Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pamela Palmer's VAMP CITY SERIES

Author:  Pamela Palmer
Series:  VAMP CITY
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF) with a touch of horror 
Ratings:  Violence--5; Sensuality--4; Humor--1
Publisher and Titles:  Avon
        A Blood Seduction (6/2012)
        "A Forever Love" in Vampires Gone Wild (3/2013)
        A Kiss of Blood  (6/2013)

     This post was revised and updated on 8/5/13 to include the second novel in the series, A Kiss of Blood. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel:

          NOVEL 2:  A Kiss of Blood         
     After the gory horror of the first novel in this series, book 2 is almost a walk in the park. Palmer has drastically dialed down on the bestial brutality this time around, changing the focus to the developing romance/lust between Quinn Lennox, the series heroine, and her one-time captor, now hot lover, Arturo Mazza. At the end of book 1, Arturo helped Quinn and her brother, Zack, escape from Vamp City (aka V.C.). Now three weeks have passed and they are still safe, but their lives are by no means normal. Zack is sick with some sort of magical illness that is related to V.C., and his girlfriend, Lily, is still a vampire captive somewhere in V.C. When a pair of Traders breaks down Quinn's door, Arturo appears out of nowhere to rescue her, with the help of her new neighbor, Mike, who turns out to be Arturo's friend Micah.

     Arturo convinces Quinn that the only way her brother will get well is for him—and her—to return to V.C. so that Quinn can fix the broken magic. Quinn is smart enough to know that Arturo can't be trusted, but she desperately wants to save her brother's life, so she reluctantly agrees. The rest of the story follows two tracks: the romance (which is much more important in this book) and the action plot that involves tracking down information as to why Quinn's magic isn't working as well as it should.

     Thankfully we don't see much of the evil Cristoff in this book, but he's just as depraved as ever in the brief scenes in which he appears. At this point in the story, Arturo has come to grips with the fact that the broken magic has transformed Cristoff into a monster who probably can't be saved, and he has also come to realized that he's in love with Quinn. Quinn has her own problems as she wavers between lust and distrust for Arturo and tries to get control over her sorcerous powers so that she can fix the magic and save her brother—and her treacherous over. In this book, we learn that Lily is indeed still alive and trying her best to survive, so the Zack-Lily story will probably appear in a future book or novella.

     A few facts are added to the mythology in this book, primarily the fact that the Traders are actually a race of demons, which explains their super strength. We also meet the werewolves, the Rippers, and the Fae for the first time. Since the magic broke in V.C., these groups have not been able to leave V.C., so they are having severe food shortages that are being made worse by their enemies' attacks on the few Traders that will still deliver to them. Speaking of the broken magic, we also learn exactly what caused the magic to fail two years ago. The Fae play a key role in this story as they have important information about Quinn's magic problems. In one humorous scene, Arturo bribes a Fae woman by giving her the latest DVDs of CSI and So You think You Can Dance

     This book is not nearly as dark as book one although it does have several scenes of mindless violence—just not as many and with fewer horrific details. Love is now a possibility—really a probability—between Quinn and Arturo, so we have a number of hot love scenes and lots of angst-filled conversations between the two. Arturo's friends are much more important in this book, particularly Micah, Neo, and Kassius. This means that Quinn begins to realize that all vamps aren't evil, and that's a difficult concept for her to accept after her treatment during her initial trip to V.C.  

     This book reads more live a dark paranormal romance, but if you want to read it in the context of the series story arc, you'll have to get through book 1, which is really an effort, unless you're really into sadomasochism, over-the-top torture, and sociopathic behavior of the worst kind. 
Click HERE to read an excerpt.

     Washington, V.C. (aka Vamp City, aka V.C.) is a sunless city created by a sorcerer back in 1870. In structure, it is a duplicate of Washington, D. C., with most of the same streets and buildings, but looking like they did back in the 19th century just after the Civil War. Vamp City is a shambling wreck of a place, with broken-down buildings that the vamps are uninterested in keeping up. V.C. is home to about 400 vampires who are divided among nine kovenas (similar to clans). Each kovena lives within its own stronghold, existing apart from and in opposition to the other kovenas. There are two races of vampires: the Emoras, who feed on both blood and emotion (fear, pain, and pleasure) and the Rippers, a smaller group who feed exclusively on blood. This world also has werewolves, who are born, not made, but we don't see much of them until book 2.

     Vamp City's biggest problem is that the magic that holds it together is breaking down, allowing beams of sunlight to penetrate more and more frequently. That sunlight brings instantaneous death to any vampire it hits, so the vamps are desperate to find a sorcerer who can renew the magic that keeps their city alive. Phineas Blackstone, the sorcerer who created the city, used his magic to create a trap for vampires. After they all moved into V.C., he withdrew his magic and the city (and the vampires) began to die.

     Here, a vampire describes V.C.: "The vampires wanted a large dark Phineas Blackstone rode to nearly the center of the ten-mile square that was originally D.C. to perform his magic. The city he created extends out approximately three miles in every direction from that spot. The Boundary Circle is where the vamps enter and exit the dark city...or did when the magic was intact. Most of the kovenas have strongholds near the Boundary. The unclaimed land around the kovenas we call the Nod. The large, unclaimed center, the Crux. It's a dangerous place, home to the wolves and Rippers and anyone else who longs to stay away from the kovenas and has the fortitude to survive." (p. 226)

     As one vampire explains, V.C. "is the perfect place for vampires....No sun, no need to hide for fear of detection by the far more numerous human race. Vamp City was promoted as a utopia....Where else can vampires hold horse races and soccer matches, hunts and other games at any time, day or night, free to use our full range of abilities, free to feed on the humans in our midst without fear of reprisal or discovery? Without fear of the sun?" (p. 130)

     A few vampires still have enough power to travel back and forth between the real Washington, D.C. and Vamp City, but not manyonly the ones who were lucky enough to be in D.C. rather than V.C. when the magic failed. The vamps who happened to be in V.C. when the magic failed are stuck there for goodor until the magic is fixed. In this world, vamps have varying needs. Some feed on fear, others on pain or pleasure, but they all need human blood to thrive. These vamps are brutal, degenerate perverts who view all humans as prey and entertainment. Most humans who are dragged into Vamp City die, but those who live in V.C. long enough eventually become Slavas, identified by their glowing hair. Slavas are immortal, and they live their lives either working for or entertaining the vampsbeing sucked dry of blood while being tortured during public "banquets" for the benefit of the pain-sucking and fear-eating vamps. Food for the human slaves of V.C. comes from Traders, who move back and forth between V.C. and D.C. The Traders often grab humans from D.C. to sell as slaves to the V.C. vamps.

