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Thursday, March 31, 2011


Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publishers and Titles:  Roc
         Nightlife (3/2006)
          Moonshine (3/2007)
          Madhouse (2/2008) 
          Deathwish (3/2009)
          Roadkill (3/2010)
          “Milk and Cookies” in Wolfsbane and Mistletoe anthology (10/2008) (also in Silver and Salt anthology, 4/2014) 
          Blackout (3/2011)
          Doubletake (3/2012)
          Slashback (3/2013)
          "A Grain of Salt" in Silver and Salt (short stories, 4/2014)
          Downfall (8/2014)
          Nevermore (12/2015)
          Final novel (due Winter 2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 12/25/15 to include a review of Nevermore, the 10thand penultimatenovel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novels 6 through 9. 

               NOVEL 10:  Nevermore               
If you have not read Downfall, the 9th novel,
do NOT read this review or this book
because they both include spoilers that will
completely ruin your enjoyment of Nevermore.
     People die...Everyone knows that...I knew it intimately as everyone in my life died thanks to my one seemingly harmless mistake. I'd brought down Heaven, lifted up Hell, and set the world on fire, all due to one slip of the memory. 

     I forgot the pizzas… 

     Caliban is a dead man. The Vigil, a group devoted to concealing the paranormal from humanity, has decided Cal has stepped out of the shadows once too often, and death is the only sentence. They plan to send a supernatural assassin into the past to take down the younger, less lethal Cal. 

     But things change when The Vigil makes one last attempt on Caliban's life in the present—and end up destroying everyone and everything he cares about. Now, Cal has to save himself, warn those closest to him, and kill every Vigil bastard who stole his world. But if he fails, he and everyone in his life will be history. 

     Here’s a warning before you begin reading this book. Thurman has structured the final two books in this series as a two-part novel with the first part (Nevermore) setting up the major conflict and the second part describing the action that leads to the final resolution of that conflict. The kicker is that the two parts are being published a year apart. So don’t be looking for resolution of any kind in Nevermore because it isn’t there—not at all. This story-telling structure is not necessarily a bad thing, but you need to be prepared. (As for myself, I had no idea that Thurman chose this path, so by the time I reached the final page of Nevermore, I was pounding my fist on my desk and screaming, “Nooooooooooo!”) 

     The first words in the publisher’s blurb (above) are Cal’s first words in the Prologue, in which he explains how he alone survived the disaster that claimed the lives of everyone on this earth that he ever loved. ”I unconsciously skipped over the irregular task of the pizza pickup I’d been stuck with at the last minute, and that was it…the world ended. Not with a whimper or a thousand radioactive mushroom clouds. No, it ended because I was an idiot.” In Slashback, Cal broke the cardinal rule of the Vigil (the human group that makes sure that the supernatural world is kept secret from all humans but themselves.) “The Vigil had one rule: stay hidden.” While trying to save Niko’s life, Cal accidentally gated (teleported) in broad daylight onto a crowded New York sidewalk. Now, the Vigil wants him dead ASAP, and they have mounted a two-pronged, simultaneous attack. They filled a truck full of explosives and drove it into the supernatural bar owned by Cal's friend, Ishiah, blowing the place sky high and incinerating all of the inhabitants, including Niko, Robin, and Ishiah. After the explosion, just as Cal is about to kill himself (because how can he live without his brother?), the pizza guy hands him a letter from Robin that gives him a possible plan for avoiding the day’s disaster by going back in time. The reason Cal needs to go back in time is the second part of the Vigil’s murderous plan. They have juiced up one of their own members (whom they call Lazarus) with all kinds of supernatural powers and have sent him back in time eight years to kill eighteen-year-old Cal so that his gating transgression can never occur. 

     The first half of the novel includes the horrific scene of the explosion and Cal’s emotional breakdown as well as his first meeting with the Niko and Cal of eight years ago. If you are a faithful reader of this series, you will remember just how raw Cal was back then. He and Niko had not yet begun to fight the Auphe, and Cal had not yet learned how to gate. In fact, the brothers had never heard the word “Auphe” before. Also, they had not yet met their future ally, Robin Goodfellow. Mature Cal, then, has to figure out a way to get Niko and Young Cal to believe that he is Niko’s brother from the future. Piece of cake…right? Well, no. It takes Mature Cal awhile to gain Niko’s trust, but Young Cal never does truly trust him. In fact, Young Cal hates Mature Cal with a passion, mostly because they are so much alike in their personalities and because Mature Cal has developed fighting skills that leave Young Cal in the dust. 

     By the second half of the book, Robin Goodfellow has joined the group—a year before he’s supposed to—because Cal sent him a precautionary note warning him not to be anywhere near the bar on the date that the Vigil blows it up eight years hence. Midway through the book, Robin and Mature Cal go off on their own so that Mature Cal can give Robin enough back-story details to prove that he is truly who he says he is. That means that we get lots of bawdy reminiscences (from Robin), reviews of ancient battles, and several very emotional memories of a time when Cal (in a different identity) gave his life to save Robin. The scenes of retrospection are similar to those in the previous book, when Robin told Cal and Niko the truth about their constant reincarnations and they flashed back to some of their shared experiences. 

