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Saturday, December 1, 2012


Author:   Jocelynn Drake    
Plot Type:  UF   
Ratings:  V4; S2; H2
Publisher and Titles:  Harper Voyager
      "The Asylum Interviews: Bronx" (e-novella, 7/2012)
      "The Asylum Interviews: Trixie" (e-novella, 9/2012)
      Angel's Ink (10/2012)
      "Of Monsters and Men" in Blood by Moonlight (e-book 10/2012; paperback 11/2012)

     Set in what appears to be an alternate Cincinnati that is now called Low Town, this world teems with supernaturals, including witches, warlocks, trolls, elves, vampires, shape shifters and more. Most of the action takes place on mortal Earth, but the realm of the underworld is accessible to supernaturals who have the right connections.

     At the top of the supernatural power structure are the warlocks and witches, who live in the Ivory Towers. "Each continent was dotted with gleaming towers made of white marble and granite that stretched above the clouds. These were the elusive Ivory Towers, their exact locations known only to the witches and warlocks who lived in them." (Angel's Ink, p. 6)

     At the bottom of the social structure are the humans, who coexist with the supernaturals as best they can. Humans do business with supernatural merchants and service providers, and some get mixed up in illegal activities involving supernaturals. One of those law-breaking activities is the use and distribution of Fix, "a high-end drug, one of the few potent enough to affect the larger creatures such as trolls, ogres, and minotaurs....A few dealers had found a way to mix it with cocaine so that humans could use it." (Angel's Ink, p. 11)

     The witches and warlocks came to power after the Great War, which took place in the mid-1800s when the witches and warlocks tried to subjugate the human race and all of the supernatural races. Here is a quotation from one of Drake's web-site "extras" that explains what happened: "Not only did [the witches and warlocks] want the total subjugation of the races, but they needed to insure a new generation wasn’t being born that might be sympathetic to the cause of the non-magic folk. As a result, thousands of children between the ages of seven and twelve were killed over the next five years. Any child that exhibited even a glimmer of magical aptitude was hunted down and slaughtered. After five years of failing to protect their children, the human race was the second (behind the elves) to sign a treaty with the warlocks and witches, establishing a tense peace and a new ruling system that left ultimate power in the hands of the warlocks and witches. The other races soon fell in behind the humans, officially ending the Great War on December 21, 1877." At this point in time, everyone fears the warlocks and witches, and when one of them appears on the streets of Low Town, people run for their lives.

    The series hero is Gage Powell, a warlock-in-training who was so disgusted by the arrogance of the warlocks and witches that he escaped from the Ivory Tower. He was then expelled by the Ivory Tower Council and ordered to refrain from using magic, except for self-defense. As time passed, Gage's definition of "self-defense" broadened to the point that now he uses magic much more than he is allowed. Just to be sure that Gage doesn't go too far astray, the Council has assigned a Guardian to punish Gage when he crosses the magical line. That Guardian is Gage's nemesis, Gideon, who starts out as a bitter enemy but then becomes Gage's semi-ally and frenemy. 

     Gage makes his living running a tattoo parlor called Asylum, where he mixes magical elements into the inks that he custom blends for his customers. In his heavily warded basement, he hoards a secret collection of powerful and illegal herbs and artifacts that he rarely uses for fear of detection by Gideon and the Council.

     So far, I have read the two novellas, the novel, and the short story, and I have concluded that Gage is a somewhat paranoid, mostly well-meaning wuss whose caustic gibes and volatile temper contribute heavily to his constant breaking of the law of self-preservation as he consistently taunts those stronger than himself and winds up beaten to a pulp time and time again.  The one time he defends himself spectacularly and with great passion (in the short story), he uses magic, which he has been forbidden to do. Gage does have some good qualities: loyalty to his friends, excellence at his tattoo craft, and a limited ability to create and cast spells, but he definitely isn't an alpha hero in any way, shape, or form. One of his most typical behaviors is to forget to wear his jacket and then to complain about how cold he is. Who ever heard of a UF hero shivering and whining about his discomfort on a crisp fall nightor any other time, for that matter? So...if you're into passionate, over-the-top alpha heroes, Gage isn't going to meet your specifications.

    Here are links to several "extras" pages on Drake's web site that include interviews with various characters and explanations about this world: 

    v Click HERE to read Gage's full explanation of the Great War.
    v Click HERE to read an "Interview with Gage Powell."
    v Click HERE to read about Gage's school days in the Ivory Tower.
    v Click HERE to read the "Low Town Tour Guide."  
    v Click HERE to read "A Talk with Trixie."
    v Click HERE to read "Seeking Asylum: Jocelyn Drake's Adventure in Low Town." 

