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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sonya Bateman: GAVYN DONATTI

Author: Sonya Bateman

Plot Type: UF
Ratings: V4-5; S2-3; H3
Publisher and Titles:
Simon & Schuster

      Master of None (2010)
      Master and Apprentice (2011)

     Gavyn Donatti reminds me of the hapless Jerry Lundegaard in the movie, Fargo (played by William H. Macy). Both characters are ineffectual, unlucky, and  just can't catch a break. Donatti has had a long string of partners—all left in the lurch. He even dropped one poor guy on his head from the top of a building.

     As Master of None begins, Donatti, an inveterate thief, has lost an antique knife he just stole, and Trevor, the most vicious crime boss in town, is after him to get it back. Just as Donatti is being captured by the Trevor's thugs, a shape-shifting djinn (genie) named Ian comes to his rescue. This is not an “I Dream of…” genie; this guy is more like Hellboy; he’s a grouchy supernatural who seems to hate Donatti on sight. As the action progresses, Donatti and Ian get involved in a complicated djinn war with Trevor at the center.  The villainous djinn are members of the Morai and can shift into the form of huge, poisonous snakes. Also pulled into the action is Donatti’s one-time girlfriend, Jazz, and her young son, Cyrus, who (Donatti is shocked to learn) is also his son. Donatti's former partner, Lark (the head-dropped guy) and Lark's lover, a second djinn named Tory, complete the cast of characters. Eventually, Donatti discovers that he and Ian have a relative connection, so to speak, that will change Donatti’s life forever. 

     The second book, Master and Apprentice, begins a year later. Ian and Donatti have spent that time hunting down and destroying Morai, who are sworn enemies of Ian's Dehbei (wolf) clan. In this book, Donatti learns why Ian hates the Morai so much and why he must kill them all before he and his wife (Akila) can return to his homeland. As the story opens, Ian and Donatti track a Morai to a West Virginia mountain cave, but then they run into a fortress full of Morai and their scions (descendants). Eventually, both Ian and Akila are captured, and Ian is horribly tortured (pushing the violence rating to up to 5). Donatti must rescue them by putting his trust in a Morai who is living as a monk. The plot consists of one bloody battle after another, with gruesome torture scenes in between, from one abattoir to another. As the action rises, Donatti discovers some new powers, and he ends the book stronger than he has ever been. His young son is also beginning to show some powers.
     The series concept is fresh (there are not many series featuring a djinn), and the story is compelling, but there are a few problems, mostly in book 1. The DonattiJazz relationship is one of the weakest elements in the book. In book 1, they haven’t been in contact with each other for three years, and much has happened to both of them, but they get right back together—it’s just too easy. Also, at one point  in the same book Jazz’s sister is incinerated in a house fire, and in the next scene Donatti and Jazz are making out in the back seat of a car. I don’t think so! Jazz doesn't have many scenes in book 2, but the relationship (what little we see of it) does seem somewhat more realistic.

     Another problem occurs with the powers of Ian and Toryagain, mostly in book 1. Sometimes they can do wondrous things (e.g., fly, produce things out of thin air, turn an old clunker into a new sports car), but other times they can’t (too tired, power drained, etc.). The down times cannot always be logically predicted; they just happen when a plot twist needs them to happen. This does get better in book 2.
     The violence level is high because of the frequent torture scenes. In book 1, few graphic details are provided, so the rating is 4. In book 2, however, the excruciating details are extensive and continuous. 

     The humor comes from the sarcastic dialogue between Donatti and Ian and from Donatti’s constant wisecracking (evenunbelievablyunder extreme torture). This also is handled better in book 2.
     By the end of the second book, Donatti was beginning to remind me more and more of Rob Thurman's CAL LEANDROS (UFV5, S3, H4), which is one of my favorite UF series. Cal and Donatti have the same disillusioned, hard-luck outlook on the world, but they never give up, even in the face of extreme pain and constant frustration. By the end of Master and Apprentice, the relationship between Donetti and Ian is very similar to the relationship between Cal and his brother.

     If you love djinns, you might also enjoy Rachel Caine's WEATHER WARDEN series (UFV5, S3, H1) and OUTCAST SEASON series (UFV4, S2, H1) and Mindy Klasky's AS YOU WISH series (SMRV1, S3, H4), all of which feature djinns as main characters.

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