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Thursday, December 2, 2010


Author: Allyson James (aka Jennifer Ashley)
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy
Ratings: Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2-3
Publisher and Titles: Berkley
        .5 "A Little Night Magic" in Hot for the Holidays anthology (prequel novellaJove, 2009)
       1     Stormwalker (5/2010)
       2     Firewalker (11/2010)
       3     Shadow Walker (6/2011)
       3.5  "Double Hexed" in Hexed anthology (2011)
       4     Nightwalker (10/2012)
       5     Dreamwalker (1/2016)
       6     Dragon Bites (7/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 4/23/2016 to include a review of Dreamwalker, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by a brief overview of the world-building and summaries and/or reviews of the first four novels.

                       REVIEW OF NOVEL 5: Dreamwalker                         
     All is quiet at Janet Begay’s Crossroads Hotel, where the paranormal is normal, until Emmett Smith, the most powerful mage in the world, arrives to announce his intent to steal Janet’s smart-mouthed magic mirror. 

     Janet already has her hands full trying to keep her sister Gabrielle under control as well as plan her upcoming wedding to her dragon-Shifter boyfriend Mick and taking care of the weird creatures that suddenly turn up at Barry’s biker bar. 

     When Janet is knocked out fighting the creatures, she wakes up seemingly in the past, after she and Mick had first met and traveled across country by motorcycle, alone and free. The dream seems so real that Janet begins to forget it isn’t. 

     The dreams call her back, each one more powerful than the last, until she can no longer distinguish between past and present—and she’d not the only one affected. Janet and her friends—Mick, Cassandra, Nash, Gabrielle, Coyote, the dragons, and Fremont—must band together to thwart this greatest of magics before it splits them into fragments and leaves the world vulnerable to the most evil of evils.

     The straightforward plot centers on Emmett Smith's attempts to take possession of Janet and Mick's magic mirror. At the end of the previous novel, Smith, who calls himself the Ununculous (the most powerful mage in existence) discovered that Janet possesses a magic mirror and warned her that he plans to take it away from her. According to the rules of this magical world, the mirror can change owners only after the current owner(s) are dead, but Smith claims that he has a magical work-around that will allow Janet to live. Janet, of course, tells Smith what he can do with his proposal, and the action begins.

     Then, Janet begins to have a series of dream-walking experiences. Each dream walk is triggered by a major injury, during which her body lies in a coma while her mind wanders off to incidents from her past. Some of the injury events are woven naturally into the plot, but some (the demon attack, for example) seem like scenes that were sitting in a file on the author's desktop and were just inserted without much planning or fine-tuning. 

     At first, the dreams are perfect flashbacks to the happy days of Janet and Mick's early courtship as they bike across the country. Then, friends and family members appear in her dreams. Sometimes events play out just as they did in the past, but other times, things happen differently. When Janet returns to consciousness, she realizes that the people who appeared in her dreams were also dream-walking, and they remember the dream events just like she does. Now for the big question: Who in the world is causing Janet to dream-walk? Of course, Smith is the prime suspect because if he can kill Janet in the dream world, she'll probably die in the real world. Smith denies his involvement, but Janet doesn't believe him for a minute.

     Basically, then, this is the plot-construction pattern: Janet and Smith have a facedown in which Smith threatens Janet and vice versa. In a soon-to-follow scene, Janet gets injured and has a dream-walk. Janet regains consciousness and resumes her ongoing struggle with Smith. Repeat the sequence several times. In some dreams, Coyote pops in to invoke some bits of sage, but ambiguous, advice or, in cases in which Janet's injuries are severe, to save her life. As in all flashback/dream-trope plots, the dreamer is supposed to learn some life lessons from the dreams, but those lessons are not really clear to the reader (at least not to me). Eventually, Janet has a gigantic epiphany and figures out what she was supposed to learn, but that doesn't come until the very end of the book so you have to read through multiple dream sequences that frequently seem purposeless and rather repetitive in nature (especially the road trip scenes). In the big showdown scene at the end, the author throws in a supernatural deus ex machina to solve Janet's biggest problemalways a sign of a tortured ending.

     In one of the secondary story threads, Gabrielle learns a hard lesson about the consequences of her reckless use of magic. She also finds romance. In another slender thread, Drake decides to make a major change in his professional life. And then there are the story lines involving Janet's father and his upcoming wedding and Janet's own romantic relationship with Mick, who is trying to deal with the fact that Janet's life span will be so much shorter than his. Should he shorten his own life, or should he figure out a way to lengthen hers? Both are risky.

     This is my least favorite of the STORMWALKER books because it seems to be an indulgence on the part of the authoran attempt at deepening her lead character at the expense of the simplistic plot, which is based mostly on tired tropes. It might have worked better as a brief novella, but it lacks the substance of a full-fledged (and full-priced) novel.

