Saturday, September 4, 2010

Living With the Dead (book) by Kelley Armstrong

I'm still working on my sudden Kelley Armstrong craving - luckily, I think there's more out by her that I haven't read yet. For those of you familiar with Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series, this is another book with Hope and Karl. I'm primarily a fan of Armstrong's werewolves, which means I like Karl well enough. Hope doesn't grab my attention as well as some of Armstrong's other characters, but I still enjoyed this book and couldn't wait to see how all the awfulness surrounding Adele and the kumpania (see my synopsis, if you dare) wrapped up. I wonder if Robyn and Finn will become series regulars?

Synopsis:

After the death of her husband David, Robyn is left grieving and aimless. Despite a lifetime of being able to handle pretty much everything the universe could throw at her, she can't seem to handle this, so she moves to L.A. and becomes Portia Kane's PR person (Portia Kane is like another Paris Hilton, only more pathetic). It's not a job she would ever have taken prior to David's death, but her heart's not in her job, or anything really, anymore.

Hope Adams, Robyn's best friend since high school and a tabloid reporter, decides to do a work exchange in L.A. because she's worried about Robyn. Robyn has no idea that Hope is a half-demon and that Karl, Hope's boyfriend, is a werewolf. She wasn't ever supposed to need to know about the supernatural side of the world, until Portia's murder gives her no choice. Robyn catches a glimpse of the person who killed Portia, but suddenly finds herself the primary suspect in the murders of Portia and another person. She's on the run and has no idea what to do, where it's safe to go, and who to turn to - the only person she can think of is Hope.

Hope is determined to help Robyn, and Karl will back her up no matter what. Unfortunately, she quickly realizes that the murders may not be mundane at all, but may rather have been committed for reasons having to do with supernaturals and the supernatural world. Hope and Karl try to research the potential link between Portia's murder and a member of the Nast Cabal (the Cabals are families of sorcerers that operate like a cross between a huge law firm and the mafia), and Karl tries to protect Hope from a werewolf intent on using Hope against Karl, all without letting Robyn know what's going on. Eventually, Robyn, who has no idea what kind of danger she's really in, decides that she's putting too great of a burden on Hope and Karl and tries to turn herself in to the police.

Unfortunately, turning herself in is harder than she expected it would be, because Adele, the woman who murdered Portia, is hot on her tail. Adele is a clairvoyant, a supernatural who, once she can get a fix on someone, can get a vision of where that person is. Robyn literally cannot get away from Adele, who wants to kill her and take back the incriminating evidence she thinks Robyn has.

Adele is part of the kumpania, a secret group of clairvoyants that operates a bit like a commune. Clairvoyants are eventually driven insane by their powers, but the kumpania claims to have found a way to avoid that particular drawback - however, the price its members must pay is to live by kumpania rules. This involves working as a kumpania photographer, taking pictures of celebrities (Adele was assigned to Portia), and being a breeder for the kumpania. Adele wants out, and she's willing to do whatever she has to to get out, so she makes a deal with the member of the Nast Cabal. However, if the kumpania finds out what she's doing, they'll kill her, and Robyn unknowingly possesses a photo of her and one of the Nasts together. So, Adele wants the photo back. In the meantime, she has to hide her steadily progressing pregnancy (the reason why the Nasts would want her in the first place) and try to make sure she's got a backup plan in place. For the most part, her backup plan consists of making sure her rival in the kumpania doesn't get pregnant, so she can swoop in and get the poor woman's assigned man instead.

Aside from Hope and Karl, another person who's trying to help Robyn is Finn, the police officer assigned to Portia's murder. Although Finn suspects Robyn at first, his suspicions don't last. However, he has a hard time finding her and getting close to her - Robyn, Hope, and Karl don't know who they can trust, and it seems possible to them that Finn is a Cabal plant. One of the main reasons they think Finn might be connected to the Nasts is that he's a supernatural - a necromancer - and it seems like too big of a coincidence that the officer assigned to Portia's murder by a supernatural is also a supernatural. However, it turns out it really is a coincidence - Finn may be a necromancer, but he's not a very powerful one, he's had no training, and he has no idea that there are others like him out there (or that there are any other kinds of supernaturals out there). It's just that, sometimes, when he visits a murder scene, he can see the ghost of the person who was murdered and get a little more information than most other officers could.

This time, Finn is getting help from David, Robyn's dead husband. David had stuck around because he was worried about Robyn, and now he wants to help prove her innocence and keep her from getting killed.

Things don't work out for Adele - the kumpania finds out what she's been doing. It turns out that the kumpania is actually connected to the Cabals - Adele's group is part of a Nast clairvoyant farm, with one member given to the Nasts every 10 years or so. Adele was supposed to go to them next, although she had no idea. The Nast she was making deals with was a family screw-up. Adele ends up brain dead, kept alive so that her baby, likely a powerful clairvoyant, can eventually work for the Nast Cabal. In return for all the trouble she's gone through, the Nasts agree to put as much of their lawyers and money as is necessary into clearing Robyn's name.

