumarbis who is the guy who "made" Roman into a vampire two thousand years ago. Kumarbis and Amy/Zora both seem delusional at best, and the were-creatures are cowardly bullies. Here's the blurb:  
As Denver adjusts to a new master vampire, Kitty gets word of an intruder in the Denver werewolf pack's territory, and she investigates the challenge to her authority. She follows the scent of the lycanthrope through the mountains where she is lured into a trap, tranquilized, and captured. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a defunct silver mine: the perfect cage for a werewolf. Her captors are a mysterious cult seeking to induct Kitty into their ranks in a ritual they hope will put an end to Dux Bellorum. Though skeptical of their power, even Kitty finds herself struggling to resist joining their cause. Whatever she decides, they expect Kitty to join them in their plot . . . willingly or otherwise. 
I wasn't too happy with the way things worked in this book, mainly because anyone with half a brain could see that their ritual to bring down Dux Bellorum/Roman was going to fail, big time. It was only a question of which of the five people involved would die in the process. I couldn't understand why Kitty didn't leave when she had the chance. She knew that the ritual wouldn't work, and that whatever they summoned wouldn't be the big bad himself, but rather one of his horrible murderous minions. So when the oldest vampire basically commits suicide, as does the magician, I wasn't surprised as much as disgusted that they'd wasted so much of Kitty's time. So I'd give this book a B, and now that the stage is set, I'm hoping that everything turns out okay for the gang in the final book.

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