Joanne Reay, author of the brand novel Romeo Spikes, was kind enough to takes some time out of her super busy schedule to answer a few of my questions; not only about her new book, but also her screenwriting career, and more! Please welcome her to the blog, and be sure to check out the giveaway details at the end of the post (2 copies of Romeo Spikes up for grabs!).
Joanne, you’re an accomplished screenwriter. Was it a natural progression to go from screenwriting to writing books?
It was very natural, in the same way that death is a natural progression from smashing yourself repeatedly over the head with a hammer. With a movie script, you’re handling a relatively few story strands. With a novel, you find yourself weaving this huge rug of narrative, making a pattern that becomes increasingly detailed and complex. And to make matters worse, the loom upon which you weave is invisible and manufactured by a company called Bastard. But with all that said—the creative rewards of writing a novel are so much greater. Scriptwriters in Hollywood are treated with scant respect; it is assumed that every waiter and shop clerk can write a screenplay (and, sod it, they do) so if, unusually, a writer is invited to any meeting with the studio, actors or director, the only time their writing skills are called upon is to note down everyone’s coffee order. It was therefore something of a wonderful revelation to find that the publisher was genuinely interested in what I, the writer, wanted to do with the story and the characters. So for all the demands that novel writing imposes, I’m looking forward to once again sit down at my Bastard loom.
Your first novel, Romeo Spikes, is out today! Your baddies, The Tormenta, are pretty terrifying! What do you find particularly terrifying?
One of my first memories was walking along a parade of shops, following my mother. I would have been about five years old. I remember feeling that my mother was going too fast and I ran to catch up, reaching out to tug at her skirt to slow her down. As I did so, she turned and I realized that this wasn’t my mother. I had followed a woman with a similar yellow skirt. The shock made this woman’s face appear horrific to me and I felt a rising panic as I looked around the crowd, lost from my mother. I think that this moment lays at the heart of many dark characters that I create, where we think they are someone we can trust and only too late do we realize that they are not who we think they are.
What do you love most about writing fantasy?
In the same way that humans have a tendency to pick at a wound, I love to create characters that are bent on evil. The fantasy realm allows me to indulge this want, without lovingly detailing sociopaths who really should be brought to justice. Also, I love to build new worlds with their own history and potential. So, with Romeo Spikes for example, I could create a new international security agency called The Sinestra without having to limit myself to the real world workings of the CIA or MI6.
Do you have any particular writing quirks?
The name of every character, every place, every street or shop has a secret meaning that relates to the bigger story. Sometimes this connection may come to play a part in the narrative, but more often than not, it is never explicitly mentioned and never revealed. But I know what the connection is and that helps me feel that the story has an underlying mesh of logic and magic that holds it all together.
What are some of your favorite authors or books?
I love Martin Amis and The Information is one of my favourite books. He has a way of observing the smallest detail and then finding the most unexpected words to carry the meaning. And I love his use of names: Trish Shirt, Nicola Six, Keith Talent, a brand of beer called Porno—all genius.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
A cliché—but what the hell. It would have to be Through The Looking Glass. I loved the book as a child and as I have grown I have come to realize the greater levels that are operating within the story. I would love the chance to open it afresh now, to see what it would give me. Would I find those deeper levels immediately, or would they still elude until the over-arching narrative has become familiar enough to see past it? Best of all, I would love to read “Jabberwocky” for the first time again.
Favorite line from a book or movie?
It only makes sense if you know the film, but the final line of Some Like It Hot is “Well, nobody’s perfect.” Apart from the fact that it is the funniest ending to a movie, I love the fact that Billy Wilder (writer / director) jotted it down as a temporary closing line, thinking that he would come up with a better option once they were filming. He never got the time to revise and the line was filmed as it was. Just goes to show that sometimes our instinctive brains—if we leave things alone and stop over-thinking—can come up with some really good stuff.
What was one of your favorite books as a child?