     The series heroine is Quinn Lennox, a young human woman, who lives with her half-brother, Zack, in a Washington, D.C. apartment near George Washington (GW) University. Quinn is a lab technician at the National Institutes of Health, and her brother is a GW student and a computer geek. Quinn never knew her mother, who died when she was quite young. When Quinn's father remarried, her new step-mother made life miserable for Quinn. The only good part of Quinn's life after that was her loving relationship with Zack. Quinn has always been considered a bit of a freak. She once threw her step-mother across a room without using her hands, and was punished severely for that. The step-mother always called Quinn's real mother "that witch," but Quinn never thought that she was seriousuntil now, that is.

     The first book in the series is very violent, portraying the vampires as sadistic monsters, even Arturo, who is supposed to be the hero. The vampires brutalize all humanswhipping, beating, burning, raping, and/or beheading anyone who does anything at all that is disagreeable to themor if they're in need of some fear or pain to feed fromor just because they view humans as nothing more than prey or entertainment. The humans in V.C. don't stand a chance against their vampire masters. They are all doomed to either a quick but painful death or an immortal life filled with misery and brutalization. 

     Click HERE to go to a page on the author's web site entitled "Welcome to Vamp City," which includes a description of V.C. and fun facts about D.C. in 1870. Click HERE to read the author's explanation of how she came up with the V.C. world. Click HERE to read the first 3 1/2 chapters (59 pages) of the book. Check out pages 35-39 for Quinn's first gut-wrenching encounter with Arturo. If that scene makes you flinch, you need to know that her situation (and her brother's) only gets worse. 

          BOOK 1:  A Blood Seduction          
     Lately, Quinn has been seeing Shimmersglowing rainbow bands of light that change the color of her clothing when she walks through them. Sometimes, when she looks out of her apartment window, she sees crumbling, old-fashioned row houses and horse-drawn carriages instead of modern buildings and automobiles. She doesn't know what to make of all this, but she's very worried.

     When Zack's girlfriend, Lily, disappears on her way to meet him, Zack and Quinn search for her, but get sucked into Vamp City instead. They are immediately set upon by hungry vampires, and Zack is dragged away into brutal slavery. But Quinn is rescued by a handsome, 600-year-old vamp named Arturo Mazza who recognizes almost immediately that Quinn is a sorcerer who can save V.C. by renewing its magic. Arturo (whose nickname is Snake) convinces Quinn that he will help her find her brother, but instead turns her over to his cruel and heartless master, Cristoff. The story follows Quinn as she desperately tries to escape her captivity and find and rescue Zack while warding off Arturo's never-ending sexual advances, even though she finds herself falling under his spell. Arturo, by the way, has one unlikely (silly) human trait: he's crazy about SweetTarts.

     Reading this story is not a pleasant or enjoyable experience, and although the series been labeled as a romance, this book is closer to horror than to any other genre. The frequent scenes of vampire violence are dark and sadistic. In Arturo's first scene with Quinn, he sexually abuses her (not quite rape, but the next thing to it) and lies to her continually. She knows deep down that Arturo can't be trusted (he keeps telling her that), but she keeps falling for his liesnot the smartest heroine in paranormal fiction. Quinn has a number of TSTL moments in which she underestimates the vamps and overestimates her own abilities. She is essentially a passive female who must constantly be rescued by stronger males. Arturo comes across as pragmatic and heartless, warning Quinn over and over again that his allegiance is to Cristoff, and that he will always choose Cristoff over anyone else. Quinn, somehow, keeps forgetting this and sees goodness in Arturo that just isn't there. Even after Arturo manhandles her, lies to her, betrays her, and passes her off to Cristoff, all it takes is a kind word or a soapy shower for Quinn to melt into Arturo's sexy vampire arms.

     I can't say that I enjoyed this book. The torture scenes and the male domination were way too disturbingstomach-churning, really. Here's one of the worst: "the woman lay...spread-eagled on her back. her wrists and ankles had been tied with barbed wire until the blood ran down her arms. More barbed wire wrapped around her head, the blood soaking her hair as it ran in rivulets from her scalp. Worst of all was the picture of Cristoff standing naked between the woman's spread legs fastening a spiked band around" his private parts. (p. 170) By the time I finished this book, I was wishing for a memory wipe or a brain wash to banish some of the images from my mind. The ending is a cliff hanger, that lets us know that, unfortunately, Quinn hasn't seen the last of Arturo. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Patricia Briggs: ALPHA & OMEGA SERIES

Author:  Patricia Briggs 
Series:  ALPHA & OMEGA
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF) with Soul Mate Protagonists
Novels and Novellas:  
     "Alpha and Omega" in On the Prowl (2007)
     "Alpha and Omega" (e-novella, 2009)
      Cry Wolf (1/2008)
      Hunting Ground (8/2009)    
      Fair Game (1/2013)
      Dead Heat (3/2015)

Graphic Novels:
      Cry Wolf: Volume 1 (10/2012)
      Cry Wolf: Volume 2 (5/2013)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 4/2/15 to include a review of Dead Heat, the fourth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the series world-building, brief summaries of the prequel novella and the first two novels, and a full review of novel 3.  