     Towards the end of the book, when the four men team up to go after the Vigils’ supernatural monster, Young Cal views Robin and—especially—Mature Cal as rivals for Niko’s attention and affection, and he makes a terrible mistake that might change everyone’s future. Because, remember, if Mature Cal or anyone else on the team takes an action (or doesn’t take an action) that they took the first time they lived through this particular period of time, then their futures (and others’ futures) will follow entirely different paths. That means that if they take different actions while Mature Cal is here, it may mean that in the future they don’t beat the Auphes, or Grimm, or the other monsters that they managed to take down during all of the previous books. It’s that old, familiar time-travel problem, which can be compared to chaos theory’s butterfly effect: that one tiny change can irrevocably alter the future. Robin has already changed the future in unknown ways by appearing in the Leandros brothers’ lives a year early, so Mature Cal wants them all to be even more careful—if that is indeed possible with an aggressive egomaniac like Robin on the scene. 

     The most entertaining (and sometimes heart-rending) scenes are the ones in which Mature Cal observes Young Cal, understanding just how he feels because he had the same emotions eight years ago. When Young Cal dishes up his profane, insulting remarks and puts his disrespectful, anti-authority behavior on full display, Mature Cal finally has an epiphany: “’I finally get what everyone was always saying…People told me I was a d**k, went out of my way to be a d**k, would climb a mountain to find a hermit at peace with the world and be a d**k just to f**k it up for him…They were right.’…I was somewhat stunned at seeing in a living mirror the depths of my dickery. Unfathomable depths where my insults, attitude problems all swam down so far they should be albino, blind, with glowing tentacles, and weird enough to have Jacques Cousteau gleefully crawling out of his coffin to examine them.” With two Cals on the scene, you can be sure that the dialogue reaches infinitely snarky heights.

     Meanwhile, throughout the book, the explosion that killed Niko and Robin constantly haunts Mature Cal. He can’t sleep because he has nightmares about it; he can’t eat because he can’t get the smell of burning flesh out of his olfactory memory; and he lives in constant terror that he won’t be able to fix this—that he won’t be able to make sure that his brother and his friend are alive when he returns to where he is supposed to be on the time continuum. “There was the image of it all locked inside my brain and tattooed behind my eyelids whenever I blinked, an afterimage of everything I saw. The explosion, the roar of… flames…yet not a single scream or shout…I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t function with this memory.” Throughout this book, Mature Cal is quite introspective, remembering his past good and bad times with Niko and Robin all the while fearing that he has lost them forever. 

     As I said in my opening statement, the novel ends in the middle of things, with the foursome—quite literally—in over their heads. Thurman has created an innovative, engrossing story that digs deep into the emotional centers of Cal and Robin as they try to trust one another as much as they did in their past lives so that they can save their future selves. Killing this last most-powerful-of-all monster will be a challenge unlike any that they have met before. Based on a story about one of Robin’s parties that Mature Cal tells to Young Cal and Niko, I’m guessing that in the final book, the boys might be getting some high-level supernatural assistance for their battle with Lazarus. One final question: Do you think that Cal will ever find true love? What about Georgina? Could she still be in the picture? Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Nevermore on the novel's page, where you can click either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon. 

an Auphe
     Caliban (Cal) and Niko (Nik) Leandros are tough, streetwise half brothers. Although Niko is fully human, Cal is half Auphe—a violent and cannibalistic elf-related supernatural race. Here is a description of the Auphe from Downfall: They have “a thousand metal teeth in a hypodermic needle grin…They didn’t wear clothes at all. The only use for a horse they would have would be to eat it. They had roamed the world, an albino, scarlet-eyed, clawed naked animal that Mother Nature had for some reason gifted with a brain. A twisted, psychopathic brain, but with the talent of cunning and speech and plans for genocide all the same.” (p. 13)

     Cal has spent his life constantly trying to prove to others—and to himself—that he isn’t the monster that his name and his heritage imply. The series follows the brothers as they repeatedly escape from the Auphe and strike out on their own as detectives and bodyguards (and often killers) serving the supernatural community of New York City, a community brimming over with every kind of paranormal being that you have ever heard of—and some that you haven’t. In this world the supernaturals' name for their kind is paien. The paien live amongst humans, but humans are generally unaware of their existence—even though boggles live in a lake in Central Park and trolls hang out under the bridges. (Do you know what a boggle is? Keep reading for a description and picture.)

     The Auphe keep coming back for Cal in the first five books because he has the ability to gate—travel through space and timeinto the past. They want him to gate back to a time when the human population was sparse so that they can kill all humans and have the world for themselves. They also want to use Cal to create a new race of Auphe-human monsters.

