Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review - Patricia Briggs's Dead Heat

Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs
ARC provided by the publisher
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Charles can count the people he loves and trusts on one hand. One of those people is mortal and is dying. Charles has known Joseph Sani for most of Joseph's life. He has seen him grow up, have a family, but it was too much to be around to see him decline. Though the time has come to face this hardship, to say goodbye. Charles and Anna set out for Arizona to visit Joseph and his family. The Sani's have made a name for themselves breeding Arabian horses and Charles plans to buy a horse for Anna for her birthday. But Charles encounters trouble in the Sani household. Joseph's dad is a werewolf and has been petitioning for his son the be changed, against Joseph's wishes it might be said. Hosteen views the argument still open until the day Joseph is in the ground and instantly harasses Charles on the subject. Yet this ongoing argument is put aside when Joseph's daughter-in-law is attacked by a powerful Fae and his grandchildren are almost killed. Charles and Anna look into the attack and come to the conclusion that a very powerful fairy is on the loose and children are in danger and it's up to them to stop it.

A new Patricia Briggs book is always a time to celebrate. To me she is the best writer currently of urban fantasy, the one who fills the hole in my heart left by Joss Whedon. Her books are the epitome of comfort reads, a time set aside to curl up with a good book, a cast of characters you love, and a warm blanket, with the world slipping away as you are drawn into the current mystery. And my, have I missed Anna and Charles! Having two years of Mercy back to back was lovely, but there's something about Anna and Charles that I just connect to. Not hearing from them in three years was hard to bear, like a friend who you've lost touch with. That incident in Boston, then nothing till now. Thank you for finally having the time to catch up with me.

The problem facing long running series is that you can get in a rut, you can get formulaic, and then Cousin Oliver happens. So far I continue to find Briggs's series both fresh and exciting, but there is something more compelling about the Alpha and Omega series. Yes, it could be that compared to Mercy it's newer and has less then half the books, but what I think it is is the way the series is set up to follow their story as they go to other locations then being confined to the Tri-Cities or Bon Temps or even Stars Hollow. Sometimes a change in scene is necessary to keep a story vibrant. I like how we start out and they're snug in their home then something happens and Anna and Charles are dispatched to the scene. Seattle, Boston, now Scottsdale! Plus with each location change we get a new set of characters to mingle with the old, providing a nice blend of the familiar and the strange.

But with each change in location we get a change in focus, and here, well, the focus was too much of the equine variety. I find it odd that in quick succession I have read two books that are very focused on horses. As I said in that other review, I've never been a horse person, but that doesn't mean that books featuring horses are a bad thing, they just have to be handled right. Daisy Goodwin's The Fortune Hunter handled horses right, in that she didn't become overly detailed and wrote the horses as characters so that you could connect to them. Goodwin did it right, Briggs did it wrong. I know Briggs is a horse enthusiast in the extreme, you can get that from her writing even if you didn't already know this, but she wasn't able to tamp down that enthusiasm to make horses accessible to those who aren't of her ilk. At one point in the book Anna gives up trying to figure out all the jargon spewing out of Charles and I think that if one of the characters in your book can't even keep up, well, you lost your readers a long time ago.

So much horse talk had a detrimental effect on the pacing of the book. At the beginning it was OK, the horses added atmosphere, but about three quarters of the way through the book when the bad guy is "caught" and everyone just pushes the horrors they've faced behind them and they all trot off to the horse show the book hits a deadly lull it can't recover from. There's still a quarter of the book left, so you know that something is going to happen, there's going to be a twist, but after a few hours with Anna and Charles in the bleachers at the horse show I couldn't care less what that twist was. This is right about the time Anna gave up too I might add. Yet it kept going. And going. And more horses. And yeah. I've been to state fairs, I've been to Dairy expos, I've been to events like this and never in my life did I think they could be written in a way that bored me almost literally to tears. All forward momentum left the book and I thought I'd be trapped with those creepy horse slash pageant kid combinations for all eternity. I never want to read about horses ever again.

But I really don't ever want to read about those creepy little kids that are dressed like western themed pageant kids, pink rhinestones and all, riding their horses. Shudder. Yet this version of children is just one of many, seeing as children are a big theme in this book. I was OK with Anna pressuring Charles about them having a child, this didn't seem out of place. The evil fairy that was the book's Big Bad and was kidnapping children for nefarious reasons, really really creepy and spooky and kept the plot ticking right along until the horses came and trampled all over it. And then the book shifted. Yes, there was a creepy kid vibe from the evil fairy but to couple that with this weird objectification of the children at the horse show? It went too far into the creepy. Add to that that Anna and Charles thought this was cute? Um, no. This kind of objectification leads to evil people preying on children. So in a book about bringing this kind of evil, though in immortal form, to justice while at the same time condoning cultural practices that can result in drawing the attention of evil... no. Just no. Yes, life is all about compromise, but let's compromise about having children or recovering from abuse, finding a middle ground where we can live with life's horrors, not finding a middle ground where the horrors are allowed to flourish.


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