               NOVEL 4:  Dead Heat               
     It's been a long wait between books in this series, but thankfully, this one can be read as a stand-alone. Charles and Anna Cornick have now been married a little over three years, and it's Anna's 26th birthday. Charles decides that he will take Anna on a vacation to his old friend's horse ranch in Arizona to pick out a gift horse. Joseph Sani is a human in his eighties who is dying from lung cancer, but he has kept his illness a secret from Charles. Joseph and Charles spent a lot of time together when Joseph was in his teens and twenties when they were both itinerant range riders in the Southwest. Joseph's father, Hosteen, a full-blooded Navajo and Alpha of the Salt River Pack, wants Charles to save Joseph's life by turning him into a werewolf, but Joseph doesn't want the bite, and Charles refuses to force him into the change. Hosteen is furious that Charles won't act, and he extends his hostility to Anna, who is meeting his family for the first time. To make things worse, Joseph's wife, Maggie, still holds a torch for Charles. She loved him back in the day, but rejected him as soon as she found out about his wolfy nature. The complications of this familial relationship play out in story threads woven through the primary story line.

     Just to be clear: As the story begins, all of the Sani family except Hosteen are humans: Joseph and Maggie Sani (both in their eighties), their son Kage and his wife Chelsea (both in their forties), and Kage and Chelsea's three young children. Joseph's father, Hosteen Sani, became a werewolf 100 years ago when he was in his twenties. The story can get confusing because Joseph is elderly and frail, while his father Hosteen is young-looking and healthy. I had to keep reminding myself how the men were related and who was really the oldest. Their father-son relationship reminds me of the TV show, Forever, in which 41-year-old Ioan Gruffudd plays the father of 80-year-old Judd Hirsch

     The plot that ties everything together revolves around a powerful child-abusing fae known as the doll collector. He is introduced in the Prologue as a long-time prisoner of the Gray Lords of the Fae. A mysterious Fae female gives him back his magic and sets him free so that he can enter the human world and do some major damage. Note: Briggs provides an early clue to the human identity of the villain, but you have to think carefully to recognize it.

     The event that sets off the action takes place just as Charles and Anna arrive at the Sani's ranch. Kage gets some frantic voice mails from Chelsea begging him to come home immediately to save their children. An unidentified fae has spelled Chelsea, placing a geas on her that forces her to stab her children and then kill herself. Luckily, Chelsea has some witch blood that gives her the strength to stab herself instead of her three children. Unfortunately, help arrives too late, but just before she bleeds out, Charles changes her into a werewolf (with her husband's consent but over her father-in-law's protests). As Anna and Charles begin to investigate the fae magic that drove Chelsea to stab herself, they find that the Combined Nonhuman and Transhuman Relations Provisors (CANTRP, aka Cantrip) and the FBI are investigating other fae crimes that may be related. The couple teams up with two Cantrip agents and Leslie Fisher, the FBI agent they met during the debacle in Washington, D.C., in which a fae publicly beheaded the son of a U.S. senator.

     A final sub-plot that simmers in the background involves Charles and Anna's evolving relationship as they ponder the possibility of parenthood. Anna desperately wants a child, but Charles fears that he has too many enemies who would keep his child in danger. Plus, he is afraid that, like his own mother, Anna will die during childbirth.

     The themes of the novel deal with the eternal human struggle between right and wrong, darkness and light, evil and good. For example, Hosteen is torn between his belief that all witches are evil and the fact that Chelsea is a witch, but not evil. Anna struggles with "her own darkness that she tried to keep out of sight," fearing that if Charles ever sees it he will stop loving her. Meanwhile, Charles believes that his actions as the Marrok's hatchet man have made him such a monster that he can't understand how Anna can possibly love him.

     My major quibble with this novel is the heavy load of horse-breeding information that periodically slows the pace from a canter to a walk. Some of the details were extremely technical and might have been interesting in some other context, but they had nothing to do with the plot. Although I appreciate the author's research efforts, I found myself quickly skimming past those paragraphs.

     As always, Briggs has written a compelling story involving well-drawn characters and fast-paced action. Although it isn't the strongest novel in the series, it's still a great read that kept me engrossed from beginning to end. I would enjoy the series more if there was more drama in the Anna-Charles relationship, which seems too good to be true—always lovey-dovey, with never a disagreement. I realize that these are fictional characters, but I keep hoping that their relationship will become more natural…more real. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Dead Heat

     The all-inclusive series title is WORLD OF THE MARROK (the Marrok being the head of the werewolf clan that is the focus of the series), but there are two subseries, each focusing on a different part of the clan: the Seattle werewolves (MERCY THOMPSON SERIES) and the Montana werewolves (ALPHA AND OMEGA SERIES). Several characters overlap the two series, particularly Bran Cornick, the Marrok, his sons Charles and Samuel, and Adam Hauptman, the Seattle pack leader who is Mercy Thompson's husband. Click HERE to read my discussion and reviews of the MERCY THOMPSON SERIES.

     Readers should begin with "Alpha & Omega," where Briggs introduces Anna and Charles in a soul-mate romance story. (Click HERE to read my review of that anthology.) In this short story prequel, Charles, the executioner for his father's pack, rescues Anna and becomes her mate. Cry Wolf and Hunting Ground continue the couple's story in a manner that is more urban fantasy than paranormal romance. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Alpha & Omega."

     Anna is an Omega werewolf who was abused for years by a dysfunctional pack. According to this mythology, Omega wolves are rare and highly valued because they have a soothing, calming influence on other werewolves, and on fae and even humans as well. Charles is the son of Bran, the Marrok of all the werewolf packs, and he is the only born (not made) werewolf, which gives him more strength, better senses, and faster shifting abilities than other werewolves. For hundreds of years, Charles has served as his father's enforcer/executioner.