     The books play up the familial bond and the differences between the brothers. Cal is a brash, lazy, arrogant extrovert, while Niko is a studious, organized, fastidious introvert. Here's how Cal describes their relationship: "It was better for everyone to let my brother handle the moral issues while I played to my strengths: Violence, sarcasm, and a respectable collection of pornography." (Slashback, p. 18) From childhood to the present time, Niko has promised to take care of Cal and protect him from harm, a promise that Cal has always taken for granted. Here, Niko muses on that promise as he rescues Cal from a minor fall: "His chair finally tipped too far and began to topple backward. I'd been waiting for it. I hooked an ankle around one wooden leg and caught it. After fifty plus times it was pure instinct now. Cal, who knew I wouldn't let him fall, had never let him fall, kept talking, unfazed." (Slashback, p. 173)

     Love interests for the brothers are Niko’s Promise, a beautiful vampire, and in the early books, Cal’s Georgina, a young psychic. In later books, Cal gets involved with Delilah, a tough and bloodthirsty werewolf whose primary goal in life is to rule the werewolves of New York. The brothers have a sidekick—Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, a trickster who provides comic relief with his outrageous sex life and his mummified, but vicious, pet cat.

     The stories are very dark and violent, as the brothers are constantly under attack by someone—or something. Sarcastic sniping adds humor to the dialogue—primarily from smart-mouthed Cal, who serves as narrator for the most of the books (he shares that duty with his brother in the fourth).

     This is a wonderful series with fully developed characters who have lived through years of horrific events that began when they were children. The first-person voice allows the reader to feel the brothers’ emotional and physical pain as they deal with the unavoidable tragedies in their lives. Cal’s sarcastic humor shines through, though, even in the darkest moments (although occasionally it feels just a bit overdone).

     Thurman has a Leandros Lair page on her website with biographies of all of the main characters. There is also a Thurman Wiki with in-depth information about all of her books and series. It even has a Monster List with links to definitions and images of the various monsters that appear throughout the series, and a Character Page with bios of the leading characters.

                         NOVEL 6:  Blackout                         
     The sixth book is another terrific addition to the series. This is one of my favorite series, and it keeps getting better and better. Whether you’ve read all of the previous books or not, this book could almost be a standalone. The story is narrated by Cal, and it begins as he wakes up amidst dead monster bodies on an empty beach with no memory of who or where he is. Even after Niko and Robin find Cal, he still can’t remember anything about his previous life. As the days pass, a few memories begin to filter back, but basically, Cal seems to be a different person now—not so sure about killing and not so comfortable in his relationship with his brother. The brothers’ overriding problem in this book is a series of attacks by the goddess Ammut and her spider-monster warriors (the same ones that Cal killed on that beach). Ammut wants something from Cal, but neither brother is sure exactly what it is that she wants. One of the steps in solving the mystery is a meeting with their old adversary, Wahanket, a sentient mummy (not a human mummy, but something else) who lives in the sub-basement of a museum with his collection of mummified, feral cats. Wahanket plays a key role in Cal's memory-recall process. The ending has a heartbreaking twist.

     So…a series veteran would read this book as a character study, with the full knowledge of what Cal has been, but a new reader would read the book almost as a mystery: Who is Cal? What are the horrible past events that Niko doesn’t want him to remember? What a great twist to a veteran series!

     What's a boggle? Here's Cal's description: "What it turned out to be was a nine-foot-tall mud-encrusted, humanoid lizard that weighed about five hundred pounds, had pumpkin orange eyes full of fury, and about six cute little kiddies to make the whole thing a party....The kiddies were only seven feet tall with grinning jaws, lashing tails, and teeth that curved inward shark-fashion." (Blackout, pp. 100-101)

                         NOVEL 7:  Doubletake                         
     This book is all about family, from love and loyalty to bickering and betrayal—and everything in between. Cal is a different person since his experience with the spider poison in book 6. Before, he had two sides—his controllable human side and his completely uncontrollable Auphe side—and neither he nor Nik could ever be sure which would take over his body. Now, those sides are blended into one that is more balanced, but Cal fears that his dark Auphe heritage will eventually take over completely and that he will become the monster that he was always destined to be.

     As the story opens, Robin Goodfellow (aka Puck) hires the Leandros brothers to work security for his family reunion. Since all Pucks spend their time rampaging, exaggerating, lying, stealing, thieving, and fornicating, the brothers have their work cut out for them. Just as they complete that job—escaping with just a few scrapes and bruises—they are attacked by a huge, fiery, metal automaton with multiple eyes and two faces. By the time the creature mysteriously disappears, Cal has been severely injured. Niko's long-lost father, Emilian Kalakos, shows up on their doorstop claiming that the metal monster, called Janus, escaped from their Rom (gypsy) clan and must be tracked down and destroyed before it kills every Rom in existence. Neither Nik nor Cal is happy to see Kalakos because he never tried to rescue them from their abusive, sociopathic mother, Sophie. In fact, Nik and Cal view Kalakos as no more than a sperm donor because he has never bothered to communicate with his son in any way—not even once. 

