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Saturday, January 2, 2016


Author:  Ilona Andrews  (Pseudonym for Ilona Gordon and Andrew Gordon)
Plot Type:  A mash-up of Suburban Fantasy and Intergalactic Science Fiction
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor—3 
Publisher and Titles:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing
          Clean Sweep (12/2013)
          Sweep in Peace (11/2015)

     In this world, werewolves, werecats and vampires are not supernaturals; instead, they are aliens from other planets. The werewolves landed on earth after they self-destructed their planet in the face of an invasion by another race. The vamps (aka the Holy Anocracy) have their own planets, but sometimes hop in their spaceships and visit Earth. All of the expositional details are woven into the narrative during the first half of the first book.

     Dina Demille runs the Gertrude Hunt Bed and Breakfast in the suburbs of Red Deer, Texas. In this world, an Innkeeper is a magic-wielding person who provides shelter and/or sanctuary for other magical beings. Their Inns are near-sentient buildings with close emotional and mental connections to the Innkeeper. Dina explains her job like this: "It's an inn, a neutral ground. An abnormality in the ordinary reality of this planet…I'm an innkeeper. Here I'm supreme. If you are accepted as a guest, you fall under my protection and as long as you stay here, you will enjoy the right of sanctuary. For various reasons, Earth is a way station for many travelers. We're the Atlanta of the galaxy: many beings stop here for a layover Some are alien and some are not. The innkeepers maintain the order, provide them with a safe place to stay, and minimize the population exposure and the bloodbath that could result." (from Clean Sweep)

     The entire Inn is magical. Rooms that should be closet-sized turn out to be huge. Windows on the outside are differently placed and sized than windows on the outside. Floors can melt away; stairways can appear out of thin air. Dina possesses a familiar-like animal—a dog named Beast—and a magical artifact—her broom. Beast can go from his cute little Shih Tzu form to a large fanged monster at a moment's notice, and the broom can become anything Dina wants it to be (e.g., a weapon, a shovel, a spear). Here's how the Inn works: "The inn provides the guests with shelter and food. It sees to their every need, In return, it feeds on the natural energy all living beings emit. The more varied and powerful that energy, the more magic the Inn is able to generate and the stronger it becomes." (from Sweep in Peace)

     Both books (both print and electronic) contain black and white illustrations of the leading characters, which adds to the enjoyment.

                              NOVEL 1:  Clean Sweep                               
     On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is...different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, "normal" is a bit of a stretch for Dina. 

     And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night....Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

     Note: This is a short novel, about 60,000 words. 

     Dina's life is moving peacefully along—too peacefully, in fact. If she doesn't attract some more guests, the Innkeeper Assembly will drop her ratings and she might lose the Inn. Here's how Dina explains the Assembly to her friend, Sean: "The Assembly just sets policies and rates the inns, kind of like a cosmic Triple A. If someone walks in here and kills me, they'll do nothing about it. if you went to them complaining about me, they'd just rate my inn unsafe, which means nobody would stay here." Currently, Dina has only one guest, a fierce and mysterious woman named Caldenia, who is on the run from one or more of her enemies. Then, trouble comes to the Avalon subdivision when three dogs are found dead—mutilated by some kind of monstrous creature. The humans keep talking about mountain lions and wolves, but Dina is pretty sure that magic is involved.

     Dina knows that her new neighbor, Sean Evans, is a werewolf, so she approaches him for help. Sean thinks that Dina is just a boring human B&B owner who can't possibly know his true nature so he rudely ignores her request for assistance. Sean soon finds how wrong he is about Dina when she tracks down and kills the monster just as it is getting ready to pounce on one of her neighbors. At that point, Sean and Dina reluctantly agree to work together because after dissecting the monster's body and doing some research, Dina discovers that this is a Ma'avi Stalker, described in her Creature Guide as "predatory, deadly, hunts by sight and scent, travels in packs." Yes…packs. So they can expect more attacks.