               NOVELS 1 and 2               
     Cry Wolf begins immediately after the prequel with the couple's move to Charles's Montana home, where the two become embroiled in a battle with a powerful witch. Hunting Ground takes place just weeks later, when the couple heads to Seattle for a meeting with the leaders of the European werewolves and where attempts are made to kidnap Anna

     In both of these books, Anna is trying to overcome her fearful, cautious outlook on life, and Charles is trying to help her become stronger. Their relationship can be somewhat rocky at times, but they are, after all, soul mates, so true love wins out in the end, every time. 

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from Cry Wolf. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Hunting Ground.

               NOVEL 3:  Fair Game               
    It's been three years since book 2 was published, and if you have been following the MERCY THOMPSON series, you know that the werewolves and fae of this alternate world have recently come out of the closet. Now, Bran and his alphas are dealing with the concerns and outright fears of the human population so all werewolves must be on their best behavior at all times. Bran has been forced to send Charles out to execute many werewolves around the country who have broken werewolf and human law by killing or injuring humans. Law-breaking wolves get no second chances any more because the werewolves' peaceful coexisitence with the humans is so tenuous.

     The guilt that Charles feels about this constant killing is wearing him down. The ghosts of those he has executed look back at him from every mirrored surface, sucking away his energy and chastising him for their deaths. Charles isn't sharing this burden with anyone—not even his father and certainly not Anna. He has even closed his mate bond with Anna because he fears that the ghosts will use it as a bridge to try to destroy her as they are destroying him. Not surprisingly, Anna is extremely worried about Charles. She has been trying to get Bran to ease up on Charles's assignments, but to no avail. Eventually, two other werewolves support Anna and voice their concerns to Bran, and he finally agrees to find a non-lethal assignment for Charles.

     Bran decides to send Anna and Charles to Boston, where law enforcement officials have requested assistance in tracking down a serial killer who has tortured and murdered several supernaturals—werewolves and fae. When Anna and Charles arrive, they must work with a motley crew of humans from three federal agencies: the FBI, Homeland Security, and a new department—the Combined Nonhuman and Transhuman Relations Provisors (CANTRP, aka Cantrip, aka Trippers). Some of the humans are willing and unafraid to work with the werewolves, but others are fearful and antagonistic. Soon after Anna and Charles reach Boston and have their first meeting with the human team, a young half-fae woman is kidnapped, and her father, a powerful pure-blood fae, joins the team to assist in finding her. The story follows the investigation of the previous murders and the search for the girl.

     Meanwhile, Charles is still seeing his ghosts and holding them back from Anna to the point that he seriously damages their mate bond, which becomes crucial late in the story. Anna really comes into her own in this book. Early in the series, she was damaged so badly by the abuse she suffered that she tended to be cautious to the point of weakness. But Charles vowed that she would never be helpless again, so he has worked with her, helping her to become physically stronger and defensively smarter. All that work pays off in this story.

     We learn a great deal of information about the fae in this book—about their reproductive history with human women and about their powers and their various forms. At the end of the book, the fae take drastic action in the face of what they see as a human affront to justice. That action will directly affect all other supernaturals and will certainly have an effect on the next books in this series and in the MERCY THOMPSON series.

     It's great to have this series back after such a long break. I've always liked Anna and Charles, and their characters have developed nicely over the years. The plot of this book pulled me right in and, although I guessed the identity of one of the villains early on, that didn't spoil it for me. Both of the plot lines (the serial killer and Charles's ghosts) are driven by compelling action and honest emotion. 

     Click HERE to go to a pertinent map of Boston on the author's web site. Click HERE to read the Prologue and chapter 1 from Fair Game.

Saturday, July 28, 2012



I have just updated a previous blog entry for Dakota Cassidy with a review of the sixth book in her ACCIDENTALS SERIES: Accidentally Dead, Again. 

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Author:  Karina Cooper
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)Steampunk
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2
Publisher and Titles:  Avon
      "The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway" (prequel e-novella, 8/2013)
      Tarnished (e-book, paperback6/2012)
      Gilded (e-book, paperback12/2012)
      Corroded (e-book, audiobook9/2013)
      Tempered (e-book, audiobook— 2/2014)   
      Engraved (e-book8/11/2014)  
      Transmuted (1/2015tentative) (FINAL)

     This post was revised and updated on 8/12/14 to include a review of Engraved, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the prequel novella and the first four novels.     

           NOVEL 5:  Engraved             

        Cherry St. Croix is back in London, having spent the past few months at an isolated country estate kicking her opium habit with the help of her guardian (and friend with benefits), Oliver Ashmore. All Cherry can think about now is saving her lover, Micajah Hawke, from whatever the Karakash Veil has done and/or is doing to him. Oh…and also at the top of her to-do list is maintaining her new and fragile state of sobriety. Cherry's inner battle to keep herself from succumbing to the all-too-accessible supply of laudanum in London plays a major role in her frequent, angst-filled interior monologues.  

     Don't worry too much about remembering what happened in the first four novels because in chapter 1, Cooper brings the reader up to date on most of the important events in Cherry's life: her drugged-out circus-freak childhood, her very bumpy history with Hawke, her parents' crazed antics,  the death of her husband, her descent into total addiction, the climactic ending of book 3 when Ashmore swept in and dragged her out of Hawke's clutches, and so forth.  

     Many things about London have changed since Cherry left. First, she discovers that the street gang called the Ferrymen have expanded their reach and appear to be working for the Veil. Some of the Ferrymen have also developed superhuman strength and exceptional tracking abilities. Then, when Cherry gets dragged before the Veil spokesman (the one who always hides behind a curtain), she realizes that there is an apparent split of loyalties within the Veil. Also, there are the rumors that the Menagerie is encouraging blood-letting and death as part of the Circus acts. Finally, Cherry discovers that children are being used as prostitutes in the Menagerie along with the usual adult women (aka sweets). None of this was going on before she left, and Cherry believes that all of these dire events are directly connected to the fact that Hawke has been removed from his position of power within the Menagerie.

