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Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Author:  Yasmine Galenorn 
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4+; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  Jove
          Autumn Thorns (11/2015)
          Shadow Silence (9/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 10/27/2016 to include the publisher's blurb and a link to an excerpt from Shadow Silence, the second novel in the series. The blurb and the link appear at the end of this post, following an extensive overview of the series world-building and a full review of the first novel.

     In constructing her mythology for the WHISPER HOLLOW series, Galenorn threw in just about every trope imaginable: the feisty, coffee-guzzling, orphaned heroine with mysterious questions about her genetic heritage; the handsome shapeshifter who is happy to protect her and take her to bed; and so many magically eccentric townsfolk that the first book suffers from an overflow of multiple mythologies and quirky character traits. Everyone in town appears to have dark secrets, questionable loyalties, and problematic relatives or ancestors. 
The Olympic Peninsula

     I'm not going to go into too much detail on the world-building because that's what Autumn Thorns is all about. Really, that novel is 90% exposition and 10% plot, so you will definitely need to read it before you read future books in the series. The series is set in Whisper Hollow, Washington, a small town on the Olympic Peninsula just a stone's thrown from TWILIGHT'S Forks and LaPush (although those towns apparently play no part in this series).

     The heroine, Kerris Fellwater, is a spirit shaman who has returned to Whisper Hollow after the death of her grandparents. Almost immediately, she is drawn into the mysterious affairs of this spooky little town. Her protector and lover is a shapeshifting wolf (not a werewolf, but a shapeshifter—apparently, there's a difference, but that difference is not explained). Kerris can communicate with the dead. As she explains, "I connect with the dead. I can talk to them, see them, and drive them back to their graves if they get out of hand….Because in Whisper Hollow, the dead don't always stay put where you plant them." She can also see, feel, and manipulate energy, using various herbs, powders, and magical tools. 

     Whisper Hollow has two secret societies: 

The Crescent Moon Society (aka CMS; followers of the Morrígan): They investigate magical crimes and support the spirit shaman.

Cú Chulainn's Hounds (followers of Cú Chulainn): They oppose the CMS and are suspected of murdering previous spirit shamans.

     Here is a partial list of the supporting characters:

The Morrígan: She is the "Night Mare Queen, and Goddess of Sovereignty, Queen of Shapeshifters and Mother of the Fae, culls the dead from the battlefield and gathers them to her, under the embrace of her feathered cloak…She is mother to the Crow Man, who haunts the woodlands, surrounded by a murder of crows, carrying her messages to those to whom she would speak." She is the matriarch of the spirit shamans, all of whom are women born with a black birthmark in the shape of a crow standing on a crescent moon. 

Bryan Tierney: Kerris' wolf-shapeshifter protector and guardian who soon becomes her lover and mate. 

Ellia Volkov: Kerris' lament singer (a daughter of the Bean Sidhes—aka banshees). She sings and plays her violin to assist Kerris in her spirit shaman duties. Ellia always wears gloves because anyone she touches skin-to-skin will become permanently insane. 

Mae Stonecross: Kerris' great-grandmother, a spirit shaman. Deceased.

Lila Fellwater: Kerris' grandmother, daughter of Mae. She was also a spirit shaman. Recently deceased.

Duvall Fellwater: Lila's husband; Kerris' grandfather (but is he?) Recently deceased.

Aidan: Lila's lion-shapeshifter boyfriend (when they were teenagers). Lila forced him to leave Whisper Hollow for mysterious reasons. 

Tamil Fellwater: Kerris' mother, missing since Kerris was three years old. She was supposed to inherit the spirit shaman position from Lila, but when she disappeared, the job fell to Kerris

Avery Forrester: Kerris' shapeshifter father, missing since before Kerris was born

Ivy Primrose: Avery's shapeshifter mother—Kerris' grandmother (although Kerris doesn't learn this fact until the second chapter of Autumn Thorns).

Oriel: Another magical person whose role is not made completely clear in the first novel. She is a member of the CMS.

Peggin: Kerris' best friend, who is 100% human, although she does appear to have some psychic abilities. 

The Lady: A spirit who lives in Lake Crescent and is prone to dragging people to their deaths in her cold, deep waters.

Penelope Volkov: She was a former resident of the town whose spirit returned to become Mistress of the Veil. She lives in the Veil and helps spirits cross to the other side. She and Kerris work together to transport souls.

Veronica: She was also a former resident of the town whose spirit returned to become a queen among the Unliving (corporeal spirits who cross back from the Veil with personal agendas, often harming the living). The Unliving hate spirit shamans. She has a lair near the town cemetery. Apparently, she is a cranky, troublesome spirit, but her precise role in the mythology is not explicitly explained in Autumn Thorns, and she never makes a personal appearance in that book.

Magda Volkov: Mother of Ellia and Penelope. She is a powerful witch descended from Baba Volkov (Mother Wolf Witch), a nemesis of the Russian spirit masters ruled by Morena (who is the Russian equivalent to the Celtic Morrígan).

