Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Review – “Red-Headed Stepchild” by Jaye Wells

FROM THE BOOK COVER:
In a world where being of mixed-blood is a major liability, Sabina Kane has the only profession fit for an outcast: assassin. But, her latest mission threatens the fragile peace between the vampire and mage races and Sabina must scramble to figure out which side she's on. She's never brought her work home with her---until now.

This time, it's personal.
Red-headed Stepchild is the debut urban fantasy novel in a planned trilogy about half-vampire half-mage assassin Sabina Kane. As the title suggests, Sabina is a half-breed, born into a socially conscious vampire society (the Dominae) where she has been marginalized into the role of an assassin. Working for her stern and authoritative grandmother, who heads the Dominae, Sabina carries out her missions without question, driven by her need for acceptance and approval. The Sabina the reader is introduced to is a friendless, solitary individual.

Set in our contemporary times, Red-Headed Stepchild’s world-building encompasses a supernatural community consisting of vampires, mages, fae and demons, and a human society that for the most part is unaware of the supernaturals. Politically, the vampires and mages are in opposition to one another with a threat of war constantly looming. Against this backdrop, Sabina is commanded to infiltrate a rival vampire faction lead by another charismatic half breed, a demon/vampire whose cult-like following is a potential threat to the Dominae’s authority.

Red-headed Stepchild delivers a well plotted action thriller with plenty of twists and turns, but is driven by solid character development and many emotionally gripping scenes. The author also has a deft hand at lightening the mood at appropriate moments through Sabina’s inner dialogue -
Ten minutes later, Vinca's gecko-green Volkswagen beetle pulled up in front of a dance club. I slumped down in my seat as vampires near the entrance eyed the car. No self-respecting vampire would choose to ride around in that hippiemobile. Especially one with a license plate reading "FLWRPWR."
and through amusing character dialogue –
She shrugged and played with the little umbrella in her drink. "It's a long story, but the short version is the city is no place for a naive young nymph fresh from the forest. I fell on some hard times and ended up getting involved in a faery porn ring."
Nor is she afraid to describe romantic interludes in a fresh way without the usual soft-focus rose-tinted descriptions –
Our lips met in an ungraceful mash of teeth and lips.
Through the course of the story Sabina acquires a demon sidekick, a potential mage romantic interest and unlikely friends. Her character is forced into recognizing unwelcome truths, subjected to betrayal, experiences life-changing personal revelations and develops unexpected emotional attachments. The Sabina that ends the book is a far cry from the Sabina we meet in the beginning. This is an engaging strong central character, someone I want to know more about, spend time with, and discover what lies in store for her future.

Some story arcs are started in this first book that will carry over into the next volume, but Red-headed Stepchild ends on a satisfying note without any huge cliff-hangers. A smattering of hints scattered throughout the narrative also foreshadow some interesting events and developments to come. I predict that Red-headed Stepchild will be one of the most auspicious urban fantasy debuts this year and I for one will be adding this series to my necessary reading list.

The back of the book provides an extras section with an interview of Jaye and an excerpt from the next book in the series.

AUTHOR AND BOOK SHOWCASE

Orbit
Published: March 31, 2009
ISBN #: 9780316037761
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1.

Interviews:
At Lori Devoti’s Website

Sabina Kane Trilogy:

  1. Red-Headed Stepchild (March 31, 2009)
  2. Mage in Black (Jan 2010)
  3. Green-Eyed Demon (TBD)

14 comments:

  1. Hi Doug, I'm presenting you with the Lemonade Award (go to my site for the award and then you can pass it along...if you want).

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  2. This sounds great. I'm definitely going to have to read it. Thanks for the review...

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  3. Hagelrat. Thanks!

    Hope you like it Princess Allie.

    Thanks Grace I'll check it out.

    Hi Jo it was defintiely a fun read.

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  4. I can't wait to read this one. Thanks for the review.

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  5. MonieG thanks for stopping by! I think Sabina will be a hit with a lot of readers.

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  6. I'm a reviewer and read an ARC and gave it a C-.

    The set-up was spectacular, the initial world-building was fascinating and Sabina's heritage was a breath of fresh air in a genre dominated by human protagonists. However, the entrance of her demon familiar shattered the intricate society Wells created. His entire personality is riddled with inconsistencies, and I didn't find him amusing at all. Plus, after a while, the dialogue began to sound much too akin to the sort heard on Buffy & Angel for my enjoyment level.

    By the last 70 or so pages, I was skimming through the book because I'd lost complete interest in the plot and the characters. What was promising in the beginning quickly turned flat. This is one UF series I'll be passing on.

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  7. Your review gave me hope. Currently I'm stuck on page forty and I already considered abandoning the book. There is a huge discrepancy between what we're told about the main character and what we're shown. For someone who has been through assassin school and is a top notch assassin Sabina appears remarkably naive and incompetent.

    Maybe I'll give it another try

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  8. hwm I agree she was indeed naive and intended to be so. She was deliberately sheltered by her grandmother who was just using her, kept away from mainstream vampire society to cement her hold over her.

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  9. @ SciFiGuy

    As you pointed out, some of Sabina's naivety can be explained and naivety per se can have a certain charm. That part of the story interested me the most and is the reason why I keep on reading (I'm currently on page 232 and fighting ;-) Although I sometimes feel it difficult to believe that a 53 year old assassin knows so little of the world and the ways of demons and mages (even if they have a truce, they’re the enemies of the vamps).

    Combined with her other characteristics her naivety is hard for me to stomach.
    A big mouth can be amusing, as long as it’s backed up. The same with arrogant behaviour. There should be some level of competence otherwise the character seems like a fool. The problem with Sabina is, that we are told she has been to assassin school and is one of the (if not the) top notch assassins of the vampires, which leads to an assumption of competence. Besides she has the mouth and arrogance for it. As soon as we see her in action, however, her incompetence, which sometimes borders on stupidity, is staggering. From some sort of villain’s monologue at gunpoint (page 4, has the same effect as a vm), to unconvincing fight scenes, to constantly being defeated and/or having to be rescued, foolish plans (if there are any) and constant emotional upheaval she didn’t convince me as an assassin in one single scene.
    If she weren’t a trained assassin I would excuse a lot of her behaviour. She is a pro, so I can’t.


    I think the bones of the story are excellent. The execution less so. What can I say, I’m terribly picky ;-)

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  10. hwm it's good to be picky. I enjoyed your analysis. Debut books can suffer from some of these issues and hopefully the sequel will polish some of these rough spots.

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  11. Thanks for helping introduce me to this book. Just posted my review with a link to this page: http://www.texasredbooks.com/2009/06/red-headed-stepchild-by-jaye-wells.html

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  12. Thanks for letting me know TexasRed. I`ll drop by and check it out!

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