     As the story opens, Cherry and Oliver have disguised themselves and are getting ready to enter the Menagerie to try to find Hawke and to scope out the general situation. Oddly, Cherry doesn't recognize anyone, which seems strange to her because she has spent so much time in the Menagerie over the past few years. When Cherry and Oliver stage a diversionary tactic, they come face to face with two enemiesone recent and one from Cherry's pastboth of whom now have top positions with the Circus: Ikenna Osoba, the lion tamer who has always treated Cherry with cold disdain, and Monsieur Marceaux, the traveling master who bought Cherry from the orphanage, addicted her to opium and forced her to steal from the patrons of his second-rate circus. Marceaux has taken over Hawke's job as ringmaster, and Osoba is the whip"one of those whose authority in the Menagerie stood above everyone else but the Veil itself." (Chapter 1) But where is Hawke? In fear of being recognized, the two take their leave, escaping back to their temporary London row house. Cherry soon learns that Hawke is imprisoned in a cell next to the lion cages and that he has become a maddened beast himself. Why has he become so bestial? Why is he being held captive? Why does the Veil want to kill Cherry? What's the meaning behind all of the mythological references to tigers and dragons? Answers to these questions and more are very slow in coming.

     The rest of the story features Cherry as she tries again and again to infiltrate the Menagerie to find and rescue Hawke. No matter how stealthy she is and no matter what disguise she wears, she is invariably caught. So…the pattern is this: Sneak into the Menagerie, get caught, run blindly away through London's mean streets and rooftops, go home and confess her failure to Oliver, repeat, repeat, repeat. This repetition didn't bother me as much as the fact that Cherry has so much trouble figuring out the Veil's motive for keeping Hawke locked up (even though I figured it out halfway through the book in the scene in which Cherry uses her alchemical skills to view the body of a dead Ferryman through the aether and discovers a very familiar color blazing within the corpse).

     In the course of the story, Cherry reunites with many people from her past, including her dead husband's brother, her friend Zylphia, and her former staff: Mr. and Mrs. Booth and Fanny Fortescue. Maddie Ruth also makes several appearances, sometimes just in the nick of time. These scenes are a nice break from the constant interior monologues and provide some much-needed social interactions and dialogue that liven up the story a bit.

     Although I truly enjoyed Cherry's adventures in this book, the extremely slow pace drove me crazy. Cherry kept going back and forth to the Menagerie, but she never learned much new information because she was always running for her life from the Ferrymen or from Osoba or from the Chinese guards. Even when she did pick up a clue, she didn't really process it well, so I felt just as frustrated as she did all the way to the end—which is when all of the bits of information finally clicked together to form a resolution of sorts. Even then, though, I'm still not sure exactly why Hawke was acting so wild and crazy. Hawke tries to explain it and Cherry gives it her own spin, but I still didn't really get it. Like the other novels, this one has many, many pages of Cherry's anguished, internal monologues because she is almost always off on her own on adventures that never work out, thus giving her plenty of time to agonize over Hawke, worry about her friends, and fight off her craving for opium as she runs madly away from her various enemies.
 If she had spent more time planning and less time agonizing, she might have been more successful in her various ventures. 

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from Engraved. This excerpt is taken from chapter 7 as Cherry makes one of her rooftop escapes. I was expecting this to be the final book, but according to Cooper's web site, there will be one more, with a tentative publishing date of January 2015. That plot will no doubt involve Cherry's relationship with her dead husband's family.

     The series is set in an alternate Victorian London, a city enveloped in a thick, smoky drift of fog. When the rich complained about the black smoke and the suffocating fog, Parliament debated whether to relocate London or force the factories to move. Eventually, they came up with a third solution. "The end result was the cleaving of London's well-to-do from its poor, its immigrants and those who couldn't maintain appearances. Historical buildings and those belonging to the peerage were raised by mighty steel stilts, cranked high by accordion girders and leaving channels between districts spanned by attractive walking bridges. It was as if select bits of London now hovered like mountain peaks amidst a sea of fog." (Tarnished, p. 17) The upper classes live, of course, in the clean air above the fog drift, and the lower classes cough their lungs out below the drift (i.e., within the fog). "The fog that filled the streets of London was blindingly thick, laced in black coal and yellow filth, painted in eerie shades by the gas lamps struggling to pierce the gloom." (Corroded, chapter 1) Airships transport people between the two levels when necessary. This is a steampunk novel, to be sure, but the primary steampunk detail is the concept of various types of airships, including steam-driven gondolas that move the rich from one mansion to another along canals of pure, fog-free air.

     The series heroine is a 20-year-old red-headed beauty who leads a double life. By day, she is Cherry St. Croix (aka Miss Black), the orphaned ward of a wealthy guardian, living in a fashionable neighborhood above the drift. By night, she is Miss Black, a collector—a bounty hunter—who hunts down her targets in dark, fog-choked alleys below the drift. In this world, if people need to hire a collector to find a thing or person, they post a note on the collector's wall in an abandoned railway station describing what or who needs to be found and collected, the amount of the reward, and the destination for the recovery. Although there are many collectors, Cherry is the only one who is a female. 

     Cherry is known to society as the daughter of Mad Abraham St. Croix, an eccentric scientist who died with Cherry's mother in a fire in their home in Scotland when Cherry was a child. After her parents' death, Cherry was placed in a horrible orphanage that kept its inmates calm by dosing them with laudanum. Over the years, Cherry became addicted to opiates, and she still has trouble sleeping without a swig of laudanum to send her off to dreamland.

