Okay, so I've intended to do book analysis on this thing for a while. Not reviews, exactly, but taking a book apart to determine what makes it good and what makes it bad. And my intention was to start with a good book (Sunshine, Robin McKinley, my baseline for awesome) and then do a really bad book (The first in the Merry Gentry series, whose name I have completely forgotten) and then go from there.
But a friend of mine lent me Bone Magic, and while it's not quite at Merry Gentry/Anita Blake's level of book suck ... it sucks. Hard.
So without further ado, let me give you the basic, spoiler free details in case you should ever want to read it, and then on with the ripping.
Title: Bone Magic
Author: Yasmine Galenorn
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Readability: Look, this thing managed to upset BOTH Sunshine and Laurell K. Hamilton. VERY VERY VERY POOR.
What you need to know before you buy: Witches, magic, sex, vampires, fairies, dragons, demons, basically the author took the Paranormal Romance bottle of Mrs. Dash and sprinkled it over the manuscript pages. Writing is sub par, there are many, many MANY moments where I am thrown out of the book, characters are flat and uninteresting. Rent from library before you blow your money.
Review and details after the cut.
One thing I have learned from reading and writing my own books is that the quality of any given piece of material is totally dependent on the writer. For example, the idea of superheroes is silly, and their visual design is ludacris (I think it was Alan Moore who pointed out, most superheroes are running around in their underwear) but anybody who has read Watchmen or Kingdom Come would be hard pressed to call either book silly or stupid. If someone told me a Christian author took King Arthur's Merlin, turned him into a Christian and made him a key player in a work of apopaleptic fiction, I'd probably call a padded van before I'd think about Barnes and Noble ... but that's what C.S. Lewis did with That Hideous Streingth, and THS ranks right up there with Anansi Boys and Sunshine. I'm absolutely certain if you gave Neil Gaiman the plot to Twilight and told him to make it work, he could. The reason the really good writers don't do things like sparkling vampires and incest between brother and sister locked in the attic is, they realize it would take WAYYYYYY too much work to make a sparkling vampire work as a plot element and it really isn't necessary for the story.
I mention this because I don't do much actual analysis with Bone Magic. I can't. It'd be like trying to autopsy somebody who died of sixteen simultaneous gunshot wounds to the head. It probably could have been a really good book, if it had somebody different behind the helm. Everything quoted directly from the book will be in block italics and quotes, and is not mine. I really do not want to claim any of it as mine.
This book is the something-th in a series. I'm not sure what, and it doesn't really matter because you don't miss anything. The backstory you need to know, and a lot that you don't, is worked into the text rather well. The series is about three magical sisters who have to fight demons to save the world.
cover is the generic, HEAVILY Photoshopped hot-chick-in-revealing-clothes-against-the-moon shot most Urban Fantasy stuff has been using for the last couple of years. Thank God Hot Chick is not holding a gun, a sword and/or being guarded by some kind of large predator.
Our main character is Camille D'Artigo, who is half-human, half-fairy and the oldest of three sisters. The other two, FYI, are a were-cat named Delilah and a vampire named Menolly.
So right off the bat, without doing any reading whatsoever, we know we've got a borderline Mary Sue MC. A Mary Sue is that character that might as well have "MY AUTHOR THINKS I AM AWESOME" tattooed to their forehead, as they are stuffed so full of cool attributes and fashion faux pas, Dr. Frankenstine would take one look and go "...okay, that's too much crazy." The most common attributes are Cool Bloodline (royalty, fairy, vampire, were-whatever) magical powers, Sex Object, mood ring eyes and Cool Name. Usually chosen after hours online with a baby-name book and/or years of painstaking construction (Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way. Google it.) Lemme clue you in: NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER'S NAME.
Camille is an operative in the Otherworld Intelligance Agency. Because nobody in Paranormal Romance is a fucking retail worker, they're all cops, or private eyes, or bounty hunters, or something else retail workers wish they were while they're reshelving black lace tops at Hot Topic. And the Otherworld Intelligance Agency is at war with demons. Or something. The exact nature of what the hell they're fighting is never clear, sometimes demons are the good guys. Again, this is more Shake-n-Bake than Shakespere, so we'll roll with it.
