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Saturday, October 20, 2012


Author:  Amanda Carlson   
Series:  JESSICA McCLAIN    
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)  
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2-3
Publisher and Titles:   Orbit 
          "Blooded" (prequel e-novella, 4/2012)
          Full Blooded (novel 19/2012)
          Hot Blooded (novel 24/2013)
          Cold Blooded (novel 310/2013)
          Red Blooded (novel 49/2014)
          Pure Blooded (novel 56/2015)  

This post was revised and updated on 7/8/15 to include a review of Pure Blooded, 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:  Pure Blooded                      
     Back from Hell, Jessica arrives to find her world thrown into chaos. Her father is fighting a losing battle against the Made wolves, and when Jessica and her crew rush to his aid, they discover the war is not as straightforward as it seems. 

     Something larger is on the hunt, something ancient and powerful that won't rest until Jessica is dead. Now Jessica's plan of attack must change—but how can she defeat someone who can predict her every move? 


     Toward the end of the previous book, Carlson provided a list of future dangers that Jessica and her allies would face in the near future: missing witches, vengeance-seeking Hags, a voodoo priestess, an ancient evil power, and some out-of-control Florida wolves. In this novel, we follow Jess through adventures that involve all of these, with one exceptionthe missing witches. That one will no doubt come in novel 6. 

     As the story begins, Jessica and her friends are flying to Florida after a well-deserved Bahamas vacation when the first attack comes. Their plane goes completely dead in the air, and they crash-land into the Florida swamps, only to be attacked by a giant zombie python conjured up by a crazy voodoo bokor and her loa (Marinette), who are working together to capture Jess. That adventure takes up most of the book, as Jess, her allies, and her father's pack try to figure out exactly what the bokor wants with Jess. Eventually—as always—Jessica finds herself in dangerous situations without Rourke at her side. Rourke has become almost a secondary character in the past few novels, appearing from time to time for a few bedroom scenes, some suggestive dialogue, and a handful of loud, emotional roars when Jess gets injured. Their relationship is never fully developed on the page. Carlson just sprinkles brief, disconnected love scenes and snippets of tender dialogue here and there between battles. 

     As Jess interacts with the bokor and the loa, she learns more about the history of the werewolves and her own part in that history. Specifically, she learns why she is the only female werewolf and why she can make both partial and full changes into her animal form. Carlson creates her bokor villain by combining voodoo and Celtic mythology in a rather muddy manner that never was quite clear to me. The voodoo story line continues over the first 18 chapters.

     Simmering in the background is Jessica's problematic situation with the Hags (the Keepers of Fate), and that problem becomes the focus for the final 12 chapters. Because Jess altered Fate in the previous novel, one of the Hags believes that Jess must die immediately so that she can be reborn at some future date and do things right the next time. Another Hag (whose human identity is a shock) is helping Jess stay alive by sending magical messages through her friend Marcy's dead cell phone. As Jess and her friends head for home after the voodoo situation is resolved, the hostile Hag sends ghouls and wendigos to attack Jess and Rourke (a rare battle scene in which they fight side by side). 

     It seems as if Carlson tried to cram every possible paranormal trope into this novel: the voodoo villain, the ancient evil spirit that wants to be reborn, demonic possession, zombie snakes, cursed wolves, ghouls, wendigos, and a necromancer. It's like Carlson is planning to force every possible genre cliché into the series. Unfortunately, that leaves no room for freshness or creativity or true suspense. Personally, I would prefer to trade away the tired tropes for a deeper look at the characters. This book concentrates mostly on action scenes, so although we get some interior monologues from Jessica, everyone else just runs (or flies) around doing battle with the villains, tries desperately to rescue Jess, or hangs back to let Jess take the lead. Although we hear a lot from Marcy (Jessica's BFF), she remains a one-dimensional kook who always comes through in a pinch. 