                         NOVEL 1:  Autumn Thorns                         
     In an all-new series, New York Times bestselling author Yasmine Galenorn invites readers to Whisper Hollow, where spirits walk among the living and the lake never gives up her dead: 

     Fifteen years ago, I ran away from Whisper Hollow, Washington, a small town on Crescent Lake in the Olympic Peninsula. But truth is, if you were born here, you can never really leave. I’m Kerris Fellwater, and when I returned, I inherited my grandmother’s house—and her gift. As a spirit shaman, it’s my responsibility to drive the dead back to their graves, because around Whisper Hollow, people—and secrets—don’t always stay buried. 

     When I was little, I was told my mother ran off. But now it looks like she was murdered. With the help of my mysterious neighbor Bryan, we begin to unravel the mystery of her disappearance, and in doing so, unearth a dark force seeking to bury Whisper Hollow. Now I must work with the dead, rather than against them, because our enemy will do whatever she can to destroy the town, and she means to start with me.

     As I said in the world-building section above, this novel is all about the exposition. The single straightforward plot involves the fact that on the day that Kerris' grandparents were killed by the Lady of Crescent Lake, Duvall was going to reveal a big secret to Ellia and Oriel. When Kerris returns to Whisper Hollow after their deaths, she tries to figure out what that secret was, but that issue doesn't get resolved until the very end of the book. Meanwhile, we meet all of the various and sundry supporting characters—humans, nonhumans, and various types of spirits. Each quirky character/spirit has his or her own lengthy backstory, and Galenorn tells us each one in great detail. Some are connected to the actual plot, but others are included just to build the mythology.

     The villain—who is obvious as soon as he appears in the story—is a member of Cú Chulainn's Hounds, of which Duvall was the president. This group will obviously be the source of much of the evil-doing in future books.

     For me, this was a hard book to get through, with its mountains of world-building details and the never-ending avalanche of needless bits of information. We have Celtic/Irish mythology, Russian mythology, a tree of skulls, six categories of the dead, seven rules for visitors to Whisper Hollow—and much, much more. With all of the mythology, why do we need to know that Kerris wears a 38F bra and is a size eight? Why do we need detailed descriptions of everyone's clothing? Descriptions of nearly every meal as well as the type of latte or tea preferred by every character? (I got very tired of reading about Kerris' fabulous espresso machine, which she mentions every time she uses it—numerous times each day.) The inclusion of all of this information results in a jam-packed but unfocused story. 

     Here's an example of a weird character who is dumped into the plot only as a description—we never meet him. At one point, Peggin asks Kerris and Bryan to find her a boyfriend, so Bryan recommends Dr. Divine, an artist who wears "butt-length cornrows and…goggles" and whose artistic creations literally come to life and walk around. We get a two-page description of this man, who never appears in person and has absolutely nothing to do with this story. Why?

     Added to this list of problems is Kerris' awkward first-person narration, which weakens the storytelling. The relationship between Kerris and Bryan has no chemistry. They talk the talk, but there's no true passion, so their dialogue feels stiff and awkward. They do have several over-the-top bedroom scenes that are heavy on graphic detail. Kerris' narration is mostly profanity free and rather mild (even when she is in the midst of her frequent interior monologues), but her language instantly turns crude and raunchy in all of the sex scenes. 

     Also dragging down the storytelling are some distracting missteps. For example, Whisper Hollow is a very small town in an isolated area—a town that "seldom encouraged visitors," but somehow it has a Bed Bath & Beyond store. Nope…never going to happen, because that chain puts its stores in urban centers. So why put that brand-name detail into the book when it has nothing to do with the plot and is so obviously improbable? Another messy detail has to do with the distance between Kerris' house and Ivy's house. On one page, it's a five-minute walk, but a few pages later it's a ten-minute walk—a case of sloppy editing. Also related to Ivy: Although Kerris lived just down the street from Ivy until she left Whisper Hollow at age 18, she never met Ivy until she came back to town. That seems improbable to me because this is a small town in which people seem to know all of their neighbors.

     I don't plan to review any more of the books in this series, but I will update this post to add the publisher's blurbs and publishing dates for future books. To read or listen to an excerpt from Autumn Thorns, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                    NOVEL 2: Shadow Silence                    
     Fifteen years ago, I ran away from Whisper Hollow, Washington, a small town on Lake Crescent in the Olympic Peninsula. But truth is, if you were born here, you can never really leave. I'm Kerris Fellwater, and I'm a spirit shaman. It's my responsibility to drive the dead back to their graves, because around Whisper Hollow, people—and secrets—don't always stay buried.

     My best friend Peggin finds herself under a curse after she is almost taken by the Lady of the Lake, and the Unliving are determined to drag her back to the hungry waters. As Bryan—my guardian and mate—and I work to break the hex, we uncover a dark and violent mystery from the past. One the Hounds of Cú Chulainn will do anything to guard—even if they must summon a legion of the dead to destroy Whisper Hollow.

     Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt from Shadow Silence.

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