        As is frequently the case in urban fantasies, a mysterious, Mafia-like organization—the Karakash Veil—controls the dark side of London. The Veil is run by Chinese immigrants and is headquartered in an area of London called the Midnight Menagerie. Here is Cherry's description: "One part circus, one part park, one bit fair ground and all elaborate....Exotic animals and strange foreign creatures from around the world....Midnight sweets [aka prostitutes], ripe for the taking and skilled in the art of love-making. Masquerades, drinking wells, elaborate dance halls...all of this and more fell under the domain of the Karakash Veil." (Tarnished, p. 82) The Menagerie's ringmaster and all-around boss is the tall, dark, and dangerous Micajah (Cage) Hawke. 

     As the series opens, Cherry stays away from the Menagerie's circus because she has horrible, opium-fuzzy memories of her years as a forced performer in another circusthe one to which the orphanage owners sold her. She was rescued from that circus by Mr. Oliver Ashmore, her guardian, who had been trying to track her down ever since her parents died. Cherry has lived in fear of Ashmore ever since she first met him while she was in the midst of an opium dream and he appeared to her to be a monster. Ashmore is a mysterious, unseen figure until the fourth novel, Tempered.    

        PREQUEL NOVELLA:  "The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway"        
     This prequel was published many months after the first and second novels, so if you have already read those books, you know most the expositional information this novella contains. The early part of the novella is an introduction to Cherry St. Croix, describing the loss of her parents, her drugged existence in an orphanage, her brief tenure as a circus performer, and her rescue (at age 13) by her guardian, Mr. Oliver Ashmore. In this novella, Cherry is 15 years old and has been living under the strict supervision of Mrs. Fanny Fortescue, her tutor, for two years. Cherry hasn't quite kicked her laudanum (opium) habit, and she needs an incomea secret incomeso that she can supplement the meager supply allowed to her by Fanny.

     After overhearing some gentlemen discussing the collectors and their wall, Cherry decides that being a collector would be a perfect way to earn some money. At this point, we follow Cherry as she approaches the wall for the first time, selects a note requesting the collection of a man named J. F. Strangeway, and begins searching for her quarry. Cherry's search has her scarpering around the foggy London streets in the middle of the night looking for the elusive Mr. Strangeway. Eventually, her quest gets her mixed up in a series of events involving the Fenian Brotherhood, a railway explosion, and the kidnappings of young Irish girls. It also leads to her first, fateful meeting with Micajah (Cage) Hawke at the Menagerie.

     In this story, Cherry is a naive young girl who has survived a hellish childhood only to find herself in the midst of London society—a position in which she feels completely out of place: "I was no heiress by raising, and no kinchin cove by birth. Born wealthy, raised poor, a criminal long before I was ever a lady. I was no more a part of London's streets than I was a part of my mother's Society. A deucedly lonely position, were I to let it haunt me."  (chapter 6) Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt.

            NOVEL 1:  Tarnished            

     In the opening scene, Cherry (in her Miss Black disguise) collects and delivers a man to the Menagerie, leaving him tied to the gate with her calling card in his pocket because she is pressed for time. When she goes to Cage for her bounty, he claims that she never made the delivery, so she will receive no payment. When she discovers that Cage is lying, Cherry is determined to figure out why. She needs the money because her guardian keeps her on a strict allowance and she's about to run out of both money and laudanum. The story follows Cherry as she prowls the alleys and opium dens below the drift by night and returns home by dawn to wash the lampblack out of her bright red hair and hide her mannish clothing (both part of her disguise).

     Cherry has always held firm on two major issues: She will never marry, and she will never believe in magic. Cherry wants to be an independent woman, studying sciencenot magicwith her friend, Lord Helmsley (aka Teddy). She is due to receive a large inheritance within the year, and she has no intention of allowing any of it to go to a man. One night, Cherry is forced by her elderly chaperon, Fanny, to attend a ball, where she dances with the tall, blond, and wealthy Lord Cornelius Kerrigan Compton, who seems to enjoy her company immensely. Unfortunately, Compton's mother hates Cherry, and forces her son to join her in cutting, or shunning, Cherry publicly. Compton, though, has a mind of his own and soon shows up to apologize for his and his mother's behavior and to invite her to another ball. Soon, they share a kiss, and Cherry learns that male-female relationships aren't so bad after all.

     As Cherry continues her investigation, she is attacked several times and eventually succumbs to a mysterious, feverish, delirium after she inhales a pink gaseous cloud that emanates from a cameo picturing a beautiful woman. During this hallucinatory period, Cage saves her life, but is forced to use sexual pleasuring as part of the cure. So now, Cherry has two attractive men in her lifethe sexy bad boy and the handsome nobleman.

     The ending leaves all sorts of loose ends unresolved, and that, for me, is problematic. It seems that more and more authors are trying to manipulate readers into buying a series of their books by tantalizing them with bits and pieces of characterization and story lines that have little or no bearing on the present book but will play out eventually in future books. You really can't read Tarnished without coming away disappointed and dissatisfied. You want to know why Compton and his somewhat sleazy brother leave town so abruptly. Why can't anyone find the remains of the mysterious laboratory in the Thames Tunnel that plays such an important part in the climax? Why is Ashmore so secretive about himself and his travels? In fact, why doesn't Ashmore ever appear in person in any scene? Who is the nameless, faceless collector who has targeted Cherry in very dangerous ways?

     Although the plot had a few holes and illogical moments, the action is compelling and the characters are engaging. I'll read the next book because I'm interested in watching what happens between Cherry and her two love interests, and even though I don't enjoy being manipulated, I can't help wanting to find the answers to the questions I posed in the previous paragraph.

     FYI: One of Cherry's favorite expressions is "Allez, hop," which she cries out as she performs various acrobatic maneuvers. Here, she is edging up onto the roof of a building: "'Allez, hop!' I muttered, and bent backward almost double until my feet touched the rooftop." (p. 136) Click HERE for a definition of that term.      

