Title: Blue Diablo
Author: Ann Aguirre
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Roc Books
Publication Date: April 2009
Mass Market Paperback: 336 pages
Stand alone or series: Book 1 of the Corine Solomon series.
Why did we read this book: We were contacted by the wonderful AztecLady on behalf of Ann Aguirre for her virtual book tour — and of course we could not pass up the opportunity to host Ann here at The Book Smugglers! Nor could we pass up the opportunity to read her new novel. Could Ms. Aguirre keep Ana’s high praise? Could she win Thea’s favor? We had to find out with Blue Diablo…
Summary: (from Amazon.com)
Corine Solomon is a handler—when she touches an object she instantly knows its history and its future. Using her ability, she can find the missing—which is why people never stop trying to find her. Like her ex-boyfriend Chance, who needs Corine’s gift to find someone dear to them both. But the search proves dangerous as it leads them into a strange world of demons and sorcerers, ghosts and witchcraft, zombies—and black magic…
Thea: It’s no surprise that I approached this book with no small amount of trepidation. I think I’m just about the only person in the known universe that really did not like Grimspace. But, taking the advice of Patricia Briggs, the generally positive reactions around blogland, and the fact that Blue Diablo is a brand new Urban Fantasy novel, I decided to give this book a try. And, thankfully, I found Corine Solomon far more palatable than Sirantha Jax. While some of my own stylistic biases and some characterization issues prevented me from really loving this book, I still found myself pleasantly engaged with Blue Diablo, and I will definitely be continuing with the series. Good plotting, generally likable characters, and a solid, unique premise and take on magic make this an enjoyable read.
Unlike Thea, I really enjoyed Grimspace and was looking forward to reading Blue Diablo – without trepidation. I was not disappointed: I was hooked from the get go and ended up enjoyed Blue Diablo even more than I enjoyed Grimspace because the premise and development of the story made Blue Diablo a very original read. To the point where, still under the influence of the book, as soon as I finished it, I twittered: “Blue Diablo is 100% awesomeness” . Needless to say, I will most definitely be reading this series.
On the Plot:
Corine Solomon lives a quiet life in Mexico City running a small antique shop. She’s been undisturbed in her self-imposed solitude until her past comes breezing in, bringing a whole lot of trouble with him. Chance, aptly nicknamed for his special brand of magical talent, walks back into Corine’s life with an urgent request. Yi-Min Chin, Chance’s mother, has disappeared leaving behind only her pewter pocket Buddha. As a Handler, Corine is able to determine an object’s past just by holding it, though it extracts a great deal of mental and physical pain for her to do so. The pewter Buddha reveals to Corine that Yi-Min went with her abductors of her free will, but also that she was terrified and believed herself to be picking the lesser evil with her decision to leave.
As not only her ex-boyfriend’s mother but also a woman she respects and likes, Corine can’t help but agree to aid Chance in his search, even though getting involved with him again even just professionally goes against her every instinct. Especially since leaving Chance — even though she still is in love with him — violates her new rule of self-preservation. And when it becomes clear that Chance wants to pick things up where they left off, Corine has her hands full with a dangerous job and her own highly conflicted emotions.
Thea: Overall I found the plot of this novel to be engaging and solidly executed. The overarching background mystery concerning Yi-Min Chin’s disappearance is expertly crafted, constantly providing twists and logical developments toward a captivating climax. This is a mystery novel that works nicely, with a low predictability factor and no “Deus Ex Machina” virus (in stark contrast to the lamentable ending of Grimspace). There was still a tendency to end chapters on a sort of ‘tv-movie-of-the-week-commercial-break’ type of cliffhanger (that never pans out) which I found annoying, but for the most part the writing was solid and a vast improvement.
As an urban fantasy novel with very strong romantic elements, I unfortunately was disappointed with the romantic subplots — if you can even call it a subplot. This secondary storyline bridging the relationship between Chance and Corine felt underdeveloped to me. The reasons for Corine leaving Chance (before the book begins) make sense, but subsequent characterizations completely go against this reasoning, and fell flat in my opinion (more on this later). The romantic entanglements of Blue Diablo, with Corine, Chance and Jesse put me in the mind of the more irritating Rachel Morgan (of The Hollows books by Kim Harrison) moments — infuriating characters and bad decisions, and the constant sexual tension (with no payoff in this case, might I add) that grates on a reader after three hundred pages or so. I have nothing against a well-simmered sexually tense plot; heck, I even love Rachel Morgan for all her faults and flaws because the characterizations work and the plotting is impeccable. But in this case, there’s just something inherently cheesy and silly with Corine’s narrative and her frankly dumb take on relationships with Chance and Jesse.
