Widow’s Web by Jennifer Estep

Widow’s Web by Jennifer EstepWidow's Web by Jennifer Estep
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Series: Elemental Assassin #7
Published by Audible Frontiers on 8/21/12
Genres: Fantasy
three-half-stars

Story: B
Narration: B+

Quick Review:

This enjoyable continuation of the Elemental Assassin series again finds Gin battling not just for her life and the safety of those she loves, but also to hold on to what she has built with her lover Owen after his old-flame returns to town. Narrator Lauren Fortgang knows her characters and delivers her smoothest narration to date.

The Plot:

Life is never dull for Gin Blanco, the former assassin known as the Spider. With the leadership of the criminal underworld of Ashland still in flux after the death of Mab Monroe, every contender for the top spot has their eye on taking out the Spider to prove their chops and Gin is getting tired of it. At least she has the support of her lover, Owen Grayson, to rely on. Except… Owen’s ex-flame, Salina Dubois, has moved back to town and not only does she have her sights set on picking up where she left off with Owen but she has even bigger plans that will shake not just the foundation of Ashland’s underworld, but everything Gin has come to hold dear.

My Thoughts:

I really like the Elemental Assassin series and this one is probably my second favorite in the continuum of Gin’s story. These books are solid entertainment. Those familiar with the series know there’s a pretty consistent premise: a powerful “big bad” who has Gin on the ropes in their first major encounter but who ultimately falls to her determination, the silverstone knives hidden up her sleeves, and the elemental power combo that always seems to surprise her with its strength. Throw in some type of relationship conflict between Gin and her love interest and there’s a pretty good mix of action and emotion.

The similes and descriptions are all standard fare and the world is drawn in broad strokes but the writing is solid, the elemental universe still feels fresh within the Urban Fantasy genre, and the simple fact of the matter is that what works so very well for me in this series is this: I just really like Gin. She’s a good combination of tough and vulnerable and is easy to sympathize with. She’s blunt, she swears, she’s a heck of a cook, and she’s had an interesting arc of emotional growth.

The repetitious elements as new readers are introduced to Gin and her world that have been niggling irritations for me in previous books were far less apparent in this one. The action scenes are well-written and as Gin struggled to balance what she thought was the right course of action with what Owen and his sister were asking of her, I empathized with her internal conflict. There was a lot of back-story to fill in the gaps in Owen’s past and Phillip Kincaid, leader of Ashland’s gambling operations, played a key role. I enjoyed his presence and the game of “is he a good guy or isn’t he?” The familiar characters from the series all made an appearance but I enjoyed the tighter focus on Gin, Owen, and Eva with a large dose of “Philly” and Salina. An enjoyable entry in the series.

The Narration:

Lauren Fortgang really has a handle on both the characters and the world that the author has built and her delivery has smoothed out since the first book. The voice she gives Salina nicely communicates “evil seductress” and raised the hair at the nape of my neck a time or two and the amused sarcasm in Gin’s voice each time she said “Philly” made me smile whenever she said it. Excellent dialogue, very distinct voices for each character, and just the right flair in performing these larger-than-life characters without pushing it into the realm of comic makes this a series I will follow in audio for some time to come.

three-half-stars

Spider’s Revenge by Jennifer Estep

Spider’s Revenge by Jennifer EstepSpider's Revenge by Jennifer Estep
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Series: Elemental Assassin #5
on 9/27/11
Genres: Urban Fantasy

Book: B
Narration: B

Gin Blanco has been waiting for this moment since she was a child and it’s finally here. The time has come for her big showdown with Mab Monroe: the ultra-powerful Fire elemental who killed Gin’s mother and older sister and has caused her so much grief. I’ve seen Gin embrace her life as the assassin nicknamed The Spider and watched her kill without remorse. I’ve been along for the ride as she lost her mentor, lost her confidence in her ability to be loved after being rejected by her lover, nominally retired only to find herself taking on pro bono work, found the baby sister she thought was dead, found another chance at love, and gradually worked her way towards avenging her family’s murder – one body at a time. In comparison, I have only been waiting one year and eight months for a resolution to this chapter in Gin’s life but it was worth the wait.

Mab Monroe knows The Spider is coming for her so she puts a bounty on the assassin’s head, never realizing Gin Blanco, the unassuming owner of the Pork Pit (Ashland’s best BBQ joint) is The Spider. Gin’s sister, Detective Bria Coolidge, is also in Mab’s crosshairs under the mistaken impression that Bria is the sister who wields dual elements strong enough to pose a threat to Mab. As the story progresses, the masks come off, the body count rises, and the only way Gin is getting out of this one alive is if she can learn to rely on her friends and family and trust in her elemental Ice and Stone powers.

It will come as no surprise, given the way I describe Gin, that I find her a surprisingly relatable and oddly sympathetic character. Urban Fantasy is scattered with tough women but Gin brings something unique to the table. I find it refreshing to engage with a character who is blunt, brash, always ready with an F-bomb, sure she knows the best solution to every problem (which usually involves a fatal application of her silverstone knives) and truly unrepentant about being a killer. On the flip side of that coin, she is a character who is humanized by her awkward skills at relating to people, her tortured nightmares of her family’s murder, her intense feelings of guilt at her perceived failure to save her family and her mentor, her struggle to find love and acceptance from her romantic interests, and the soft-spot she develops for those who have no other place to turn for help.

There’s a very superhero/comic book vibe to this series. Not a surprise given a protagonist with a secret identity, super-powers, an evil nemesis with minions at her beck and call, a city that becomes a character all its own, and very vivid fight scenes. I’ll admit that by this, the fifth book, some of the new has worn off and elements of the world Gin inhabits have become repetitive. Gin’s multiple references to her “black black” heart and repeat reminders of past events (even from earlier in the book, not just series refreshers) does a disservice to the reader, whose memory and ability to cull inference from the “show” part of the narrative and not the “tell” part should be given more respect. Overall, though, this book (and this series) is a vivid, straight-forward, action-packed, engaging listen. It’s peopled with interesting characters who grow throughout the series and it moves forward at a nice pace with plenty of well-written and exciting action sequences.

Lauren Fortgang turns in a good narration with this book. Her voice embodies Gin Blanco for me and each character is uniquely voiced. I’d be interested to hear male/female differentiation done in more subtle tones since I feel like too many of the male characters get a growl to their voice as part of the masculine characterization. To be fair, a lot of those voices belong to giants (and now that I think about it their voices sound a lot like you would expect if you were reading Jack and the Beanstalk out loud and dropped into a gravelly voice to say “Fe Fi Fo Fum”…) and that may also contribute to that air of comic book-ness I pick up. The core narrative is delivered in a deliberate and relaxed drawl apropos of the fictional Southern setting, the range of Gin’s emotions are nicely conveyed, and the tension that builds during action scenes is superbly assisted by the vocal choices of the narrator.

A good wrap-up to the first arc in a really fun series – this audiobook delivers tension, action, and good narration that draws you into the world.