     At this point, we learn just what made Janus disappear. In italicized paragraphs scattered throughout the book, we have a monologue spoken by Grimm, an Auphe—actually a half-Auphe/half-human, the only one who escaped from the breeding lab that Cal destroyed in the previous book. Grimm wants Cal to join him in the creation of a new Auphe race that will subjugate all humans, whom Grimm refers to as cattle. The plot follows Cal, Nik, Robin, and Kalakos as they try to figure out how to destroy Janus and Grimm. By the end, the brothers must endure yet another betrayal. In the climactic closing scene, most of the conflict is resolved, but Grimm is still at large and hard at work on his evil plan for world domination. If you're keeping a monster count for the series, you can add winged, blood-sucking manananggals and fiery-eyed Cyclops with liquid metal running through their veins. Oh, and the boggles show up for a heart-wrenching scene.

     The themes of this book are all about family relationships, particularly the question of nature vs. nurtureNik tries to convince Cal that, no matter what happens with his Auphe genes, his big brother will always be there to keep him human, while Cal worries that being around Grimm will trigger his Auphe darkness. Meanwhile, the wily Kalakos emphasizes his blood ties with Nik as he tries to establish a father-son relationship. Even Robin deals with family ties as he comes to terms with the fact that he is directly descended from one of the most psychotic Pucks in the history of the world. This is another great entry in a terrific series, with even more insights into the brothers' early years. At one point, Cal remembers how, as a four-year-old, he demonstrated his understanding of the word "practical" by saving Nik's life. As you can imagine, Cal's demonstration of being practical is far different than one could ever imagine. Throughout this series, Thurman has proved that her imagination has no limits. The fact that she has come up with a plausible way to slip just one more Auphe into the story line is very impressive. Grimm is quite a characterevil as he may be—and the action in the next book should be fascinating to watch as Cal tries hard to control his darkness while maintaining his strength. In the midst of Grimm's italicized ramblings, we learn some bad news about the fate of the lovely Georgina, Cal's former girlfriend.

                         NOVEL 8:  Slashback                    

     The eighth novel gives the reader two stories for the price of one as the chapters alternate between the present day and twelve years ago, when Cal was 11 and Niko was 15. Cal is the voice of the present-day story, while Nik narrates the flashback. The story lines focus on the boys' efforts to trap and punish two different serial killers, one a human and one a paien (supernatural).

     In the flashback, the boys are on their own for a few days while their low-life mother is off on one of her binges, and Cal is convinced that their next-door neighbor is a serial killer because he can smell large quantities of blood and rot in the guy's basement. Nik brushes off Cal's concerns, but agrees to do a little bit of investigating just to shut Cal up. Of course, Cal's suspicions turn out to be true, and events take a dark and dangerous turn that has repercussions for their present-day adventure.

     In the second story line, a powerful supernatural monster is murdering humans by skinning them alive. The boys nickname him "Jack"—for the mythological Spring-heeled Jack. This over-the-top bad guy appears from the sky in a fog-filled cloud of thunder and lightning. Early in the story, the monster begins attacking the Leandros brothers. Here is Cal's description of the monster during his first attack: "The thing [was] surrounded by [mist], concealed by it...Inside of the smoke I could see serrated razors of midnight obsidian slicing through the haze...There were shards upon shards stabbing out from the core, each two to three feet long. Hundreds of pieces of volcanic glass come to life....A clot of the shadowed mist came up and electric blue-white eyes flared to life, studying the blood, my blood, that dripped out of the sharp-edged darkness." (pp. 60-61) When Jack realizes that Cal is not human, he focuses his efforts on Nik. As the boys try to figure out what kind of creature they're up against, they enlist the aid of their buddy, Robin (Puck) Goodfellow and his lover, Ishiah (a Peri). You won't be surprised to discover that the two serial killers have a connection; that fact is telegraphed all the way through both stories.

     The themes for this book are the bonds of brotherhood and the changes in character that come with maturity and experience. After years of self-hatred, Cal is dealing with his Auphe side in a different way now. "I wasn't shamed by what I was. I didn't hate it, not any longer; I was confused, some, yes, but not ashamed." (p. 107) Cal's problem now is that he's becoming more comfortable—maybe too comfortable—with his Auphe powers, particularly his gating skills (i.e., traveling through space and time), which allow him to open a gate in the middle of an opponent's body, causing an immediate and violent death with an explosion of body parts. In the heat of the moment, Cal is inclined to use his gating skills more than Nik believes he should. Both Cal and Nik live with the fear that someday, Cal's dark, Auphe side will overwhelm his human side.

     As in all of the books, darkness and violence are balanced by sarcastic, ironic humor. Here, Cal explains why he likes Rapture, his weapons supplier, so much: "She'd recently added delivery service—you got your weapons in an hour or ten percent off...and as always a free cupcake from the bakery that served as a front to the best weapons dump in the tri-state area." (p. 181)

     Thurman does a great job with the transitions between the past and present chapters. Each transitional chapter ends with a word/phrase/concept that is picked up in the first words of the succeeding chapter. For example, chapter 11 (present day) ends with a discussion between Cal and Nik about the coincidence, or non-coincidence, between two incidents. The next chapter (12 years ago) then begins with the words: "Coincidence, I wasn't a big believer..." (p. 238). Thurman does this all the way through in a perfectly natural manner, with no feeling of forcing the flow of the two story lines.