            NOVEL 2:  Gilded            

        This book has two story lines. One is the budding relationship between Cherry and her wealthy suitor, Lord Cornelius Kerrigan Compton. The other follows Cherry below the drift as she attempts to solve the murders of two professors. Hovering over both story lines is Cherry's obligation to the Karakash Veil. At the end of book one, the Veil saved Cherry's life, but they don't do anything for free. In return, Cherry must either track down a vial of her late father's alchemical formula or she must give herself up to the Veilbecome their pet Collector. The Jack-the-Ripper murders are also in the background all through the book. Alchemy plays a huge role in this plot, but it isn't always clear just what all of the technical talk really means. Cherry finds 17th century alchemy textbooks and scholarly papers with strange symbols and somehow comes up with the identity of the murderer. I, on the other hand, figured out the murderer's identity without the use of the alchemy informationand you will,too. 

     Once again, there are many, many loose ends. Typically, a series will have a series story arc, but then each separate book will have its own plot, with a full resolution of salient points and partial resolution ofor at least much more information aboutthe series story arc. In this series, that's not really the case. We don't learn what family problems fester in Lord Compton's family. We don't learn any more about the anonymous murderer who has been stalking Cherry in both books. We don't learn any more about Micajah (Cage) Hawke, who barely shows his face in this book. 

     Another problem is that the reason that Cherry begins to investigate the professors' murders is strange and hard to believe. She goes to tea at Lady Rutledge's house and is asked to play detective. She can ask only five questions and then must solve the case. She is given no facts at allnot the identity of the murder victim, not the circumstances of the murdernothing. And the questions she asks are so improbable that she gets little information. Yet, she goes home and ponders for awhile and soon is figuring out the entire crime from scratch. First, why would she even do this when she is under so much pressure to find her father's alchemical formula. After all, if she doesn't find it, she will forced to become a slave to the Veil (and to Cage). That search would seem to be her first and foremost priority, but the only time she spends any time on it is in the opening scene.

     All in all, this book was a disappointing follow-up to book 1, mostly because of its meandering, jargon-filled plot and the alarming escalation of Cherry's drug problem (laudanum and opium being her drugs of choice). Cherry's mental health also takes a scary turn in this book. Remember that her father was called the Mad St. Croix. Is Cherry inheriting his madness? The romance story line is O.K., but there is so little emotion between Cherry and Lord Compton that I found it hard to care whether she decided to marry him or not. The ending is a cliff-hanger with Cherry in dire straits, and I have to admit that I'm looking forward to seeing where the author will take Cherry next. One last point: The cover art is quite deceiving. Cherry would never, ever wear a dress so low cut. And where is her "ruby-tinted" red hair?       

           NOVEL 3:  Corroded           

        This novel is basically one very, very long, dreary, angst-filled interior monologue in which the heroine, Cherry St. Croix (aka Miss Black), gives us a never-ending panoramic view into her drug-addled mind as she blunders around smoggy London attempting to catch two killers, worrying that her mysterious and dangerous employer is out to get her, and trying to figure out just what kind of a relationship she has with Micajah (Cage) Hawke. As the story opens, two weeks have passed since Cherry became a widow just five hours after her marriage to a wealthy nobleman. After her husband's death, her mother-in-law stripped Cherry of all of her possessions, including her house, and threatened to imprison her in her room for the rest of her life. In self defense, Cherry escaped to the lower, smog-filled depths of London and has been bunking with the prostitutes (aka midnight sweets) at the Menagerie. Ever since she arrived at the Menagerie, she has apparently been lying around in an opium den getting buzzed out so that she can forget about her troubles. Eventually (but way too late), Cherry realizes that opium tends to eradicate the part of the brain that is necessary for perception, retention, problem-solving, and survival. Late in the book, Cherry muses, "How far astray had I gone of late? Too far, obviously. I had made too many mistakes, glossed when I should have investigated. How long had this been going on? I struggled to recall all the times I might have let facts go untested, or been reminded of clues I missed, but I could pluck nothing from the mess my memory had become." (chapter 17) 

     Unfortunately for Cherry, the Karakash Veil is quite unhappy that she has failed to complete any of the jobs they have assigned to her. Cherry is deeply in debt to the Veil for saving her life, but she is so drug-dazed that her tracking talents and strategical skills are completely fogged over. Throughout the story, she carries a wad of opium in her pocket so that she can chew on a piece when she starts to get withdrawal symptoms, but, that just makes matters worse…and worse…and worse.

     Meanwhile, someone breaks into the Menagerie and injures one of the sweets who befriended Cherry, leaving behind the cameo that disappeared from her father's secret laboratory in the first novel. That means that the perpetrator is the mysterious man—a rival Collector—who murdered Cherry's husband. While Cherry tries desperately and unsuccessfully to get her thoughts in order and figure out how to catch both Jack the Ripper and the murderous Collector, strange events begin to occur within the Menagerie. A nefarious man (Ikenna Osoba) appears in the Menagerie's circus, and he seems to have as much power as Hawke. Speaking of Hawke, he behaves very strangely all the way through this book. Sometimes he seems to be lusting for Cherry (they have a consummation scene late in the book), but other times he seems to despise her. In one scene, he is strung up on a wall with chains, and we never learn why. In another scene, he humiliates her very publicly, but then orders her to leave him.

     That's the problem that comes with using the first-person voice. Cherry can only tell us what she knows, and in this book she doesn't know much about anything. She doesn't know why the street gangs are suddenly fighting amongst themselves. She doesn't know why Hawke is being punished. She doesn't know how to track down her two quarries. She doesn't know who holds the power behind the Veil. She doesn't know why Hawke's reactions to her change so dramatically from one moment to the next. All she really knows is that she is a homeless, hopeless drug addict. All the reader knows is that Cherry is a pitiful excuse for a heroine.

