Friday, June 3, 2011

THOUGHTS on: Jennifer Estep's "Web of Lies"

Title: "Web of Lies"
Author: Jennifer Estep
Series: Elemental Assassin 002
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Oh, I am very happy with where the second book of the Elemental Assassin series, “Web of Lies,” ended. So pleased that I sort of wish “Web of Lies” and “Spider's Bite” had been one book, because things that had bothered me about the first book no longer matter much given how things unfold in this second book, and “Web of Lies” ends on this note where it feels like we're on the brink of seeing what this series is all about. But first, the requisite blurb: Gin Blanco, retired assassin and new owner of the Pork Pit is starting to get bored with retirement. Things start rolling, however, when Violet Fox, a student at the local college, comes into the Pork Pit asking for help from “The Tin Man.” Although not immediately willing to acknowledge that “The Tin Man” was the codename for Fletcher Lane (Gin's former handler), Gin's curiosity is peaked when it becomes clear that someone is trying to kill Violet. Gin soon finds out that Tobias Dawson, one of the biggest mine operators in Ashland, has been trying to intimidate Violet and her grandfather Warren into selling him their land, and Tobias seems quite willing to kill Violet in order to get what he wants.
So, what did I like? First, the characters. As I mentioned previously, I like Gin as a heroine, because she keeps her cool, and isn't overly sassy[1]. Reading “Spider's Bite”, I felt that I didn't see quite enough vulnerability from Gin as I would have liked, but “Web of Lies” definitely has scenes where I empathized with her. For example, the short scene where Donovan pulls away from Gin's touch right after they had sex - I thought was beautifully done. Although it felt somewhat muted, and it was barely touched upon, it was clear to me as a reader that Gin was hurt. And I thought that the way she held back from immediately confronting Donovan about it was also testament to Gin's strength and patience.
As for Donovan Caine, well, he didn't annoy me as much in this book, because it became clear that he wasn't supposed to be the “hero” you get in a romance novel [2]. So instead of feeling generally dissatisfied with the relationship between Gin and Donovan, I began to see Gin's feelings for Donovan as a small window into Gin's psyche – i.e., a window into the things Gin wants in her life, and what she will and will not do to get them. And in this aspect, I thought the relationship was very successful. I learned that Gin is proud, but not overly proud. She was willing to make the first move twice, even following rejection, but she was not willing to chase after Donovan more than that. And when Owen Grayson (a wealthy businessman who I assume we will see more of in later books) was making his interest in Gin very clear, I thought Gin's general wariness and standoffishness towards him, despite her curiosity about Owen (and Donovan's continued rejections), showed how steady Gin was in terms of her feelings for Donovan. So although I still don't quite see why Gin is attracted to Donovan, I nonetheless was convinced of the strength of her feelings for him[3].
While we're on characters, we have a new one, Owen Grayson! I liked Owen quite a bit. But then again, I like the over-protective brother character-type, and Owen showed himself to be observant in the way that he recognized Gin in disguise, measured in the way he approaches his courtship of Gin, yet brave enough to take gambles that could endanger his own life (in how he left himself open when Gin was contemplating stabbing him). I'm looking forward to seeing him in book 3.
Second, I like how the stakes have also been raised in terms of the plot – Gin's magic has almost doubled[4], and things are starting to get more interesting. Gin has evolved from being someone who was just surviving, to a someone getting ready to confront the demons in her past, even if this means taking on Mab Munroe, the fire elemental who controls Ashland by killing and torturing anyone who gets in her way. I'm also really looking forward to how this plays out in book 3 : )
Prose: B+
Plot: B+
Characters: A
World-building: C+
X-factor: A (For the rushing "grand" factor I felt at the very end, when Gin was pithily laying out her goals)
[1] Despite what Owen says : P
[2] i.e., the long-term love interest, the one that sticks around for the HEA. Although I wouldn't mind a matured Donovan, with more of spine and more character, coming back in future books to make things interesting.
[3] I, personally, having much less emotional strength of mind than Gin, would have gone for Owen over Donovan like a shot ; )
[4] Although not in a deus ex machina way - given Gin's family, her increase in power was not inconsistent with what we might expect.

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