Series: CRESCENT CITY TRILOGY
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy UF
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles: Orbit
House of the Rising Sun (5/2014)
NOVEL 3: Garden of Dreams and Desires
As the novel begins, each group of characters is dealing with its own specific project. As the action proceeds, the author finds a way to make sure that all of the bad guys and gals get their comeuppance and that the hero and heroine get their HEA.
> Augustine Robelais and Lally Hughes, his magic-touched housekeeper, are trying to figure out how to get rid of the evil Ava Mae, the twin sister who has taken possession of Harlow's body and is continuing to suppress Harlow's personality.
> The sibling witches, Giselle and Zara Vincent, along with their paramour, the wizard Ian Dufrene, are collecting human souls in order to cast a chaos spell that will strip the magic from the fae of New Orleans so that the witches can take over.
The central plot centers on a bigoted U.S. senator, Irene Pellimento, whose son Robbie disappears in New Orleans. Pellimento is certain that the kidnappers were othernaturals, and she is out for blood. As it turns out, the senator is correct in her suspicions because Robbie is one of the souls collected by Giselle to feed her chaos spell. In order to throw suspicion elsewhere, Giselle frames Augustine for the crime, which puts him into the hands of the senator's sadistic mercenaries several times during the story.
The action-oriented story moves back and forth among the characters as each one moves ahead with his or her plans, some of which succeed and some of which are thwarted—all quite predictably. Harlow is mostly absent during the earlier chapters, but once she finally becomes free of Ava Mae, she joins up with Auggie and his lieutenants to stop the witches.
Painter finally to defines some of the otherworldly terms she uses, but in at least one case, she makes a gaffe. Late in the novel, one of the otherworlders uses the term varcolai (aka shifters) in a conversation with Harlow. Harlow's improbable response is "Varcolai are shifters, right?" Now, Harlow has been interacting with varcolai since book 1. Surely by now she doesn't have to ask for clarification as to what they are.
As in the two previous books, Harlow keeps critical information from Auggie. For example, at one point Auggie drugs Ava Mae so that he can speak to Harlow. The two share some information, but Harlow fails to tell Auggie that she has learned of an easy way to weaken Ava Mae and perhaps get rid of her permanently. Of course, sharing that information would have shortened the book considerably, but Painter shouldn't have put Harlow into that situation by allowing her to have the information and then—stupidly—failing to pass it on to Auggie. This just accentuates the TSTL aspects of her personality, which are already considerable. Harlow has never been one of my favorite characters, and this book does not change my opinion. She does become tougher, but that's about it. At the end of the previous book, Harlow learned from Ava Mae that she has the power to force emotion into someone to the point that they are overwhelmed to the point of death (which is how Ava Mae killed her father, Branzino). In this book, she uses this new power to good advantage. The romance between Auggie and Harper never really clicks, mostly because they never have a personal dialogue in which they share any type of emotional connection.
This book is all action, but with no suspense or drama. Things happen, but we're never surprised because the events are so predictable. Additionally, there is no real attempt to develop the characters. They act and react to one another in various knee-jerk ways, but we never truly get to know any of them, and they never develop beyond the relatively shallow personalities they began with back in book 1.
This is an action-oriented, run-of-the-mill series with a host of one-dimensional characters (including the leads), and I truly had to force myself to finish this book. Although this is the final book in the series, it lacked drama and emotion and contained no big finale, although it did tie up most of the loose ends. In truth, I didn't even realize that it was the final book until after I finished reading it and took a closer look at the back cover. Click HERE to read an excerpt from the beginning of Garden of Dreams and Desires.
The plot centers on the fact that someone is bringing vampires into New Orleans—vampires who are killing both fae and humans (mostly drunken female tourists). When vampires murder the Guardian of the City, the Elektos asks Augustine to take the position. At first, he refuses, but then when Olivia falls victim to a vamp attack, he agrees because he wants revenge. The Guardian's job is to protect the city and its citizens, so Augustine has his work cut out for him.
Meanwhile, Harlow has time for only one short and unsatisfying meeting with her mother before Olivia dies. Harlow is, of course, deeply shocked by Olivia's death, mostly because she won't get her money and will never know who her father was. (It is at this point that I started to dislike Harlow intensely.) Throughout most of the book, Harlow is a petulant, unsociable, selfish young woman who thinks only of herself. She behaves more like an adolescent YA heroine than an adult. Although her mother sent her to private schools and provided an expensive college education, Harlow focuses only on the fact that Olivia would never identify her father. No matter how much Olivia has done for Harlow throughout her life, that refusal of information is the way Harlow defines their relationship. Harlow is an extremely unlikable person for about 3/4 of the story. Towards the end, she begins to become more reasonable, but by that time, I was sick of her attitude.
The title of this book refers to the old song, "House of the Rising Sun," which, according to fae legend was written about Olivia's house. The house, which began as a fae brothel magically hidden from humans, is rumored to be haunted. (Click HERE to view a video of "House of the Rising Sun" being performed by the Animals.) After Olivia's will is read, her house becomes very important to the relationship between Augustine and Harlow.
Most of the book follows Augustine as he tries to solve the vampire mystery, coping with Harlow's histrionics every step of the way. The attraction between the two keeps getting stronger as the story moves along, and eventually Augustine gets Harlow involved in the investigation. I don't want to give away too many plot points, so I won't provide any more details except to say that Harlow learns that the old saying, "Be careful what you wish for" is definitely a warning that should be taken to heart.
