Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hold the Dark (e-book) by Frank Tuttle

Hold the Dark is a short fantasy novel published by Samhain Publishing. It's 52,545 words long, according to All Romance Ebooks. According to this page, it's the fourth work in Tuttle's Markhat series. I think it would be possible for newbies to the series to start with this book, if they wanted, although I have no idea if later book refer to the events of the first three works in the series.

Synopsis:

Markhat's newest clients are the Hoobin brothers. They're looking for their sister, Martha Hoobin, who has disappeared. The Hoobin brothers are convinced someone has kidnapped, hurt, or killed her, and they'd like her found. Markhat privately wonders if she ran away, maybe found herself a young man. The Hoobin brothers say she worked as a seamstress at the Velvet, a high-class brothel - as much as the brothers swear otherwise, what if sewing wasn't all Martha did?

Despite Markhat's initial suspicions, Martha does seem to have been exactly what her brothers claimed she was. Everyone was charmed by her, and her sewing skills were prized at the Velvet. However, Markhat and Martha's brothers aren't the only ones trying to find her - Markhat soon finds himself reluctantly joining forces with vampires from House Avalante. The vampires have a secret they'd desperately like to keep, and that won't be easy if Martha dies and her death is investigated.

Review:

I've mentally divided this book up into the first two thirds or so, which I loved, and the last third, which was a bit of a disappointment.

I'll begin by writing about the first two thirds. That part of Hold the Dark was really good, and, I think, played a big part in helping to break the mild case of reader's block that had been weighing me down. As usual, I enjoyed Tuttle's sense of humor and Markhat's “voice.” The mystery was interesting, and I wanted to see if Markhat could manage to find Martha in time to save her from being killed. For once, Mama Hog was hobbled, unable to even drop cryptic-but-helpful hints. Markhat was pretty much on his own, and it made for some fun reading.

So did the introduction of a couple new characters. I'm not sure if the Corpsemaster will ever pop up again in this series, but I thought he was wonderfully horrifying to read about. And also nauseating. I kind of liked how much he freaked Markhat out. Darla, too, was a lot of fun, although for different reasons. I laughed a good bit when she took advantage her workplace's magical mojo to mess with Markhat's head a little. She was very sharp and reminded me of Terry Pratchett's Adora Belle Dearheart (Going Postal). The bit in the prologue, which stated that she had died, intrigued me, because I knew from reading descriptions of some of the later Markhat stories that she was going to be a recurring character. How was that going to work out? Was she going to be transformed into a vampire? I desperately wanted to know.

Unfortunately, what had started off as (so far) one of the strongest works in the Markhat series sort of fell apart when Markhat and Darla began dating. Darla had struck me as the sort of woman who'd make Markhat work for every bit of her time and attention. I figured it would take them until at least the next book before they started dating, and, in the meantime, I could look forward to lots of fantastic, clever, flirty conversation. Instead, they fell into a lovey dovey relationship incredibly quickly.

This, I soon learned, was meant to help the story along – it gave Markhat a reason to wallow in manpain after Darla died, thereby pushing him to do stupid things he might not have done if he and Darla had still been in the “attracted to each other, but still feeling things out” stage of their relationship. While I, the reader, felt like I was only just starting to get to know Darla, Markhat was so grief-filled that he was willing to plunge into the depths of magical darkness. I was not impressed, and the way Darla “saved” Markhat was another annoyance.

I really loved the first two thirds of this book, so my disappointment when the relationship between Markhat and Darla was fumbled so badly was pretty huge. I would definitely still recommend this series overall – Markhat is so much fun – but I hope that his and Darla's relationship becomes less gag-worthy later in the series. Darn it, I want Darla to be as awesome as it seemed like she was going to be when she was first introduced.

Other Comments:
  • “Evis Prestley” as a character name? Really? If this was done as a joke, it's one of the few times Tuttle's humor has not worked for me – I just could not take the character seriously. I wish he'd been named something else.
Read-alikes:
  • Jhereg (book) by Steven Brust - This is the first book in Brust's Vlad Taltos series (if you want to read them in publication order - in chronological order, Taltos comes first). The main character is a witch-assassin who has taken a job requiring him to kill a man who stole from the House of Jhereg, and kill him in such a way that no one would ever steal from the House again. Those who'd like something else with strong fantasy and mystery elements, plus a side of humor, might want to try this. 
  • Storm Front (book) by Jim Butcher - This is the first book in Butcher's Dresden Files series. The main character, Harry Dresden, is a professional wizard. He's basically a hard boiled private eye with magical abilities. In this book, he helps the police investigate gruesome murders in which the victims' hearts have exploded inside their chests.
  • Guards! Guards! (book) by Terry Pratchett - Something about Markhat's world made me think of it as a darker version of Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Those who'd like something else set in a city housing a variety of human and nonhumans might want to try this, which I think is one of the first books to deal with Sam Vimes and Ankh-Morpork's City Watch in any detail. The book combines, fantasy and humor, plus, if I remember correctly, a bit of investigative work on Vimes' part. 
  • Midnight Riot (book) by Ben Aaronovitch - Those who'd like another mix of mystery and fantasy, plus a snarky main character, might want to give this a try. Probationary Constable Peter Grant sees a ghost while standing guard at the scene of a murder and is eventually made part of a special investigative unit that deals with magical situations. In between learning about his new abilities and dealing with river gods and goddesses, Peter helps investigate several violent crimes that turn out to be connected. I've written about this book.

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