Despite my issues with the romantic elements, the story otherwise works very well. I loved the action and mystery, and the more original universe & take on magic. The Southwest setting in particular is wonderfully portrayed and I generally really enjoyed the story at large — although I will say, I felt the ending was a little too hastily resolved for my tastes.
Ana: With an interesting premise, a new take on magic and “gifted” people and an interesting mystery that is well-executed, the plotting in this novel is certainly its greatest strength. The investigation of Min’s disappearance was deftly dealt with in a very organic way within the reality of the characters and the story. There was never a moment where I questioned characters’ decisions (a trait I am guilty of more often than not) and as the story took me to unexpected places, I was completely engrossed in it. There is a unique feel to Blue Diablo, not only because of the setting (Mexico and the Southwest) and the characters (Chance is Korean, for example) but because of a certain noir-ish atmosphere – Katiebabs said it better: this reads like an Urban Fantasy Noir and it really does work.
We jump right into the thick of the mystery with little background preparation for what is to come. We are briefly introduced to the heroine Corine and to her ability as a Handler (more on that later) and shortly later Chance, her ex who needs her help in finding his mother shows up. The characters kick-off a systematic search that will lead them to dangerous situations and to learn more about both the gifts they have (Chance is a very lucky guy) and other people that are equally as gifted. We are talking magic and mysticism. One of the aspects that I thought was very interesting is how the author explored the Mexican syncretism between religion (Catholicism) and popular dealings with the occult that permeates everyday life which rang very true to me and my own Latin background.
As for the romantic elements: although I am growing increasingly tired of having super –strong and ever-present eroticism in life and death situations as is the case in Blue Diablo, I though the romantic thread in Blue Diablo and the love triangle were actually effective and provide more insight into the characters. Having said that, there were one or two moments when I thought was a bit too much. Nonetheless, in the end the romantic aspect added to the plot, in my opinion.
I am a fan of Ann Aguirre’s writing style and it became clear to me that she has honed her art in Blue Diablo. There were several passages I ear-marked for their brilliance or beauty. I am even a fan of the sudden break between chapters – hell, the very last line was superb in that aspect: a cool one-liner that made me want to read the next book ASAP.
My one gripe with the plot was its rushed conclusion. Especially if compared to the gradual build-up of tension and puzzle pieces coming together in the thick of action – the ending surprised me. To that point I was prepared not to have the mystery solved in Blue Diablo and having to follow the characters to the next book in order to solve it. Alas it did not happen the way I hoped for, but there are plenty of unsolved enigmas to make the sequel as gripping as Blue Diablo. I cannot wait.
On the Characters:
Thea: I have an intense like-dislike relationship with Corine Solomon, the leading lady of Blue Diablo. In general, I found Corine a likable character with an entertaining narrative. Right off the bat I was inclined to like the polyglot artificial redhead, from her frank narration (this time in the first person past tense as opposed to the irritating, robotic first person present tense of Sirantha Jax) to her reasoning for wanting to start her life anew, without Chance. I loved her sassy attitude and her requisite big heart/conscience, and how she would initially war with her own emotions and attraction against her own better judgment with Chance.
Nothing irritates me more than when a character prattles on and on about how sexy a dude looks and how hot he is when the characters are in a life threatening situation. There’s a strong focus on romance here, and Corine spends far too much time fantasizing/trying to get with her mancandy boys. My opinion, of course — and keep in mind, I have an aversion to this sort of storyline to begin with. After a couple hundred pages of the same sexual tension and Corine fantasizing about how hot a dude looks in his low slung jeans, it gets irritating.
One thing I truly did appreciate was the moral ambiguity of Jesse and Chance as characters. Despite Chance’s protestations that he loves Corine and wants to give it another shot, there are some decisions he makes in this book that reinforce the reasons why Corine left him in the first place. The dilemma with Chance — that his “good luck” comes at the cost of others near him — is an intriguing one, and there is some excellent room for growth in subsequent novels. My problem was with the combination of Chance and Corine together — some of the exchanges between the two characters were eye-roll inducing (for me). For example:
I shrugged. “Why shouldn’t I? I’m pretty good in bed. Maybe I can win some influence with him. Get him to break some rules. How’s that different from the way you pimped me?”