We open with this:
"Run! Get the hell out of here!" Morio pushed me toward the iron gates.
Not a bad first line, but there's about six things in there that I've gotten thumped for doing. I'm encouraged as a writer already. Nothing about this scene has ANYTHING to do with the story BTW, it's just there to bait-and-switch you into reading this book. Bitch aside, though, it's pretty cool.
Camille, hereafter to be called "Cam" because Away Team's keyboard is too tiny for "Camille", and Morio have been experimenting with necromancy, or as the book calls it, Death Magic. Unfortunately they've summoned the spirit of a magician into the body of a demon, and their creation is trying to kill them. Cam takes it down with a bolt of lightening and then she and Morio start getting hot and heavy. Congratulations, this is romance, where we can shut everything down for a little steamy sex. And as a beginning scene, it's not bad, just chock full of stuff like this:
"He'd dropped his bag containing his skull familiar and had pulled out a pair of curved daggers, one in each hand. A wedding present from me, but he wasn't taking any time to admire the carved antler handles."
"Quick, quick, what could I use? Fire? No, the damn thing was demon and there was a good chance it was still immune to flame. But what about lightening? I grinned. Electricity just might work."
Yeah, like when you're being chased by the demon corpse you just animated you're going to remind yourself about your wedding gifts, or remind yourself about stuff you already know about, like the corpse being immune to flame and all.
So we leave after being given a quick magical demo (which is boring as fuck, I think the whole magic-as-rhymes motif was invented to keep your reader from going GET ON WITH IT ALREADY because at least rhyme format and italics let you know what to skim) and being introduced to a foul-mouthed bone golem named Rodney, who serves no purpose I can think of, and who makes me think of the actor who plays Dr. McKay in Stargate: Atlantis. Except SG:A Rodney isn't as offensive and actually contributes something to the plot. Cam's weaponry, BTW, is the horn and skin of the Black Unicorn, and the elementals and powers so granted. And it's not like we're ever told what the Black Unicorn's horn actually does. It's just thrown at us, and I wouldn't mention it if it were not important to the plot later.
Chapter two opens with a drive an an emergancy phone call. Cam and company evicted demon worshipers from a house in a previous book (I assume). Now there is a Thing in its front yard that is killing people and they need to get rid of it. They go, and we meet Cam's sister Delilah (Now called Dee) the were-cat-leopard and Menolly (Emmy) the vampire, and about half of the rest of the crew, which is not small. I'm assuming if you've read the other books this sudden character deluge actually makes sense. Cam, BTW, has three husbands and Dee has two lovers. The only one apparently not getting any is Em the vampire. Nice role reversal. And ALL of these people live in the same victorian mansion. Probably this one:
On page 13 we get a big info dump, about five paragraphs separated from the rest of the text as if it is its own scene. But it's just a huge info dump. On page 15 we find the first noticed use of the acronym "FBH", which after several repetitions I figure means "Full Blooded Human". I assume either I skimmed the place where this is explained, or it was explained back in book one, which at this point I have no urge to read. All that happens in this chapter is we meet cast and crew, and learn what the Thing is, which is neither shocking nor interesting. A little important backstory is introduced, but again, nothing really germane to plot. There are demons out to bring Earth and Otherworld together, and Cam's crew is out to stop it. Okay.
Chapter three is notable for containing a full blown threesome sex scene involving Cam, her demon husband and her dragon husband (who we later learn is the highest caste dragons can get to, so she's screwing a dragon prince and a demon at the same time. But Cam isn't a Mary Sue, not at all) and also this line:
"'How could I, my dragon lord? Tear me down, make me whole again.'"
It also contains the most blatant example of hollywood dialogue I've seen outside of the blog I just linked to.
"she looked up from her notes"... say, remember that tomorrow's the primary."
"Will we know if Nerissa wins her council seat?"
"Nope, not till November," she said.
"That's right," I nodded. "It's not like we can vote..."
