Friday, March 07, 2008

Nightlife, Moonshine, Madhouse--Rob Thurman (Cal Leandros Novels)

I heard about these books from Jia's review of Madhouse over at Dear Author. Damn, I am thankful for the recommendation, even if these books provided too much of a distraction. How much of a distraction? Not only did I get the first two books from the library and DEVOUR them, I went out and bought the third and I am not allowed to go and buy books, especially if I am paying a full $7 for it. It was totally worth it. And fantasy is usually not my thing. Having spent too much time around the LARP crowd, I am so burnt out on the angsty, the monsters, vampires, werewolves, oh my! and retread stories about souls and demons and blah, blah, blah that 3 years later I will kick you in the shins if that sort of shit comes up.

Or maybe it's being older that you have no patience for such. It started to decline after I broke my arm, I know that. That's when everything changed.

But anyway--back to the awesome stories!

Cal Leandros and his older brother Niko are on the run. Truthfully, they've been on the run their whole lives--when your mom is a Gypsy con artist/whore, staying long in one place is not an option. However, for the past 4 years they've been on the run from creatures they call "Grendels," one of which is Cal's father. The last time they all met up, Cal vanished for 2 days and came back 2 years older, with no memory of where he'd been or what happened. Recent Grendel sightings have them looking to leave New York, despite the assurances of their psychic friend Georgina King that they should stay. Hunting for a car, they meet puck/used car salesman Robin Goodfellow, who identifies Cal as part Auphe (the basis for the elven myths, only not hot like Orlando Bloom and much more into killing things.) Nice. Rob's good sorts, which is helpful because the Auphe have a plan that they shortly put into action that leaves Cal not in control of himself. Oh dear.

Moonshine has the brothers living a semi-normal life: Cal is mostly recovered from the trauma of Nightlife, Niko's gone back to college and got a girlfriend, and the three of them have a supernatural fix-it/detective agency thing going, with Robin Goodfellow hanging around to help and amuse. Cal is also being pursued by George King, and doing his best to elude that relationship for fear of the Auphe and "You really want to find daycare for a flesh-eating baby? I think they charge extra when your kid goes cannibal during naptime." Things get rough when they agree to do a job for a werewolf, who decides to make sure he gets good results by kidnapping George to ensure compliance and sends Cal undercover. Yikes.

Madhouse has the brothers facing off against the famous "cannibal" Sawney Bean (he eats people, but he's a Red Cap, not a human. He's also the inspiration for the Reivers in Firefly.) And someone's making attempts on Goodfellow's life. Sawney Bean's got a special liking for Cal, whose mental health is strained, what with the events of the previous books, and this whole being connected to people thing is new and very stressful.

As you can see, there's a lot of fantasy cheese factor in these stories. Let me count the types:

Hot brothers who spend all their spare cash on weaponry!
Hot angsty sarcastic men with ISSUES!
Vampires, werewolves and monsters, oh my!
The whoring, drinking, cheating, stealing puck with a mastery of the lewd remark!
Half human/half monster!

Sorry, I had to fan myself. Here's the deal--I know logically much of this seems over the top. But surprisingly, it really works for me. I spent some time analyzing why, and it's because Thurman does such a great job of balancing all aspects of her tale. Okay the plot of Moonshine wanders, but I didn't notice it until after. She's got tightly written fight scenes, plenty of action, and good pacing within the stories. Robin's a great source of humor, and so is Cal's sarcastic first person narration. And I appreciate that in her world the supernatural races are born and just exist, no angsty vamping or wolfing necessary.

And there's character grounding and development, which I'm always a sucker for. Niko's overachieving, supercontrolled, overprotective nature and Cal's crappy self-esteem and perpetual guilt owe as much to having a neglectful, alcoholic mom as to the events of the books. Cal is particular is an evolving character that Thurman's got on the Hero's Journey. He's very much the younger brother in the first book, but by Madhouse he's moving out of Niko's shadow and making independent choices that he knows might not be best, but what he he feels he has to do. He also feels greater connection and responsibility to the victims that he and Niko encounter, and tries to right things.

So if you like the sound of this, you might also like Bill Willingham's Fables for the novel character development and humor, Simon R. Green and Charles de Lint for urban fantasy settings. Heck, throw in Neil Gaiman too.

And you know what hit me around Madhouse? These books are a lot like Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. No, really. Lone wolf detective, deadly silent companion, idealized female love interest, sarcasm, and a little sap.

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