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Saturday, November 17, 2012


Author:  Jamie Quaid   (aka Patricia Rice)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence--4; Sensuality--2; Humor--2  
Publisher and Titles:  Pocket  
          Boyfriend from Hell (9/2012)  
          Damn Him to Hell (6/2013)

     This post was revised and updated on 7/15/13 to include a review of the second novel, Damn Him to Hell. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1:

          BOOK 2:  Damn Him to Hell          
     Tina has now graduated from law school and has a job as a law clerk for a local judge. She is keeping a friendly distance from Dane/Max and from Andreno dangerous lusty romances, she promises herselfalthough she is definitely tempted by both of them. A third possible romantic interest has arisen in the person of Lieutenant Leo Schwartz, the policeman who lives across the hall from Tina. In the first book, Tina learned that she was a "Daughter of Saturn." Here, she describes what she thinks that means: "I have a cosmic birth defect for which toxic waste can't be blamed. It seems I was born in the seventh house under a wrong asteroid or something, which warped my chromosomes and made me one of Saturn's daughters. Mostly it gives me an innate ability to screw up my life seeking justice. Repeatedly." (p. 3)

     In the opening scene, the Acme chemical plant releases a toxic green gas with sparkly pink particles on the Zone, causing many of the older residentsmany of them homelessto become temporarily combative and then fall unconscious. Tina, Andre, and their allies scoop up as many of the comatose victims as they can and transport them into Andre's warehouse, but they can't get them all. Almost immediately, Acme sends out its own people to grab the victims off the street and sequester them inside the plant away from the public eye. Unfortunately, they take Bill (Andre's bartender) and Sarah, who is also one of Saturn's Daughters and who turns into a chimpanzee when she is under stress. Tina realizes that the Acme scientists will gleefully (and torturously) experiment on Sarah and is determined to free her.

     The story follows Tina as she and her allies try to rescue their friends from the Acme plant and figure out exactly what's going on. In the meantime, Acme keeps sending various thugs (including a helicopter full of special ops soldiers with automatic weapons) to kidnap the victims being cared for in Andre's warehouse, all of whom remain in their comas.

     In a series of secondary story lines, Tina learns much more information about Andre's family and his past history, which helps her to understand why he disappears every once in awhile. They share a few passionate kisses, but that's as far as their romance goes in this book.

     Then there's the Saturn's Daughter story one: Tina is able to find one more "daughter" on the Internet, and they begin to share information. She also gets some more cryptic messages from Themis that provide minimal guidance in using her powers. As she interprets Themis' hints, Tina discovers that if she uses her visualization powers for personal gain, she will be punished. When she looks at poor Sarah, who apparently attained her chimp characteristics as punishment for her immoral power use, Tina is determined to use her powers only against well-defined evildoers (and she finds plenty of those in this book). By the end of the story, the Acme conflict is mostly resolved, and Tina embarks on an all-new legal career.

     Unfortunately, Tina's first-person voice continues to be awkward and clichéd, and there is way too much "telling" and not nearly enough "showing." Tina constantly blathers on about how she feels and how others behave, but there is not enough dialogue and not enough detailed behavioral description to give her "telling" any realism or depth. The chapters consist mostly of paragraph after paragraph of Tina's thoughts as she gives us her view of what's happening and then does a lot of "maybe I should do this" and "maybe he/she will do that" type of thinking. It's an annoyingly repetitive technique that weakens the plot. Characterization is also a problem. The story has lots of characters, but they are so one-dimensional that it is sometimes hard to remember who's who. Even Paddy and Julius (Dane's father and Andre's father), both of whom have key roles, are poorly developed. Leo, the possible new love interest, gets a brief physical description, but not much else. 

     The Acme plot moves along at a compelling pace, especially in the second half when the action really gets going. I'll keep reading the series in the hope that Tina's voice will become more authentic, and that the personalities of the continuing characters will be developed to a much greater degree. I do not recommend this book as a read-alone because of the many unexplained references to the series mythology and to events that occurred in book 1. Click HERE to read a brief excerpt in which Tina warns her neighbors of Acme's gas attack.

     The series is set in an alternate Baltimore, where the area surrounding the harbor has been permanently damaged by a series of toxic chemical spills and fires, all connected with the Acme Chemical plant. After cordoning off the worst part of the hazardous area, the government turned its back on any further clean-up and has shown little interest in the rest of the contaminated Zone ever since. The Zone appears to be loosely modeled after District X (aka Mutant Town) in the X-Man series by Marvel Comics.

     Shortly after the spill, strange things began to occur in the Zone. People developed magical powers, buildings glowed, tires softened and stuck to the asphalt, and stone gargoyles came to life. As the series heroine says, "I had no desire to linger in this neutron-infested industrial stinkhole where the buildings lit up after darkliterally. After the last flash fire of chemical waste, the streets and bricks of the remaining edifices glowed neon blue without the benefit of electricity." (p. 7) The residents of the Zone are a ragtag group of misfits who are happy living away from the "normal" society of Baltimore. They're glad that the government doesn't pay much attention to the Zone, allowing them to make their livings their own waysometimes on the wrong side of the law. Unfortunately, this basic premisethe idea that the government would allow citizens to live in an area designated as a Superfund siteis highly improbable and impossible to believe, so this presumption puts the series on shaky ground from the very beginning.