     After the monster is dispatched (as you always knew it would be), the Leandros brothers have a conversation with an old friend in which they learn some astounding facts about their genetic heritage. I'm not sure how I feel about this new information. On the one hand, it's a fascinating concept, but on the other hand, it changes my feeling for the brothers and their death-defying adventures. See what you think, but please don't spoil it for yourself by reading the ending first.

     The only quibble I have is that in the first few chapters, there were some awkward passages that required re-reading to clarify meaning and/or speaker (in the case of dialogue). This soon straightened out, though, and the book quickly became a page-turner, just like all of the previous books have been. This is a great series, and I highly recommend it to readers who like gritty and violent urban fantasy with undertones of noir humor. Slashback almost reads like a series finale, but the brothers still have to deal with Cal's evil cousin, Grimm, so I'm guessing that we have at least one more book to go—maybe more. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Slashback

                         NOVEL 9:  Downfall                         

If you have not read Slashback, the 8th novel,
do NOT read this review or this book
because they both include spoilers that will
completely ruin your enjoyment of Slashback.
     In this game-changing ninth novel, Thurman tells the story from the alternating first-person perspectives of eons-old Robin Goodfellow and 25-year-old Cal Leandros. Goodfellow has always been the boys’ protector—always having their back when their enemies proliferate and the fighting gets really tough. In Slashback, Robin revealed to Cal and Niko that they were actually the reincarnations of a pair of brothers (or sometimes cousins or comrades-in-arms) who had been appearing, dying, and reappearing in his life for centuries. Their previous identities include Alexander and HephaestusKing Arthur and Sir Kay; and Achilles and Patroclus, among others over the thousands—actually millions—of years Goodfellow has walked the earth. Goodfellow is a randy, supernatural trickster who has gone by a number of names, including hobpuck, and the god Pan.

     Goodfellow’s chapters reflect his egomaniacal belief in his own sexual attractiveness, brute power, and sly cunning, so be ready for lots of sexual innuendo and braggadocio from this oh-so-confidant trickster. Goodfellow has always known that Cal’s Auphe genes would overrun his human genes, turning him into a mindless killing machine. He also knows that Cal currently faces three very powerful enemies, all of whom want him either dead or under their control:

    >>Delilah: Cal’s former werewolf friend with benefits, who is now the first female alpha of the New York pack. She wants Cal dead because…well, let’s just say that their relationship ended rather badly.

    >>The Vigil: a covert human organization that wants to keep all knowledge of the supernatural world a secret from the general human population. They want Cal dead because in Slashback when he was trying to rescue Niko from Springheel Jack, Cal revealed himself to humans by gating (teleporting) onto a crowded city street—an automatic death sentence to be meted out by the Vigil’s well-trained snipers.

    >>Grimm: the sociopathic half-Auphe who wants Cal to partner with him in siring a race of monsters called Bae and then to take over the world together—either that or he will kill Cal in as painful a manner as possible. The Bae are Grimm’s offspring with kidnapped succubae: ¼ Auphe, ¼ human, and ½ succubae. They have some Auphe characteristics (i.e., gating ability, claws, teeth), but are much weaker that either Cal or Grimm.

     After all these centuries of finding and losing Cal and Niko again and again (in their ongoing incarnations), Goodfellow is sick and tired of the constant loss. His genuinely likes Cal and Niko and will do anything in his power to keep them alive and to keep Cal sane, even if that means lying to friends and enemies alike, killing everyone who gets in his way, and paying off anyone who can help him out. In fact, we soon learn that he has secretly been interfering in the brothers’ lives for years, unbeknownst not only to Cal and Niko, but also to the reader. Here, in his usual flagrantly egocentric manner, Goodfellow muses about his relationship with the boys: “…they were my truest and oldest of friends. When you’d lived long enough to forget thousand of years as if they were only a moment and could recall a world long before humans evolved, friends such as those mattered. When they reincarnated time and time again throughout eternity simply to keep me company—or that’s how I chose to think of it as everything is about me—they more than mattered. Of course my company was incomparable. Tagging after me through the endless years was absolutely understandable.” (p. 31)

     Meanwhile, Cal is devastated to find a silvery, barbed hair growing amongst his long, black locks. He knows immediately that his Auphe genes have started to take control, and he fears what comes next. Day by day, the silver strands multiply and his eyes become totally red. Cal fears that when the Auphe takes over, he will become a monster just like Grimm, and he wants someone to kill him before that happens.

     Oddly enough, Cal’s inner emotional state is calm—or at least as calm as Cal's frenetic brain can ever be. Back at the climax of Slashback, Springheel Jack electroshocked Cal’s brain to slow him down, and Cal hasn’t been able to gate (teleport) ever since. Cal and Niko know that an inability to gate is a weakness that Grimm will exploit to the fullest, so Niko turns to science and comes up with a method of shocking Cal’s nervous system enough to trigger his gating ability. 