He cut me a daggered look as we turned into the parking lot of a shitty La Quinta Inn.
“Were you always such a bitch?”
“Why didn’t I notice?”
Because I cared desperately what you thought of me then.
I shrugged. “Why didn’t you notice a lot of things?”
“I have no idea,” he said, sounded dazed. “But it turns me on something wicked.”
I peeked at his lap as he parked the car and decided he wasn’t kidding.
End of chapter. Meh. I’m not a huge fan of the random huge erection in my urban fantasy. Furthermore, I know love is blind and irrational and all that, and I understand that Corine is conflicted about her emotional past. But the continued waffling back and forth with Chance negates the whole reason why she left him in the first place. This, combined with Corine’s tiresome tendency to drool over hot guys in the worst possible scenarios, threw a wrench in my reading experience, detracting mightily from Corine’s appeal as a heroine. I like my urban fantasy with a strong, relatable leading character, and I couldn’t really connect with Corine at all.
Ana:All the characters in Blue Diablo – and I am guessing , in the Corine Solomon series as a whole – inhabit that grey area of moral ambiguity. It is hard to guess the characters’ real motivations: is Min really an innocent? Is Jesse Saldana a good cop or a bad cop – why does he jump at the chance of being Corine’s mentor? Chance – does he really love Corine or is he using her? Not even Corine, who narrates the story in first person, is safe from second-guessing.
For example: at one hand it is pretty obvious why she left Chance and there are very good reasons for it as well. However, the more we are privy to the workings of her mind, the more we come to doubt that Chance was the sole responsible for their shortcomings. He may have been cold and distanced (and we learn that there may have been good reasons for that) but Corine was also to blame for her blind acceptance. Corine is also a highly sexual character and that need do sometimes appear in the worst moments. However, the more one reads, the clearer it becomes that she uses sex as a means of escape reality or dire circumstances and I think it is testament to her strength that not once she has sex in this book – she manages to analyse her need and pinpoint why she is feeling what she fees at any given time which makes me respect Corine as a protagonist.
Going back to the quote Thea mentions , I agree that at first the quote may be off-putting and seemly random but within the context of what was happening right there and then and why were they were having that conversation, it is actually one of the best moments in my opinion. For once, it shows Corine standing up to Chance but also it shows his lack of control (physically and emotionally), something that never happened before in their relationship. It shows me that both characters have changed in the time they spent apart. And in the Jesse and Chance competition, I already sit firmly in the Chance’s corner – he may not be perfect and there are a few things that show that he has a long way to go to show Corine he truly cares but heck if he isn’t already half-way there.
As for the other secondary characters – they are fleshed-out and interesting on their own like the couple, Chuch and Eva who help Corine and Chance. Even Min who makes only a small appearance comes to life as they investigate her past.
I think another extremely strong point that makes this a fantastic read is the fact that all of these gifts that the characters have, don’t come without a cost. As a Handler, Corine is able to read an object’s past and possible future but it comes with great physical and emotional pain. The way she came by the gift is another mystery that is left unresolved and is the basis for the next instalment. Chance is extremely lucky but that luck does not apply to people around him – he walks into a problem and is lucky enough to get away from it but the people he loves end up suffering the consequences. Similarly, Jesse is an Empath but it is never clear to him whenever he is attracted to a person whether he is so because of his own feelings or because he mirrors what the other is feeling. Resulting in 3 people that are obviously damaged and if that isn’t good drama then I am a talking Chihuahua.
Final Observations, Recommendation and Rating:
Thea: I liked Blue Diablo. It’s an action packed, strong story with a great premise. My main problem lay with the off-kilter characterizations, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this won’t bother a lot of the target audience (if Ana is any indication!). I definitely liked it enough to continue with the series, and can only hope that Corine grows on me with further books.
Ana: Original premise, wonderfully executed plot and damaged characters make Blue Diablo a remarkable first book in a very welcomed new series. I loved it.
Thea: I loved the zombie-hacking scene. More action, please!
Ana: I agree with Thea, the zombie-hacking scene was all kinds of awesome.
Thea: 6 Good – basically verging on a 7. I liked it, but I know that there is MORE that Ms. Aguirre can deliver.
Ana: 8 – Excellent! Verging a 9 but waiting for more books in the series to have a final say
Reading Next: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Tomorrow: Ann Aguirre will be here tomorrow talking about Inspiration and Influences and you will have a chance to win a copy of Blue Diablo.