IF YOU KNEW IT WASN'T UNTIL NOVEMBER WHY DID YOU ASK THE QUESTION IN THE FIRST PLACE? Ugh, the whole conversation is there to teach us about this magical world and magical creature rights, and watching people talk about shit they already know by their own admission makes me want to fling stuff through a wall. Then we're introduced to the Triple Threat, the three fairy queens that live Earthside, who are trying to get Cam and company to switch sides. Because they're that important. This theme (factions of fairies fighting over Cam and Co.) repeats itself through the whole novel so I won't repeat it here. It serves absolutely no purpose in the plot of this book. At all. It's building for future payoffs and would actually be interesting if it weren't handled so badly.
The next two chapters are spent putting the Thing in the Yard to rest. Cam and Morio spend a lot of time preforming magic, and Bone Rodney shows up, says the most offensive dialogue in the whole book, blows up to human size for the first time ever in the series (judeging by the other character's reactions) and then starts sorting through the bones of sacrifice victims (don't ask). In the next chapter, Smokey the Dragon Prince introduces his wife (Cam) to his fiancee (respectfully called Hotlips, and by Cam, not me). He wasn't supposed to marry Cam, but did, and now has to go deal with family stuff. By the end of the book, Smokey has basically exiled his father from dragonland, and he's sworn to be Cam's enemy, and it all happens offscreen.
This is my biggest complaint about this book. WAY TOO MUCH gets resolved offscreen. Important plot points intended to create conflict and interest are resolved in two pages of dialogue. Nobody actually does something. And Galenorn doesn't even have the excuse of saving room for sex because, much as I may bitch about it, there isn't that much sex in this book. A grand total of three scenes. Way to go.
So, while Smokey is off doing family things, we start getting more information about plot related stuff, and the whole crew gather around the table to find more information on a Lamia demon general named Stacia Bonecrusher. A lot of emphasis is put on how the crew cannot find information on Stacia. A lot. As in this is one of the bigger plot points in the book. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND THIS THING. Galenorn wants to make ABSOLUTELY FUCKING SURE you get it before she moves on, so memorize it: They are looking for Stacia and can't find her, because she is very smart and wicked and evil.
Then Cam is summoned to go on a journey somewhere in Otherworld, to do something for someone. Why is never precisely clear, except that SHE MUST GO. HER LIFE DEPENDS ON IT. and also she'll get to shag her third husband BUT SHE MUST GO SAVE THE WORLD. Seriously, this is how it is presented. We are never given a clear itinerary, Cam is never given a good motive, we just go wandering around fairyland for half the book.
Then, completely out of left field, it is revealed that Morio is making Emmy the Vampire flavored blood. So that the vamp isn't stuck with just one flavor of dinner. And it's chicken soup and pizza, and at one point Em pulls out a blood bottle labeled "strawberry shake." She's drinking strawberry flavored blood, people. STRAWBERRY FLAVORED BLOOD. Look, just start sparkling already and get it over with.
After three chapters of travel and more Hollywood Dialogue, we're introduced to Cam Hubby No. 3, Trillian (if only it was from Hitchhiker's Guide) and they have sex. And then Trillian screams at Cam for marrying Smokey and Morio while Trillian was gone, and then after the makeing up and more making out, Trillian reveals that he was captured in the "war" we haven't actually seen yet, and was graphically raped by someone he then graphically kills. Which is discribed. Graphically. Have I used this word too much? Perhaps, but given that this happens RIGHT AFTER CONSENSUAL SEX WITH CAM the whole scene is a little mind-raping.
And then, after fifty to seventy pages of wandering, we reach our goal, where Cam must go to save the word: The Kingdom of the Unicorns.
So we go from Strawberry Flavored Blood to sex, to graphic homosexual prison rape, to more sex, to the kingdom of the talking unicorns. The Black Unicorn, or alternatively, the Black Beast, wants to speak with Cam, and as she's been using his horn for the past God only knows how many books, she's obliged to answer. And no, I'm not entirely sure how this works. So Cam goes to see the unicorn, bringing Morio with her for a reason that doesn't exactly scan. The Black Unicorn, it seems, is rather like the phoenix and must be killed and reborn every who-the-fuck-knows many years. Cam has been tapped to kill him, and in the process become the Preistess of the Moon Mother. Which she does, and is awarded with a tattoo that I can actually see on the cover of the book. It sounds stupid in the text and it looks stupid on the cover, and I'd think a goddess would have better taste, but whatever. The pacing and discription of these two chapters are good enough for me to excuse the whole Kingdom of the Unicorns thing, and I didn't really register the total stupidity until I re-read it for the rant here. We're also told that another Fairy faction has plans for the same things the demons are trying to get. The total number of Fairy factions mentioned in this book is five. Okay, whatever. Moving on.
