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Monday, January 2, 2012


Author:  Lyn Benedict (pseudonym for Lane Robins)
Plot Type:  UF
Ratings:  V4; S3; H3
Publisher and Titles:  Ace
        Sins & Shadows (2009)
        Ghosts & Echoes (2010)
        Gods & Monsters (2011)
        Lies & Omens (2012
     This blog entry was revised and updated on 8/14/12 to include a review of the fourth book in the series, Lies & Omens. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first three books: 
          BOOK 4:  Lies & Omens          
     As the story opens, Sylvie is trying to find a witch who can remove the shape-shifting curse placed on her client, Lupe, at the end of the previous book. Each time that Lupe shifts, she becomes a different, violent animal. At first, she shifts into animals that are recognizable—like wolves and snakesbut soon, she's turning into monsters right out of horror fiction. In the meantime, Sylvie must deal with two huge problems: Someone is sending Magical Mundi monsters to attack and destroy all of the ISI headquarters and agents around the country, and second, someone is wiping the memories of all humans who witness any Magical Mundi activity, including those attacks. One of the persons most affected by the memory wiping is Sylvie's partner, Alex, so Sylvie has a personal stake in tracking down the perpetrators. She's not sure if she's dealing with two different villains or if there is a team that is working together. As usual, nothing in Sylvie's life is simple, so we aren't at all surprised that the solutions to these problems are extremely complexshot through with betrayal and nefarious motives. 

     And let's not forget that Sylvie now has become the New Lilith, "the dark heir to an immortal woman who had wanted to make war on her god. If Sylvie's reputation had been bad before, now it was abysmal...No one liked her; they all treated her with suspicion and fear." (p. 2) Although the Lilith situation doesn't help with Sylvie's human relationships, it does give her immortality, resistance to magic, and the ability to kill the supposedly unkillablealways a good thing in Sylvie's line of work. The major drawback is that Lilith's voice is constantly in Sylvie's head urging her toward the dark side.

     Sylvie is still trying to deal with Erinya, the former Fury who, through Sylvie's actions, absorbed god-like powers in the climax of the previous book. Now, Erinya is bored with her empire in the realm of the gods, so she spends a lot of her time on earth, killing bad people (according to her own definition of "bad") and coming to Sylvie's rescue, with disastrous results for the immediate environment. 

     At the beginning of the story, Demalion is back in Chicago working for the ISI under his new identity and hoping that they don't realize who he really is. The romantic relationship between Sylvie and Demalion is as good as it has ever been, even though they don't see each other very often.  Demalion still truly believes that the ISI works for the greater good, even though Sylvie keeps pointing out that the ISI is riddled with egocentric power-grabbers with their own selfish and illegal agendas. Demalion's opinion changes, though, as the ISI faces extinction and Demalion's eyes are opened as to the number of traitors within the ISI power structure. As the book draws to a close with the requisite magical battle scene, Marah, the ISI assassin, becomes an important part of the action and will continue to be Sylvie's nemesis in the next book. Sylvie's climactic battle with some powerful witches brings sweeping changes to both the human and the supernatural worlds that will play out in future books.

     This is another strong addition to a solid series, with lots of action and a group of sympathetic, if quirky, characters. The conclusion ties up a lot of loose ends but still leaves some questions to be answeredin other words, a perfect ending.
     Wisecracking Sylvie Lightner (aka Shadows) has a complex set of paranormal powers, including the ability to resist many types of dark magic. She and her friend Alexandra Figueroa-Smith (aka Alex) run Shadows Inquiries, which Sylvie describes as “a P.I. firm without a license.” Her motto (tattooed on her back) is Cedo Nulli (“I do not yield”), and she is a tough, streetwise survivor with a sardonic and flippant attitude toward practically everyone. Here, Sylvie explains that a local police detective doesn't much like her because she "had so many strikes against her that it was hard to pick out which one bothered him the most. Unlicensed PI with a reputation for trouble? A vigilante who took care of problems the police didn't want to  acknowledge? A woman with a liking for large-caliber weaponry, a smart mouth, and something dangerous in her blood?" (Lies & Omens, pp. 1-2)
     Sylvie has two main enemies: Magicus Mundi, the supernatural world of monsters and dark magic, and the secretive Internal Surveillance and Intelligence agency (aka ISI, aka Internal Surveillance and Investigationin book 4), a group of incompetent and hostile government agents who stalk her every move—think Homeland Security gone wild. Sylvie's primary contact with the ISI is Agent Michael Demalion, who was her lover until she learned that he was really an ISI spy. Demalion goes through many trials and tribulationsand several very different identitiesas the series progresses. Knowledge of the hierarchy of Greek, Egyptian, and Aztec mythology is helpful in understanding the finer points of the plots
     This is a great series, with a well-defined world, nicely developed characters, and plenty of action. Even though Sylvie doesn't have any witchy powers, she reminds me a lot of Kim Harrison's HOLLOWS heroine, Rachel Morgan, because both of them must work very hard to keep their baser emotions in check and their actions on the honorable side of that extremely thin line between good and evil. 