     The most entertaining characters are Ray (Jessica's snarky former nemesis, who is now a vampire) and a new character: High Ambassador Jebediah Amel, who will be Jessica's secretary when she takes her place on the Coalition. Jeb is a pompous, self-important warlock who has "Bushy a pair of sad, hairy caterpillars" and who looks like Zach Galifianakis. In the face of Jess's bewildered astonishment, he explains that he will be handling all of her Coalition assignments and the resulting paperwork (all filled out in triplicate). He lets Jess know right from the beginning that she isn't measuring up to his expectations, and he is quite devastated that she has never heard of him and doesn't realize that he is—in Jessica's words—a "bigwig supe." 

    This series continues to be just average, mostly because of its lack of character development and its reliance on tired tropes. Even though the action is fast paced, the story lines did not hold my interest. In the next novel, I assume that Jessica will resolve her feud with the Hags and then head for Rome to search for the missing witches and to take her place on the Coalition. Also, Tyler appears to have met his mate in Kayla, the Greek-Icelandic half-elf/half-necromancer who (under duress) calls up the ghouls and windigos who try to kill Jess and Rourke near the end of the book. Click HERE to read an excerpt from the first chapter of Pure Blooded

     The series is set in Minnesota in an alternate world in which shifters, witches, vampires, and other supernaturals live side by side with mortals, but keep their magical natures hidden from human eyes. Stories are centered around Jessica McClain, who is the only female werewolf in the world. 

     Shortly after Jessica's birth, a message—called the Cain Myth—was sent anonymously to her Pack:
           As a Female in Wolf Skin rises, the unborn Daughter of Cain is born; 
           In her the beast shall lie, well hidden in True Form;
           And from this day forth, the Wolves of the Night shall pay;
           Blood and flesh of their bones, her mighty hand shall slay;
           The end of the race will be close at hand;
           When the Daughter of Evil rules the land. (Full-Blooded, p. 33)

     Even though the source was anonymous, many Pack wolves believed the Myth to be true, and they made Jessica's childhood miserable and painful. The worst of the wolves believe that Jessica is "the true Daughter of Evil." (Blooded) In fact, some of them actually believe that the only way to save the werewolf race from extinction is to kill Jessica.

     Jessica's father is Callum McClain, Pack Alpha of the U.S. Northern Territories for the past 500 years. During all that time, he has ruled well and fairly and his wolves have always respected him and followed his orders. As the series begins (with the novella, "Blooded"), Jessica is nineteen, and Callum is having more and more trouble keeping her safe from his wolves, even though he has threatened death to any wolf who harms her.

     If you like female-led shifter series, such as Rachel Vincent's WERECATS/SHIFTERS SERIES, Kelly Armstrong's OTHERWORLD SERIES, Carrie Vaughn's KITTY NORVILLE SERIES, or Patricia Briggs' MERCY THOMPSON SERIES, you will probably enjoy this one. It hasn't quite reached the level of those series, but it has possibilities. Click on any series title in this paragraph to go directly to my reviews. 

                    PREQUEL E-NOVELLA:  "Blooded"                    
     As the story begins, Jessica is in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out fistfight with Mitch, a young werewolf bully who is among those in the Pack who are making life miserable for her. Although Jessica is a human—not a werewolf, yet—she challenged Mitch to a fight because he's easily riled and relatively unskilled as a fighter. Unfortunately, she discovers too late that he's stronger than he looks. Just as things get violently desperate for Jessica, her father and brother break up the fight. 

     Jessica has been trying unsuccessfully to convince her father to allow her to leave the Pack and live somewhere else—somewhere unknown to the Pack. She believes that is the only way she can live in peace. As the story continues, Jessica is attacked by yet another young werewolf, and her father finally gives in to her request for 

     This novella introduces the core of supporting characters in the series: 
      > James Graham: Callum's second in command 
      > Danny Walker: A wise-cracking British werewolf who serves as Callum's enforcer 
      > Tyler McClain: Jessica's twin brother 
      > Nicholas (Nick) Michaels: Jessica's best friend, a were-fox raised as Callum's adopted son 
      > Hank Lauder: one of the villains, a Pack werewolf who hates and fears Jessica 

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Blooded" on its page. Just click on the cover art at top left to access the excerpt. 