There was a book called The Dragon Hoard. I don’t remember who it was by, nor even the story. But it had a puzzle to solve and that sparked something in me.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
My full-time job is film-writing and producing and I love it. But sometimes I feel that I thrash my brain a little too hard—like taking an eager dog for a walk and then after ten hours of rocky terrain, you look round to find you’re dragging a dead animal by the leash. So once in a while, I settle down with the remote control and watch back-to-back episodes of Judge Judy or CSI: Anywhere or old episodes of Columbo—anything that requires very little processing.
You live in Vienna, which is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. If someone were to visit you there, where would you take them?
Back to the airport. I never invite anyone.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all! ie: fave curse word, fave alcoholic drink, if you drink ‘em, guilty pleasure, etc :-D)?
Whenever I curse the pressures of being a writer and producer, with all the deadlines, endless writing and constant travel, I think back to something a teacher told me at a parent’s evening for my youngest daughter. Katie had just joined kindergarten and as a new pupil, the teacher asked her about her family and whether her mummy had a job. Katie replied, “Mummy doesn’t have a job, she has an adventure.” And for that—I am ever grateful.
Read my review of Romeo Spikes
Romeo Spikes (Lo-Life #1)
Publisher:Gallery Books/August 14th, 2012
Kind thanks to Gallery Books for providing a review copy
Working the Homicide squad, Alexis Bianco believes she’s seen every way a life can be taken. Then she meets the mysterious Lola and finds out she’s wrong. More weapon than woman, Lola pursues a predator with a method of murder like no other.
If you think you’ve never encountered Tormenta, think again. You’re friends with one. Have worked for one. Maybe even fallen in love with one.
They walk amongst us—looking like us, talking like us. Coercing our subconscious with their actions. Like the long-legged beauty who seduces the goofy geek only to break his heart, causing him to break his own neck in a noose. Or the rock star whose every song celebrates self-harm, inspiring his devoted fans to press knives to their own throats. The pusher who urges the addict toward one more hit, bringing him a high from which he’ll never come down. The tyrannical boss, crushing an assistant’s spirit until a bridge jump brings her low.
We call it a suicide. Tormenta call it a score, their demonic powers allowing them to siphon off the unspent life span of those who harm themselves.
To Bianco, being a cop is about right and wrong. Working with Lola is about this world and the next . . . and maybe the one after that. Because everything is about to change.
Washed up, disgraced psychiatrist Dr. Annie Torgus has got quite a story, and she’s determined to sell it to the highest bidder. For the past 35 years she’s worked at a prison called Morphic Fields, attempting to thwart suicide in death row inmates (the irony is not lost on her), and she’s convinced that there is something “otherworldly” about convicted child killer Agnus Day. Agnus has Gershwind syndrome that causes him to write compulsively on every surface, and he’s been known to portend trouble for the prison staff. Meanwhile, Detective Alexis Bianco is onto something too. Her latest case has her stumped, after the medical examiner came back with the news that the bones of a 22 year old girl are supposedly over 400 years old. This case leads her to Lola, a woman whose sole job is to hunt down and kill the Tormenta; demons that torment people into committing suicide so they can siphon their remaining lifespan. The Tormenta may be the least of humankind’s problems, however, because the Mosca is coming…
Romeo Spikes takes place in Louisiana and its bayous, and having just visited New Orleans, I can honestly say that the author couldn’t have used a more perfect location for this story. Morphic Fields is decidedly creepy, and the Tormenta are terrifying, just like the methods they use to increase their lifespans. I loved strong, smart Alexis Bianco and actually developed a bit of a soft spot for Lola. The demon mythology is fascinating and Ms. Reay manages to balance quite a cast of characters deftly. There are tons of plates spinning in the air in this head banger of a book, and I don’t recall one of them breaking. There’s so much awesome in Romeo Spikes, I’m not sure what to highlight, to be honest. For starters, Lola has a rocket launcher over her door, for gawd’s sake (and an alarmingly vast number of weapons hanging on the walls.) It’s got angels, demons, murder, insanity, bayou mambos, otherworldly hunters, super-secret government agencies, mysterious manuscripts, and yes, romeo spikes. It reads like a movie, which makes sense, since Joanne Reay is a professional screenwriter, and her prose virtually leaps off of the page. She’s not afraid to take risks either, and knows how to keep her readers on their toes. Romeo Spikes is a fast paced, breath-of-fresh-air, scary, exciting, and rather unique, humdinger of a novel, and I dare you not to get hooked at page one! It’s also part one of a trilogy, so there’s more to come, and I can’t wait!