     This is a very different kind of story than we usually find in this series. The primary difference is that there are many, many scenes of reminiscence, as first Goodfellow, then Cal, remember their past lives and Cal and Niko’s past deaths. Goodfellow has been profoundly affected by his inability to keep the boys alive, and he is determined that this time he will not fail. At the same time, Cal is determined that even if he dies, Niko won’t, but since Niko feels the same way about Cal, their feelings kind of cancel each other out. In the end, this is a story about friendship, faith, and trust. The book feels like a finale to the series because it resolves some major issues and brings back some long-gone characters from previous books. But if you think carefully about the ending, you’ll realize that there are still enemies out there and that Thurman certainly plans to give us a more in-depth look at how Cal and Niko’s future lives will play out.

     As usual, Cal is at his snarky best. Niko, who plays a lesser role in this book, is as patient and firm as ever with the recalcitrant Cal. Goodfellow is the surprise, particularly his deeply felt emotions over the constant loss of his friends during his long, long life. Because of the huge amount of back story in this novel, you could read it as a stand-alone, but I don’t recommend that you do. This is one of the best urban fantasy series on the market today, and you owe it to yourself to start from the beginning—to tag along with the Leandros brothers as they battle their way through hordes of monsters and try to survive in a very hostile world.

     Thurman gives us a climax that twists at the last minute in the best trickster tradition. As I read those last chapters, my emotions were swinging from dread to disbelief to horror to hope—and back again. Here’s a shout-out to all of you urban fantasy writers who fall back on a deus ex machina to swoop in and rescue the hero: Read this book for a lesson in plotting from a master of that literary art. 

     Goodfellow is really the hero of this book, and I’m glad that Thurman found a way for us to look beyond his sexy-stud exterior to his wounded soul and his appreciation for the brotherhood that exists between him and the Leandros siblings. Even amongst all of the dire circumstances that are portrayed in this novel, you can be sure that Thurman maintains the sarcastic dialogue, particularly between Cal and Goodfellow, although Niko gets in a few dry, wry lines as well. One line that made me chuckle was when Cal explained that, according to Goodfellow, William Shatner is the reincarnation of Bacchus, patron god of wine and theater. Makes sense to me!

     Don't miss this terrific addition to a fantastic series that is now winding down to its last two books. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Downfall on the novel's page. Just click on the cover art. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Twelve-Step Plan for Becoming an Urban Fantasy Heroine

Are you tired of your boring, every-day life? Are you dying to live the exciting, adventurous life of an urban fantasy heroine. Just follow these twelve easy guidelines. 

You won't even recognize yourself by the time the transformation is completed (and neither will your friends and family).

1. Be adopted, or be an orphan, or have at least one unknown parent. (Don't whine about this. In the immortal words of Tim Gunn, "Make it work.")   

2. Meditate at length on the circumstances of your extremely unhappy and chaotic childhood. 

3. Drive an eccentric car or motorcycle (for example, a 1970s muscle car, a bright yellow VW beetle, an ancient Mercedes, a sleek Ducati, or your grannie’s 1985 Buick), and be able to fix it yourself when it (inevitably) breaks down. 

4. Live in a unique location in a dark and gritty city (for example, a converted warehouse, a walk-up apartment in an iffy neighborhood, or a de-sanctified church)—no suburban ranch or classy colonial for you. 

5. Develop an annoying addiction to a particular designer-label coffee (or tea) and complain bitterly when you are offered any other beverage. 

6. Suffer from crippling levels of guilt and self-doubt, and keep reminding yourself that every single bad thing that happens  to you and your friends and relatives is all your fault—yours alone, and no one else’s.  

7. Choose only extremely hot, sexy, tall, muscular, sardonic guys for boyfriends. (Average Joes and shy geeks can’t handle a chick like you.) 

8. Deny your supernatural powers for as long as you possibly can. You didn’t ask for them; you don’t want them. Keep whining,  “I just want a normal life.” 

9. Develop skills with as many weapons as you can think of and carry all of them on your person at all times: down your back, beneath your jacket, in your shoes, holstered to your waist, under your hair, down your bra, and strapped to your arms and legs. 

10. Do not cook—not ever. Keep only beer and cheese in your refrigerator and only crackers and peanut butter in your cupboard. (Telephone numbers for local pizza and Chinese take-out are on speed dial.)

11. Wear only black clothing, preferably tight jeans and skimpy tank tops under a black leather jacket (with loops and pockets for weapons, of course),  and underneath it all—lacy silk underwear.

12.  Be a redhead, preferably a natural one. 

Can you think of any more? Let me know.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Author: Jaye Wells
Plot Type: UF
Ratings: V4, S3, H3
Publisher and Titles: Orbit
    “Vampsploitation” in The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance, Volume 2 (prequel, Running Press, 2009)
     Red-Headed Stepchild (4/2009)
     The Mage in Black (4/2010)
     "Violet Tendencies" (e-novella, 2011)
     Green-Eyed Demon (3/2011)
     Silver-Tongued Devil (1/2012)
     Blue-Blooded Vamp (6/2012)
     "Rusted Veins" (e-novella, 10/2013)

     This post was revised and updated on 7/13/12 to include a review of the fifth novel in the series: Blue-Blooded Vamp. That review appears at the very end of this post and is preceded by an overview of the world-building and brief reviews of novels 1-4:  

     In this world, all vampires have red hair, while mages (magic users) have various shades of brown or black hair. Because Sabina has red-streaked black hair, the world knows that she is of mixed blood—a half-breed and, therefore, an outcast. Contributing to Sabina's isolation is the fact that her aristocratic vampire grandmother, Livinia, has raised Sabina to be a mage-hating slayer who hunts down and kills at the behest of the Vampire Council. 

