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Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Snake In The Grass by K. A. Stewart (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official K.A. Stewart Website 
Order A Snake In The Grass HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “A Wolf At The Door” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “A Devil In The Details” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “A Shot In The Dark” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic Interview with K.A. Stewart
Read "El Chupacabra" (short story) by K.A. Stewart 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kari A. Stewart has a BA in English with an emphasis in Literature from William Jewell College. She lives in Missouri with her family and is the author of the Jesse James Dawson series.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Jesse James Dawson never wanted to find himself in the middle of a demonic war. However, with the addition of 275 extra souls to his life, he’s got a target painted on his back in the most literal sense. With his apprentice, Estéban Perez, in tow, he heads to Mexico where the boy’s mother, a powerful bruja, will hopefully be able to extract the souls without harm to any party involved.

Champions for generations, the Perez family knows all there is to know about magic and taking out demons. But, like every family, there is drama bubbling beneath the surface. Add to that an ancient evil that has been waiting for just this chance, and of course, things are all going straight to Hell.

FORMAT/INFO: A Snake In The Grass is 284 pages long divided over eighteen chapters. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via Jesse James Dawson. The plot is self-contained, but contains a few spoilers for anyone who has not read the previous three titles.

July 8, 2014 marked the Mass Market Paperback & ebook publication of A Snake In The Grass and it was self-published by the author. Cover art & design is provided by Robin Ludwig.

ANALYSIS: After reading the third volume of the Jesse James Dawson series, I was excited about the direction of the series. However to mine & everyone’s disappointment, the publishers choose not to continue with the series & left the author in a slight lurch. The author though courageously promised that she would continue the series and hopefully self-publish the rest of the books (which at the moment is looking to be two books more). 

Which brings us to the fourth volume titled A Snake In The Grass. It begins within a few weeks of the events in Los Angeles as Jesse is back in Kansas City & mighty conflicted about sharing his body with the 275 other souls. This soul addition has wrought havoc with his body’s status psychologically (to a minor degree) & physiologically (majorly). Not sure with what to do & being a target for demons, he decides to go away to Mexico with his protégé Estéban to visit Carlotta Perez who herself is a Bruja & try to extract the souls without any harm coming to either parties. Joining him as his entourage are Svetlana & Terrance who add to the magical firepower along with physical strength.

What he doesn’t count upon is facing problems from the familial elements in Estéban’s life. An older cousin has some resentments about Estéban taking up the family machete and might be getting a little other-worldly support as well. It falls upon Jesse and gang to figure what truly is at stake and who’s puling the actual strings in Mexico.

As far as middle volume titles go, there a re a lot of issues for the author to overcome. The back story most importantly, how much to reveal and how much to make it a standalone. With this volume, the author makes it more of a standalone nature and we get a story that focuses more on Estéban and his family in Mexico. For some that will be a plus, for those looking more of Jesse, you’ll get him but with a side of Mexicana. For those following the previous titles, we know that there’s been a lot of underground dealing with Axel in the middle. This book almost gives us all the clues as to what is truly happening and also reveals the major big bad for the future big books.

As compared to the previous two books, the action and mystery are a bit toned down as this book mainly deals with family issues. Not that it should be boring, if handled correctly, it can be quite nail biting. That sadly is not the case over here, in the first quarter of the book, the pace of the book is on the slower side as the readers are introduced to the life down south and the Perez familia is introduced. What helps is Jesse being his quippy self along with a huge dry side of Svetlana who while being deadly is a constant source of dry, dark humor whenever she appears on the pages. The book’s humor content does not take a back seat and that was a huge positive. With the series getting darker with each volume, it often helps that the author manages to level the grim nature via the protagonist’s quips as well as certain sardonic characters.

Another wildly entertaining character who makes a cameo debut is Henry & I can’t wait to read more of Jesse’s and Henry’s interactions. With Jesse being the sole narrator, its very hard to get a proper view of the other characters and in this book, I would have enjoyed a look into Estéban’s mind as there are several things that occur that become bothersome and only so much can be attributed to teenage immaturity. While we don’t get much insight into his thoughts, his actions and the explanation provided do offer some succor. But again I believe this issue could have been neatly sidestepped with simply allowing Estéban his own POV.

Overall this is a good fourth entry and kudos to the author for continuing this series for us fans. Lastly another positive factor is the cover art and design which is very much inline with those of its predecessors published by ROC. In this regards, the author has to be commended for giving us OCD fans (who would like the covers to match) a freaking fantastic look to her first self-published effort. Now the only things that didn’t work for me were the slow pace in the start, Axel's negligible presence and that we didn’t get an all too-clear reveal about the events that have happened before. While the slow pace does impede the read in the first quarter, once the plot picks up the reader will be flipping pages constantly to see how it ends. The reveal which occurs only to the characters, I would have liked to know but I trust the author & will eagerly await the fifth volume to see what happens next.

CONCLUSION: A Snake In The Grass is a commendable self-published effort from Kari Stewart, not only does it match the look of the previous titles externally, for those awaiting Jesse, Axel and the rest of the gang. You won’t be disappointed with the direction being taken & now I believe the final two volumes await, wherein there will be a glorious and bitter battle.



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