                      NOVEL 1:  Full Blooded                     
     Book 1 begins seven years after Blooded, and Jessica has been living under a new identity—Molly Hannon—for all those years. After working briefly as a police officer, she and Nick became partners in Hannon and Michaels Investigations, a P.I. agency that handles cases for the supernatural population of the Twin Cities. Nick uses both his shifting ability and his gift of mind persuasion in the course of his work, while Jessica masquerades as Molly, his human assistant (aka Essential Human). One more person works at the agency: Marcy Talbot, a witch who is Jessica's BFF as well as being her secretary.

     In the very first scene, Jessica makes her first change into werewolf form. No one really expected that this would ever happen, so she's not fully prepared. In the grips of her new animal nature, she trashes her apartment, jumps out of her third-floor window, and heads for the countryside, where she attacks farm animals and mauls the farmer who owns them. Eventually, Callum and Tyler track her down, but now they all must figure out what to do next. Because of the Cain Myth, they try at first to hide Jessica's change from the Pack, making up a story and sending her home with protection from Tyler, Danny, James, and other trusted Pack wolves.

     A new villain surfaces in this book in the form of Ray Hart, an adversary who began stalking Jessica/Molly when they were fellow police officers. Hart has seen "Molly" perform inhuman physical feats, and he's sure that she is using and/or dealing steroids or other drugs, so he has made her his target, even though she no longer works for the police department. 

     As the story develops, someone is tracking—and attacking—Jessica, and the good guys must figure out what's going on. When Jessica develops astounding abilities, the Pack is notified, and the action heats up. Late in the book, a new character enters the scene: Colin Rourke, a sexy mercenary assassin who has been hired by yet another unknown entity to get information about Jessica's new condition and powers.

     The plot plays out with lots of twists and turns, and with more new villains turning up in a climactic scene near the end. The conflict is never fully resolved, and the story ends with Jessica vowing to rescue a person who is now dear to her and to kill the sorcerer who has bespelled him. In the midst of all of the action, Jessica has a continuing conversation with her inner wolf as her human side and animal side vie for power. Eventually, her essences come to an accord and transform into a powerful united force. 

     This series has great potential, with its tough but vulnerable heroine and its fresh take on the werewolf mythology. There are one or two rough spots in the plotting, but the action moves along at such a fast and compelling clip that you're on to the next crisis before you have a chance to worry about any of that. The supporting characters are not fully developed in this first book, but we get enough information about each to make them interesting, and I'm sure that we'll learn more about their back stories in future books. Jessica's struggle with her inner wolf is fascinating to watch, and I'm really looking forward to the next book. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Full Blooded

                    NOVEL 2:  Hot Blooded                   

     As the story begins, Jessica's mate, Rourke, is still in the hands of the evil goddess, Selena. Meanwhile, there is a threat of war among the North American werewolves. Jess's father, Callum, heads south to meet with the Southern pack leader, while Jessica, Danny, and Tyler go off with two vampire trackers to find Selena and rescue Rourke. Oh yes, Jess has one more passenger—an unwilling one at that: Ray Hart, her nemesis from the police force, who witnessed a werewolf change and must now either join up with the werewolf pack as an "Essential Human" or face certain death. When Hart refuses to sign the required oath, Jess can't bring herself to kill him, so she drags him along with them. 

     The plot consists of Jess's journey and its myriad adventures—most of them dangerous and physically damaging. Selena is holed up in some Canadian mountains north of Minnesota, and she has laid quite a few magical traps for Jess and her crew, including demonic bats, gigantic spiders, carnivorous water nymphs, and a hulking stone man. To add to their problems, the male vampire in the brother-sister tracking duo hates Jess and her friends and does as little as he can to help them. His sister, Naomi, on the other hand, becomes one of Jess's supporters. 

     One plot point that makes little sense occurs when a witch gives Jess and her allies a set of color-coded, bespelled darts to use against their enemies, but fails to label them as to their purpose or effects. Why color code the darts if you're not going to explain the code? This silliness adds nothing to the plot except for some minor confusion. 