     Sabina’s primary love interest is Adam Lazarus, a mage from New York City, but an old flame—Slade, a fellow hunter—turns up in book 2 to complicate matters. Near the end of book 1, Adam unveils to Sabina the secrets of her mysterious birth and the mage family she never knew she had. In each book, Sabina and her friends fight against political and personal enemies in both the vampire and the mage world. Another group that causes problems for Sabina and her allies is the Caste of Nod, a secret society of humans who seem to hate most supernaturals.

     There is a prophecy involved, too: that Sabina is the Chosen—the one who will unite all of the dark races (i.e., vampires, mages, fae). This prophecy complicates Sabina's life because there are many among the dark races who want to get rid of Sabina so the unification can never occur. Although humans are included in the series, they serve mostly as a backdrop to the supernatural happenings. 

     An interesting note: applewood stakes and apple-juice-filled bullets can kill these vampires—a connection with the forbidden fruit of Adam and Eve’s downfall. Some of the characters in that biblical story also play major roles in the later books of the series, including the villainous Cain. Comic relief comes in the form of Giguhl, Sabina's sarcastic and randy Mischief demon minion, who turns into a hairless cat when he's not in full demon form

     I love this series. The story lines are compelling and the characters are well developed. Even Giguhl gets some depth by book 4. Sabina can be a bit whiny and angsty at times, but she gets marginally better by book 3 and is fine in book 4 (even though her life is falling down around her most of the time). Adam makes a great heroflawed but courageous. He has Sabina's back most of the time, and when he doesn't, he's still trying to do what he thinks is right

     Click HERE to read free on-line stories by Jaye Wells that are part of the SABINA KANE series, including a prequel to Red-Headed Stepchild

        BOOK 1:  Red-Headed Stepchild        
    In the opening book, we meet Sabina, Livinia, Adam, and other support characters, so there is the usual amount of first-book exposition. Livinia orders Sabina to infiltrate a group run by a devious demon/vampire named Clovis that poses a threat to the Vampire Council, which puts Sabina in a very dangerous position. Adam enters the scene with two purposes: to convince Sabina that she should accept her mage heritage and to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a huge number of mages. Along with Vinca, Sabina's fae roommate, Sabina and Adam combine forces to take down a whole host of villains. For the first time in her life, Sabina finds herself questioning Livinia's authority. Click HERE to read chapter 1.

        BOOK 2:  The Mage in Black        
     In this book, Sabina meets her mage family and begins her training so that she can use her magic skills. Unfortunately, the Hecate Council, which is the mage equivalent to the Vampire Council, has its own plans for Sabina as the hostilities between the vamps and the mages heat up. The relationship between Adam and Sabina is still simmering on the back burner, but in the meantime, Sabina's old partner, Slade, is now one of the most powerful vampires in New York City, and he's still feeling attracted to Sabina. As the story progresses, Sabina finds herself submerged in mage politics, and she soon finds that mages can be just as cold and hard hearted as her grandmother Livinia ever wasClick HERE to read chapter 1.

        BOOK 3:  Green-Eyed Demon        
     In the third novel, Sabina, Adam, and Giguhl head to New Orleans at Halloween to rescue Sabina's twin sister, Maisie from the clutches of their evil grandmother, Lavinia. As the story progresses, Sabina's group of allies begins to grow, until eventually it includes vampires, shifters, fae, and mages. But will it be enough to defeat the villainous Livinia? Sorry, but I won't reveal that tiny bit of infoyou'll have to read the book, and you'll enjoy the story, I promise. We do get one level-4 sex scene in this book (finally!), but I'm keeping the sensuality rating at 3 because the focus in this book is absolutely not on the sexit's on the action scenesClick HERE to read chapter 1.

        BOOK 4:  Silver-Tongued Devil        
     As the book opens, Sabina is sharing a New York apartment with Adam, Giguhl, and Giguhl's "girlfriend," Pussy Willow (aka Brooks, a trans-sexual exotic dancer whom we met in the previous book). Sabina is trying to suppress her vampire side so that she and Adam can live the mage life that he craves for her. Unfortunately, that confrontational vampire nature just won't stay hidden, and it eventually surfaces just enough to interfere with their romance. Adding to their relationship problem is the fact that Sabina failed to tell Adam about a very brief fling she had with her old partner, Slade, a few months ago. Here, Sabina reflects on her vamp/mage problem: "From the start, Adam had encouraged me to get in touch with my mage side. Until he showed up, my mage blood had been a source of shame, something to ignore and hide. Because of him, I realized I had power I'd never conceived of before. Because of him, I found my sister and an extended family....But all of these wonderful things had a darker side. Because even as he was pushing me to get in touch with my magic, he was also pulling me away from my vampire side. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I'd missed her. She wouldn't let anyone push her around. She went after goals with the stubbornness of a mule. She was strong and brave and confident. All things I'd lost when I left her behind..." (p. 293)

