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Friday, May 4, 2007

"Dante's Girl" by Natasha Rhodes


After reviewing Jeffrey Thomas’Deadstock” and Gail Z. Martin’sThe Summoner” from new imprint Solaris Books, both of which I enjoyed, I decided to try out Solaris’ ‘Dark Fantasy’ offering, “Dante’s Girl” by Natasha Rhodes. They say that good things come in threes, but unfortunately that’s not the case here.

Reading the back cover, “Dante’s Girl” sounded like it might be in the vein of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake novels or the countless other similar paranormal-themed series that are out there. Instead, aside from some gratuitous erotic sex scenes, “Dante’s Girl” reads much more like a movie, which comes from Natasha Rhodes previous experience in her novelizations of Blade: Trinity and the first two Final Destination films as well as movie-based tie-in novels A Nightmare On Elm Street: Perchance To Dream and Final Destination: Dead Reckoning. Set in present-day Los Angeles where exist vampires, werewolves & other supernatural creatures, and the human Hunters vowed to destroy them, “Dante’s Girl” reminds me of a cross between Blade, Underworld and Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. Like those movies & television series, expect plenty of good-looking guys & gals with trendy names (Magnus, Harlequin, Cyan-X, etc.) kicking ass, big baddies, vampire/werewolf politics, tons of gun/swordplay action & lots of blood & gore. You can also expect shallow characterization, dialogue that tries to be hip & witty – may work on a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but comes across as cheesy in a book – a nonsensical plot full of holes, and inconsistent pacing. Basically, what may work onscreen, or at least can be overshadowed by special effects or music, does not work nearly as well in literature and the weaknesses are painfully obvious to the reader.

That’s not to say there’s nothing positive about “Dante’s Girl”. Action scenes are very well done in the book and there’s plenty of it. Heck, the opening pages really grabbed my attention before getting bogged down with boring exposition. And if not for the seemingly endless barrage of campy quips, the action would probably have been even better. Additionally, Natasha Rhodes does a good job of bringing Los Angeles to life, particularly the night life and its ‘everybody-wants-to-be-a-star’ Hollywood lifestyle. There were also a few concepts that showed promise like genetically altered vampires/werewolves, the search for the secret behind the vampires’ immortality, and a ghost who is able to augment the strength/abilities of a regular person, but none of these ideas are adequately explored or explained. In fact, this seems to be a major issue throughout the entire book. For instance, there’s a lot of backstabbing, two-timing and other machinations going on between various factions, but the reasoning behind their actions are flimsy at best. Likewise, certain attractions in the book didn’t make much sense to me and apparently, a lot of the characters share pasts that are never fully explored. Even Dark Arts, which are mentioned on the back cover, don’t come into the picture until late in the book, and even then we’re never told what they are or how Hunters are trained to learn them. Obviously “Dante’s Girl” is the first, in what looks to be many future Kayla Steele novels, so it makes sense to leave a few threads dangling to be picked up in forthcoming volumes, but I think it would have helped the book some if just a few more questions had been answered.

Overall, Natasha Rhodes’Dante’s Girl” has a cool premise, especially if you’re a fan of vampires or werewolves, and at times, it shows potential, but ultimately the book fails due to shoddy execution with plotting, pacing, characterization and dialogue. Because of this, and my opinion that the book would work better as a film or TV show than it does as a novel, I can’t really recommend “Dante’s Girl”. Even fans of Laurell K. Hamilton, Tanya Huff, Janet Evanovich, Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, Carrie Vaughn and Sherrilyn Kenyon, etc. might find “Dante’s Girl” lacking. In short, if you’re in the market for a respectable new urban/contemporary fantasy to sink your teeth into, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere…

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