       The story includes many slightly repetitive inner dialogues between human Jess and wolfy Jess as her powers expand exponentially as the story advances. At the beginning of this book, Jess learns that according to "The Prophecy of the True Lycan," which just turned up on—where else?—the Internet, she is supposedly destined to become a supreme ruler among the supernaturals, one who dispenses justice to one and all. You can imagine how the other species react to this news—they're all out to take her down ASAP. As the trip north begins, Jess isn't sure that the prophecy is true, but the events that occur on this journey change her mind. Most of the immediate conflicts raised in this book are resolved in the requisite showdown scene between Jess and Selena, but new ones arise in the cliff-hanger ending that leaves Jess facing some serious problems with the demonic underworld and Marcy, Jess's witchy best friend and secretary, in dire jeopardy. 

     For me, this book isn't as successful as the first one, primarily because the author uses too many stereotypical elements: the never-ending dialogues between Jess and her inner wolf, the way Jess's powers kick in at the last minute to save the day every time danger strikes, and the one-note evilness of the villain. (It's boring when the villain has absolutely no depth.) I do like Jess as a heroine, though, and I'm glad that some of the secondary characters are slowly being fleshed out, particularly Danny, who may have met his mate in this book. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Hot Blooded

                    NOVEL 3:  Cold Blooded                    

     The third book picks up the action moments after the ending of book 2 as Jess and her buddies return to her office only to be confronted by the powerful witch Tally, who swears to hold Jess hostage for her missing niece Marcy Talbot (who is Jess's secretary and best friend). Marcy's kidnapping is the kick-off in a major move by the sorcerers against Jess. They fear her growing powers and want to put an end to her, so they have engineered a deal with the demons to make that happen.

     After a cross-country attempt at escape, Jess and her crew receive a prophecy that tells them that Jess's father will die if they don't go directly to New Orleans. Once there, they are forced into bargaining for sanctuary in the securely warded compound of Eudoxia, the vicious and powerful Vampire Queen, who hates, but also needs, Jess in order to complete her own complicated agenda. 

     Almost as soon as Jess and Rourke finally get back together, they are once again separated. As part of the bargain, Jess is imprisoned deep in the tunnels under the vampires' lair in a cell that holds two blood-famished vampires, both determined to feed on her. The story line follows Jess as she and her inner wolf work together with a variety of allies (including the newly vampirized Ray Hart and a helpful group of ghosts). 

     Adding to Jess's lengthening list of woes, her father is missing in action. In the previous book, he went off to Florida to hunt down some rogue wolves, and now all communications with him have been severed. All Jess knows is that she and Ray must get to New Orleans to save him.
Barbour's Cat
     Jess and Rourke have just one scene of passion in which they finally consummate their mate-bond. From that point on, they're too busy fighting off vamps, demons, and cursed werewolves to do any more than share a kiss or two. Jess does get to see Rourke in his animal form for the first time and learns that he is a magnificent and mighty Barbour's Catdistant cousin to the saber-tooth tiger. 

     One interesting character development involves the continuing changes in Ray, Jess's formerly human nemesis, who was changed into a vampire at the end of the previous book. Predictably, Ray is not your average vampire youngling. He maintains his stubborn, grouchy demeanor, but he almost immediately develops powers that no one could have predicted.

     Two new characters are introduced in this book: Angela, a bitchy witch who takes an instant dislike to Jess, and Alana, one of the two vamps imprisoned with Jess in her underground cell. Angela's role is very brief, and I'm hoping that there will be some follow-up on her in an ensuing book because otherwise, there was no need to include her at all. In this story, Angela was just a passing annoyance whose role was given far too much emphasis since she played no further part in the story. Alana, however, is one of the key players in this book's plot, and I'm sure that we'll be seeing more of her in future books.

     As the book nears its end, Jess receives yet another prophecy, this one from a different seer: "Fate weaves a path for you at your birth…and thus far you have stayed true to yours….If you continue to choose the right course, it will lead you to greatness. If you do not, it could be detrimental to us all….It is unclear how this will end…." (p. 241) Don't you just hate ambiguous prophecies like that? Jess certainly does, and here's how she responds: "That wasn't exactly comforting. How am I supposed to know which one is the right path?" In response, the seer intones: "There is one path for each of us…But it comes with many detours. Some will circle back and some will not. It is fluid, yet set. The true mystery lies in all of us and what our hearts desire." Jess complains in frustration: "That wasn't exactly helpful…you haven't answered my question yet." (p. 242) But the seer has nothing more to say. It seems that all prophecies in paranormal fiction are so cryptic and obscure as to be meaningless, and they rarely add much to the story because no one can ever figure out their meaningsat least not until after the action is over and the whole issue is null and void.

