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Reviews of books in a series, with a focus on urban fantasy.
Other genres include mystery, paranormal romance, and crime thrillers.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Venom (Elemental Assassin, Book 3) by Jennifer Estep


Venom is one of those books I've been not-so-patiently waiting for. I am not so much like Gin when it comes to patience. Gin was originally given her symbol, her rune, because of her patience. Spiders have to be patient - they have to weave their web with attention to detail so it will hold up against whatever flies into it, then they must sit at the edge of the web waiting for their prey, and then they must wait for their prey to get sufficiently bound in their web before they finally make their move. Gin is good at that, laying her web, making her plan, and then slowly and carefully executing her plan.

Books one and two in the Elemental Assassin series introduced us to Gin, let us fall in love with her, and then told us her history. We've also met Mab, and we've met some pretty powerful elementals who aren't anywhere near as strong as Mab. We know that eventually Gin and Mab are going to have to duel it out, and that when it happens it has the potential energy behind it to take down half of the city.

But until that happens, Gin is going to continue working in the shadows, like a Spider.  Before I go much further, here's the blurb:

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.

Yes, you read that correctly. Gin's sister Bria comes to town and joins the force as a detective. Someone had to take Donovan's job once he left, right?

Venom is an E Ride, taking us on several emotional rollercoasters as well as a whole lot of physical rollercoasters in the form of action scenes and fight scenes. 

Donovan forced some of the "good vs bad" discussion into previous books, and now Gin's memory of Donovan continues to make her think of things the way he would have. Venom gives us a whole lot more of Owen Grayson though, and I have to say that I like him so much better than Donovan.  I think we see Finn more in this book than in any of the others, and we also get plenty of the Dev­er­aux sisters. We even get a bit of a peak into how Sophia cleans things up. I have a feeling that what Gin learns about that is going to come into play in a future book. Some of it felt like pretty strong foreshadowing to me.

And I want to talk a bit about the runes. I love the way Ms. Estep weaves the runes into the story, and the way she helps us learn more about the characters by hearing about their rune, their symbol. Mab's is a sunburst, fitting for a fire elemental. And we know that Gin's is a spider rune, you can see it on the Venom cover in place of the O.  Take a look at them side by side. Basically, the two most powerful elementals in town have runes that are similar in shape, while being so very different in every other way. Mab is flashy, Gin works in the dark. Mab is a social creature, Gin can be when it's needed, but prefers not to be in the limelight, so to speak.  The runes show these things. Different yet similar. I wanted to point that out because it's the easiest way to explain the attention given to detail, and the way that symbolism is used. The world-building in this series is very well done.

The plot was perfect. It was a plot that was entirely wrapped up within this book, but that sets the stage for the next book (and probably a few books after that, as well). No cliffhangers, but I can't wait for the next two books.

Pacing was also well done. Some books are nonstop action and the pacing wears you out with the action. There were enough places where the characters had to stop to plan, or to regroup, or to wait for the next step, that this wasn't the case with Venom. There is a lot of action, but it is well paced.

Prose and dialogue are also skillfully written. Character development is as well crafted as the worldbuilding. I am attached to these characters. I am invested in what happens to them.

I think that's all of the writing elements: plot, pacing, prose, dialogue, character development, and world-building. Each of them with very high marks.

I have one teeny tiny concern about future books, but I'm not sure how to say it without a possible spoiler, so I'll hide it in spoiler text. Gin appears to be setting herself up as some sort of Batman, or even (heh) Spiderman. Well, not herself, but her alterego, The Spider. She owns a barbecue joint by day and saves the town at night. It's not what she set out to do, but taking out Mab's people and then taking out Mab will help wipe out so much of the corruption in Ashland, and like Batman's Gotham City, that is certainly what the city needs. Gin isn't doing it for the city, she wants to take out Mab for personal reasons, but the end result is still going to make her appear as a superhero. I love this series, it is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, and don't want it to turn into something that resembles a Batman story. (Select the spoiler text to view it.)

And now, something I loved. First, let me say that Ashland is a fictional city set in the area where Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina come together. I had some friends who used to live in Mountain City, so I'm familiar with the general area. I've also spent a ton of time in Knoxville, Gatlinburg, and Asheville, though I live more in the southern areas of Tennessee. I have seen bits of Bristol in Ashland, and some things that remind me of Asheville. Once or twice the descriptions have evoked visions of Knoxville, though I'm not as sure of that.  I love her descriptions of the way the city is nestled in the mountains, and her descriptions of the mountains and the terrain. Much of that truly does remind me of Asheville.  In Venom we have some of the action happening on the Delta Queen, which is currently based in Chattanooga. I've actually spent a bit of time on the Delta Queen in the past couple of months, and while I didn't recognize all of her descriptions (she does take license to change things when needed for the story, which is okay), I recognized enough. Very cool.

I've given both Spider's Bite and Web of Lies  a 10 of 10. Venom easily gets a 10 of 10 as well, which means the Elemental Assassin series is also at a 10 of 10.
  • Book Rating:Venom: 10 of 10
  • Series Rating: 10 of 10
There was an excerpt for Tangled Threads  in the back of Venom, and it looks like Ms. Estep has a few more curve balls up her sleeve. I believe that the current story arcs are supposed to be resolved in five books, which means the next two books are going to be quite a ride.

You can read blurbs and excerpts for the books in the Elemental Assasin series at Jennifer Estep's website.

1. Spider's Bite
2. Web of Lies (May 25, 2010)
3. Venom (September 28, 2010) 
4. Tangled Threads  (April 26, 2011)

1 comment:

  1. All I can say after finishing Venom is just "Wow!" I got about halfway through, and stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it. Really looking forward to the next installment.