I’m so thrilled to have the lovely Tiffany Trent on the blog today! Tiffany is the author of the Hallowmere series and the first of a brand new series, The Unnaturalists! Please welcome her to the blog!
Tiffany, you’re the author of the Hallowmere series, numerous short stories, and your brand new steampunk YA fantasy, The Unnaturalists! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
Since I was nine. I’d always wanted to write fantasy and science fiction, but was discouraged from it for many reasons (not literary enough, had nothing to do with my homework, was weird, etc., etc.). That slowed me down, but didn’t deter me. I won a scholarship for the first science fiction story I wrote when I was 16. My first novel was published in 2007 ; it was a YA dark fantasy, In the Serpent’s Coils, the first in the Hallowmere series. Since then, I’ve published several short stories and am just days away from the release of my seventh novel, THE UNNATURALISTS.
How did you celebrate when your first book was published?
If I recall correctly, I gathered a bunch of good friends and went out to the best Japanese restaurant in town for dinner. And then we went over to Books-A-Million and did some interior decorating.
Will you tell us a bit about The Unnaturalists?
Here’s the jacket copy:
In an alternate London where magical creatures are preserved in a museum, two teens find themselves caught in a web of intrigue, deception, and danger.
Vespa Nyx wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life cataloging Unnatural creatures in her father’s museum, but as she gets older, the requirement to become a lady and find a husband is looming large. Syrus Reed’s Tinker family has always served and revered the Unnaturals from afar, but when his family is captured to be refinery slaves, he finds that his fate may be bound up with Vespa’s—and with the Unnaturals.
As the danger grows, Vespa and Syrus find themselves in a tightening web of deception and intrigue. At stake may be the fate of New London—and the world.
What do you like best about steampunk?
I love playing with alternate history. It allows us to dream of both a past that never was and a future that can never be. It’s a special little slice of time that’s fun to explore and re-imagine.
Why do you think steampunk is so popular all of a sudden?
It’s funny because some people say steampunk is popular and some say it isn’t. I think people are really interested in it for many reasons—the spectacular costuming, of course, but more than that there’s a lot in it that speaks to a spirit of hope and discovery. (Don’t get me wrong, though—some of that hope and discovery came at the expense of other nations and much of the natural world and we should be careful not to glorify the Victorians).
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
At one time, Frank Herbert and his novel DUNE were a huge influence. Also Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula Le Guin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ru Emerson, and Lloyd Alexander…The list is long and mighty.
Is there anyone that would bring out a fangirl squee if you were to meet them?
I kind of squeed when I saw Neil Gaiman in the bar at World Fantasy last year. I might squee if I met Frances Hardinge or Philip Reeve, though I doubt they’d appreciate that much.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Usually I’m out playing with my bees in the apiary.
If you could pack your bags and travel anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
I would love to go somewhere in the South Pacific—Papua New Guinea or Bali or Bora Bora. Those crystal blue oceans and volcanoes fill me with happiness. (A Mai Tai would help, too!)
Quick! Name something that makes you laugh out loud!
My husband. He’s always saying funny things at the weirdest times.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects and events (or anything at all!!)??
For upcoming events and other stops on the blog tour, here’s a good list.
My official launch party is at the Museum of Unnatural History in Washington, DC, on August 17th at 6 pm! Hope folks can make it!
Kitty Steals the Show (Kitty Norville #10) by Carrie Vaughn
Publisher:Tor/July 313st, 2012
Kind thanks to Tor for providing a review copy
Kitty has been tapped as the keynote speaker for the First International Conference on Paranatural Studies, taking place in London. The conference brings together scientists, activists, protestors, and supernatural beings from all over the world—and Kitty, Ben, and Cormac are right in the middle of it.
