Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reviews: The Passage and Venom

Title:  The Passage by Justin Cronin

Summary:  First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

My Review:  Before I begin my review, I want to point out that the summary of the book is highly misleading in many ways.  It actually seems like a summary of the first 200 pages of an almost 800-page novel. While it definitely provides a set up of sorts, it hardly prepares the reader for anything they are about to undertake with this book.

(warning:  there are slight spoilers in the remainder of this review)

The book starts out a bit slow.  There is about one hundred pages of set up with a variety of characters, most of whom you never see again, and the writer's attempts at slowly creating the world that is about to explode in chaos. It's an interesting take on biological warfare gone awry, and once the terror is unleashed, it's one of those oh-my-god-what's-going-on-and-how-does-it-get-fixed sort of things.  The world after the carnage begins is one made up of small surviving colonies closed off from the outside world, strange cults based around the first twelve vampires, and hope in the form of one girl and a few kids (or so they seemed to me) trying to get to the bottom of things and simply survive.

The ending is creepy and the deaths can be gruesome, but it's part of what makes the book work...the actual feel that you, as the reader, gets for what's going on and the realism (in another version of the world) that in any war there are casualties and you lose people you love.   I also enjoyed the bits of journal entries intermixed with the narrative that help allow the reader draw his/her own conclusions after putting the book down.

If you don't get daunted by the length and can make it through the set up (about 100 pages), the story takes on quite an interesting life of its own. I admit that I was annoyed that I invested two hundred pages in certain characters and such only to never hear about most of them for a long time, but the payoff is definitely worth it. Still...creepy ending.  But it does stay in your brain after you've finished.

Overall:  4 stars


Title: Venom (Elemental Assassin # 3) by Jennifer Estep

Summary:  What kind of assassin works pro bono?

It's hard to be a badass assassin when a giant is beating the crap out of you. Luckily, I never let pride get in the way of my work. My current mission is personal: annihilate Mab Monroe, the Fire elemental who murdered my family. Which means protecting my identity, even if I have to conceal my powerful Stone and Ice magic when I need it most. To the public, I'm Gin Blanco, owner of Ashland's best barbecue joint. To my friends, I'm the Spider, retired assassin. I still do favors on the side. Like ridding a vampire friend of her oversized stalker—Mab's right-hand goon who almost got me dead with his massive fists. At least irresistible Owen Grayson is on my side. The man knows too much about me, but I'll take my chances. Then there's Detective Bria Coolidge, one of Ashland's finest. Until recently, I thought my baby sister was dead. She probably thinks the same about me. Little does she know, I'm a cold-blooded killer...who is about to save her life.

My Review:  If you're a fan of urban fantasy with kick-ass female characters, I highly recommend reading this series if you haven't already.  (Not really any spoilers for this book, but mention of the first two books!)  Venom picks up in the aftermath of the first two books, with the overall mystery of Gin's past and the murder of her family becoming more clear. While I really enjoyed the first two books and love Gin Blanco and her family of misfits/unlikely heroes, this book is just so great from the first line until the last and I'm already waiting with baited breath for the next book.

I love the new male romantic lead. Owen is so much more interesting than Donovan Caine ever was and I love that Donavan's leaving also opened up the chance for Bria to enter the picture as a good detective (but one who doesn't seem to live in a black-and-white world). I really love that Owen doesn't want to change Gin or try to rationalize his own stuff through her. He just likes her as is and finds her fascinating.

The end of this book is so perfect. I love that Gin has finally accepted who she is and what needs to be done, that she is pushed into going after what she wants in order to protect those she cares about. And I love a good stick-it-to-the-villain moment. And you get that with Gin and Mab at the end.

Now that the one character I loathed has been removed from the books, I'm really enjoying where this series is going. Hopefully, Jennifer Estep continues the series in the fashion of this book as it was awesome.

Overall: 5 Stars

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