Friday, April 28, 2006

Two Jessica Hall Novels

Into the Fire


Heat of the Moment

I'm reviewing these two together because, besides being behind, there's not much I can say without spoiling the unique elements that make them interesting. Instead, I'll say that in the past 2 years or so, I have now read all of Gena Hale/Jessica Hall's romance novels from the very first to the most recent (though I have to check if a new one is out). As you might have guessed from my reviews of the first two, I didn't like them all that much. They showed clear potential, but were trying to do too much and, in my opinion, not succeeding as well as they might. I did like the characters, but the stories didn't hold together as well as I wanted. However, the skills that were struggling a bit in those first two romances grew to their fullness in Into the Fire and Heat of the Moment.

The mastery of a multi-focus romance novel is a wonder to behold. Both these novels have a large cast and many of them get at least one POV scene. This runs counter to the traditional focus on the female and male main characters and the even older tradition of seeing the story only through the female lead's eyes. However, it's done smoothly and without jarring in both these novels.

I do have one specific gripe with Into the Fire and it is purely a personal one. I will spoil the first 10 pages or so. Here's my rant, skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to see. It's not fair to make me like someone and have hope for them as the MC and then kill them off in the first few pages! There, that's out of my system :p. I didn't like it when my hubby did so for his thesis and I like it even less in a romance :p. Which is not to say that it wasn't crucial for the story, that it didn't have important implications, that I didn't understand the reason for it as I went forward. I just don't like liking someone then splat!

And now back to the regularly scheduled program ;).

Honestly, I'm a traditionalist. I want my romance novels about two people struggling against mostly internal obstacles to find their way to each other. I think life is like that and unlike science fiction and fantasy, I read romances not to escape but to have hope and see possibilities. Sure, I'm happily married, so I don't need that hope for myself any more, but there are so many obstacles this world puts in between people finding each other and even those who have already found each other that reading about how people work things through is powerful. Because of this, though I do read the intrigue style romances, they're not my first choice and my dosage is therefore low :D. Honestly, I think the odds of anyone I know being kidnapped by terrorists, involved with the mob, part of an undercover sting, etc., are relatively low. I did have a friend recruited by the CIA, but she decided not to join ;).

That said, I read these two novels not so much for the romance, but for the story. I know I can count on a good story regardless of whether or not the romance fits into my favorite type and so I'm happy. These bring me back to the Russian novel analogy, except that in these two, the technique has clearly been mastered. Despite the large cast, the characters each have a crucial role, no matter how small, and cannot be cut without the story losing something. On top of that, even minor characters have to fight their own prejudices and grow up, or change in some aspect. None of them are easy cardboard cutouts. And when you have someone profiled in the first, that person will often get a greater part in the second, and at some point, will get their own novel. I have faith in that and have bets running with myself as to who gets the next book ;).

Because I have to ;), I will say that I didn't feel the answer to the internal mystery in Heat of the Moment was seeded enough. I figured it out before the great reveal (though not the full extend of it), but I didn't see the clues to point to that answer until much later. In fact, the clues in the beginning didn't really seem to tie into the middle-to-end clues, which probably means I missed something but if so, I don't know what.

Okay, and now I have to eat my words on the romance part for both of these novels. Though the big external events shoved the characters together (as is standard in suspense romances), in both cases, the characters had a history and internal forces working to undermine their attraction/love for each other. I especially liked the romance in Heat of the Moment, partially because I saw it coming in Into the Fire and wanted so much for them to put aside their differences.

So yes, I think these books had enough suspense to keep someone who prefers a little danger and fear in their romances entertained, but at the same time, even those who find the "thrown together by deadly circumstances" a little too much, there's enough personal connection and conflict to enthrall. The stories are good ones. The romance only makes it better :D.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Secret Texts by Holly Lisle

Diplomacy of Wolves
Vengeance of Dragons
Courage of Falcons

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll already know that I really enjoy Holly Lisle's writing. Though I am an active member and moderator of the Forward Motion community which she began many years before I discovered it, this is not the start of my interest in Holly the author. She wrote books with Marion Zimmer Bradley, who was my favorite author for years, and then also with Mercedes Lackey. Those drew me to her solo novels and by the time I discovered, it was because of her name that I stopped and stayed.

She hasn't disappointed me yet :).

The Secret Texts is a wondrous series that plays to my favorite aspects of Holly's writing. She's created a people who have been split into three people by wars that occurred so far in the past that only prejudice remains. Even so, the prejudice continues as a strong and bitter force, condemning the innocent and the knowing without distinction. It is strong enough that even those who can hide their difference to live in normal society accept that their true nature means they are less than human. They do not question the classification. Just think for a moment how powerful that is. Not that one group oppresses another but that members of the oppressed class believe themselves the lesser and are not sure they should be left to live.

Anyway, world building is obviously one aspect I love, but the other is philosophy. I truly don't know where Holly gets her philosophies from, but they read the way Marx and Nietzsche do. These are not half-formed excuses to carry on the plot but full-featured approaches to life that, with very few changes, could be followed in our own world. I find myself lost in the different groups, my writer mind stunned to silence as my reader mind races ahead, absorbing the story itself. Holly once learned something from a situation one of her characters experienced and I don't find that surprising at all. I think many of us could learn something from listening to what the Falcons profess but at the same time we could learn something more from seeing how their approach fetters them (no pun intended, but I left it after I realized just cause ;)).

This is no simplistic series where right and good win out. This is a tangled tale where who is good and who is not cannot be measured at all points, where the lies one character accepts make enough sense that the reader has to question what the others are up to. When I was sure what would happen next, who would be the next threat, even who had died, I found myself wrong and yet not in a way that rang false.

All I can say is that I really enjoyed the series. If your tastes run the same way mine do, I think you will too.