Robyn gets some last moments with David, who is allowed to briefly take over Finn's body on the condition that it's not permanent and they're both supposed to move on afterward. After finding out so much about the supernatural world, Robyn hopes she can do a little PR work for the supernaturals, helping them continue to hide from the rest of the world. Also, it looks a little like she and Finn may end up together in the future, which may be a little awkward, since David will probably still be helping Finn solve homicides.

Hope has decided that she needs a little time apart from Karl, to figure out what she wants to do with her life (does she really want to continue to be part of the council, or does she need work that will better feed her chaos hunger?) and to reassure herself that she can take care of herself without Karl. Karl is supportive and agrees to take a job that will take him away from her for a while.

Commentary:

The kumpania was awful. All of the locked-up inbred clairvoyants were bad enough, but Lily's gang rape just made me feel icky (Lily was woman unfortunate enough to attract Adele's jealousy and hatred). I wonder what Adele would have been like, had she not grown up in this kind of environment? I could sympathize with her a bit, but that didn't mean I didn't hate her - she was a terrible person, for using 15-year-old Colm the way she did, seducing Thom, setting things up so that Lily would eventually be gang raped, and killing Portia.

Adele was so messed up she couldn't see how she was making everything worse for herself. She killed Portia because Portia had the picture of her with the guy from the Nast Cabal. She wanted to kill Robyn because of the picture. By doing all of this, she drew more attention to her activities, and all for something that, although she didn't realize it, wasn't really escape at all, since the kumpania was actually part of the Nast Cabal anyway.

So, moving on from the nastiness. Armstrong handled the book's multiple perspectives really well. Chapters are told from the perspectives of Adele, Colm, Robyn, Hope, and Finn, and each person has a distinctive and believable voice (I didn't really appreciate this until I started reading James Patterson's When the Wind Blows, in which multiple POV is handled badly). Even if you do have trouble telling the voices apart, each chapter has the name of the person from whose perspective it's told, so there's no need for confusion.

In addition to enjoying Armstrong's writing, I also liked her characters. Getting to see Sean Nast was nice, although I didn't remember at first that he's Savannah's brother. I enjoyed Hope's description of him, that he's not really like the other Cabal members, in that he doesn't instinctively see other supernaturals as commodities. I wonder if he's married? If he's not, I wouldn't mind seeing a future book pairing him up with somebody.  It could be fun.

I liked Karl in this book, even though it was a bit like he was mostly living in the shadows. I kind of like his protectiveness - he wants to keep Hope safe, but he doesn't try to overshadow and smother her. Hope may doubt, deep inside, that he'll really stay with her, but it sure seems like he sees her as his mate and won't ever leave her. I love this whole "werewolf mate" thing, and the fact that, even with that, he's still willing to let her have her space is kind of sexy. Karl and Hope may not be my favorite pairing in Armstrong's world, but even characters of hers I don't like as much are still more appealing to me than some other authors' best characters.

One of the reasons Hope doesn't appeal to me quite as much as some of Armstrong's other characters is that she's just naturally a darker character. Hope's chaos hunger appears to be getting stronger, and she hasn't quite figured out how to deal with the fact that things she knows should horrify her actually kind of give her pleasure (like feeling the death of someone, or, in the end, when she kills, or thinks she kills, Adele). She worries that, one day, just experiencing this kind of stuff secondhand won't be enough, and the only thing that will satisfy her hunger is killing. I don't know if it will go that far. I hope it won't. All this baggage and darkness kind of turns me off. If I'm going to have to deal with someone's issues, I think I'd prefer Jamie, who just has to worry about going crazy and whether Jeremy will leave her for someone younger.

Read-alikes:
  • Touch the Dark (book) by Karen Chance - There is a total glut of series starring supernatural female main characters living in supernatural worlds right now.  This one's part of the glut.  Its main character has visions of the future and was raised, if I remember right, by the very vampires who killed her family.  This one may be a good fit who like their sexy supernatural male characters to be vampires - I believe there are several of those in this book.
  • Moon Called (book) by Patricia Briggs - Or do you prefer your sexy supernatural male characters to be werewolves?  There are several of those in this book, too, in addition to the vampires that occasionally cause the female main character (who's a skinwalker, a person who can turn into a coyote, but without all the various benefits and drawbacks of being a werewolf) trouble.  
  • Tempting Danger (book) by Eileen Wilks - Another book with a strong female main character, lots of supernatural aspects, and lots of werewolves.  It's the first in a series, starring a police officer (at least, I think she's a police officer, but I think she becomes an FBI agent) who ends up mated to a werewolf, who, unfortunately, is a possible suspect in a murder investigation.  Unlike in Armstrong's books, supernaturals are "out" in this series, which means that the various supernatural beings have to worry about what humans think about them, because humans do still outnumber them.
  • Urban Shaman (book) by C.E. Murphy - A mechanic (female, of course) learns that she has supernatural abilities and must learn how to use them as quickly as possible if she is to survive and stop bad things from happening.  I loved this book - I'll have to see if anything new has been published in the series that I haven't read.  I haven't been as thrilled by Murphy's works outside of this series.  However, this series would be a good fit for anyone looking for another "female main character in a supernatural world" story.  This first book may be particularly good for anyone who liked the bits where Robyn had to piece the supernatural puzzle together - the main character in this one spends a lot of time learning about the supernatural side of the world that she never knew existed.

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