     The series heroine is Mary Justine (Tina) Clancy, who begins book 1 as a law student who works part-time as a bookkeeper for Andre Legrande, one of the Zone's most powerful entrepreneurs. Andre's public persona is that of a sexy mob boss who owns a number of slightly shady businesses and has his fingers in everything that goes on in the Zone, but Tina (and the reader) immediately suspect that there is more to Andre than meets the eye. Tina, like most urban fantasy heroines, has had a hard-luck life. Her childhood was spent traveling from place to place in an RV as her tree-hugging mother traveled around the country searching for the meaning of life. Then, in college, Tina was arrested after she led a student revolt that became violent. While she was in custody, a police officer pushed her down a flight of stairs, breaking her leg in three places and leaving her with a painful limp because the broken leg healed three inches shorter than the uninjured leg. From that point on, she withdrew from social contact. She says at one point, "I'm not a particularly courageous person. In my experience, every time I got noticed, I got hurt....I hunkered down over my books because I didn't want to have to deal with the inexplicable actions of the people around me." (p. 105) As proof of her extremely low self esteem, Tina describes herself as "a mouse brown, gap-toothed, four-eyed cripple." But, trust me, that description doesn't fit Tina for very long. 

          BOOK 1:  Boyfriend from Hell          
     As the series opens, Tina is unhappy with her boyfriend, Max MacNeill, who has been somewhat inattentive in recent weeks. When Max is once again late in picking Tina up from work, she texts him an angry message. Reasoning that since she has given him her car to drive every day, he could at least be prompt. Then, he roars up the street with an angry look on his face and appears to be set on running her down. As she tries to get out of the way, she curses him: "Damn you to hell!" (p. 18) As soon as she speaks, the car veers into a pole and explodes, enveloping Max in a ball of flame and burning him to a crisp. Hours later, when Tina looks into a mirror in her apartment, Max's face looks back at her, claiming that he's in hell, that he's innocent, and that he needs her help to find out what really happened. Soon, an old guy warns Tina to stay away from Max's family, and mysterious men-in-black begin following her around and bugging her apartment. She also discovers that Max had a lot of secrets, none of which he shared with her while he was alive. The main story line follows Tina as she investigates the circumstances of Max's death and tries to find out who is after her and why. The resolution of this story line is predictable after a certain point, but is still satisfying and somewhat open-endedleading into book 2.  

     The magical Zone mythology combined with the murder investigation would have been enough to carry this book, but the author has loaded it up with a few more story lines and mini-mythologies. The first one involves the fact that after Max's death (which Tina apparently caused by cursing him), her mousy, stringy hair turns fashion-model lovely overnight. Then she begins to get messages from a mysterious person named "Themis," saying things like this: "Your Saturn transit is almost complete and the asteroids are in position. Conga-rats, newest daughter. Use your talent more wisely next time." (p. 56). So now we have an additional mythology added to the Zone mythology. The Saturn's-daughter mythology, though, is just hinted at—not fully explained. It has something to do with the fact that Tina can make things happen just by visualizing them. It would probably have been better to have tied Tina's magical gift to the eccentricities of the Zone rather than impose the unwieldy Saturn mythology on the series, but alas, that is not the case. Another story line involves a magical stray cat (Milo) that Tina finds in an alley. We watch the cat grow in size and fight like a tiger, but the mythology behind that reality shift is never explained. Then, we have Andre, who occasionally takes on a Hulk-like appearance and sometimes disappears for days at a time. No explanation for that one either—it's just mentioned in passing. 

     Just so the reader doesn't get too confused with all of the story lines, Tina regularly brings us up to date by using the rhetorical sum-up gimmick. Here's an example: "I had goons gunning for me, a van load of potentially explosive material for which a man had died, a boyfriend in hell, and a life that was falling apart. I needed someone to talk with." (p. 262) A "summation" literary device can work once in a story, but if the main character needs to provide a series of "the-story-so-far" briefings for the reader, that is usually an indication that the author doesn't have the plot fully under control.

     What we have in this book is an interesting mythology (the Zone) and the germ of a good story, neither of which has been thoroughly thought throughor at least not managed very well. It's as if the author had too many mythologies and too much to say to fit in one book so she chopped off some bits and pieces of some of the mini-mythologies and character elements. Unfortunately for the reader, that leaves a rough-cut, disjointed plot that presents more questions than answers. As far as character delineation goes, this is a cartoonish, cardboard cast of characters, which, with the exception of Tina, are never fully developed. 
     Tina tells her story in the first-person voice, and not very gracefully. First-person story-telling is tricky, and unfortunately, this author handles it awkwardly. As Tina punishes more and more bad guys, she receives a physical "gift" each time, one of which is that her bad leg gets magically healed. At that point, Tina's transformation from a gawky nerd to a sexy, kick-ass street fighter comes in the blink of an eyeway too quickly. It's hard to believe that this woman is able to defeat multiple, armed black-ops thugs all by herself when the day before she was hiding fearfully in the shadows from the neighborhood beat policeman. A healed leg and good hair don't seem to be enough to turn Little Miss Muffet into Wonder Woman overnight. 

     The cover art is misleading in that this is not an edgy, dark, or sexy story.  It's a plain vanilla urban fantasy with an improbable premise, an overloaded mythology, and barely a hint of sensuality. Click HERE to read a brief excerpt—the scene in which Max gets sent to hell.  

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