Reviewed: July 26, 2010
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Persephone Alcmedi, Book 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 352 Pages
Formats: Print, eBook
Picking up where Hallowed Circle (Persephone Alcmedi, Book 2) left off, Persephone Alcmedi is up to her neck in harrowing stuff. With the help of her waerewolf lover, the mysterious Domn Lup Johnny, and the...assistance, so to speak, of not-quite-as-master vampire Menessos, she's got to deal with the fallout of killing a fairy and sparking a war, prevent said war from spilling over into this world, keep her family alive, quickly adjust to the weight of her Lustrata position, and learn to keep the balance while she figures out how to do what she's fated to do, not to mention all the other more mundane tasks. Seph's a busy, busy girl. In an effort to buy some time and prevent the fairies from targeting her family again, she's agreed to hide out in Menessos' haven and take the position of Erus Veneficus - Master's Witch. The repercussions are severe but necessary and offer the only hope she has to both keep her family safe and free Menessos from the bonds connecting him to malignant little fairy psychopaths intent on killing him. The war may be inevitable, but Persephone is determined. She is the Lustrata, after all, and justice's will be done.
I've been a huge fan of this series since the beginning, and I absolutely loved the last book, but to be honest, this one gave me some problems on more than one front. I had some issues with events in the story as well as stylistic issues with the way it was told. The issues I had with events in the story are particularly hard to elaborate on without spoilers, but I can say that I thought the beginning of this book was much slower to start than even the first, and I had some difficulty sticking with it until the plot picked up about a third of the way in. There were also several scenes that left me wondering about their importance to the story. During one of those, Menessos and Xerxadrea have a tender moment about a past event and resolve a conflict between them. Seph doesn't know the details and readers don't either, so I was left wondering about the point of it. Why is it there? By the end of the book scenes like that and other, slightly different sorts left me with the feeling that too much of this book seemed like filler that didn't further series arc progression or even book arc progression. I'd expect to find that, and have, in a transitional book in a series, but that's not the case here, so I was a little bemused. Unfortunately, some of those scenes in particular also seemed a little out there - either too coincidental or too fantastical to fit comfortably in the flow of the story, and that didn't help.
Johnny, who I've loved from the start, annoyed me in this book. His behavior and attitudes towards Menessos seemed childish by this point. Persephone wasn't all that much better, though, and there were too many times in this book where I felt her behavior was questionable and a little hypocritical, given her reaction to the twins in the last book. I want Persephone to be the hero that she's supposed to be - that's sort of the point of the series, isn't it? - but it's hard to have faith in her when she's so often all over the map emotionally and so conflicted about Menessos and how she fits between Menessos and Johnny.
I am so not in the mood for a series of books that have her all "spirit is willing, flesh is weak" when it comes to being loyal to the man she says she loves. I wish I could fast forward through that development straight to some sort of resolution, whatever the resolution is, because I was getting smacked hard with the smelly fish of deja vu during one scene in particular that featured Johnny, Seph, and Menessos. It was too damn close to a Jean Claude-Anita Blake-Richard triangle for me to be comfortable, first of all, and LKH's...unique...writing style long ago decimated and obliterated any tolerance I may have once had for anything even remotely resembling a triumvirate of any sort between a vamp, a wolf, and a woman. Nothing will turn me off a series faster than that, I assure you.
Now, about the stylistic issues I mentioned... I'm freer to express detail, but it's more difficult to put into words. I don't know whether it's because the time frame for the series is so condensed, with the third book picking up almost literally minutes after the second ended and then encompassing only a few days overall, or it's just Robertson's style, but I'm struggling with a lack of exposition in her stories, and this book in particular needed much more of it. This book can't be read as a stand-alone, it just wouldn't make any sense, because Robertson doesn't explain much of anything about what happened previously - and how could she when the books are so close together time-wise and told from Seph's POV in first person? I wish she'd learn how to at least jog a reader's memory, though, because I read a lot of books in the six months between each in this series, and details get forgotten. It was only because I'd reread Vicious Circle (Persephone Alcmedi, Book 1) just prior to the release of Hallowed Circle (Persephone Alcmedi, Book 2) that I vaguely remembered Menessos walked home after Seph burned the stake, and that fact is important to a pivotal scene in this book. Some sort of mental nudge would've been nice, because even with that reread, I didn't get it at first and had to struggle to figure out what Menessos was talking about in that scene.
My final and most significant issue can best be summed up by this phrase: in signum amoris.
Robertson has written a series that's entertaining and, in my opinion, interesting. I've enjoyed the world she's built and the characters she's filled it with. Despite that, however, I'm often left floundering when it comes to understanding it. Sure, I understand the words I'm reading. I get what I'm being told. I can describe scenes and tell you what happened in them. I don't always have the first clue, however, as to what it all means in the big picture.
Robertson is great at making sure her readers understand how names and words like Demeter and Persephone are pronounced. In every book so far at least one name is sounded out for us in Seph's head. Then there's in signum amoris. The phrase is used several times in two different and very important scenes. Do you know what it means? I don't, and I read and then reread both scenes it which it occurs. Not only do I not know the literal translation, but I have no firm idea of how Robertson means for it to relate to the characters or the significance she wants to attach to it. I can intuit a vague understanding of the definition of the words (signum = sign and amoris = love, I think), and I can Google if I want a firmer translation...but that's not the point and it isn't going to explain to me the significance of the phrase for the characters and relating to the scenes in which they occur. And there's the rub.
Frankly, I think the bailiwick of a good author is expounding on and explaining or describing what's going on in such a way that readers understand the meaning and the point. This is especially important in a series in which each book has an arc that supplements and bolsters the series arc. In Fatal Circle I've read the words. I've visualized the scenes. I know who's doing what to whom and I've even nailed down most of the why of it, and yet I was too often left with cases of...in signum amoris and its ilk, wondering what it meant for the characters and book, and unsure what it meant for the series.
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