Master vampires from dozens of cities have also gathered in London for a conference of their own. With the help of the Master of London, Kitty gets more of a glimpse into the Long Game—a power struggle among vampires that has been going on for centuries—than she ever has before. In her search for answers, Kitty has the help of some old allies, and meets some new ones, such as Caleb, the alpha werewolf of the British Isles. The conference has also attracted some old enemies, who’ve set their sights on her and her friends.
All the world’s a stage, and Kitty’s just stepped into the spotlight.
REVIEW (No spoilers for this one, but this is #10 in a series)
My favorite werewolf with the unlikely name is going to London to give the keynote address for the First International Conference on Paranatural Studies, and when Kitty, Ben, and Cormac arrive, they meet Ned, the London Master, at his beautiful home. Ned is open and inviting, and doesn’t mind sharing info with Kitty. Of course Kitty takes the opportunity to grill him on his age and quickly figures out who he really is. I’m not going to give it away, because it’s really cool, but you’ll love it, promise. As time ticks down to Kitty’s Keynote speech, and protestors gather, Kitty realizes that things may not be as peaceful as she hoped. Also, it seems that vampires are gathering, seemingly with the motive of ousting Ned from his position as London Master, and war just may be on the horizon.
The Kitty Norville series continues to be one of my favorites, and Kitty Steals the Show is an enlightening, exciting, and rather poignant addition. As Kitty gets to know the delightful Ned, and also gets to check on the newly turned Emma, who Ned has taken under his wing, she also realizes that something is afoot in London, and it could threaten the entire paranatural community. Horrified at the treatment of werewolves at the hands of certain Master vampires, Kitty finds herself a crusader for their independence. I always love hanging out with Kitty, Ben, and Cormac, and it was fun catching up with old friends, and also meeting new ones, including a couple of very mischievous faeries. Kitty has come such a long way since the first book. She’s gone from a victim to a strong, capable, compassionate woman…and kick-ass werewolf. She’s still as nosy as ever, but that’s one of my favorite things about her, and I love how she sometimes finds it hard to reign in her inquisitive nature, even if it might get her in trouble. She and Ben are as solid as ever, and Cormac seems to be softening up just a bit, especially after finding out that Amelia, the ghost that haunts him, has family in England, and meets them for the first time. I admit I might have gotten a little teary with this one at one point, and was sorry to see it end. I’m very much looking forward to what’s next in store for Kitty, and her friends!
I’m giving away Carrie Vaughn’s newest Kitty book, Kitty Steals the Show here, but if you need to catch up, enter to win a copy of Kitty’s Big Trouble! Check out the giveaway details and good luck!
About Kitty’s Big Trouble:
Kitty Norville is back and in more trouble than ever. Her recent run-in with werewolves traumatized by the horrors of war has made her start wondering how long the US government might have been covertly using werewolves in combat. Have any famous names in our own history might have actually been supernatural? She’s got suspicions about William Tecumseh Sherman. Then an interview with the right vampire puts her on the trail of Wyatt Earp, vampire hunter.
But her investigations lead her to a clue about enigmatic vampire Roman and the mysterious Long Game played by vampires through the millennia. That, plus a call for help from a powerful vampire ally in San Francisco, suddenly puts Kitty and her friends on the supernatural chessboard, pieces in dangerously active play. And Kitty Norville is never content to be a pawn. . . .
Read my review
I’m thrilled to have Carrie Vaughn on the blog again to talk about her new book, Kitty Steals the Show. She’s one of my fave writers, so won’t you give her a warm welcome? Also, check out the giveaway details at the end of the post, since there’s a copy of Kitty Steals the Show up for grabs!
Carrie, when you last visited the blog, Kitty’s Greatest Hits had just been released, and now Kitty’s 10th adventure, Kitty Steals the Show, just came out! Besides an obviously busy writing schedule, what have you been up to since then?
The busy writing schedule, pretty much? I’ve been working on the next Kitty books, going to my usual round of conventions. I spent some time in Croatia in March, which was fun. The usual shenanigans of house and dog and hobbies and travel and writing.
