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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

New Novel! Adrian Phoenix: "Thinning the Herd"

Author: Adrian Phoenix 
Title: “Thinning the Herd” (short e-novel196 pages)
Plot Type: Humorous Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher:  Pocket Star (1/2016) 

Note: The author's official web site has been down in recent weeks, so click HERE to go to her Facebook page instead.

                          PUBLISHER’S BLURB                          
     From the New York Times bestselling author of A Rush of Wings and THE MAKER'S SONG series, a humorous, action-packed urban fantasy about a werewolf pack and an animal control officer in way over his head! 

     Someone is picking off fortune tellers and hippies in Oregon, snatching them out of their Birkenstocks mid-stride. And when the legend himself, Hal Rupert, Animal Control Officer, gets a whiff of the mystery, he knows he’s the man to solve it. In between proudly wrangling out-of-control cats and dogs, he’s noticed a peculiar uptick in another sort of animal…werewolves

     Hal infiltrates the country fair to investigate the disappearance of the flower children. But his real priority is protecting the love of his life, Desdemona Cohen, whose long purple tresses and black-glossed lips captured his heart the moment he first saw her standing behind the register at Hot Topic. Desdemona may have nicknamed Hal “Creep,” but he’s determined to win her heart. And, you know, save everyone else, too.

                          MY REVIEW                          
The Premise:
Hal's weapon of choice: a catch pole
     In an online post, Adrian Phoenix explains that, Thinning the Herd celebrates delusion, reality-denial, and heroism despite the rather long odds. I’m still rooting for the underdog—especially the absurd underdog. I hope you enjoy reading Thinning the Herd as much as I enjoyed writing it.” She compares her hero, Hal, to the hero of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. If you want to go really old-school, you could also describe him as a mash-up of Walter Mitty and Dudley Do-Right—except for just one thing: Hal is actually very good with his mighty weapon—a catch pole that a lesser man would use merely as a tool to capture stray dogs and cats.

The Supernatural World: 
     Although ancient gods and legendary specters pop up from time to time in this world, the everyday supernaturals are either lycans or yōkai. The story begins the morning after the night of the first moon, so all of the lycans and yōkai are doing their day/night shifting thing. 

     Lycans are born as humans, but shift into their animal forms (cats or wolves) at night for one week out of each month beginning with the first night of the full moon. Yōkai are born as animals (cats or wolves), but shift into human shape during the day during the week after the full moon. Since lycans were born human, they tend to behave like humans, but yōkai were born as animals so they behave more like pets than people. For example, Nick Thomas—a wolf yōkai—has the attention span of a puppy, and Galahad (Gally) Jones—a cat yōkai—is addicted to cream and is constantly grooming himself by licking his fingers and rubbing them over his face. Fun fact about the werewolves in this world (who can be either lycan or yōkai): eating too many ducks gets them drunk—duck drunk. 

     Problematically, Nick and Gally are “detectives,” although their jobs are never explained beyond that general one-word designation. Do they work for the police department? Are they private detectives? Whatever their job, if they are in human form only during the daytime one week a month, I’m not sure how they can possibly remain employed. This is a definite weakness in the author’s world-building. 

The Hero: 
     Hal Rupert is an animal control officer in small-town Oregon, not far from Eugene. He is also one of the few humans (aka one-shapers) who know of the existence of the supernatural world. Hal views himself as a secret superhero and believes that people pretend not to know about his superhero status because they are helping him keep his identity a secret. Our hero is head over heels in love with a purple-haired Goth chick named Desdemona Cohen, who sells Goth paraphernalia at a local bazaar. Desdemona keeps trying to get rid of her stalker (that would be Hal) by calling him “creep” and “fruitcake” and “jerkwad,” but Hal hears these as words of love and devotion. He knows that she pretends not to love him in public because “theirs was a forbidden relationship—Goth and non-Goth. She’d be shunned if her Goth friends discovered their union.” He can hardly wait for the day that she asks him what his actual name is. 

     Hal lives a simple life in his sparsely furnished office/home. He sleeps in a sleeping bag on the floor and keeps his refrigerator full of nonorganic whole milk that he tosses back like a different kind of hero would drink whiskey—straight, no ice. To get from one crime scene to another, Hal—hilariously—takes the bus. No big, black SUVs for this hero! He does wear the stereotypical UF male uniform: a black T-shirt and jeans (but no leather jacket).

The Plot: 
     Someone is killing fortune tellers and hippies and trying to frame shifters for the crimes. When Hal and his two yōkai detective buddies begin to investigate, they find themselves—quite literally—in over their heads. 

     The investigation leads to the “fabled underground pot dens of Eugene,” where the three men, now accompanied by Desdemona, have major run-ins with a variety of supernatural monsters. That part of the book is uneven and quite choppy as it veers wildly from location to location and switches suddenly from Hal’s perspective to the viewpoints of other characters. Phoenix throws in all types of monsters, even a Lovecraftian Cthulhu (note the tentacles in the cover art).

The Humor:
     Phoenix provides lots of verbal and physical humor throughout the book. For example, when Hal, Gally, and Nick begin to analyze the situation, Nick wonders what fortune tellers and hippies have in common. Galahad, the snark specialist, answers, “Garish colors?...Poor fashion sense? A lack of deodorant?” Then, when Nick begins to lose the gist of the discussion, Gally distracts him by throwing a rubber squeak-toy squirrel across the room. "Nick's head swiveled. His eyes gleamed…Mad rubber squeaking followed."

     Also funny is the fact that when Gally and Nick are in animal form, Hal is always able to discern the exact meaning of Gally's purrs and stares and Nick's howls. Here's a typical "conversation" between Gally and Hal:

     Galahad stretched. Yawned. Padded over to Hal. Mewed.  
     Hal frowned. "I disagree…Gally, you've got to—"  
     Hal trailed a hand through his hair, pondering everything Gally had just said.

The Bottom Line: 
     I really didn’t know what to make of this novel, which starts out as a simple superhero spoof but then becomes something slightly more. At first, I thought that Hal was a simple-minded buffoon who couldn’t possibly carry the weight of the entire plot, but then he turned out to be quite a smart guy and an effective fighter who dispatched enemies left and right with his trusty catch pole. I kept trying to quit reading, but I couldn’t stop, mainly because I was enjoying the sardonic verbal jousting among the characters and I wanted to see if Hal and Desdemona ever got together—not because I cared much about the action part of the plot. 

    If you’re looking for a humorous urban fantasy to cheer up the dreary monotony of a wintry day, this book is a good choice. It would also be a great beach read. I doubt, though, that Hal and his buddies could withstand the pressure of a series. It's probably best that this remains a single, humorous stand-alone. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of "Thinning the Herd" is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

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