     Not long into the story, a vampire clan drops out of the sky asking for information. They are after the villain who controls the pack of stalkers. In the final quarter of the book, Sean, Dina, and Arland of the House of Krahr (a sexy vampire marshal) set out to take down all of the bad guys in the requisite showdown scene.

     On the romance front, there is a bit of flirting between Arland and Dina and a single passionate kiss between Sean and Dina. Both men are definitely interested in taking things further, but Dina is very cautious about entering into relationships with magical men who have fangs, claws, sharp weapons, and serious control issues.

      You won't be surprised that Dina has a sad back-story. When she was in college, her parents and their entire Inn vanished from the face of the Earth—gone completely in an instant and never seen again. Dina's brother, Klaus, is still roaming the galaxy searching for them. Her sister has married and moved to another planet. Dina misses her parents and her siblings, but she is determined to make a success of her Inn, one way or another.

     This book was originally a serialized novel published chapter-by-chapter on the authors' web site. Apparently, it was then published in print and e-book form as is, with no additional editing, so there is sometimes a bit of a bumpy feeling to the story line. That really wasn't much of a problem for me because these authors are such good story tellers. Dina is a fully developed character who is as different from Kate Daniels as night is from day. Unlike Kate, Dina can't be a snarky-mouthed, street-tough badass because she is an Innkeeper—a hostess who must placate her guests and wear a smile on her face at all times (even if that smile is often very strained and doesn't reach her eyes). She has managed to resurrect the Gertrude Hunter Inn from near-ruin with a lot of hard work, and now she is striving for it to be as successful as her parents' five-star Inn in Georgia, where she spent her childhood. I enjoyed this book very much, because these authors always deliver solid plots, well-developed characters, and, in this series, a nice mix of easy-going, bickering humor and fierce, fang-and-claw action. 
Click HERE and scroll down to read an excerpt from Clean Sweep.

                             NOVEL 2:  Sweep in Peace                               

     Dina Demille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina's door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance. 

     Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn...and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it's all in the day's work for an Innkeeper.

     The second novel differs from the first in that it has a much darker, more complex plot and a much larger cast of characters. Here's the setup: Dina is still having trouble attracting guests to her Inn, which means that she is running out of money and the Inn is getting low on magical energy. Therefore, when George Camarine, an Arbitrator, wants her to host a diplomatic summit, she reluctantly agrees. The crux of the situation is that the three groups have been waging a bloody war for seven years over possession of the planet Nexus, which is the source of a mineral called Kuyo that is used for military purposes. In an effort to avoid further bloodshed, the Arbitrators want the three factions to negotiate a peace treaty. Here are the participating groups:

   >  The Nuan family of the Merchants of Baha-char, headed by Dina's long-time acquaintance, Nuan Cee (whom we met in book 1). The Nuans have a colony of families living near the Nexus spaceport and want to keep them protected and safe. They control the shipping of the Kuyo through that spaceport. During the war, they have been attacked repeatedly by the other two factions.

   >  The Holy Anocracy (vampires, several of whom we also met in book 1). The vampires are like Templar knights, each trying to be a complete and perfect soldier for their religious cause. The Anocracy leadersthe warrior eliteare determined by hereditary. The Anocracy currently controls 1/2 of Nexus.

   >  The Otrokars (aka the Hope-Crushing Horde), "the scourge of the galaxy. They were huge and violent, and they lived to conquer." They remind me of the Old Norse Berserkers. Unlike the vampires, the Otrokar soldiers are very specialized, with each one excelling in just one aspect of battle. Their leaders are determined through a popular election. The Otrokars currently control the other half of Nexus.

     "So if you need someone to blow up a bridge in enemy territory…Vampires would send a team of five…all five will know how to arm and disarm the bomb….Otrokars will send a group of twenty…Five will know how to operate the bomb, and the rest will keep them alive until they get there."

     The Anocracy and the Horde "hated each other so much their feud had become legendary. Half the jokes in the galaxy started with 'a vampire and an Otrokar walk into a bar…'" Once Dina learns the identities of her future guests, she has a few second thoughts, but she is so desperate for money and for guests, that she agrees to take the job.  

