Author: Jennifer Estep
Publication Date: January 2010
MMP: 432 pages
Stand alone or series: First in the Elemental Assassin series
My name is Gin Blanco. They call me the Spider — the most feared assassin in the South (and a part-time cook at the Pork Pit BBQ joint.) As a Stone elemental, I can hear the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet and feel the vibrations of the soaring mountains above me, though I don’t use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride.
After a ruthless Air elemental double-crossed me and killed my handler, I’m out for revenge. And I’ll exterminate anyone who gets in my way. I may look hot in a miniskirt, but I’m still one of the bad guys. Which is why I’m in trouble when irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine agrees to help. The last thing a coldhearted killer needs when she’s battling a magic more powerful than her own is a sexy distraction … especially when he wants her dead just as much as the enemy.
How did I get this book: Review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book: Because of the rave reviews it has received everywhere.
“My name is Gin, and I kill people.”
Thus begins Spider’s Bite and it’s a good beginning too: from within Ash¬land Asy¬lum, where our heroine, Gin has been purposely admitted to, in order to kill her next target. For Gin, AKA the Spider, is an assassin for hire and the very best in the business. As soon as she finishes her stint at the Asylum she meets with her handler Fletcher who passes on her new assignment. When that goes awfully wrong and she is double crossed and the death of Fletcher is the outcome, Gin has no choice but to side with detective Donovan Caine in order to investigate what went wrong and why and avenge the death of the man who was like a father to her. The already tense situation is amped up by the fact that Caine has sworn to kill Gin for the murder of his partner and being on the run whilst trying to solve the mystery.
Set in the city of Ashland where corruption and crime run amok and people don’t who is ally or foe, the story is a basic murder mystery which I thought it was well executed. The greatest strength of the novel decidedly lies in its unapologetic, morally ambiguous protagonist though. She presents a great opportunity for a character study, even reminding me of Dexter, one of my favourite TV protagonists. They both had their families tragically killed when they were young, and they both kill criminals only – although Dexter is a proper sociopath – and they share the need to have a “code” to follow. For Dexter, the code is what prevents him from being engulfed by his sociopathy , for Gin, it is the line she won’t cross and what makes her a heroine of sorts and not a downright villain (and perhaps more palatable for the readers). She will not kill innocent people (nor will she kill kids or pets) but she will kill anything that moves when they come in her way of solving this mystery and very effectively so, no holds barred. Plus, she prefers not to use the magic skills she has – and this is another aspect of the book that proved to be interesting to me, although admittedly these aspects were not as fleshed out as they could have been. In this world, some people can wield magic based on four elements. Gin for example is a Stone Elemental (with some Ice in the mix) and can for example harden her body to avoid being injured or get a feel for a house or building.
Since I liked the mystery and I liked Gin for most part, I could have quite comfortably breezed through the novel except, I had major issues with the technical aspects of the writing and they ultimately marred my enjoying of the novel.
For starters, there is simply too much exposition and repetitiveness. I don’t like info dump at best of times but understand that it might be necessary for a story. However, this needs to be done really well in order not be too obvious or to not to bring down the pacing of the story. AND, it is an even more difficult task when the narrative is in first person. The first few chapters of Spider’s Bite are pure exposition – about the city, about the magic system, about Gin and her past. The main problem with this, on this occasion was that SHE was narrating her story, so she should already know everything she is telling US. It was a way too obvious way of info dumping. One particular instance is when she is about to enter an action sequence and then she looks at the scars in her hands and muses about them – why would anyone do that at that moment in time, when the scars have been there for 17 years if not for the reader’s benefit, therefore rendering the sequence completely artificial
Another problem I had was the repetitiveness. For example, every time Gin sees Donovan she will enter a state of lusting and will add a “Mmm” at the end of her thoughts:
“Despite the seriousness of the situation, I thought about those lips against mine. His heavy tongue stroking my own, then moving down my body one sweet, slow inch at a time, before plunging into the curls at the junction of my thighs. Mmm”
“But Donovan Caine smelled so good I wanted to bury my face against his neck and just breathe in his scent. Mmm”
“If the detective looked that good merely smiling, how would he look after a night of slow, sweaty sex? Mmm”
“Donovan Caine naked, water droplet sliding down his lean body, his muscles clenching and relaxing as he washes himself. Mmm.”
