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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

“Venom” + “Tangled Threads” by Jennifer Estep (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “VenomHERE
Order “Tangled ThreadsHERE
Read FBC’s Review of “Spider’s Bite
Read FBC’s Review of “Web of Lies
Read FBC’s Interview with Jennifer Estep HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jennifer Estep has a Bachelor’s degree in English and Journalism, and a Master's in Professional Communications. Her bibliography includes the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series, the Mythos Academy YA urban fantasy series, and the Bigtime paranormal romance series. She is also a member of Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and other writing groups.

ABOUT VENOM: What kind of assassin works pro bono?

It's hard to be a badass assassin when a giant is beating the crap out of you. Luckily, I never let pride get in the way of my work. My current mission is personal: annihilate Mab Monroe, the Fire elemental who murdered my family. Which means protecting my identity, even if I have to conceal my powerful Stone and Ice magic when I need it most.

To the public, I'm Gin Blanco, owner of Ashland's best barbecue joint. To my friends, I'm the Spider, retired assassin. I still do favors on the side. Like ridding a vampire friend of her oversized stalker—Mab's right-hand goon who almost got me dead with his massive fists. At least irresistible Owen Grayson is on my side. The man knows too much about me, but I'll take my chances. Then there's Detective Bria Coolidge, one of Ashland's finest. Until recently, I thought my baby sister was dead. She probably thinks the same about me. Little does she know, I'm a cold-blooded killer . . . who is about to save her life...

ABOUT TANGLED THREADS: I'd rather face a dozen lethal assassins any night than deal with something as tricky, convoluted, and fragile as my feelings. But here I am; Gin Blanco, the semi-retired assassin known as the Spider. Hovering outside sexy businessman Owen Grayson's front door like a nervous teenage girl. One thing I like about Owen: he doesn't shy away from my past—or my present. And right now I have a bull's eye on my forehead.

Cold-blooded Fire elemental Mab Monroe has hired one of the smartest assassins in the business to trap me. Elektra LaFleur is skilled and efficient, with deadly electrical elemental magic as potent as my own Ice and Stone powers which means there's a fifty-fifty chance one of us won't survive this battle. I intend to kill LaFleur—or die trying—because Mab wants the assassin to take out my baby sister, Detective Bria Coolidge, too. The only problem is, Bria has no idea I'm her long-lost sibling . . . or that I'm the murderer she's been chasing through Ashland for weeks. And what Bria doesn't know just might get us both dead...

CLASSIFICATION: The Elemental Assassin novels are darkly tinged, action-packed Urban Fantasy with a side helping of romance.

FORMAT/INFO: Venom is 416 pages long divided over a Prologue and thirty-two numbered chapters. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via the protagonist Gin Blanco. Venom is self-contained, but is the third book in the Elemental Assassin series and contains overarching story threads from the previous two books. September 28, 2010 marked the North American Mass Market Paperback publication of Venom via Pocket. Cover art and design is provided by Tony Mauro.

Tangled Threads is 357 pages long divided over thirty-one numbered chapters. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via the protagonist Gin Blanco. Tangled Threads is the fourth volume of the Elemental Assassin series after Spider’s Bite, Web of Lies and Venom. Because Tangled Threads features overarching story threads from the previous three books, it’s not advisable for new readers to start the series with book four. April 26, 2010 marked the Mass Market Paperback publication of Tangled Threads via Pocket. Cover art and design is provided by Tony Mauro.

ANALYSIS: After reading the first two books in the Elemental Assassin series, I knew this was another series I was going to have to follow. When Venom came into my hands, I finished reading the book in a day, and Tangled Threads is a good continuation of the story. While the first two books in the series are more standalone, both Venom and Tangled Threads are much more closely connected due to their plots and character arcs.

Venom begins with Gin Blanco gearing up to assimilate the information revealed to her at the end of book two, when she learns that Mab Munroe had a particularly cruel hand in the demise of her family. Gin realizes that from now on she will have to be extra careful and persistent if she wants to take down Mab Munroe and her underlings, but before that can happen, Blanco has a rather unfortunate encounter with Mab’s right and left hands: Elliot Slater and Jonah McAllister. Jonah is still vexed at Gin due to the disappearance of his son in the climactic events of the second book. So Gin is forced to take a severe beating in order to hide her identity and come out alive. Around the same time, Elliot Slater takes a rather special interest in Roselyn, the vampire madam who supplied the men & women for the party in the climax to Web Of Lies. Slater’s violent fascination with Roselyn fuels the majority of the plot threads in Venom. Also introduced in the book are Bria Coolidge, Gin’s long-lost baby sister who is searching for her family and has an interest in Mab Munroe, and Owen Grayson who has taken a liking to Blanco and might have a previous connection with her as well. Personally, Venom was my favourite entry in the series so far as it has the perfect amount of action and intrigue, while also introducing some interesting new characters into the mix.

Tangled Threads begins where Venom ends and continues Gin’s shady war with Mab Munroe and her empire. However, after the events of Venom in which she is recuperating from her losses, Mab decides to bring in heavy artillery in the form of Elektra LaFleur, an assassin who is possibly more powerful than Gin. In the meantime, things are heating up between Gin and Owen, and unlike her previous interest, Owen seems to be reciprocating her attention. The problem lies with Gin revealing her identity to Bria Coolidge, who is thrust into a difficult situation because of her profession. Also thrown into the mix is a spy amongst Roselyn’s workforce and shocking revelations about Gin’s family and Fletcher Lane which have been bubbling since the first two books, all of which comes to an epic climax in Tangled Threads.

Both Tangled Threads and Venom are entertaining novels full of action-packed story arcs that continue to progress as the series nears fruition, while seamlessly fitting in with the clues and subplots developed in the earlier books. Prose meanwhile is commendable, deftly describing both action scenes and romance, while the fast pacing of the books never lets the reader’s attention slacken.

Drawbacks include the predictability of the story. While there are a few surprises in store for the reader, overall the plot seems to be heading to a certain conclusion. This isn’t such a bad thing as the author has done her best to give the readers a polished and entertaining ride in spite of the predictable nature of the tale. Secondly, I’ve noticed Gin constantly focuses on the nature of her relationship with Owen and whether or not he will be able to accept the dichotomy within her, which can get a bit repetitive. Lastly, with the ever expanding character cast, not enough time is available for all of them to be developed as fully fledged characters. Fortunately, Jennifer Estep has written a number of short stories that helps reveal more about certain characters including Fin (Wasted & Poison), Bria (Tangled Schemes) and the Deveraux sisters (Tangled Dreams).

CONCLUSION: In Spider’s Bite and Web of Lies, Jennifer Estep wrote two books that got the Elemental Assassin series off to a good start, but with Venom and Tangled Threads, the author has upped the stakes, and with the final book—Spider’s Revenge—set to be released September 27, 2011, all the cards are in places for an explosive finale. So now’s the time to jump in if you happen to like stories about an assassin bent on revenge, a quirky supporting cast, and generous helpings of action, humor & romance...


Unknown said...

Chick assassins ... always interesting. Dude assassins ... expected.

Unknown said...

The interest factor is notched up when the protagonist is female, imo. Male assassins are status quo. Females, not so much.

The Reader said...

Hi John

In that case, I think you might very well enjoy this series, Jennifer Estep has made the story very interesting by inserting quite a lot of humor & action.



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