Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages
January 26, 2010
Audio September 28, 2010
My name is Gin, and I kill people.
They call me the Spider. I’m the most feared assassin in the South — when I’m not busy at the Pork Pit cooking up the best barbecue in Ashland. As a Stone elemental, I can hear everything from the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet to the vibrations of the soaring Appalachian Mountains above me. My Ice magic also comes in handy for making the occasional knife. But I don’t use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride.
Now that a ruthless Air elemental has double-crossed me and killed my handler, I’m out for revenge. And I’ll exterminate anyone who gets in my way — good or bad. I may look hot, but I’m still one of the bad guys. Which is why I’m in trouble, since irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine has agreed to help me. The last thing this coldhearted killer needs when I’m battling a magic more powerful than my own is a sexy distraction . . . especially when Donovan wants me dead just as much as the enemy. JenniferEstep.com
AMAZON LINK BARNES AND NOBLE
With the first book in this new series about Gin Blanco, A.K.A. The Spider, Estep immediately presents us with a paradox: How do we like, feel sympathetic towards and adopta woman who is a paid assassin? Estep mitigates Gin's "activities" with the proviso that she doesn't kill innocents, pets or children; she only kills people who have done wrong. But, that's the very, very thin line Estep is examining -- who decides who has done wrong, how wrong.
Gin does some work killing people who have hurt children or women, which I think acts as another mitigating factor, but we have the same issue, the same problem the man who might have been her boyfriend , good-cop Donovan Caine does, she's still a killer.
It's a tough job for a writer to make someone who, if they were presented to us on the news, we would normally perceive as a villain into a likable character, a heroine. The closest I can come to her on this side of the law is Jaye Wells' Sabina Kane. On either side of the law I could add in Anita Blake who has discovered she doesn't mind killing just about anything all that much.
How does a writer turn a villain into, at least, an anti-heroine? Mitigating Circumstances. First, in a world such as Estep's Ashland and I guess the rest of the planet, crime seems pretty rampant. It seems to be a world filled with elementals (supes who control various elemental substances like stone, air, fire or water), vampires, dwarves, Giants and dirty cops all vying for power without much concern for who gets in the way. Gin's family was on the losing end of the battle and she believes herself to be the only member of her family alive. After they were killed she lived on the streets until she was rescued by assassin/restaurateur Fletcher who raised her with his son Finn. In a place where justice seems pretty scant, Estep presents us with a vigilante who brings justice where there is none to be found. She seems to do some pro bono work for the abused wife and children, but she is also pretty merciless. She has strict rules for conduct. She's the whole package, judge, jury and executioner.
Unlike HBO's Tony Soprano character in the Sopranos, who the public seemed to root for despite his heinous, irredeemability, Gin doesn't kill the innocent, nor does she commit other crimes for personal gain. She's not above tripping a waiter carrying a tray of drinks as a distraction, and she does seem to steal a lot of cars. I guess if people liked Tony, and given how much they like Eric Northman from the Sookie Stackhouse series, Gin isn't a tough sell. We've always had a soft spot for criminals who are acting for the public good.
(As I watched Les Miserables yesterday, I found myself wondering if Donovan Caine would become the Javert to her Jean Valjean)
Other factors in the book, like the romantic action pull this a little bit out of the urban fantasy genre and towards Paranormal romance. Estep wrote some interesting sex; quite original I thought.
The world building had me a little unsure; Elementals are described but other than knowing that many vampires feed off sex as well as blood, and are seriously killable, I can deduce but am not completely sure of the parameters of the species. Are they born or made? Although not stated outright, it seems the world is aware of the existence of the supernatural. It seems to have altered humanity, history and society. Not for the better. The Supernaturals seem to have a lot of power. The town it takes place in, Ashland, North Carolina, seems to be hellacious in Estep's world. Estep tells us what we need to know for the story. I think the rest will play out over the current count of seven entries in the three-year old series.
In any event, this series was one I started backwards this past summer and I wanted to catch up with it. Seeing how Estep will play out this anti-heroine's tale is enough reason to keep going, but the sheer enjoyability of a smoothly plotted, well written and edited novel gives a real desire to read more. Estep is an author who raises the bar for the Speculative Fiction sub-genres of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy. I already have one more of her books sittingon my Kindle. I am sure more will follow. At no point was I thinking like the jaded reader I have become. If you enjoy Kim Harrison, Laurell K. Hamilton, Jaye Wells, Jeaniene Frast and other writers in the genre this is a MUST READ.
What about your take on anti-heroines? Do you like your heroines pure or naughty?