Wednesday, 13 May 2009

‘The Awakening’ – Kelley Armstrong (Orbit)


Me and Urban Fantasy (the ‘strong female lead, kills vampires etc etc’ kind) haven’t been getting on too well just recently. It feels like we’ve been seeing a little bit too much of each other and we’ve got to a point where we know each other inside out and there isn’t anything new left to find. Is it time for us to go our separate ways or is there still a spark there? (Have a look through the ‘urban fantasy’ tags on the blog, if you think I’m missing anything really good, that I haven’t read) then leave a comment here)
I was in the mood to give things one more chance and I’ve always enjoyed Kelley Armstrong’s books so when ‘The Awakening’ came through the door I figured I’d give it a go and see if I could rediscover the spark that got me reading ‘Female Lead’ Urban Fantasy in the first place. As it turned out, I think I’ll be sticking with Harry Dresden and Felix Castor for the foreseeable future...

Following the events of ‘The Summoning’, Chloe Saunders (very reluctant necromancer) has uncovered more of the truth about her imprisonment by the sinister Edison Group. A lucky break sees her on the run with a boyish sorcerer, a troubled werewolf and a temperamental young witch but how long can their luck last? It’s a race to see whether Chloe and her friends reach some kind of safety before they are either caught by the Edison Group or internal rivalries tear the group apart...

I thought ‘The Awakening’ would be a safe bet (in terms of an enjoyable read for me) in that ‘The Summoning’ made it pretty clear that this trilogy would definitely not be about angst ridden shape shifters dodging hails of bullets. To an extent this was true, there was some gunfire but this didn’t drive the whole plot. What we get instead is an escape and a road trip where Chloe’s character is allowed to develop a bit further but this is where the ‘angst element’ makes it’s presence felt. You would have thought that a desperate flight from danger would focus people’s minds on survival but oh no... There’s a love triangle in the offing with lots of ‘how does he feel about me’ type introspection accompanying it (that’s not including all the ‘is she my friend?’ stuff that is also to be found). To be fair, Chloe is fifteen years old, and this trilogy is aimed at people of a similar age, so maybe this is to be expected but it has the unwelcome effect of slowing down a book that relies heavily on a fast and urgent pace.

If this wasn’t bad enough, the conclusion to ‘The Awakening’ is pushed into the shadows by the fact that this is very much a ‘middle book’ where the emphasis is on getting everyone into place for the events of the final book. What we have then, as a result, is a book that meanders along (with very occasional bursts of action) to a conclusion that peters out when set up against what’s coming next. To be fair, things will probably look very different when the third book is published (and the story is completed) but that doesn’t make me feel better right now...

These ‘off putting’ bits are a real shame in that I found they detracted really heavily from what Kelley Armstrong does very well (as far as I’m concerned), well fleshed out characters who remain engaging throughout the course of the book. While I wasn’t happy about the way in which Chloe behaved at times (how can someone remain so cheery the whole time?), she was still a character where I found myself genuinely interested in how she got on. It was a shame that the execution of the plot didn’t carry Chloe’s character as well as she deserved...
Armstrong also continues to get that blend of ‘real world’ and ‘other world’ just right and this helps keep things interesting as anything can happen and, when it does, the contrast between ‘real’ and ‘other’ worlds really resonated with me.

If you’re a fan of Kelley Armstrong then I reckon you’ll love this as Armstrong is doing what she has done in all her other books. As far as I go, I’ll probably pick up the third book up but only because I hate leaving a series unfinished, not because I actually want to see how it ends...

Six and Three Quarters out of Ten

6 comments:

hwm said...

Excellent review as always. I'm glad you don't mince words.

I do, in fact, have a recommendation for you. In my opinion Ilona Andrews is one of the best urban fantasy writers out there. I'd compare her to Patricia Briggs, but the setting is more original, the plot tighter and generally bloodier. Don't let the awful covers irritate you, MAGIC BITES, MAGIC BURNS and MAGIC STRIKES are well worth the read.

Erik said...

One of the better urban fantasy writers right now seem to be Kate Griffin and her 'A Madness of Angels' was very good. 9/10 I'd say. Main character is a bloke though so you dont have to worry about the strong female lead who falls in love with everyone around her.

Graeme Flory said...

Erik - I've read 'A Madness of Angels' and if it wasn't for one Mike Carey then it would probably be my favourite urban fantasy of the year :o) I'm looking forward to the sequel.

hwm - Thanks! :o) And thanks for the recommendation as well, I'll keep an eye open for those...

Anonymous said...

Finish up the the Dresden Files. They only get better from where you left off at "Fool Moon." They are fun excellent reads, and Harry Dresden is one of my Favorite Fantasy Characters.

Anonymous said...

As a fan of Kelley Armstrong Otherworld series I did not like The Awakenng, it reads like a combination of recent urban fantasy books I've read put together with no regards to originality or quality. Honestly, I got the feeling that it was written by another person entirely, that's how bad I think it was. :/

Lirial said...

This may be a wonderful suggestions or I may be lynched in the night but I like Charles De Lint's novels. I'm not sure what I would recommend, but for me I first started reading his short story collections.