ARC REVIEW: Hunted by the Others

Jess Haines
Hunted by the Others (H&W Investigations #1)
Zebra
ISBN-10: 1420111876
ISBN-13: 978-1420111873
Urban fantasy
May 4, 2010

From Amazon.com:

They are the Others–the vampires, mages, and werewolves once thought to exist only in our imaginations. Now they’re stepping out of the shadows, and nothing in our world will ever be the same again. . .

In A Town Like This, Being A P.I. Can Be Murder

Shiarra Waynest’s detective work was dangerous enough when her client base was strictly mortal. But ailing finances have forced her to accept a lucrative case that could save her firm–if it doesn’t kill her first. Shiarra has signed on to work for a high-level mage to recover an ancient artifact owned by one of New York’s most powerful vampires.

As soon as Shiarra meets sexy, mesmerizing vamp Alec Royce, she knows her assignment is even more complicated than she thought. With a clandestine anti-Other group trying to recruit her, and magi being eliminated, Shiarra needs back-up and enlists her ex-boyfriend–a werewolf whose non-furry form is disarmingly appealing–and a nerdy mage with surprising talents. But it may not be enough. In a city where the undead roam, magic rules, and even the Others aren’t always what they seem, Shiarra has just become the secret weapon in a battle between good and evil–whether she likes it or not…

*Book provided by the author.

I really like the concept for this book as presented by the blurb. When I delved in a little further and realized it was also a kind of traditional vampires vs. werewolves vs. other magical beings, I was hooked. I love a good vamps vs. weres tale. The Underworld movie franchise is a good example of why; normally a centuries-old-grudge, plus they do just make good natural enemies, all cold-blooded vamp meets notoriously strong were.

Shiarra Waynest is our first person heroine in charge and it was a very interesting ride as a result, as well as odd and at times frustrating. She’s a private investigator, much to her family’s chagrin. They’d rather she do something much more safe, and by the end of this book, their logic will be pretty much justified. Despite her family’s wishes, Shiarra takes on a potentially dangerous contract to find a magical object. Shiarra wouldn’t normally touch a case like this, one tainted with Others, for Veronica, the woman who hired her, is a mage. The job requires Shiarra to contact the most dangerous vampire in the city, Royce. And if that isn’t bad enough, now her werewolf ex-boyfriend is back on the scene. Before Shiarra knows it, she’s in way over her head and busy trying to stay alive. And then people start dying, people involved in the case Shiarra took on. Something rotten is controlling the Others of New York, and Shiarra’s the only one who can figure it all out, hopefully before she and her friends end up as dead as some of the Others.

I both enjoyed and at times highly disliked Shiarra. Being a private investigator, I expected her to have more of a take-charge attitude, as well as be able to figure out the quickly escalating events somewhat on her own. As it is, she does seem to know a lot about the Others, but she’s also glaringly in the dark about some facts that seemed pretty obvious. As a result, she’s led around during much of the book, by her friend and work partner, Sara, as well as another mage that comes into play early on, Arnold, who works for The Circle, the governing body of magi in the city. Without their help, I’m not sure Shiarra would have been able to get anywhere but dead. She does take up some of the slack eventually, and I was glad to see her finally growing a backbone against the Others and a radical group of anti-Others known as White Hats.

For all that she does finally find that backbone, and begins to take charge, I found her character to be inconsistent. There was the information she did and didn’t know about the Others. Why would she know some particular things, but not other more seemingly simplistic and obvious details? Even Arnold gets weary of how naïve Shiarra appears to be. There was the case of Shiarra’s ex-boyfriend, Chaz, who Shiarra is very hot and cold with almost the whole book. Through him, we get to see a lot of Shiarra’s bias and prejudice towards others, some of which seems justified, others not so much. At times I grew weary of her constantly telling readers why she didn’t like him, yet it was impossible for her to resist him physically. This made me see Shiarra as somewhat shallow, which I didn’t care for. I grew to like Chaz, though, and it would have been nice to see something beyond a physical need drawing them together. Perhaps this is a facet that will develop more in the next book, as there was plenty of life-or-death action to keep a person busy. Maybe there just wasn’t time for a more deeper attraction between them yet.

