Tag Archives: Faith Hunter

Taking in the Cold Reign by Faith Hunter: A Review Of Jane Yellowrock (11)

Depth and breadth matter. Scope and focus give a thing shape. Cheat or pad any of these overly much and a writer can kill a novel. I’m so glad there are a few who know how to balance it out.  Faith Hunter’s latest, Cold Reign, is a good example of the kind of novel that gets the math right.

Some books drive me nuts because the protagonist is the prime mover of everything in his/her universe and beyond. They grate. Others drive me nuts because the protagonist is forever a victim and cannot see through the fog of choices made, or the book is constructed such that victory means simply surviving all the horrible things inflicted upon him/her (I’m calling out Solzhenitsyn here, but then, Russian labor camps and Russian writing in general is almost unavoidably governed by this dictate).

Choices are what life is about. Conversely, books that impact me are those that deal with free will, introspection, options, hard decisions, and the consequences and/or rewards that result. And then, more introspection, or what’s the point?cold-reign

Which leads us again to Jane Yellowrock, the brain child of Faith Hunter. I’ve written about her books before, and I’m going to discuss this installment, too — not because I’m part of a blog hop (I’m not) or because I received an ARC (I didn’t). I just really need to get some thoughts down about this book while they are still fresh and have teeth and are whizzing through my brain. I saved the last hour or so of reading for its own separate day, because I knew there had to be some resolution forthcoming that would be heady, frightening, illuminating, celebratory, and even a bit sad.

Had to be, based on where Hunter had taken me with this story.

There couldn’t be any other kind of wrap-up if questions were to be answered and the plot arc satisfyingly punctuated.

And since I hate spoilers, you won’t get them — just generalities that also outline the Big Ideas here.

1) The tone of this book is quite different from other JY books. The bones are all still there, the core of the main characters is the same… but I think you’ll only appreciate the changes if, a) you’re familiar with the rest of the series, and b) you’ve also read the Soulwood series, a secondary story line with a few overlapping characters but a different primary protagonist.

[Going to dig a bit here and wax Former AP Lit and Comp Teacher, not because I’m being pedantic, but because this is really how I look at books all the damn time, and it’s my blog. So there. Stay with me and you’ll be glad you did.]

The reason for the change in tone: the perspective of the main players is skewed by choice and circumstance.  Imagine looking at a familiar landscape, one you see every day, and then seeing the same view after someone’s dropped a pair of tinted glasses over your eyes. Hunter draws on a theme of renewal and rediscovery — interpersonal and personal — and she’s very adept at introducing this with established characters with histories closely enmeshed with past story arcs. That’s a tricky thing to do and not come off like you’re recreating or rewriting their histories. It works because Hunter knows her characters inside and out and has worked out these many issues from an empathic perspective. In doing so, we get new language, new attitudes, and a different view than we formerly had of Jane and other key players, but not irrespective of their past. It’s at once familiar and fresh, but it adds a depth I think only contributes to the series overall.

2) It bothers me that so many of the issues Jane’s dealt with come from external forces imposing their will on her, forcing life-changing conditions, and causing chaos and misery, with little or no question of will. People with large egos and lots of power frequently do this — I was waiting for something to cause Jane to wake up and say, “No, I reject this, and you can’t change ME against my will. Nothing you do to me will stick unless I allow it.” Which, naturally, would go against the way most of the supernaturals work in this series; they have power and they force literal change. They control life and death. I always liked the idea that you could repel evil by saying, “I disallow you in my life, my home, and my head space. Get out now.” There’s a difference between dealing with the crap that rolls downhill and putting up boundaries that keep it out of your garden (not very English-teacher-y, but there you go).

And, finally, Jane gets it. About darn time, girl.

And, because I’m quite fond of the sister series Soulwood and its protagonist, I cannot help but think, “Nell got there first.” Folks in her world think Jane Yellowrock is a scary, super-wise, dangerous woman who has it all figured out. They’d be partly accurate.

But the truth is…

3) Jane knows, and she makes it abundantly clear in Cold Reign, that she’s still a child in so many ways. She’s old, but not world-wise. She’s powerful, but she really only just learns her true strength in little illuminated bursts of insight that occur at really humble moments — any parent knows this feeling, but Jane has little-to-no experience like this from which to draw her insights.

Still, truth is truth, and will out. You watch your child sleep and suddenly the weight of Understanding hits you out of the blue. On another day, you get a sudden emotional shock and some truth about the importance of relationships spells itself out in the pause between the news and your response to it.  A simple gesture translates into layers and layers of meaning that don’t translate to things as mundane as words.

Jane learns not to see others in terms of black and white, but, more importantly, she stops seeing herself in those terms. We’re none of us linear and easily defined by algorithms.

And, while this is an entirely separate point…

4) Synesthesia abounds in this book — which is unrelated to Jane’s character development, but… yay! Kind of a big thing with me. *cough*

Life is short. Read the books.

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Review: Curse on the Land, by Faith Hunter

Curse on the Land is all about soul: the souls who are lost, the ones who save themselves, the ones in conflict, the alien nature of the soul, and the soul of the land.  It’s the common thread that ties the elements of the second installment in the Soulwood series by Faith Hunter together.

Hunter doesn’t bash you over the head with it… it’s a theme that weaves itself gently throughout the storyline, much as ivy will work its way from its roots and weave itself into a pattern over anything it grabs.  Its subtlety is part of what makes it so lovely.

At the core of this story is the emergence of the protagonist Nell Ingram into mainstream society… but she does it in a truly roundabout way.  Her induction into this world is ushered in through her involvement with PsyLED (a magical law enforcement agency) and recent graduation from Spook School.  It’s a highly exclusive club whose members are anything but average.

