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Thursday, May 16, 2013

“Rogue Descendant” by Jenna Black (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

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Rogue Descendant, published at the end of April, is the third of Jenna Black's latest urban fantasy series (she's written a few, all worth checking out), the Nikki Glass or Descendant series. This is one of those world-building structures where Greek mythology features heavily, though there are some other cool mythologies as well. Essentially, the gods have descendants, and if a mortal descendant kills an immortal one, they gain immortality and some magical powers related to whatever deity they're descended from. How our protagonist came by her seed of immortality is part of the matter of book one, Dark Descendant, but the fact of the matter is that all unwanted, Nikki has to learn how to live in the world she's joined and with the powers she inherited from Artemis. Unfortunately, while she's beginning to deal with the former, there is no movement on the latter.

This bothers me. In book one, of course Nikki wouldn’t know how to use her powers; she was too busy trying to survive to start exploring them. Book two rolls around and that no longer holds up; when her approach in book three is still pretty much, "Oh, I feel like we should turn this way for no apparent reason IT MUST BE MY HUNTING POWERS,” I have suspension of disbelief problems. In fairness, Nikki seems to find this ridiculous as well, but she doesn't seem inclined to do anything about it. She can come up with ways for other characters to explore their power, but her own she ignores until she needs it and then vainly wishes it worked better. Possibly a comment on human nature, but I find it tiring.

There's also no net movement on the romance front it's still well-handled, but it leaves off in pretty much the same place as the last book. I can deal with that, though. What concerns me is that the climax of all three books has involved a final confrontation with Nikki and Anderson, the head of their non-Olympian-descended-exclusive band who is not the love interest, against an external threat, and now this book has been dropping hints that we are going to have a love triangle on our hands, and I hate love triangles.

However, excepting the fact that all the immortal characters seem to be easily swayed by circumstantial evidence when they're supposed to be experienced enough with Byzantine plots to know better, they do all behave in horribly logical and often twisted ways given what they did know and who they were. Konstantin's son is a refreshingly complicated sort-of-villain, and the lingering problem of Emma has been resolved. In theory. Jenna Black is great with character consistency and emotional responses to traumatic events, be they personally painful or physically, that really resonate as true. It must be said that Nikki is very inventive about not relying on magic or immortality to save her, and understanding her limits makes scenes a lot tenser than they would be if she knew how to use her magic and depended on it. I burned through this book, which is always a good sign.

And yet, I'm disappointed in this installment. Rogue Descendant wasn't painful to read by any stretch, but there's no character growth, no romance development, no exploration of the protagonist's abilities, and no particularly revealing information about the world. I feel like this whole book was in order to set-up the characters' huge problems in the next book. It's very plot-centric, and I want more from a story than just events unfolding.

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