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.

Hellbent by Cherie Priest

Hellbent by Cherie PriestHellbent by Cherie Priest
Narrator: Natalie Ross
Series: Cheshire Red #2
Published by Brilliance Audio on 8/30/11
Genres: Urban Fantasy

Book: B+
Narration: A-

So the other night Raylene Pendle was telling me this story… What’s that? That was an audiobook? Someone named Natalie Ross narrated it? Nope. Sorry. You’ve got it all wrong. I don’t know where you’re getting your information but that was Raylene telling me the story of her adventures. I don’t know who this Ross person is. So as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted….

Raylene and I are friends, you see. She confides all the sordid details of her life to me and I listen and nod and often snort whatever I’m drinking out my nose. She’s a vampire and a famous (or is that infamous?) sneak-thief. The funniest things happen to her! We were up half the night yesterday while she told me all about this really weird job she took on. You see, she was hired to steal some baculum (yeah, you’re going to have to consult the Oracle at Google for that one just like I did: I don’t want to kick off any more jokes about it than I’ve already heard from Raylene – she’s got a bit of a dirty mouth, you know.  Oh, but wait until you’re not at work to do it, ‘k?). Anywho… she’s usually pretty tight-lipped about her jobs but get a single glass of wine in her and you don’t have to tip her ‘cause she’ll spill. Oh, don’t worry if you are thinking of hiring her; she has some discretion about her work because she obviously changed names and locations and has never really been to the area she said her last job was in. I can tell because of how she pronounces Willamette.

So like I was saying… she was almost blown up while on this job and when she got home her roommate, Ian, had just found out his patriarch… oh, yeah, Ian’s a vampire too… had died and Ian was suddenly in line to take his place. Only, that’s a bad idea because Ian is blind. So Raylene took off for California to sort things out for him and her pal Adrian (he’s an ex-Navy SEAL/current drag-queen) went too. Then there was this crazy sorceress who wanted the baculum for herself and so Raylene had to deal with that also. Well, you’ll just have to get her to tell you the whole story herself. I can’t do it justice at all.

Seriously, you should hear her when she talks about the people she meets. She’s quite the impressionist. You’d think you were listening to a whole other person… or people. She’s such an amazing storyteller; before I knew it half the night was gone and let me tell you, the double entendres were just fa-LY-ing (as someone I know says). That Raylene, she’s such a kick and let me tell you, she gets off some snarky zingers. She’s really smart too although when she first started telling me this story her humor was a little… well…I thought I was back in sixth grade again. I’m not usually much of a fan of that kind of humor but when Raylene laughs you just can’t help but laugh too. Now I need to go find some aspirin and a glass of water but gosh, I hope she stops by again soon. I can’t wait to find out what happens to her next.

What?! Would you please stop interrupting me?! What do you mean ‘Cherie Priest wrote that story about Raylene’? Whatever. I don’t know who this Cherie Priest is or … what was her name? Natalie Ross? but if they can tell a story half as good as Raylene can then they should… I don’t know… write books or narrate audiobooks or something.