     One major character from book 1 is missing: Sean Evans, the werewolf who went off to pay off a debt and see the wonders of the galaxy. It's been six months since he left, and Dina hasn't heard a word from him. When she visits the werewolf merchant to whom Sean's debt was owed, she senses that he isn't telling her the whole truth about where Sean is and what he is doing. Although Dina hasn't fallen in love with Seannot exactlyshe does miss him and is hurt that he hasn't kept in touch.

     In order to house the three groupswith twelve members in eachand keep them separated, Dina enlarges and completely remodels the Inn's interior, creating three separate suites of living quarters that are decorated according to each group's religious customs, cultural traditions, and preferred color schemes. Each group has its own dietary restrictions, so she has to find a chef to prepare massive quantities of the right kinds of food for these huge, hungry warriors. Orro, the melodramatic diva chef she hires, provides some welcome comedy relief throughout the book. Dina describes her seven-foot-tall quilled chef as "an oversized hysterical hedgehog with a martyr complex."

     An additional complication comes in the form of the subdivision's human policeman, Officer Marais, who played a part in book one. He has a gut feeling that something strange is going at Dina's Inn, and he won't stop spying on Dina until he figures it out. In this book, Marais gets much more than he bargains for, and his scenes, like Orro’s, provide some welcome humor in this otherwise dark tale. 

     The plot is not a straight-forward hero vs. villain story as it was in book 1. In fact, there are really no traditional villains at all. Each primary and secondary character has a strong sense of justice, a profound respect for his or her own culture, and a deep religious commitment, but each group disdains the culture, traditions, and religions of their rivals. (Sound familiar? Just read today's newspaper.) As the peace negotiations proceed (or, more likely, deteriorate), we get to meet the leaders of each faction and glimpse their sad back-stories (all have lost loved ones in Nexus battles). One of the vampire leaders is Arland, Dina's admirer from book 1, and he continues to vie for her attentions. Over a period of several days, the delegates argue, curse, glare, and sometimes fight, with Dina being forced to use the Inn's magical talents to keep them from killing one another. As events begin to spin out of control, Dina realizes that one of her guests is at the center of all of the drama, and that is the beauty of this creative, meticulous plotting becausefor me, anywaythese devious machinations were not obvious until very late in the book. I love to be surprised! (I will say, however, that figuring out the true identity of one particular character was no challenge at all, although that didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book.)

     Let me interrupt myself here to add some historical perspective to the character list: George Camarine, the head Arbitrator, arrives in this series by way of the authors' THE EDGE series, in which he and his brother, Jack, and their cousin, Gaston, play prominent roles, along with Sophie/Lark. In EDGE, we left this quartet of eccentric magical beings as teenagers, but now we get to see what has happened to them in the ensuing years and how the events of their childhoods have influenced their adult behavior. You don't need to have read EDGE to appreciate these characters, but if you haven't read those very entertaining novels, I highly recommend that you do. Click HERE for a reading-order list of the EDGE novels, an overview of the world-building, and reviews of the four EDGE novels. And one last character point: In the prologue, the man who recruits George to the Arbitrators is Dina's long-lost brother, Klaus, who makes just that one very brief appearance in the book. I'm hoping for another INNKEEPER novel (soon, please) that tells his story.

     All in all, this is a terrific book, even better than Clean Sweep. It is a tale that deals with the horrors of war, the pain of the survivors, and the balance between religious faith and fanaticism. Aside from its engrossing, complex, fast-paced plot, it has a cast of interesting, fully developed characters, each of whom behaves according to his or her personal code of beliefs and morality and in response to tragic past events. Although Dina is the heroine, she isn't the  sole focus of the story, which is rather refreshing. Dina continues to be a low-key kind of person, but she does get her revenge when her guests break the Inn's rules. (Her ice-cold payback after George destroys some of her apple trees is hilarious and satisfying.) As the conflicts accumulate and the "peace" negotiations devolve into violence, the authors turn the final chapters into one big surprise party for the reader. This is a terrific book, and I highly recommend it. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Sweep in Peace.

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