I was thinking about Shiarra as an urban fantasy heroine. In regards to her somewhat timid reaction to Others, she’s pretty different than the usual, scared-of-no-one urban fantasy kick-butt lady. And Shiarra really annoyed me at first for her utter lack of experience. But I had to wonder if she wasn’t actually really refreshing. I read, or tried to read, another urban fantasy debut this year where the heroine was your usual extremely capable, kick-butt woman, the ultimate bad ass. It was old, clichéd and tired. I couldn’t finish that particular book. While, yes, it would have been great for Shiarra to cause more of what happened around her during the first half of the book, as opposed to being led around to what she should be doing, by the end of the book I think what we actually got was some very decent character development. We have a young woman, scared to death of Others, prejudiced against them, utterly lacking in life-saving skills never mind the means to go about initiating and executing them. She goes on by the end of the book to not only be that kick-butt woman, but come to entirely different conclusions about Others and herself as a human being. Reflecting on the book as a whole, I have to applaud the author for giving her heroine some tough to get used to, yet effective character development. Because not only did I come eventually to like her, I also cared enough about her to want to read more in the next book.

Secondary characters play important roles in Hunted by the Others. Her best friend, Sara, is really only there to be the quintessential girlfriend and eventually does play into the plot more, but she provides that important role of true support. I can’t count how many times we’ve seen the ultimate loner urban fantasy heroine who has no one she can lean on. Not so here. Shiarra and Sara have a great friendship that will leave readers feeling like Shiarra is not only at least socially well adjusted, but not so dang alone either, as so many UF heroines are.

Chaz, Shiarra’s ex, plays a great role in the book. At first you’re not sure if he can be trusted, or if any Other can for that matter. We learn why he’s her ex as opposed to her boyfriend, and he also plays a good part in Shiarra growing as a person in relation to her prejudices against Others. He has a very sweet demeanor that plays perfectly against his domineering attitude as a werewolf.

Royce is the head vampire in New York, achingly ancient (ancient Rome is mentioned at one point), and also not quite in his full faculties, but you’ll see why. He’s very interesting even though we don’t get to know the true him much in this book. He does step in at the end for some very interesting developments, though, ones that really pinged my interest meter. I can’t wait to see how he plays out in later books!

Arnold is a mage with The Circle, which is a very interesting organization in and of itself, in possession of tons of magical artifacts, some of which aid Shiarra on her quest against whatever is trying to control the Others of New York. Arnold, somewhat like Chaz, is immediately helpful to Shiarra, but not without his own motives. What remains to be seen throughout the book is if those motives will get in Shiarra’s way or not.

The urban fantasy world Haines has built is familiar, while at the same time shown to us just differently enough to enjoy. You’ve probably already guessed that Others refers to anyone that is non-human. It all takes place in a traditional, modern city, New York this time. In this case, average, ordinary humans do know about Others and what they’re capable of – to a point. Humans and Others can enter into legally binding contracts that enable the Other in charge control over the humans that sign with them. One character mentions this as being a kind of slavery at one point, but a contract is also used when an Other and a human simply wish to engage in a physical relationship. It’s an interesting enough spin for an urban fantasy novel. The world itself will read engagingly familiar enough without the need to overwhelm, while also giving something a little fresh to hook into.

I did feel that the plot itself was a little too close to that of another favorite urban fantasy series installment, from one of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan books. It could be that a focus, an object that plays heavily into this book’s plot, might be more of a widespread plot point than I thought. At first I didn’t really like that this was the focus of the plot, given that I’d read something very similar in a favorite series before, but soon, combined with Shiarra’s finally finding a backbone and a plot that comes into its own, I wasn’t as bothered by the end of the book.

At times I felt weighed down by some of the things Shiarra would focus on. Describing certain things, such as Sara’s sister Janine’s even more spine-crushing timidness. It seemed like Shiarra dwelled too much on things that didn’t do anything for the book. The establishment of her relationship with her family was a good example too. While it’s always nice to know whether a hero or heroine is grounded firmly in family, I was bored by a family barbecue scene, when I wondered if it would have been better to have it much shorter and on to some more interesting action. Hard to tell, but that’s how I felt at those kinds of times, and to be honest, I just glanced through some scenes that felt similarly to me until I felt I’d come to a much meatier part of the book.

Over all, Hunted by the Others has a few stumbling blocks in pacing, character development and, at times, the plot, but when taken as a whole, I seriously can’t complain too much because I am solidly hooked for book two. Thanks to the last several chapters, including the climax and aftermath, I’m eager to see what Shiarra’s up for next. I had to push heavily at times through a couple of annoying things, but there was a point at which the tide turned, action picked up and Shiarra found a good balance as an urban fantasy heroine, one I feel will continue to hold her own and earn a place amongst the rest of the noteworthy heroines in the genre.

Rating: Three and Half Scoops

Series order:

  • Hunted by the Others
  • Taken by the Others (Dec. 2010/Jan. 2011)

For more info, visit the author’s site.

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