In Kitty Steals the Show, Kitty has been asked to be the keynote speaker for the First International Conference on Paranatural Studies. Can you give us a bit of a teaser of what Kitty is in for?
Trouble, of course! This book is my chance to show a little bit of what the supernatural community looks like in another country, and see a bit of the progress in people’s awareness of the supernatural. The conference was the next logical step in that process, and of course Kitty would be a big part of it.
When you started the series, did you have a specific number of books in mind that you wanted to write at first, or did you just plan to see where Kitty took you?
I didn’t have a specific number mainly because I had no idea if the series would be successful. I didn’t know the first book would sell, much less ten of them. I’ve had a couple of smaller arcs — the first four books, for example, are their own arc, and I planned it that way just in case the series ended then. But since then, I’ve really been writing them book by book, with the larger storyline of the Long Game and Roman in the background.
Besides Kitty, what’s one of your favorite characters to write?
Cormac is always intriguing, but I really like writing Rick, because he’s something of a calming influence and he’s got this long history that I love dropping hints about.
Would you ever consider giving one of the other characters their own book (*cough* Cormac:))?
Funny you should ask. . .the novella in Kitty’s Greatest Hits was something of a dry run for a possible Cormac novel, which I’m now starting to plan. So, yes. It’ll be like a buddy detective story, only one of the buddies is disembodied, you know?
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
The next two Kitty books are written, and I’m currently working on the sequel to my superhero novel, After the Golden Age.
Keep up with Carrie: Website
Port Mortuary (Scarpetta #18) by Patricia Cornwell
Kay Scarpetta has spent nearly 6 months at Dover Air Force Base, helping to develop technology for cutting edge virtual autopsies, when she is unexpectedly called back to Boston’s Cambridge Forensic Center. A young man has been killed under mysterious circumstances, and Kay must find out why a simple stabbing seems to have caused so much internal damage. The strange doesn’t stop there, though. Her second in command, Jack Fielding, is missing, and his behavior has been even more erratic than usual, a little boy has been brutally murdered, and a college football star was also sadistically tortured and killed. Believe it or not, everything is connected, and Kay, her husband Benton, niece Lucy, and Pete Marino must get to the bottom of things before someone else dies.
I shamelessly admit to being a huge fan of this series, and there were a few recent books that I felt were misses more than hits. However, Ms. Cornwell seems to have returned to form somewhat in Port Mortuary. I prefer Scarpetta’s voice in these novels, and Port Mortuary delivers there, although my favorite ME is quite self-conscious and even more serious than usual. She’s never been what you would call light hearted, but she gets downright bitter at times. She’s usually too smart and self-possessed for that, but since this case is so personal, considering her history with Jack, I can understand it. Also, I admit that Pete Marino is probably one of the most insufferable, frustrating characters in this series, but he’s one of my favorites too. He’s deeply flawed, yet he’s a very good investigator, and he would lay down his life for Kay. Ms. Cornwell has a talent for bringing her characters to life, and Port Mortuary is no exception to that. She never fails to pull me into her narrative, with the fascinating technical aspects of forensic science, and I have to see what happens next. I’ll be moving right on to Red Mist, and I can’t wait for her new Scarpetta novel, The Bone Bed, out later this year!
Freak by Jennifer Hillier
Publisher:Gallery/August 7th, 2012
Kind thanks to Gallery for providing a review copy
Sitting alone in a maximum-security prison cell, Abby Maddox is a celebrity. Her claim to fame is the envy of every freak on the outside: she’s the former lover of Ethan Wolfe, the killer who left more than a dozen dead women in his wake and nearly added Puget Sound State professor Sheila Tao to the tally. Now Abby, serving a nine-year sentence for slashing a police officer’s throat in a moment of rage, has little human contact—save for the letters that pour in from demented fans, lunatics, and creeps. But a new wave of murders has given Abby a possible chance for a plea bargain—because this killer has been sending her love letters, and carving a message on the bodies of the victims: Free Abby Maddox.