We get a chapter that is essentially cool down before the finale, which I am cool with. Stuff is explained through infodump and Hollywood Dialogue. Then Cam gets a call from a guy named Henry, and they talk about stuff that was not mentioned before this moment, EVER. It is a very mundane conversation about business and has nothing to do with the current plot, and yet the editor left it in the book. We can immediately assume that this guy and his plans are toast.
Then she hangs up, and we go back to hunting down Stacia, the Thing Which Cannot Be Found.
They recruit ... fuck it, somebody else not already in with Cam and Co., and discover that Stacia is creating zombies using ley lines. After killing the zombies, the characters discuss their plan to cut Stacia off from the ley lines IN GREAT DETAIL, using almost the same number of pages it took to actually preform the plan. And this is not "We did it and it was done" either. We get the whole magical ritual step by step, including every spoken word and gesture, and OH HOLY GOD is it boring. I read the author's Amazon page, and she goes through great pains to make sure you know that she is a witch who "knows tarot", that she has written many book on witchcraft, that she got to speak at a memorial for the victims of the Salem Witch Trials (Never Again, the Burning Times ) So I guess the magical scenes are dry and boring because they are accurate. Right.
Anyway, they decide to bug the area in case Stacia comes back, so they can track her down later. Because, you know, she is THE THING THAT CAN'T BE FOUND.
Then Dee tells Cam she stole a magical elixar of life, or something, and intends to make her love interest, Chase, drink it so they can be together for all time. Or something. In retrospect this happened at the end of book whatever, the next book will probably take place from Dee's perspective and we're gearing up for book something-th+1. Cam tells her this would be a very bad idea, because rituals must be preformed and without those rituals, if a mortal drank this stuff, it could really screw their shit. So be careful, kitten.
And then, after two chapters of planning and plotting and whatnot, we came to the moment I realized this book sucked. That it was not merely a horrible Anita Blake/Merry Gentry clone, but that it truely, honestly and deeply sucked. A character I do not remember being mentioned before calls Cam's sister, Dee, with "a lead" on Stacia. Everybody treks over to the guy's house, and he gives them a piece of paper demonically protected by the key word "Rutabaga" (because we haven't ripped Charmed off enough by now). There are jokes about demonic passwords, and Cam speaks the magic word, whereupon she finds Stacia's home address, complete with photo and what sounds like mapquest directions.
.... SO WHY THE FUCK DIDN'T YOU GO TO THIS GUY ON PAGE ONE???? The struggles to find Stacia are blown off by Hollywood dialogue that basically amounts to "Well, she wasn't where we were looking. THAT's why we couldn't find her." I guess criminals rent apartments across the street from the cops in this world and send them memos. "I'm going to murder so-and-so during a drug deal tonight. Please come arrest me when we're done." We get a whole lot of dialogue about how hard its going to be to get into this place, and oh, fuck it, given how this book has gone, Stacia'll probably melt if they throw water on her or something.
But I have to finish this POS because I started the rant, don't I? Damn it, me and my big fat blog-mouth.
So Cam goes home and sexes up her husbands, because thats what all good investigators do once they find out where the bad guy lives. In the morning she gets a phone call from her business partner Henry which ends when the bad guys bomb her shop (and yep, Henry's toast). I guess she shouldn't have gone home for sex after all. She finds Obvious Threat, in which Stacia basically says back off. And everybody decides to go consult with a goddess or something instead of IDK gearing up to fight or making sure their friends and loved ones are alright.
The Goddess points out the obvious (Stacia attacked because Cam and Co. are really close to nailing her) and Dee looks up Stacia's address on Google Earth. I repeat, after consulting the Goddess for help, they look up the bad guy's address on Google Earth. And find it. Stacia wins the "Dumbest Bad Guy of the Year" award, officially, and will probably get her very own Darwin in a minute. Galenorn makes sure everybody knows she lives in Seattle by having everybody talk about street addresses and alternate routes, and then a Random Guy shows up with MORE information about Stacia's compound. Can we give double Darwins out? Please? The combination of planning and Galenorn's Seattle Tour Guide act takes up another chapter, and then we get another lovely textual WTF courtesy of Ms. Galenorn:
"'...Whatever the case ... Menolly ... can't cross the wards without chancing to activate them, since you're all considered some form of demon."