Just as Nell is anything but average.  Here’s a sample of the goodies:curseontheland

“T. Laine?” I said again. She took another step. And another. I called her name, louder. When she didn’t turn, training took over. I rushed her. Dropped. Tackled her at the hips. One hand ripping the gun away from her. And to my feet.
She came up swearing, fists swinging, and she shouted,. “What the holy hell do you think you’re doing? Gimme me my gun!”
I held the weapon at her, centered on her chest.
T. Laine’s face underwent a series of changes. “What the holy hell. Nell?”
“Are you back in your right mind?”
“Huh?”
“Who is president of the US? Who is the leader of Unit Eighteen?”
She answered both questions, her expression shifting from anger to bewilderment. “What happened?”
I lowered the weapon. Uncurled my finger from the trigger and placed it along the slide. Dropped my shoulders, which had hunched up at the stress of watching T. Laine fall under some weird kind of compulsion.

She doesn’t even rate “average” among those whose standards include tails, magic slinging and mind reading abilities.  Nell is a square peg in a set of ovals.  But this isn’t to say that Nell’s a superstar.  She’s delightfully awkward, flawed, naive and child-like, despite her depths.

She’s a fascinating heroine, one who’s admirable in both her strengths and her weaknesses.  If you’re going to fall in love with a character (as have I), she’s a magificent example of a strong female who’s believable, likable and compelling… and for a paranormal book that’s saying something.

Bonus for word junkies — the prose in this book can be absolutely haunting:

I was met with a feeling of warmth, of welcome, as if the land was awake now and waiting for me.  As if it had expanded, unfolded, yawned and reached out to welcome me.

Just gorgeous. This is what happens when an author knows how to build emotion through the careful use of sentence structure and word choice.  That’s art.

Do yourself a favor and check out this novel.  It’s the shot in the literary arm paranormal fiction needs.

I received Curse on the Land as an ARC but I’m buying it on audio since I love the performances of Khristine Hvam, and especially loved her delivery on the first Soulwood novel, “Blood of the Earth” (you can find it at Audible here).

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On Paranormal Fantasy… and Being Real

I’ve been a fan of Faith Hunter’s books for a long time.  She’s a prolific writer, which means I’ve been able to sink my teeth into her books, particularly her Jane Yellowrock novels, with delightful regularity.  It’s good to have a hobby that’s good for me, too.

As she’s currently promoting and enjoying the successful release of Shadow Rites (the series’ tenth installment), you won’t have any trouble finding lots of positive reviews, all well-deserved.  The book delivers the best of the genre, and continues to build on the rich history of her characters and the familiar sights and sounds of the South I know.

I’m not going to echo those reviews.  They’re right, naturally, in calling tShadowRiteshis book a success, and a highly gratifying read.  But what I’m compelled to share is what sets Faith Hunter’s writing apart from so many others in the urban fantasy and romantic urban fantasy genre.

And here’s why:  I appreciate artistry and subtlety.  I love complications.  I love imperfections in a character.  I love cleverness without pretension.

To be honest, if I read one more paranormal fantasy in which the protagonist is a suuuuper-powerful beautiful gem who enchants everyone, craps vanilla, attracts sexy paranormal admirers like deer to a salt lick, and saves the day with a toss of her perfect hair and snappy comebacks, I will be violently ill.

Because, let’s be honest… they’re a dime a dozen in this genre.

Gag.  There I go.

No worries here.

Jane Yellowrock is corny, flawed, awkward, imperfect, silly, impertinent, irreverent, and, quite often, blind to her own shortcomings.  She is brutally honest, sincere, and real.  She feels betrayal and hurts deeply.  She lives a genuine life, if one steeped in myth, legend, and impossible, fantastic elements.

This is why Shadow Rites works for me, why Faith Hunter connects on a level other authors don’t, or can’t.

In short, her heroine is someone with whom, despite her history (deep, wide and tall), many readers will identify.  She has bad hair days.  She has difficulty picking out clothes.  She’s comfortable in her own skin, but aware that she isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  She’s discovering herself, even as she’s a child in many ways, and, ironically, is also rather an old soul.

She’s sexy without meaning to be.  She fights, loves, and feels life deeply and with abandon.  When she hurts, you ache with the pain of the depth of it.

She’s in touch with herself and honest, even about the ugly parts.  And she’s okay with that.

It works.

Jane wouldn’t relax enough to sit down for coffee with me, but if she did, we’d be okay just sitting, not talking.  She’s a hero I wish I could be.  She’s honorable, brave, and intensely, immensely protective of those she loves.  She hurts and heals.  She cries inside for things she can’t change.  She feels guilt for things she can’t control.

She’s multi-natured, many-layered.  She’s what women are, and try to hide, and that’s ironic, as Jane Yellowrock isn’t human.

She’s a badass, but not for glory’s sake.   She soldiers on when it’s hardest because she’s who she is, and she lives a life full of purpose and meaning, even if no one else understands her journey.  Even when it’s lonely.

I’m delighted every time I dive into Jane Yellowrock’s latest adventures, and love that she’s in the hands of Faith Hunter, who understands that the best things in life come with a bit of wear on them.

Find Shadow Rites here.  For an extra-special treat, grab it on Audible, too, because Kristine Hvam does a wonderful job with this series, and you’re worth it.

It’s nice, in this day of polished edges and edited photos and ridiculously artificial Instagram “slices of life” (which are anything but real) to get something close to honest, even in a fantasy novel.

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