Jerry Isaac will never forget the attack—or his attacker. The hideous scarring and tortured speech are daily reminders that the one-time Seattle PD officer, now a private investigator, is just lucky to be alive. Abby Maddox deserves to rot in jail—forever, as far as Jerry’s concerned. But she alone may possess crucial evidence—letters from this newest killer—that could crack open the disturbing case. With the help of Professor Sheila Tao, seasoned police detective Mike Torrance, and intuitive criminology student Danny Mercy, Jerry must coax the shattering truth from isolated, dangerous Abby Maddox. Can he put the pieces together before Abby’s number one fan takes another life in the name of a killer’s perverted idea of justice?
REVIEW (No spoilers for this one, but if you haven’t read Creep yet, here’s my review)
I adored Creep, the first novel featuring Jerry Isaac, Sheila Tao, and Abby Maddox, so was anxious to see where the author would take these characters in Freak. Abby is now in prison, charged with the murder of one of the girls in EthanWolfe’s basement of horror and assaulting retired police officer Jerry Isaac. Abby has absolutely no plan to go down for murder, however, and promises to help the police find a new killer in exchange for immunity and (hopefully) a short stretch in a minimum security prison. Someone is killing escorts and carving “Free Abby Maddox” into them with increased rage and intensity, and when they finally narrow their suspects down to a troubled man who seems more than happy to confess, it seems they have their killer. Not so fast…
Freak focuses mostly on Jerry Isaac and his search for the killer alongside his former partner Mike Torrance. Jerry also has a new assistant, the bright, sharp as a tack Danny Mercy, who was certainly a very interesting new addition to the cast of characters. Freak is more of a straightforward “catch the killer” type of story than Creep was. Creep was more psychological, and while that aspect is still here, most of the time is spent trying to stay ahead of the killings. We do, of course, get to see much more of Abby Maddox, and she’s about as creepy as they come: beautiful, extremely smart, and, of course, a master manipulator. That girl has more tentacles than an octopus, and she manages to extend them way beyond the walls of her prison. She’s the most intriguing character in the book, and getting to know her is a lesson in chilling. We’re used to men being the psychos, but in recent years, authors like Chelsea Cain and J.A. Konrath have given us some pretty formidable, and beautiful, psychos. They’re not sitting alone in squalor, wringing their hands, muttering to themselves. Not these ladies! They’re busy manipulating every last person they come in contact with, chewing them up, and spitting them out. Makes for a very fun read. However, I was hoping Sheila had grown a bit from the last novel, but she continues to make some decisions that don’t seem to be helping her cause (ie: keeping her teaching job, in spite of her sex addiction, and not letting Abby manipulate her). Conversely, it’s her vulnerability that makes her so likeable, at least for me. We’re pretty fragile things, after all, and her need for love and acceptance, especially for someone so lovely and accomplished, are what drives her much of the time, and granted, she’s still healing from the three week horror that she went through with Ethan Wolfe. Frankly, it’s probably a small miracle that she got through it with her mind intact. Most people wouldn’t. The author is very good at creating tension, and keeping it going until the end. If you like rockin’ thrillers that just won’t quit, with plenty of twists and turns, you’ll really enjoy Freak!
Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake
Publisher:Tor Teen/August 7th, 2012
Kind thanks to Tor Teen for providing a review copy
It’s been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can’t move on.
His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they’re right, but in Cas’s eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.
Now he’s seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he’s asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong…these aren’t just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.
Cas doesn’t know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn’t deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it’s time for him to return the favor.
REVIEW (This is the 2nd book of a series. If you haven’t read Anna Dressed in Blood, you can read my review here)
Cas is still reeling from the events of Anna Dressed in Blood, and the sacrifice that Anna made in order to save Cas and his friends. It’s the end of the school year, and he should be having fun with end of year events with his friends, but that’s kind of hard when he keeps seeing Anna everywhere he goes. Anna with blood running out of her mouth. Anna with cuts that open and close all over her body. The list goes on, and the visions don’t seem to be going away. If anything, they’re getting stronger, and he knows it’s not his imagination, because his ghost killing athame is responding every time he sees Anna. Cas becomes convinced that Anna is in some sort of hell, along with the Obeahman, and he must get her out. His best friend (and mind reader) Thomas, is firmly on his side, and willing to help, but Carmel seems to be drawing away, which worries Cas. He’s determined to save Anna at any cost though, even if it means going to Hell to do it. Turns out his athame may be connected to his friend Gideon, something called The Order of the Black Dagger, and may also be a doorway that can be used to get to Anna. It’s a very dangerous proposition, and Cas’ mom, in spite of her own knowledge of the arcane, is afraid he may be in over his head.