          BOOK 1:  Sins & Shadows          
     The series opener sets up Sylvie's world. For years, Sylvie has dealt with all kinds of monsters. During most of that time, the ISI has been hounding her, sometimes secretly and sometimes overtly. By now, Sylvie is finding it harder to draw the line between the real monsters and the human ones, and she's finding it progressively easier to kill. If she doesn't stop, she fears, she may become one of the monsters herself. When Sylvie is forced to watch a friend and employee murdered because of their relationship, she knows that she can't do this anymore. Just as she decides to close down Shadows Inquiries for good, a man who claims to be the God of Justice (aka Kevin Dunne) turns up wantingand eventually compellingSylvie to find his missing lover, Brandon Wolf. 
     The story climaxes in a battle between gods, resulting in the loosing of cataclysmic forces that do a great deal of damage to the city of Chicago. At the same time, the situation between Sylvie and Demalion takes an unexpected, and very tragic, turn. Supporting characters include the power-hungry goddess, Lilith, and Dunne's scary and powerful "assistants": the three Furies
         BOOK 2:  Ghosts & Echoes          
     In book 2, Sylvie is back in Miami, wishing that the Magicus Mundi and the ISI will just leave her alone for awhile. She takes on a case that involves solving a string of magic-related burglaries, something she thinks is far from any contact with either the ISI or Magicus Mundi. Then, a disoriented Chicago policeman shows up possessed by the spirit of a dead mana man Sylvie knows intimately
     The plot weaves together these two story lines, with Sylvie learning about death and resurrection as she digs further into the burglaries, which aren't as simple to solve as she had originally thought. Then, she has to deal with the fact that her younger sister (Zoe) is not the innocent Sylvie thought she was. In this book, Sylvie must make ethical and moral choices that will effect her future life forever.

          BOOK 3:  Gods & Monsters          
     As the third book opens, Sylvie is trying to locate her client's missing wife when she stumbles into a sinister situation in which a demented, ancient sorcerer and a god vie for power. As the story opens, one of Sylvie's shape-shifting friends finds the missing woman (along with several other women) drowned in the Everglades. Sylvie checks out the scene, calls the police, and assumes that the case is ended. Unfortunately, when the crime scene investigators attempt to pull one of the women from the water, there is a huge explosion, resulting in deaths and injuries. Sylvie feels responsible for the violence because she failed to sense any magic at the scene, so she is determined to find out what caused the explosion. 

     After enlisting the aid of Tierney Wales, a necromancer who uses hands of glory to enhance his powers, Sylvie learns that an ancient sorcerer is using the women in his bid to escape from a curse rendered by Tepeyollotl (aka Tepe), the Aztec god of earthquakes and jaguars. In the meantime, Sylvie must deal with a witch who is trying to kill herwith spells, curses, and knife-wielding thugs. Complicating Sylvie's life is Caridad Valdes-Pedraza (aka Cachita), who tries to pass herself off as an investigative journalist, but turns out to have a magical connection to Tepe. One of the Furies (Erinya) turns up to assist Sylvie, but she causes so much violent trouble that she winds up being yet another complication in the case. Near the end of the book, Sylvie learns an interesting, and slightly alarming, fact about her seemingly normal assistant, Alex.

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