     As the action winds down at the end of the story, Jess still has demon problems in her future, and she will (again) be leaving Rourke behind as she attempts to save the life of someone dear to her. This book would have been stronger if there had been fewer on-the-run and tunnel-crawling scenes, all of which became somewhat repetitive. It is a known fact that in an urban fantasy story there will always be some type of extremely unpleasant creature waiting for you in a deep, dark tunnel, especially one filled with smelly, dark water. You run; they attack; repeat; repeat; repeat. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Cold Blooded.

                      NOVEL 4:  Red Blooded                      

     This book could be titled Jessica Goes to Hell. The action takes her away from her allies and her lover, Rourke, and isolates her among a series of dangerous and devious enemies in the Underworld. Like the earlier books, Red Blooded is crammed with situations in which Jess confronts various vicious creatures and either yells at them, evades them, or fights them off in scene after scene after repetitious scene. Although this makes for a fast pace, it also results in a predictable and somewhat boring book. Carlson's version of Hell is relatively conventional, with no real inventiveness regarding either its inhabitants or its structure.

    Once again, Carlson sacrifices character and relationship development for pages and pages of girl vs. beast action that adds little emotion or drama to the story. Let's face it, Jess isn't a very interesting charactermostly because Carlson hasn't given her any depthso she needs interaction with her friends to humanize her. On her own, she is just a confused young woman who reacts to most situations by yelling and shouting and has no idea how to control her own magic. Rourke is marginalized in this book, appearing in just a handful of scenes in the second half of the book. Although he fights at Jess's side and they share a few passionate kisses (and one bedroom scene), Rourke and Jess's romantic relationship comes across as stilted and artificial. Throughout the series, they have rarely had any alone time in which they connect on any kind of emotional level. It's as if Carlson decided that Jess needed a boyfriend, so she created Rourke and then didn't know what to do with him.

     The story follows Jess as she is accidentally dumped through a portal into the Underworld and then tries to find her twin brother, Tyler, who was kidnapped by the Prince of Hell in the previous book. Along the way, she meets a mysterious woman named Lily, who promises to help Jess in exchange for a few favors. Now, if you have read much urban fantasy fiction, you know immediately that any woman named Lily is up to no good because of her direct connection with a certain mythological figure that I won't mention here (for the sake of those few who can't figure this out). Anyway…Jess, of course, lets Lily call some of the shots even though she has a bad feeling about trusting Lily. Jess's Wolf despises Lily from the moment they meet and constantly growls and howls whenever Jess follows Lily's advice. The moral: One should always heed the snarls of one's Wolf. 

     All the way through the book, Carlson signals the reader that danger is coming by having Jess and her friends tell each other that the situation doesn't feel right and that maybe they shouldn't do whatever they are currently planning to do. Then they go ahead and do it anyway…and guess what—they should have gone with their gut instincts every single time. This type of obvious foreshadowing begins to feel old very early in the book.

     Carlson has a habit of moving the plot along by giving Jess one groundless epiphany after another. Jess is always jumping to crucial conclusions based on scant informationconclusions that are, improbably, always right on the money. 

     Oddly, the most interesting character in this book is Ray, Jess's former nemesis, who is now a vampire reaper. Although he doesn't play a huge part in the story, he generally steals every scene in which he appears. We also get to see what has been happening to the evil goddess, Selene, who has been spending some extremely painful time in the Underworld since we last saw her. The second half of the book contains a number of plot twists, some of which are predictable. 

     The final chapters reveal lots of new information about the Cain Myth—the prophecy that has haunted Jess all her life—so that's the one good thing that comes from the book. In the final chapter, Carlson provides a scenario for the next book that includes missing witches, vengeance-seeking Hags, a Voodoo priestess, and some out-of-control Florida wolves.

     I had high hopes for this series back at book one, but I've been more and more disappointed as each new book has failed to develop the personalities and relationships of the leading characters. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Red Blooded.

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