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Afterlife – Claudia Gray

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Throughout the Evernight books, Claudia Gray has taken her characters into interesting territory, but she’s saved the best journey until last to deliver a worthy finale to this YA gothic tale.

All the way along, this series’ trademark has been clever plot twists and characters with ambiguous motives. More than one supporting character has turned out to be more than they first appeared. And the (literally) heart-stopping cliffhanger at the end of Hourglass left many readers wondering how Gray was going to resolve all the dilemmas she’d created.

But resolve them she does (well most of them – there’s a spin-off series coming, so a few have to be left hanging), bringing this page-turning series to a satisfying close.

If you’ve read the first three novels (Evernight, Stargazer and Hourglass), this review won’t contain any spoilers. If you haven’t, and intend to, you might want to come back later.

Afterlife is essentially about Bianca and Lucas coming to terms with the fact they’ve both turned into what they hate and fear the most. They not only have to find out if their relationship can survive their new reality – they also have to find out if they can accept themselves.

We also finally find out more about the wraiths, and what they want from Bianca; the significance of the relationships between wraiths and vampires (and vampire hunters); and Mrs Bethany’s hidden agenda.

The gothic atmosphere of earlier books is retained, helped by the fact the action heads back to where it all began, at Evernight Academy, and  the author again demonstrates her skill as a storyteller, setting a cracker pace and building the tension to the inevitable showdown between Bianca, Lucas and their enemies.

The final page of my edition of Afterlife has a teaser for an upcoming novel about Balthazar, one of the most popular characters in this series, so it’s safe to say fans can look forward to more adventures in this nicely textured world Gray has created.  I must admit, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next for that particular vampire…

(In the meantime, Gray has Fateful – a new paranormal story about werewolves on the Titanic – due out later this year.)

The Passage – Justin Cronin

I’ve read so much paranormal fantasy lately, I sometimes forget vampires still have a place in their original genre – horror.

Although, Justin Cronin’s epic novel The Passage is much more than just a well written horror story. It’s kind of a cross between The Stand (by Stephen King) and The Road (by Cormac McCarthy). It’s got great characters and more than a few genuine nail-biting moments.

If you’re interested, you can read my full review over at Great Stories.

Wrapping up the Vampire Academy series

Richelle Mead has set some pretty high expectations as this series has unfolded, and she definitely delivers with the sixth and final novel, Last Sacrifice.

(This post will double as a review for both Last Sacrifice and the fifth book in the series, Spirit Bound.  As with past reviews of this series, this post won’t provide spoilers to anyone who’s read the first four books, but it will for those who haven’t…)

You can read reviews of earlier books (and plot set up) elsewhere on this blog (Vampire Academy and Frostbite, Shadow Kiss and Blood Promise).

First up, a quick look at Spirit Bound, which picks up after Rose’s violent Russian adventure.

A lot happens in this book, with the myriad of plot threads starting to draw together, setting up for some major action in the final book – on a number of fronts. There’s further development in Mead’s detailed mythology, as well as some serious progression in the story of arcs of key characters.

The main plot here is Rose’s continued fight to save Dimitri, even though she’s now with Adrian. She comes up with a crazy plan that also involves Lissa, Eddie and her nemesis, Victor Dashkov. But even when Rose’s plan comes to fruition, the result is not quite what she expects.

Meanwhile, there are major rumblings at the Moroi Court, with paranoid royals wanting to drop the guardian age of service to 15. Spirit Bound ends with a classic cliffhanger, with the Queen murdered and Rose arrested on suspicion of being the killer.

It’s a testament to Mead’s ability to write likable characters and build realistic storylines that she can create a believable love triangle. Yes, even I – the great hater of love triangles – thought this one worked. To the point that (at the end of this book, at least) I would have accepted either choice by Rose.

That changes through the course of Last Sacrifice…

The final novel has two main storylines: Rose’s hunt for an illegitimate Dragomir – whose existence will give Lissa a voice in the Royal Court – and Lissa’s attempts to clear Rose’s name.