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Dreamwalker on the novel's page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

     STORMWALKER is an urban fantasy series that is more rural than urban. Janet Begay is a twenty-something Navajo Stormwalker. She can pull power (i.e., electrical energy) from storms and use it as an aid or a weapon. Unfortunately, Janet can't always control the immense amounts of power that come from the most violent storms.

     In addition to Stormwalkers, the supernatural population of this world includes Nightwalkers (vampires), Firewalkers (dragons), Changers (shape shifters), witches, mages, and various gods and goddesses. 

                     SUMMARY OF NOVEL 1:  Stormwalker                     
     In Stormwalker, Janet returns to the fictitious Magellan, Arizona, to be near her Navajo homeland, where she buys and renovates an old hotel while she searches for a missing young woman. When Janet gets into trouble with Nash Jones, the local sheriff (who is the missing girl's fiancé), Janet's former boyfriend, Mick Burns, shows up to rescue her. Mick is a mysterious (and tall, dark, and handsome, of course) man who helped Janet understand and control her powers when they first met, but they broke up five years earlier after he began disappearing for days at a time without telling her where he was.  

     In this novel, Janet discovers that Mick is a fire-wielder—and more. The plot revolves around Janet's mother, a malevolent supernatural god-spirit who wants to use Janet in some really monstrous ways. Janet and Mick, with the assistance of a shape-shifting coyote trickster and a wisecracking magic mirror, finally send Mommy dearest back to the Beneath (a Hell-like world filled with angry gods and spirits who want out), but one gets the idea that we haven't seen the last of her.  

   Click HERE to read an excerpt from Stormwalker on the novel's page by clicking on the cover art.

                    SUMMARY OF NOVEL 2:  Firewalker                    
     In the second novel, Mick's clan is out to get him because he has refused to kill Janet, and Janet must save him while also solving the mystery of a serial killer who leaves corpses turned inside out. (Ewwww!) In the midst of all of this action, Janet has to learn to control some new, dark powersa legacy from Mom.  

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from Firewalker on the novel's page by clicking on the cover art.

                  REVIEW OF NOVEL 3: Shadow Walker                 
     As Shadow Walker opens, Janet is being chased along a highway by Nash Jones (she was speeding), when a sinkhole opens beneath them, swallowing them both up. While they are trapped in the sinkhole, skeletal-hand pictographs try to grab and kill Janet, but Mick manages to rescue her. As Mick is helping Janet recover ("recovery" equals sex in this series), they are interrupted by an obnoxious health and safety inspector who advises Janet that her hotel is about to be condemned. Later, as Janet tries to figure out why her electrical and plumbing systems have regressed to the condition they were in before she had them renovated, Mick pulls out a ring and asks her to marry him.

     Soon, however, Mick gets scary and threatening, and then he disappears. As Janet investigates, she discovers that Mick has been enslaved by a witch and that that witch wants Janet killed—by Mick. Now, Janet must find a way to rescue Mick and destroy the witch without being killed, but at this point she doesn't even know the identity of the witch. Needless to say, the action is fierce and explosive as some of Mick's dragon associates get involved, along with Coyote; Grandma (aka Crow Woman); another witch; a shaman; and Janet's edgy and dangerous half-sister, Gabrielle. By the end of the story, we know the identity of the witch, the reason for Mick's enslavement, and the cause of the plumbing problems. The only plot thread that doesn't really get resolved is the one involving the skeletal pictographs.

     This series has all of the characteristics of good urban fantasy—except for the urban part. The heroine is a smart, magically powerful, angst-filled loner, and her boyfriend is an even more powerful, über-alpha dragon. Janet has the typical UF "missing magical Mom" syndrome, but her childhood was actually quite happy because of her quietly loving father and her blunt, magically talented grandmother. The supporting characters are well developed and complex, particularly Nash (who is magically null); his volatile girlfriend, Mara; and Coyote, the trickster god who seems to always show up just in the nick of time. We also have some humorous moments with Janet's sarcastic, sex-crazed magic mirror.  Each book builds on the action in the previous books, so you need to start at the beginning.

     Here's a quotation that explains Nash's relationship with magic, which is an important part of the plot in both Stormwalker and Shadow Walker"Nash himself was some kind of magic void—which meant that his body somehow negated all magic thrown his way, even the most powerful stuff." 

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Shadow Walker on the novel's page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                         REVIEW OF NOVEL 4: Nightwalker                         
     Stormwalker Janet Begay, proprietor of the Crossroads Hotel, a place where the paranormal stop for a safe night’s rest, discovers the hard way that a slayer is targeting Ansel, a Nightwalker who’s become a more-or-less permanent resident.