Cas decides to fly to London with Thomas and confront Gideon, the man he hasn’t seen since he was four, but who has been like a grandfather to him, about the picture that was sent from his address, but with different handwriting. Soon he finds out that there is indeed an Order of the Black Dagger, and they do not approve of Cas’s use of the athame. Gideon also has someone staying with him: a girl named Jestine who may have something to do with the Order, and who can definitely handle herself in a fight. Cas is still determined to save Anna, though, but at what cost? And they may just have to ask the Order for their help. What follows is a journey through the Scottish Highlands to the lair of the Order, but it’s not easy going. They’ll have to navigate a beautiful forest where people go to die (this scene will raise the little hairs on the back of your neck), and Cas still doesn’t know what price he’ll have to pay for the Order’s help.
I really enjoyed Girl of Nightmares, but it didn’t knock my socks off like Anna Dressed in Blood. However, this isn’t unusual in a second book of a series. This one had more subtle horror then the first, and that’s ok! Like I said, the trip through the forest was terrifying, and there’s a scene at the Tower of London that is deliciously creepy. That’s what the author is best at: providing deliciously creepy thrills, and that talent is on fine display here. Cas’s journey to save Anna is a fascinating one, and what makes it tragic is, in spite of his hopes, would he really be able to bring Anna back to the living world, and forge some sort of relationship? First and foremost is saving her from eternal torment, and Ms. Blake definitely brings the scary in the final scenes of the book. You’ll have a great time getting there, and my love of Cas and his friends certainly hasn’t waned. There is a bit of gore, so older teens would be fine with this one, and the crossover (adult) appeal is still huge. I was thrilled at the author’s choice to use London as her backdrop, and I’m very excited to see where the author takes the series after this!
The Unseen by Katherine Webb
Publisher:William Morrow/May, 2012
Kind thanks to William Morrow for providing a review copy
A vicar with a passion for nature, the Reverend Albert Canning leads a happy existence with his naive wife, Hester, in their sleepy Berkshire village in the year 1911. But as the English summer dawns, the Cannings’ lives are forever changed by two new arrivals: Cat, their new maid, a disaffected, free-spirited young woman sent down from London after entanglements with the law; and Robin Durrant, a leading expert in the occult, enticed by tales of elemental beings in the water meadows nearby.
Quickly finding a place for herself in the underbelly of local society, Cat secretly plots her escape. Meanwhile, Robin, a young man of considerable magnetic charm and beauty, soon becomes an object of fascination and desire. Sweltering in the oppressive summer heat, the peaceful rectory turns into a hotbed of dangerous ambition, forbidden love, and jealousy—a potent mixture of emotions that ultimately leads to murder.
The year is 1911, and young Cat Morley is to arrive soon at the peaceful house of Reverend Albert Canning and his wife Hester. Cat’s reputation precedes her, but Hester sees this as an opportunity to be charitable, since surely no one else will have her, and also pay her less than one normally would for her services. Hester sees herself as very much the proper vicar’s wife, but so far, her husband has not touched her in a “husbandly” way and her desire for intimacy with him, as well as for a child, has become a problem. Spending her days with feminine pursuits, she longs for the touch of a husband that turns away from her again and again. When Albert comes home one day, flushed and excited, thinking that he’s seen elementals, or nature spirits, his excitement is contagious, until “theosophist” Robin Durrant comes to stay with them, and throws the entire household into disarray. As it turns out, Albert has been neglecting his duties, not only as a husband and companion to Hester, but as a vicar, and Hester is increasingly alarmed that Mr. Durrant may be a negative influence.