This novel is as much Dimitri’s story as it is Rose’s. He helps break Rose out of prison, and goes on the run with her – at first because Lissa asks him to, and then because he recognises he has a chance for redemption (and seriously, who doesn’t love a good redemption story?).

Looking back across all six books, there’s been real character growth for just about every key character, which is one of the things that sets this series apart from others in the YA paranormal genre.

Rose’s relationships with Dimitri and Adrian are complex, and not everything gets tied up with a neat bow. Which works out quite well, given Mead has a new series coming out later this year featuring some of those characters whose issues are yet to be resolved.

All the big questions set up in the series are answered, but there are plenty of others – involving peripheral characters and issues – that give scope for many more stories in this world Mead has created.

Hellforged – Nancy Holzner

Following up a well-received debut novel is always a bit tricky, but Nancy Holzner doesn’t miss a beat with the second book in her Deadtown paranormal series.

Last year, Deadtown introduced us to Vicky Vaughn, a shapeshifter demon hunter, who lives in the quarantined area of Boston that’s now home to the city’s resident zombie, vampire and werewolf population (the Deadtown of the title).

It gave Holzner the chance to set up her fully formed world – complete with paranormal politics – in an action-packed story peppered with wry humour.

In Hellforged, the action picks up again in Boston, where Vicky is continuing to ply her extermination trade while dealing with the repercussions of binding herself to the demon who killed her father.

But she has a few other things on her mind: as well as some troubling political changes in the wind, there’s a series of gruesome zombie murders in Deadtown. And when Vicky realises she may have a connection to the macabre crimes, she heads to Wales to learn more about her family’s shapeshifter heritage.

There, she resumes training with her enigmatic Aunt Mab and meets a “cousin” with a dark agenda. Ultimately, Vicky must face her demons – figuratively and literally – and learn to use a new weapon known as Hellforged to save Boston’s zombie population. Not to mention save herself from a fate worse than death.

One of the things I liked most about Deadtown was the social justice sub-text, where zombies and other paranormals were struggling for equal rights alongside their human counterparts.

There’s still a flavour of this in Hellforged – in fact the checkpoint scenes reflect restrictions imposed by an oppressive regime in a certain part of the world today – but Hellforged also delves deeper into Vicky’s story. The focus enables some interesting plot development and world building, with Holzner introducing more Welsh mythology into her Deadtown universe.

By moving a large part of the story to Wales, Holzner is able to create a new atmosphere, which keeps things fresh. But there’s still plenty of non-stop action and tension.

Supporting characters from Deadtown return, including zombie teenager Tina (slightly less annoying this time around), good guy cop Daniel, and werewolf civil rights lawyer Kane, who finally gets out of the court room and flexes some muscle.

It’s a good addition to the series, resolving a couple major plot issues, and setting up at a few new ones for the next instalment.

2010 in review

I love Word Press… The following email summary gets sent to all Word Press bloggers. I’m pretty happy with Other Worlds’ first year… 🙂

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2010. That’s about 26 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 28 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 37 posts. There were 38 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 2mb. That’s about 3 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 28th with 114 views. The most popular post that day was Do girls still secretly want to be rescued?.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, paula-greatstories.blogspot.com, readthisbook.wordpress.com, en.wordpress.com, and en.search.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for twilight, pride and prejudice and zombies, vampire, fallen by lauren kate, and the short second life of bree tanner.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Do girls still secretly want to be rescued? December 2009

2

Fallen – Lauren Kate January 2010

3

The vampires you’re having when you’re not having vampires… January 2010

4

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies December 2009

5

Hush, hush – Becca Fitzpatrick January 2010

The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group

These days, much of the popular paranormal fiction on YA shelves seems to be almost exclusively targeted at female audiences.

Teenage boys, however, can be thankful Catherine Jinks hasn’t forgotten them, following up her offbeat novel The Reformed Vampire Support Group (TRVSG) with another cool offering, The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group.

