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SUE: Spider’s Bite, by Jennifer Estep
For this blog post, I read Spider’s Bite, by Jennifer Estep, and I didn’t care about any of it at all. The books is about Gin, an elemental assassin, who also works at a barbeque restaurant called the Pork Pit. Her boss at the restaurant is also her “handler,” (her word, not mine) who sets up all of her assassinating jobs. Gin has a crush on a police officer named Donovan Caine, which probably isn’t going to work out too well for her since she killed his partner and he’s determined to arrest her. When a client double crosses her and kills her handler, Gin gets caught up in a plot involving her friends Finn (her handler’s son), Roslyn (a vampire nightclub owner), and two dwarfish twins named Sofia and Jo-Jo, (who have some sort of weird, unexplained magic), and a pair of embezzling, murderous sisters out to take over the city.
|That's a lot of plot hook|
Spider’s Bite is set in a universe where humans, giants, and dwarves coexist, and a small but recognizable number of individuals are “elementals,” and can control one of the four elements. At first glance, this seems fairly acceptable for a fantasy-ish novel, except for the fact that the four elements are fire, air, ice, and stone. To which I say, what the hell, Jennifer Estep? The four elements are NOT fire, air, ice, and stone. They are fire, air, earth, and water. Why did you exchange ice for water and stone for earth? Are you just trying to be edgy? Do you think being objectively wrong will make your book better? Guess what, it doesn’t. It’s weird and confusing.
This elemental magic is made out to be a pretty big deal throughout the book (Spider’s Bite is actually the first book in the “Elemental Assassins” series), but it’s never made particularly clear how elemental magic actually works. Elementals aren’t like the benders from Avatar: The Last Airbender; they can’t physically manipulate their particular element. It seems like they can harness power from their element, and then they can somehow use that energy for other things, but it’s never clearly explained, and there doesn’t seem to be a ton of consistency in how elemental magic is used between characters. A friend of Gin’s is some sort of elemental, it’s never explained which kind, and she uses her magic to clean up murder scenes and dispose of bodies. Another of Gin’s friends is an air elemental who uses her magic to heal, but the major villain in the book is an air elemental whose magic drives her crazy, and she winds up using it to kill people and seize power. We never get a very good idea of how this actually works, which is a pretty bad deal in a book that revolves around the use and existence of this kind of magic. If you’re going to write a book like this, you need to develop a consistent idea of how that magic works and explain it to your reader.
Jennifer Estep seems to have really bought into the idea that your writing is better if everything is a mystery, because the overwhelming theme of this book seemed to be ambiguity. We don’t know the backstory behind Sofia and Jo-Jo: we don’t know how Sofia manages to clean up murder scenes so effectively, or how Jo-Jo’s air elemental magic allows her to heal everyone. We don’t understand how elemental magic works at all. We’re unsure of the relationship between Finn and Gin and what their relationship may have been in the past. We don’t know the full extent of Gin’s backstory or how she came to be The Spider until the very end of the book, and even then it’s not super clear. We don’t know anything about Donovan Caine at all. Little hints about all of these things are dropped throughout the book, but everything is shrouded in (attempted) mystery. Instead of making things interesting, however, it just made me bored. Jennifer Estep didn’t tell me enough about any of these characters to make me care, so I was entirely apathetic about the story at all times. I don’t care about the characters, or the plot, or the world that they exist in... Just nothing. I feel nothing about this book. And that’s about it.
MICK: Sleeping with Beauty, by Donna Kaufman
There are a lot of books that seem like they’re written by robots. Books that humdrum along on a conveyor belt, slapping together mass-made parts in preordained and familiar parts. The books that seem to fill the shelves without being touched by a human hand. Nice and sterile, exact, and wholly unpassionate. Sleeping with Beauty is not one of those books. No, Sleeping with Beauty is all too human.
Unfortunately, it’s written by a human who has never met another human older or younger than 15 years old. The whole book is written by the id of a teenage girl stuck at home on a Saturday night. Donna Kaufman, bless her heart, must have never seen two people have a conversation that was not a part of an infomercial starring former SNICK dropouts. Nobody reacts like a real person would, drawing an invisible “point” in the air not once but THREE TIMES throughout the book. The whole book is stretched to the point of breaking, and has to ramp up the drama of every single action in order to keep itself afloat. Tea with old ladies is the hardest thing our heroine has ever done. One compliment is a godsend. A squeeze of a hand is an entire message in a gesture.
Right, whatever, the plot. Lucy, an ugly duckling in high school feels that she never fully became the beautiful duckling like she was supposed to. After receiving an invite to her 10th high school reunion, she decides now is the time to splurge and contact Glass Slipper, Inc., a “Barbie Boot Camp” designed to help first-act rom-com heroines come out of their shell.
Now, we’ve got ourselves a nice plot. Yay! Spend the first half of an act with her being convinced to go, second half at the makeover place, second act going out into the world and seeing the difference, fight with her friends. Climax at the reunion, her coming out party. Real love of her life (which is revealed on the back of the book), comes to the reunion, puts the popular assholes in their place, and then they go home and bang. Nice.
That all happens! Except the banging. Which is good. But then you look, and there’s ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY PAGES LEFT. You forgot to end you book, dawg. The book is over.
The love interest, the classic whiny friendzone best friend, is not only a dickling in entering into her life by communicating with her about his feelings, as the 28-year-old he is should do (remember, this was written by a high schooler, and all they know is not talking to each other), but is too much of a wuss to enter into the plot when he’s supposed to as well.
So she goes home with the popular guy. Well, she smooches him once. Then they go out some more, he’s just using her as arm candy. THEY DON’T EVEN KISS OR BONE AGAIN. This is the prudest book ever. Sex is only alluded to, fantasies end when they’d get too shameful for our poor lonely high school id to admit she’s thinking about.
Then, Lucy confronts the friendzone guy Grady, alone in his apartment, asking why he’s been so weird, what’s going on, just talk to me. He doesn’t. The book keeps going. There are over 80 pages left.
|Me by the end of this book|
DUDE WE SAW THE BACK OF THE BOOK YOU END UP TOGETHER. WHY ARE YOU STILL GOING. I feel like Donna Kaufman didn’t outline or even think about this book, but instead kept writing until she thought of conversations her characters could have and then decided that was when the two would find their love for each other.
There’s a pregnancy subplot. It’s dumb. Why is it there? Cause we need more uncomfortable conversations for “friends” to constantly push each other into, like friends do.
The whole book is in “arguments inside your head” dialogue. It’s more boring than good conversation and too fake for realism.
I know, 380 pages is not that much for a book, but there is absolutely no reason for this book to go on beyond 200, at most.
Every chapter is just the three characters (Lucy, Wussy, and Preggers) summarizing the previous chapter together, and preparing for the next.
I’m not even going to bring up how the moral of the story starts out fine- “Find your inner self, and express it…” ends up awful “…by finding yourself in the arms of a man!” because Lessons for Bombshells used up that talking point.
I’m not going to bring up how the boy who has been her best friend that she’s had absolutely no sexual or attracted thoughts towards all book suddenly becomes her forever love as soon as he expresses, vocally, interest in her.
It’s just. The worst paced book in existence.
Also, Preggers is going to bail on their yearly Thanksgiving in order to go to her husband’s family’s get together in Canada. Hey Donna Kaufman, Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October. Then she has a pregnancy scare instead. Plarf.
Much like the book, this review has gone on too long. Unlike the book, I have the courtesy to end it.