And no, that is not a typo on my part. That is verbatim from the book. Chancing to activate. Also, this is the first time vamps-are-demons is mentioned in this book. I'm thinking Galenorn is doing this to split her characters up, but holy God above this is about as subtle as a brick. They pull out Bone!Rodney who disables the wards, and Cam and Co. storm Stacia's mansion. The most notable thing about the fight scene is that when it is over, Galenorn discribes a survivor as looking like Keanu Reeves.
Seriously. A demon that looks like Keanu Reeves. It is shit like this, the Google Earth thing and the demon password "Rutebaga" that yanks us out of the story, and when you're out of the story, plot elements like the Kingdom of the Unicorns looks really, really stupid. Anyway, Keanu-Demon fights with Cam, straddles her in the dirt, and then delivers this line:
"You're lucky you have friends here right now, woman. I may be out for Shadow Wing's blood, but I'm still a daemon, and some things are just too tempting to resist."
You know what, I take it back. That is TOTALLY Keanu Reeves.
Keanu!Demon takes off. Oh, and Stacia escaped in the kerfuffle. All Cam and Co. can do is explore the house ... except it blows up, though somehow Cam hears it before it happens and gets everybody out just in the nick of time, and there are fourty pages left in this book. Why must there be forty pages left in this book?
Dee's Love Interest Chase was wounded in the kerfuffle, so everyone treks off to the hospital, and you remember the Magical Elixar of Life Cam thought would be a BAD IDEA if administered without the proper rituals? The randomly supernatural nurse mainlines it into Chase, while Dee-the-werecat prays to Bast, the egyptian cat goddess.
....because I guess when you're a half-human-half-fairy were-cat-leopard, you pray to the ancient egyptian goddess of cats the way I'd pray to Jesus Christ. Right.
The nurse tells them that Chase will have a lot of problems on awakening because most humans don't know what it's like to live for a thousand years. And there are thirty pages left in this book.
Another Preistess of the Moon Mother delivers Cam's priestly garments, which are discribed in great fucking detail (Yo, Galenorn, NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER'S CLOTHES.) The priestess robes have a built in bra, because we really needed to know this. And then comes another WTF line, from Priestess of the Moon Mother:
"War isn't easy. War should be bloody. It should cost lives and bring pain--if it doesn't, it's too easy to take up arms without good reason."
I guess this is supposed to be deep. But ... ya know, I think somebody is missing the whole definition of the word "war". Priestess makes a couple more pronouncements we should find shocking and don't, because this book is so bloody fucking confusing, then gives Cam her book of rituals and shadows. Because she didn't have one before, being a witch and follower of the Moon Mother and all. And yes, it's a big, intracately bound illuminated manuscript type deal, and not something practical like a three ring binder (...what?)
And then Cam, Morio (I have tried to type that as Mario every single goddamned time it comes up) Smokey the Dragon Prince and Trillian have sex.
And then the book ends. Yeah, the bad guy getting away and Cam getting sexed in the dirt by Demon!Keanu Reeves was the climax.
Sloppy writing through the whole book, we spend most of the time listening to characters plan, there are SO BLEEDING MANY WTF moments, the fantasy elements are forced and uninteresting, Cam is a Mary Sue, so are the other characters, and half the bleeding book is spent in the KINGDOM OF THE UNICORNS. Unicorns, people. And the vampire sister drinks Strawberry Flavored Blood! The only positives I can think of are the beginning, general pacing and at least Galenorn can either spell or had a good copy editor.
Frankly, if the first books in this series are not BLEEDING AMAZING and Bone Magic isn't a once-off suck, and given how consistent Galenorn's voice is, I don't think it is a once-off, don't bother. I'm very glad I kept putting these books back when I saw them in Wal-Mart. And to the friend who lent me this book: I hate you, and the next time you can hang out I'm going to make you watch New Moon as revenge.