     When Janet and her boyfriend Mick intervene to save Ansel’s un-life, they find that the attack is the beginning of an oncoming storm. Janet has her hands full already with the upcoming marriage of her father, her crazy half-sister, the return of a woman who claims to be Coyote’s wife, a couple dragons on her back, and her worry about Mick, who’s behaving strangely again.

     But it seems that everyone is after Ansel, who fears he killed the woman he loves in a Nightwalker frenzy. Janet must choose between protecting Ansel or facing the most powerful magical beings in the world, who are willing to destroy Janet, Mick, her hotel, and everyone she cares about to get to Ansel and his secrets.

This is a terrific story with a HUGE cast of characters. Besides Janet and Mick, the key players are as follows:

Ansel: A young-looking 90-year-old Nightwalker who is trying to keep his dark side under control. He lives in the basement of Janet's hotel. He is constantly under attack by human slayers, dragons, and other supernatural entities because they hate Nightwalkers and because they want an object that they believe he possesses.

Laura DiAngelo: Ansel's human girlfriend and partner in an antiques business in Santa Fe. She is at the heart of the plot even though she doesn't make an appearance until the very end. 

Heather: A new-agey, below-average witch who holds an ill-fated séance in which she appears to reach beyond the veil to obtain a message from Laura's spirit that seems to prove that Laura was murdered.

Paige: Laura's very unpleasant and duplicitous sister, who hires Heather to do the séance and hires slayers to kill Ansel.

Drake: An arrogant dragon who hates both Janet and Mick and who now is after Ansel because he believes that Ansel possesses a magical artifact.

Colby: An irrepressible young dragon who is temporarily spellbound to serve Drake as punishment for some pranks he pulled in the dragon compound.

Bear: Coyote's wife, a goddess who can appear either in human form or as a grizzly bear. Bear has her own agenda, and her relationship with Coyote causes Janet some grief in this story.

Coyote: The trickster god who pops up in the plot from time to time in his usual sardonic manner, but in the end, he comes to Janet's aid once again in her time of greatest need.

Magic Mirror: A sarcastic spirit who lives in the shards of Janet's mirror and assists Janet and Mick in their adventures. Unfortunately, after being damaged in a dragon-set fire at the hotel, she goes MIA for most of this story.

Cassandra and Elena: Janet's employees at the hotel. Cassandra, a witch, is the hotel manager, and Elena, a witch with Apache shaman magic, is the cook. They both assist in Janet's investigation and support her in a few fights.

Gabrielle Massey: Janet's half-sister, who has no desire to keep her powerful magic under control. She and Janet both inherited dark Beneath magic from their mother. Janet was lucky enough to inherit earth-based Stormwalker magic from her father, and that helps her keep the Beneath magic under control. Unfortunately Gabrielle's father was human, so she has no safe magic to balance her evil Beneath powers, and that is an ongoing problem. Gabrielle is currently living with Ruby Begay, Janet's Grandmother, where she is supposed to be learning how to keep her magic contained.

Richard Young: A human antiquities collector with probable criminal connections. He also wants the artifact.

Pericles McKinnon and Emmett Smith: Two very powerful rival mages, both of whom want the artifact.

Nash Jones: The local sheriff. He is a negative—a magic null who cancels out all magic as soon as it touches him. Nash enters the story late, but plays an important role towards the end during the big showdown scene.

     After the drama of Mick's being witch-cursed in Shadow Walker, he and Janet are just getting their relationship back to normal when human slayers and dragons begin attacking the hotel in order to kill Ansel. It turns out that Ansel and Laura have somehow gotten their hands on an ancient artifact that holds a great deal of magical power. Now, both Laura and the artifact have vanished. Paige and the dragons believe that Laura is dead and that Ansel murdered her to get the artifact. Janet and Mick immediately put Ansel under their protection, which means that they are now included in the attacks against Ansel by multiple supernaturals and humans. 

     The main story line follows Janet as she investigates Laura's disappearance and the mystery of the artifact. A second story thread involves Bear and Coyote's courtship antics: She keeps killing him and he keeps coming back to life. Additionally, Mick and Janet's grandmother are keeping some sort of secret from Janet. When Janet questions Mick about it, he tells her that he'll tell her when it's time and that it has to do with their future—so stay tuned for more on that in a future book.

     This is another adventure-filled tale that features lots of battles: slayer vs. Nightwalker; dragon vs. dragon; mage vs. Stormwalker; human vs. Stormwalker; Changer vs. Stormwalker; and goddess vs. mages. As usual, there's plenty of snarky dialogue, although I did miss the bawdy comments from the Magic Mirror. STORMWALKER continues to be an enjoyable series with well-plotted stories and an independent, can-do heroine who is supported—but not dominated—by her hunky dragon hero. 

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Nightwalker on the novel's page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

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