     Drake has also written the UF series DARK DAYSClick HERE to read my review of that series.

           Novella 1:  "The Asylum Interviews: Bronx"          
     This novella introduces Gage, the series hero, and takes us through his first meeting with Bronx, a troll who is a talented tattoo artist. I don't understand why the word "Interviews" is part of the title because there is no interview, and we learn next to nothing about Bronx in this novella. In fact, the central character is Gage's incubus friend, Parker. In the opening scene, Gage wakes up on the floor of the women's bathroom in a sleazy bar, having been drugged for nonsensical reasons by Parker, an incubus who is having girlfriend troubles. The story follows Gage and Bronx as they try to solve Parker's problem with a magical tattoo and then are forced to fix the situation when the new tattoo results in some unexpected side effects.

     The fact that Parker drugs Gage (who is supposedly his best friend) so that he can cavort with women without Gage being aware of it is improbable and unbelievable. What kind of a friend would do that? The rest of the plot is thin, and the characters of Bronx and Parker never get beyond cardboard shapes. The novella contains no essential facts about the world-building that aren't already included in Angel's Ink, so it's not an essential read.

          Novella 2:  "The Asylum Interviews: Trixie"          
     This story mostly revolves around Gage and two women: his former girlfriend, Jo (a vampire), and his girlfriend-to-be, Trixie (an elf). Jo has been forced to join a vampire nest headed by the brutal Chester, who controls her life and beats her regularly. Trixie and Gage decide to rescue her and find that Jo has been keeping some secrets about her life.

     Once again, I don't know why the word "Interviews" is part of the title, because we learn absolutely nothing about Trixie except that she is an elf in hiding for unknown reasons. Like the first novella, this one contains no essential facts that are not already included in Angel's Ink.

          BOOK 1:  Angel's Ink          
     This is a mess of a book, with a conglomeration of story lines and so many villains that they outnumber the good guys by a long shot. As the story opens, the first bad guy appears: Russell Dalton, a disgruntled client whose good-luck tattoo has backfired into a run of misfortune. Dalton ambushes Gage at gunpoint and demands a re-do of the tattoo. When Gage over-reacts to Dalton's threats and blasts some magic at Dalton, Gideon appears out of thin air and threatens to kill Gage if he uses magic again. Dalton is the first in a stream of thugs who threaten Gage, beat him up, and generally make his life miserable. Each bad guy gets his own story line, so the entire plot consists of a mishmash of scenes in which Gage is intimidated and lambasted by one or another of them. 

     Gage seems unable to have a friendly conversation with anyone except his two employees: Bronx and Trixie. Bronx is a troll who left his life as a mobster's go-to guy to become one of Gage's tattoo artists. Trixie is an elf who is using a glamoured appearance to hide from someone. (We learn the identity of that "someone" mid-way through the book.) Gage has been crazy about Trixie for years, but he hasn't acted on his feelings because of his warlock status, which he has kept secret from both of his employees because of the fearsome reputation that witches and warlocks have in this world 
    The primary conflict arises when Gage accidentally makes a terminally ill client (Tera) immortal by mixing a strand from an angel's feather into her tattoo ink. The Grim Reaper tells Gage that Tera was slated for death, and either she must die on schedule (in three days) or Gage will die in her place. The rest of the story follows Gage as he tries to figure out how to undo the immortality spell and save himself from death. Nothing in Gage's life is simple, and each step he takes in his search for the spell reversal takes him into another convoluted sub-plot. Some of these story threads are resolved, but others are left open-ended.