Meanwhile, in 2011, a body is found, preserved, over 100 years old, with letters that seem to have been written by Hester Canning. Leah, a journalist, is asked by her former lover Ryan to decode the letters, find the story. So, she travels to Cold Ash Holt, and manages to meet Mark Canning, the Canning’s great grandson. He’s not eager to talk to her at all, but eventually agrees to an interview. Mark has been embroiled in some serious legal battles, and as curious as Leah is, her job is to research the story at hand, and hopefully Mark can shed some light on things. I really enjoyed these scenes with Mark as they tracked down the clues to the identity of the dead man, and especially loved how she delighted in exploring the Canning’s old house. In spite of this, I did find myself wanting to get back to Cat and her story, but it provided a really good parallel to the events of 1911, and also layered in some nice suspense.
Back in 1911, Cat is wild and damaged from her time in prison and when she meets a local man, George, she feels she might have met someone that could finally understand her, and spending time with him provides a much needed respite to her sweltering days of servitude. However, she’s increasingly concerned about her best friend Tess, left behind when she was released from the gaol. Evidently, Tess has been put into a workhouse, and Cat is determined to somehow get her out. United in the suffragette cause, Tess tired of it, even as Cat grew more and more enmeshed, and it’s because of the increasingly criminal activities of the women’s group that Cat and Tess got in trouble. Cat blames herself for Tess’s incarceration, and vows to make it up to her, somehow. My heart ached for Cat, and even for the naïve, sweet natured Hester, who married a man that was her best, childhood friend, but could never, truly be her lover, and is slowly wilting in the summer heat. I also felt so sorry for poor, confused, delusional Albert who spent most of the story with stars in his eyes for the beautiful, cunning, selfish Robin.
As for Robin Durrant… He is, frankly, a jerk; an insidious weasel that manages to insert himself in every aspect of the Canning’s lives. He’s conniving, underhanded, enamored of himself, and truly believes that others are put on the planet to do his bidding. He’s the houseguest that never leaves and devastates lives in the course of his stay. He sees the effect he has on Albert, and exploits that as much as he possibly can, while delighting in Hester’s discomfort and anguish. He doesn’t stop there, either. No one is really safe from his machinations, even Cat, and his insistence on “proving” that faeries are real, therefore indulging Albert’s fantasies of the existence of “elementals” is wreaking havoc on the household. He insists on setting up a darkroom in the family’s cold storage room, resulting in waste and food spoilage, but hey, developing pictures of so-called “faeries” is much more important than the family’s food stores, right? If this sounds familiar, it is. You’ll no doubt be reminded of the true story of the Cottingly Faeries: the 1917-1920 series of pictures taken by Elsie Wright and Francis Griffiths supposedly depicting the two girls with faeries. Many people believed in these photos for many, many years until Elsie and Francis finally confessed to them being faked, and Robin Durrant is, above anything else, a fake, and a charlatan. When Cat is drawn into Robin’s subterfuge, her desire to break free of a life of servitude is buried deeper and deeper in the lies that Robin creates, her own secrets, and liberty, threatened by a treacherous man determined to make a name for himself in an otherwise aimless life.
Katherine Webb’s writing is lovely and evocative, and she manages to set up a scene thoroughly without taking anything away from her characters. Cat’s pain is evident in everything she does. Raised in a household run by The Gentleman (you’ll figure out who he is soon enough), educated, taught to read, and indulged to a certain limit, she is still shown that she’ll never rise above her station as a servant. It’s like giving a bird wings, but not allowing it to fly. Even George’s love can’t dampen the fire within her. As Hester’s desperation grows, so does Cat’s, and Albert has lost his way so completely, Hester is not sure she’ll ever get him back. All of their secrets swirl together to create a miasma of misery, eventually coalescing into a finale that will shock, and devastate.
In The Unseen,the author has created a seemingly bucolic landscape in which to set the passions and pain of her characters, and it immediately pulled me in. The Unseen has all of the drama of a soap opera, played out against a time when a strong woman had no place in proper society and religious and spiritual ideas were in constant flux. Suspense readers with a love of history should enjoy this, and I also recommend it to anyone that loves a rich, wonderfully written, character driven novel. Highly recommended.