The author sets up a nice conflict: an unknown or othernatural is smuggling violent vampires into New Orleans, and the hero must get rid of the vamps and find out who is responsible for bringing them to the city. Unfortunately, that conflict is only partially resolved. The book finishes with one of those "to be continued" endings—always an unsatisfying reading experience. Another problem: The two "investigators" (Augustine and Harlow) figure out everything all at once in a few paragraphs in the final chapters—not by following clues, but by making huge, improbable leaps to always-correct conclusions. Even though they never have any real evidence on which to base their wild guesses, their hunches are never wrong.
The pacing is quite slow because for some reason Augustine doesn't have a real plan to track down the vamps. You'd think that he would have some type of informant network set up among the fae, but no…none of his information comes that way. Also, since the vamps are staying in the relatively small French Quarter, how hard could it be to find them? Very hard, I guess, because Augustine spends the entire book looking for them. The only clues that Augustine gets come from Harlow when he talks her into "reading" various objects that turn up at the crime scenes. Because Harlow has suppressed her psychometric abilities, she doesn't know how to control them—meaning that her attempts are always filled with major drama. Additionally, she is so hostile to Augustine that through much of the book he has to cajole her into helping him. Then out of nowhere, in one highly improbable scene, she sneaks off and follows him on one of his nighttime protection walks around the city. This makes no sense at all because she has been spending most of her time doing nothing but snarling at Augustine and slouching around her mother's house pouting and feeling sorry for herself.
Now for the supporting characters, who exemplify a gallery of stereotypes: the loyal, African-American housekeeper who spends her time cooking and spouting bits of folk wisdom; the streetwise ex-girlfriend with the snarky mouth and the heart of gold; the rebellious daughter who hates her father's tradition-bound ways and longs to rule in his place; and the one-dimensional, power-mad villain who will do anything to further his own gains. These characters are completely predictable in both words and actions.
All in all, I'm not too impressed with this novel. I realize that the first novel in a series is always problematic because of the need to fill in the mythology, but Painter doesn't really do much of that here. She inserts a world-building element here and there, but not in a cohesive manner. Although she mentions numerous types of fae and uses the word varcolai (which, in this world, is a shapeshifter), she doesn't define any of her otherworldly terms. If she doesn't plan to include the world-building elements in the text, then she should make her books user friendly by adding a glossary. Perhaps Painter assumes that everyone has read her COMARRÉ series, but that's an arrogant and erroneous assumption that actually punishes those who pick up this book without having read the COMARRÉ novels. I'll read the next book just to see if Painter gets a better handle on her plotting and world-building and adds some depth to her characterization.
NOVEL 2: City of Eternal Night
The primary plot revolves around the kidnapping of the daughter of Hugo Loudreux, the Prime of New Orleans (head of the fae council). Rue is a teenager who was chosen to be the Faery Queen at the annual Exemplar Krewe Ball during the Mardi Gras festival. According to tradition, the Queen is kidnapped by masked marauders and is then ransomed by her father, but this time, the marauders keep Rue and demand Augustine's death as the pay-off. That demand is a clear clue as to who took Rue, but it takes Augustine and his allies more time than is necessary to figure out identity of the villain. Just as in book 1, even though Augustine is the magically powerful Guardian of the city, he is completely ineffective in solving crimes. So where is all this power he is supposed to have? We never see it in this book except when he does some minor mirror traveling. Otherwise, he might as well be human.
All through this book Augustine and Harlow keep important secrets from one another. This well-worn genre trope is the author's awkward method for stretching her already thin plot from novella-length to novel-length. As soon as Lally reveals to Harlow the "Big Secret" of Olivia's house and the contents of the alabaster box, we know exactly what Harlow will do because it's another of the oldest and creakiest tropes in paranormal fiction. When Lally warns Harlow that if she uses the House's magic, it "will give you anything your heart desires, but not without a cost," we can predict what the dreadful consequences will be because we already know that Harlow is a thoughtless young woman who never pays attention to anyone's good advice. Most of the action in the book is signaled well in advance, loudly and clearly and frequently. As a result, when we get to the "reveal" moments and showdown scenes, there is little drama or suspense.
This is a disappointing book that is part of a run-of-the-mill genre series. Harlow continues to be a weak and whiny heroine (although her new situation adds slyness and sluttiness to her personality), and Augustine is a character without depth. Painter is a "tell, not show" writer, so Augustine's actions are generally related to the current plot events, not to his long-term emotional state. Although Augustine tells Harlow about the sad circumstances of his childhood (in a single, brief scene), he never reveals any lasting emotional effects through his actions or thoughts, so his "story" comes across as just that—a dispassionately told tale that has had little or no real effect on the person Augustine is today. The author throws in a handsome fae male to create a rival for Augustine (an attempt at the odious love triangle that we all love to hate), but that relationship comes across as artificial and improbable.
Once again, Painter occasionally uses otherworldly terms without explanation or context. She should either explain the terms or provide a glossary. She makes frequent references to events that took place in the previous book, but doesn't provide context for those events. She also drops characters from the COMARRÉ series into the story for no apparent reason. Why was it necessary for Mal and Chrysabelle to accompany Mortalis to New Orleans when they served no real purpose in the plot.
And one last quibble: Nothing on the front cover of this book indicates that it is part of a series, so a reader dazzled by the extremely attractive cover art could easily pick it up expecting a stand-alone novel. That would be a disappointment because Painter is writing this as a series that absolutely requires the reader of this book to have read the preceding book first. Like the first book, this one has a "to-be-continued" ending, always a let-down for me even when I know in advance that I am reading a series-centric book. Orbit should have been honest and straight-forward with readers by clearly printing "Book 2 of the CRESCENT CITY SERIES" on the front cover. (The "second book" notation is placed in small print midway down the back cover.) The cover art may be beautiful, but the story itself is at "C" level. Click HERE to read an excerpt from the beginning of City of Eternal Night.