RogerBW's Blog

Spider's Bite, Jennifer Estep 18 January 2023

2010 urban fantasy, first of a 19-book series. In a magical world, Gin Blanco is an assassin for hire, until the job goes bad.

I've read quite a few of Estep's more recent works, and enjoyed them; not perhaps anything to rave about, but good solid light fantasy and SF. But this earlier book… just doesn't have anything to say.

On the worldbuilding side there are "elementals", humans who can wield magical power; there are dwarves; there are giants (who are interfertile with humans); there are vampires. None of this seems to be a particularly recent thing. And yet we're in a recognisably modern world, with cars and barbecue restaurants and corrupt cops and so on. Have all those magical things become known recently? Did they somehow not have any effect on society? Why don't the cops know what to do when they find they're facing a magician? Shrug and move on, shrug and move on.

And as for Gin's background, we're told that her family was murdered and that all that was found of her little sister was bloodstains… so often that it felt less like foreshadowing and more like beating the reader round the head with the idea that the sister would turn out to be alive somewhere. (But that's a story for a future book. There's a fair bit of series setup here.)

So anyway Gin's interrupted in her assassination by another assassin here to kill her and the target, and take credit only for the former. (Why not wait until she's done the job? Because he's an idiot.) She immediately decides, on the word of this now-dead idiot, to betray her employer and try to keep the target alive. He's guarded by literally the one honest cop in Ashland (a notional city somewhere near the junction of Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia), who's a hottie so Gin's hormones kick in, and then they have to work together, but she killed his partner – but he doesn't know that his partner was a child rapist, because Gin the assassin only kills people who deserve it (and apparently nobody's ever lied to her before this one job), and she won't tell him because she doesn't want his innocence spoiled…

Argh. All the urban fantasy cliché is here, including vampire hookers. There's some of the Southern Vampire Mysteries and a little of Kate Daniels, but it's all minced up and churned out without any consideration of why this thing might work and that thing doesn't.

Yes yes all right Gin is sexually in control rather than the usual pseudo-virginal heroine who's waiting for The Right Man to ravish her. Good. But if you've read basically any urban fantasy you've read what's here, except for the system of elemental magic – and that's not enough to carry the book on its own.

It's quite likely that the series has improved, since Estep was still writing these between the other books of hers that I have enjoyed, but my goodness I feel no enthusiasm at all for finding out.

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  1. Posted by David Pulver at 11:02am on 18 January 2023

    I was on an urban fantasy kick several years ago and reading lots of series contemporary with this one (Weather Wardens, Vampire Academy, White Trash Zombie, Kitty Norville, etc), but I bounced hard off this and didn't finish it. I may try some other books by Estep, since you indicated they were better!

    Minor passing comment: One of my favorite urban fantasy was Lonely Werewolf Girl and its sequels (Martin Millar), about Scottish werewolves and other things. Ever try it?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:22am on 18 January 2023

    I liked the first few White Trash Zombies but soured on them about book 4. Enjoyed Kitty Norville though some of the middle volumes were quite weak. And Kate Daniels is great of course. I think I read the Weather Wardens before I started blogging.

    I haven't met the Lonely Werewolf Girl; will keep an eye out.

    Note that "all book reviews" (bottom right) gives you reviews arranged by author and date/series.

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