While the TRVSG was told from vampire Nina’s perspective, her latest novel is told through the eyes of 13-year-old Toby, who learns the hard way that his onset of hormones has also brought on the onset of latent lycanthropy.

Jinks turned vampire mythology on its head (her Sydney-based blood suckers are sickly and vulnerable, and not remotely interested in epic romances), and while she doesn’t take quite as many liberties with her werewolves, she still stays firmly grounded in realism.

Readers of TRVSG will be pleased to see the return of Rueben, the werewolf inadvertently rescued by the vampires (while they were timidly trying to track down a ‘slayer’).

It’s Rueben who tries to convince Toby he’s a werewolf (after the teenager is found dazed in a dingo pen after the last full moon).  Not surprisingly, Toby thinks Rueben and his friends – the motely crew from TRVSG – are a bunch of weirdos, and it’s not until he’s kidnapped by men with more sinister motives that he begins to change his mind.

The story treads some familiar territory of TRVSG, but from a more masculine perspective (and, of course, is focused on werewolves, not vampires).

This time around the tone is darker and the story more violent (hard not to be when the plot centres on young werewolves being imprisoned and essentially turned into cage fighting pit bulls), but it’s never overdone, and there is still plenty of humour to stave off any real menace.

The pace is also faster this time around, with the action kicking in almost immediately, and then ramping up once Toby is kidnapped – and starts to realise Rueben wasn’t a complete nut job.

Again Jinks keeps her story unashamedly Australian, which for me was a big part of the book’s appeal.

And no, I’m not a teenage boy, but I still enjoyed it. I hope Jinks continues on with this group of characters, as there’s certainly plenty more she can do with them.

Torment – Lauren Kate (sequel to Fallen)

Fallen, the first book in Lauren Kate’s series, ticked all the boxes for YA paranormal romance: mysterious hot guys, shadowy threats, doomed love and a gothic setting.

The first novel introduced the main characters and enough background to set the scene for a far broader story in the next instalment. By the end of Fallen, I was hoping Kate would further explore the concept of fated love in future books – particularly the role of personal choice.

While it took me a while to get into Torment (although it might have made a difference if I’d re-read Fallen first), I was happy to discover the notions of fate and choice emerge as being central themes.

Quick catch up: Teenager Luce is one half of a couple doomed to fall in love over and over again – and each time she must die. And each time, Luce has no idea what’s happened in the past, or what’s ahead. That burden is carried by Daniel, her fallen angel lover, who’s incapable of preventing her death.

Except in Fallen, Luce didn’t die, which seems to have sparked a huge celestial battle (the details of which remain frustratingly murky in the second book).

Luce is now in another boarding school – this one supposedly able to keep her safe during a short truce between angels and demons, who have joined forces to fight common enemies intent on getting their hands on her (for purposes also not clear).

Daniel’s all business this time around, which frustrates Luce no end. He might remember their hundreds of other relationships during her past lives, but she doesn’t, and at one point she actually asks herself that if this life was all she had to go on, would it be enough. The answer is no, and it raises a few questions for her. (OK, so Luce doesn’t wrestle with deep existential questions, but she does at least think beyond her hormones)

So, instead of giving us fated lovers who are torn apart by circumstance, Kate gives us fated lovers whose circumstance prompts at least one half of the couple to ask: is being destined for each other enough to make up for the pain their cursed love causes others (and themselves)?

It’s actually a refreshing take on the topic, particularly in the YA genre.

I like the ambiguity in Torment. Sure, Luce will probably end up with Daniel at the end of this series but at this point there’s still some question about his motives, which keeps it interesting. (And I know I’ll always cheer the bad boys, but how much more interesting is Cam than any other romantic interest in Luce’s life?)

The ending got a tad crowded with characters, and a bit more exposition on the mythology would have been handy, but ultimately, Torment delivered more than I expected – which is always a good thing.