     The primary plot line follows the time line of events leading up to the all-important peace treaty that will end the ongoing conflict that has existed among the vamps, mages, and fae. Shortly before the big treaty-signing day, someone murders a human and a mage and makes the killings look like the work of a vampire. Sabina and Adam are assigned to track down the killer, along with a young female vampire from California who's out to prove that she can out-bad Sabina. (No chance of that!) Meanwhile, Sabina's sister, Maisie, is having nightmares about the monstrous Cain, and so is Sabina. Maisie has not yet recovered—either emotionally or physicallyfrom the ordeal she suffered in the previous book when Livinia captured her and starved her. As the climax approaches, Sabina must travel to another plane of existence to rescue Maisie and confront Cain. The ending is a cliffhanger, with Sabina, Adam, and Giguhl off on yet another quest. The humor in this book again comes mostly from Giguhl, who is coaching a supernatural roller derby team at Vein, Slade's vampire nightclub. This is another great book in a fantastic UF seriesClick HERE to read chapter 1.

     Wells has a great way of sketching a scene with just a few words. Here, Sabina and her friends have just walked into a punk-rock concert: "The audience clogged the dance floor like arterial plaque. Humans, mostly. Kids dressed in black with multiple piercings and enough angst to power the Eastern seaboard." (p. 163)   

     One last thing: On Etsy, you can buy jewelry that is based on the SABINA KANE series. Check it out HERE.      

        BOOK 5:  Blue-Blooded Vamp        
     The series conclusion begins just 48 hours after the climactic scene from the previous book in which Cain murdered Maisie. Sabina is reeling with grief and burning with rage. Remember, this is the real, original Cainthe one from Genesis 4 who murdered his brother—the oldest living human. Cain wants to use Sabina's Chthonic magic (aka earth magic) to help him kidnap Lilith. Here, Sabina explains, "In addition to being the man who invented murder, Cain was also the psycho ex-boyfriend of the Great Mother. They'd created the vampire race together before Lilith kicked him to the curb to marry the demon Asmodeus and become the Queen of Irkalla [aka the Underworld]. Cain was convinced he and Lilith belonged together, and most of his plots revolved around getting her back. But according to the prophecies...if any of the dark races gained power over the other races, Lilith would return to the mortal realm and kill us all....Cain's obsession would have been sad and desperate if succeeding didn't mean the destruction of all the dark races." (p. 17)

    As the story opens, Sabina, Adam, and Giguhl are in New Orleans, where they enlist assistance from an old acquaintance as they get ready to head for Italy to track down the mage who calls himself Abel. Sabina is obsessed with vengeance against Cain, and she is sure that Abel will help with that, since he has dedicated his life to keeping Cain out of circulation. (To review, just before Maisie was killed, she was forced to release Cain from Abel's long-term captivity.) 

     The plot follows Sabina and her gang as they head for Rome to confront Abel, whoshockinglyturns out to be an important person from Sabina's past. With Cain in hot pursuit, the team must enter the depths of Irkalla to prove to Lilith that Sabina is really the Chosen. Because the Chosen is the only person who can kill Cain without dire consequences, Sabina wants to make sure that she actually is the Chosen before she strikes Cain down. While in Irkalla, Sabina meets many dead people from her pastsome friends and, unfortunately, some enemies (including, of course, her old nemesis, Livinia). If you've been reading the series, you'll recognize many of them from earlier booksall the way back to Clovis and Vinca from book 1.

     This book is all about balance. Sabina has always had to deal with the two opposing sides of her genetic heritage: mage and vampire. As payment for passage through the five gates of Irkalla, she must sacrifice parts of herself in order to save the world from Cain, and she comes to understand herself in a way that she never has before. Sabina's relationship with Adam is, by now, solid and loving. He has made peace with her vampire nature and even seems to enjoy being her blood donor. They still have their disagreements, of course, but their long-term relationship appears to be a sure thing. At one point near the end of the story, Adam gives Sabina a lecture on her tendency towards heroic martyrdom: As much as you don't want to admit this, you are as vulnerable to the vagaries of fate as the rest of us. But you're so determined to control everyone and everything that you take the blame for every bad thing that happens." (p. 404) Go Adam! You should give that lecture to every guilt-filled, angst-ridden, mea-culpa-chest-thumping UF hero and heroine in the paranormal fiction world (and that includes most of them)!

     As the book reaches its conclusion, (with its requisite climactic battle between Sabina and Cain), Sabina becomes the key to an alliance that will keep the dark races safe and secure for the foreseeable future. By the time the Epilogue rolls around, almost everyone has found their HEA, including Giguhl. Except for some mildly confusing details about Irkalla, this book is a satisfying ending for the series, as its heroine finally achieves harmony in her personal life, and the dark races live on in peace—still hidden from the human world.