I counted at least another four instances of “mmm” dropping. This was very…..let’s say, distracting and completely took me off the story. Not to say that most of these occurs at crucial times in the story when Gin is obviously in danger which is one of my greatest pet peeves: the Lusting at the inappropriate of Great and Terrible Danger.
Other examples of repetition are how it was always “Gold on gray” when her eyes met Donovan’s “hazel eyes” . Or how enemies were always “Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy” .
The good news is that in a 400 page books these lines end up not amounting that much which is the reason why I was able to carry on till the end (when there is some serious pay off for my patience). I do believe this book could have been better edited – there is simply no reason for the amount of repetitions and for these examples in particular to be even there. Overall this could have been a much better book than it actually is, but I have hopes for the second novel. I did like this one enough to go back for seconds.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the first chapter:
“My name is Gin, and I kill people.”
Normally, my confession would have elicited gasps of surprise. Pale faces. Nervous sweat. Stifled screams. An overturned chair or two as people scrambled to get away before I buried a knife in their heart—or back. A sucking wound was a sucking wound. I wasn’t picky about where I caused it.
“Hi, Gin,” four people chorused back to me in perfect, dull, monotone unison.
But not in this place. Within the walled confines of Ashland Asylum, my confession, true though it might be, didn’t even merit a raised eyebrow, much less shock and frightened awe. I was relatively normal compared to the freaks of nature and magic who populated the grounds. Like Jackson, the seven-foot-tall albino giant seated to my left who drooled worse than a mastiff and gurgled like a three-month-old child.
A long string of clear, glistening spittle dripped out of his oversize lips, but Jackson was too busy cooing nonsense to the crude daisy tattooed on the back of his hand to pay attention. Or do something sane and hygienic, like wipe his mouth. I shifted away from him so I wouldn’t come in contact with the oozing mucus.
Disgusting. But Jackson was typical of the sorts of folks in the asylum. Asylum. The word always made me smile. Such a pretty name for a hellhole.
It was bad enough I’d been stuck here for almost a week. But what really set me on edge was the noise—and having to listen to the building around me. The screams of the damned and deranged had long ago sunk into the granite walls and floors of the asylum, the way all emotions and actions do over time. Being a Stone elemental, I could feel the vibrations in the rock and hear the constant, insane chatter even through the industrial carpet and my white, cotton socks.
When I’d first gotten here, I’d tried to reach out to the stone, to use my own magic to bring it a bit of comfort. Or at least quiet the screams so I could get some sleep at night. But it had been no use. The stones were too far gone to listen or respond to my magic. Just like the poor souls who shuffled along on top of them.
Now, I just blocked out the damn noise—the way I did so many other things.
A woman at the head of the circle of plastic chairs leaned forward. She was directly across from me, so it was easy for her light eyes to find mine. “Now, Gin, you’ve made this claim before. We’ve discussed this. You only think you’re an assassin. You are most certainly not one.”
Evelyn Edwards. The shrink who was supposed to cure all the crazies in this magical nuthouse. She radiated professional cool and confidence in her tight black pantsuit, ivory blouse, and kitten heels. Square black glasses hung on the end of her pointed nose, highlighting her greenish eyes, and her sandy hair was cropped into a short, tousled bob. Evelyn was pretty enough, but a hungry look pinched her pasty face—a look I recognized. The hard gaze of a sly predator.
The reason I was here today.
You can read the rest of the excerpt here.
Additional Thoughts: If you would like to know more the inspirations behind writing the series, you can check the Inspirations and Influences post by the author posted last Friday. We are also giving away 10 signed copies of both Spider’s Bite and Web of Lies. Check it out.
Verdict: Spider’s Bite has a great (truly) tough-as-nails protagonist and a well-executed mystery but certain aspects of the writing did not appeal to me. The series has a lot of potential though, hopefully the next one will have less repetitions.
Rating: 6 – Recommended with Reservations
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