The sub-plots include the following:
   Ø  The vampires who represent the Tattoo Artists & Potion Stirrers Society (TAPSS) demand that Gage solve his problem with Dalton before the witches and warlocks get involved. Threats and violence ensue. The vamps never appear again. 
   Ø  The supernaturals who are after Trixie demand that Gage tell them where she is. Threats, violence, and property damage ensue. They appear once more, but the story line is unresolved. 
   Ø  Simon, Gage's former mentor (from his warlock-in-training childhood in the Towers) demands that Gage fight him to the death because Gage is a blot on Simon's record. Threats, violence, and soul-snatching ensue. This story line is one of the few that is resolved. 
   Ø  Reave Roundtree, a dark elf (aka Svartalfar), discovers that Gage is a warlock and demands that Gage work for him. Threats and violence ensue. This character never appears again, and the story line is unresolved. 
   Ø  A notorious underworld figure demands that Gage free her. Threats ensue. This character appears once more, but the story line is unresolved. 
   Ø  Chang, a mysterious Chinese man who deals in the buying and selling of magical artifacts, gives Gage some assistance. No threats or violence, just one more weird and powerful character added to the mix. Chang appears to be an ongoing character.
     Gage tells his story in the tricky first person voice, and the author's efforts here are generally unsuccessful. Gage's voice is awkward, and—worse—it is definitely not a masculine voice. If you hadn't been told that Gage was a man, you wouldn't know it from his gender-neutral monologues and dialogues. This is one of the biggest problems with the book—the fact that, to me anyway, Gage's emotions and actions seem more female—or, perhaps, androgynous—than male. Gage is definitely not a warrior. He gets beat up over and over again, and when he succeeds in beating back his persecutors, it's through his use of magic, not his fighting skills. He displays none of the usual alpha characteristics in his relationship with Trixieno possessiveness, no passion, and no real lust. Drake definitely fails in her attempt to voice her protagonist as a strong male lead. There are a few female writers who can successfully portray male characters realistically in the first-person voice. I recommend that you read Rob Thurman's CAL LEANDROS series for evidence of that. (Click HERE to read my review of the CAL LEANDROS series.) 

     Another weakness is that the author forces Gage to use the "summation, or review, trope" to help the reader keep track of what's going on. You know the drill: the main character pauses breathlessly from time to time to tick off the various disasters happening in his life. This ploy can be used once with great effect, but poor Gage has to keep summarizing his misadventures just so that he—and we—can keep track of what's going on as the subplots pile up, one on top of the next. 

     The plot has a few holes. For example, Simon seems determined to kill Gage in order to clear his record with the Council, but in this world, there are severe consequences to using magic to kill: "Kill someone with magic and you were forced to give up one year of your life. Your body died and your soul traveled to the underworld, where it stayed for that year. Unfortunately, you never knew when you were going to die and those who came back were no longer in their right mind after the experience." (p. 134) It is unlikely that the power-hungry, ambitious Simon would want to deal with those consequences, so his threat to kill Gage seems implausible.   

     Another plot problem occurs when the dark elf Reave captures Gage. Early in that scene, Gage uses magic freely—but not in self defense. Every other time this happens, Gideon shows up to punish Gage, but not this time, because it would spoil the author's story line to have Gideon enter the scene. Then at the end of that scene, Gage gets beaten up (yet again) but doesn't use the self-defense magic that he is allowed to use—again, because that would spoil the author's story line. For me, one of the worse ways that author can manipulate the plot is to break rules that he or she has set up for a character. And that's exactly what happens here. (pp. 194-198)

     And then there's Gage and Trixie's TSTL moment when he summons her to his house to take part in a particular plot point and then sends her home alone afterwards, knowing full well that she is being hunted by a trio of supernatural thugs. Again, the author manipulates the plot because she needs Gage to rescue Trixie so that they can have a big romantic moment.

     All in all, this book is far below the level set by the author in her previous paranormal series, DARK DAYS, and I don't hold out much hope for future books. 

          Short Story:  "Of Monsters and Men"          
     This is one of three short stories in this anthology, and it focuses on Jackson ("Jack") Wagnalls, the werewolf pack leader who was turned into a Chihuahua by Gage in Angel's Ink. Jack needs Gage's help because it's Samhain, the night the Winter Court of the Fae holds its Wild Hunt, and it's also the full moon, when Jack's pack will be in the woods in furry form. Jack knows that the riders of the Wild Hunt will capture his wolves, and he wants Gage to whip up a spell to prevent that. 

     The story follows Gage as he helps Jack's pack and then must rescue Trixie from the Wild Hunt. This is actually the first time that Jack shows any kind of real passion. In fact, this is the first time that Jack has really seemed to be in complete control of one of the dangerous situations he keeps jumping into. Of course, his behavior in this situation worries him, because he is so afraid that even though he has turned his back on the Ivory Towers, he is stilldeep downa warlock, with all the horrific behavior that implies. When Gage left the Ivory Towers, he vowed never to use the dangerous spells he learned there, and he is sick at heart to realize that he has broken that vow. He says to Trixie, "How can you stand to be near me?...The things I almost did...I'm a monster....I nearly killed them all!...I've been lying to myself all these years. I'm a monster like the rest of them....I'm too dangerous to be among normal people." Jack may have broken his vow, but I have to say that it's refreshing to have Gage finally begin to man up and back up his attitude with some real action.  

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