     This novel has quite a few problems. For one thing, Cherry constantly repeats the same sad story of her father's betrayal and her husband's murder. I realize that these traumatic events are taking a toll on poor Cherry, but really, she retells the events so many times that instead of sympathy I felt annoyance. Also repetitive is Cherry's constant whining about her hopeless life. "It was there, alone and in the cold embrace of the damp fog, that the black tendrils of despair began to creep in [again], It all seemed so very hopeless." (chapter 1) We get it, Cherry. You've had a rough time lately, but you're an urban fantasy heroine, so pull yourself together, get off the drugs, and do something heroic! Constant references are made to the knives that Cherry always carries, but she in this novel, she rarely uses them. Instead, she usually gets ambushed by some big, strong male thug and then escapes only because someone comes to her rescue. Most of the time she never even draws her knives. Although Cherry does eventually learn the identity of her husband's killer, his identity makes little sense. How could she possibly not have recognized him? And why did the Veil punish Cherry so terribly after she finally completed two of her tasks—two big tasks at that? 

     This is a very disappointing book that I found difficult to finish. When an author gives us a heroine who tells her own story, that heroine must have a coherent story to tell. She must be smart enough and aware enough to figure out what's going on so that she can keep the reader in the picture. In this novel, Cherry is a complete loser who is ALWAYS in the dark about the causes and effects of the ongoing events in her life, mostly due to her drug habit. By the time the final showdown scene arrived, I was just as confused as Cherry was. Nothing about that scene made any sense—not a bit of it. 

     The ending is a cliff hanger that introduces a new character who has been mentioned frequently but has never graced us with his presence until now. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from Corroded.  

           NOVEL 4:  Tempered           

        In Corroded, we watched Cherry St. Croix hit rock bottom in a drugged-out opium haze. In Tempered, we watch her as she suffers through the long and painful process of detoxification. Tempered is a strange mixture of opium nightmares; rage-filled rantings and ravings; scary ghosts skulking in dark shadows; an overload of cryptic alchemistic formulas, spells, and philosophies; and extreme deeds of love and betrayal. It's like a bizarre mash-up of Wuthering HeightsDorian Gray, the Paranormal Activity movies, and a supernatural chemistry book. Here is Cherry's first impression of Siristine, the country manor in which the novel is set: "The indistinct blur thrusting from the gray moor turned into a sprawling estate with all the welcome of an asylum for the terminally insane….The paint peeled from the exterior, leaving a bruised and cracked appearance stained by weather and time. The whole of the manor, once quite fine gauging by the bones beneath the facade, now seemed to squat like a skeletal boil upon the unforgiving landscape." (chapter 1)  

     Once again, the first-person voice weakens this novel, particularly because Cherry spends so much time alone. Even though there are eventually three people residing in the manor house, most scenes find Cherry by herself, although sometimes she is with one other person. The early chapters contain little dialogue because Cherry's guardian, Oliver Ashmore, locks her up alone in a bedroom in this isolated, spooky mansion on the moors. Throughout these first weeks, Cherry's narration consists of her descriptions of weird nightmares, the whispers of people from her past, raging tantrums, frequent bouts of self-pity, and one attempt at suicide. Those chapters, as well as much of the rest of the book, are narrated in a frenetic stream-of-consciousness inundation that is mixed with an overabundance of remorse and self-flagellation. It's a pity party on steroids. I forced myself to keep reading by maintaining the hope that Cherry's recovery would be just a page or two ahead—but no luck there, not for a long, long time. 

     After Ashmore brings Cherry's young friend, Maddie Ruth Halbard, to be her companion, the mood begins to lighten—but just slightly. Cherry starts reading her grandfather's and her mother's journals and begins to explore the huge, spooky house with just the light of a single candle. As Cherry explores, she has several black-out episodes in which she enters a shadowy room, falls unconscious, and then wakes up somewhere else in the house dressed in different clothing. Does she mention these episodes to anyone? No, not a word.

     The relationship between Ashmore and Cherry progresses in an improbable manner. While she is drying out, he does everything he can to help hersuffering through her rages, forcing food into her, cleaning up her messes, and saving her from her suicide attempt. He behaves just like her friends did back in Corroded—by putting his own life on hold so that he can spend all of his time helping Cherry. How can one young woman have so many supportive friends when she treats all of them so very badly? Although Cherry and Ashmore eventually become friends and even have several intimate bedroom scenes, she never confides in himnot about her black-outs, and not about the mysterious footsteps she keeps hearing outside her bedroom door. This behavior is so illogical and so annoying—in other words, typical TSTL moments.

     I don't want to tell you much about the who/what/why of the key plot events because those are the only parts of the book that have any action or suspense, and I don't want to spoil it for you. Unfortunately, the action mostly doesn't make much sense at first, but eventuallynear the very endwe get a major info dump that explains everything, including events that occurred in earlier books. The novel ends with Cherry and her two companions heading back to London where there's trouble below the drift, and Cherry's friends (as well as her lover, Hawke) may be in terrible danger.  

     Once again, I have to say that this is a disappointing novel. When I began reading this series, I thought that I could see where it was going: independent, intelligent heroine fights crime and deals with magic on the hard-knock streets of 19th century London. That worked for the prequel and the first two novels. Then novel 3 came along and turned Cherry into a wretched drug addict. Now Tempered puts her through detox and provides answers to all of her questions about her crazy family. At this point, it looks like novel 5 will put Cherry back in her original situation in the lower depths of London, with one major change. Now, she has learned some alchemistic magic, so she can take on the Karakash Veil and save Hawke from whatever the Veil is doing to him. I believe that you could easily read the prequel and novels 1 and 2 and then go on to the upcoming novel 5 with no problemskipping novels 3 and 4. The only information you need to know from novels 3 and 4 is that Cherry is off the drugs and has gained some magical (alchemistic) talent, and I'm sure that the author will summarize all that in the first chapter of novel 5 because she has routinely included major summations at the beginning of all the earlier novels. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from Tempered.