Tuesday 3 February 2015

#CBR7 Book 11: "Owl and the Japanese Circus" by Kirsti Charish

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Alix "Owl" Hiboux is an archaeology grad student who was screwed over by her professors and turned to a life of art theft to support herself. After a job gone wrong, she ended up on some French vampires' hit list and has been hiding out in a Winnebago in the desert, playing online roleplaying games in her downtime. She's sworn off any kind of supernatural job ever again, but can't really refuse when a helicopter comes to pick her up to take her to Mr. Kurosawa, owner of the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. Owl is shocked to discover that Mr. Kurosawa is in fact a Japanese dragon, and refusing to work for him will probably result in him eating her. He arranges for the vampires to stop hunting Owl in return for her locating an ancient treasure for him.

As refusal will mean either that the vampires hunting her will track her down, or the dragon actually eating her, Owl reluctantly agrees. She finds the egg Mr. Kurosawa wants fairly easily, but is told that the real treasure the dragon wanted was the contents of the egg, a magic scroll, now missing. Owl's job just got a lot trickier. She enlists the help of her best friend, Nadya, a Russian hospitality waitress living in Tokyo and discovers, while fleeing for her life in a Balinese temple, that Rynn, the handsome bartender she's been flirting with on and off used to be a very skilled mercenary, and has been hired by Kurosawa's right hand man to keep her out of too much danger. Of course, Owl seems to be a danger magnet, constantly ending up in life-threatening scrapes.

As Owl and her two friends try to track the scroll, they have to contend with vampires, an ancient Balinese naga (part snake, part beautiful woman), near-impossible decryption, traps, double-crosses, vengeance spirits and more. Owl's supernatural detection is truly abominable, proven by the fact that most of the people she surrounds herself with turn out to be some kind of supernatural creature. She would probably be dead several times over if it wasn't for the assistance of Captain, her vampire-hating Mau cat, whose claws and teeth seem to be venomous to vampires.

This is the first book in a new series. I hadn't heard of Kristi Charish before, but the book was highlighted in January releases by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and come on, it's an art thief chased by vampires working for a dragon. For $1.99, I pretty much had to buy it, not matter how it turned out. The series and the characters show promise, but for all that there is a lot to like, there is also a lot that didn't entirely work for me.

What I liked:
- The unusual set-up. I love the fact that in this supernatural universe, shape-shifting dragons are totally a thing, and have no problem believing that they would be fearsome and successful business owners.
- The variety of supernatural creatures in the story. Over the course of the book, Owl, for all that she is rubbish at spotting them initially, comes into contact with a slew of supernatural creatures. There are Japanese spirits, luck demons, nymphs, nagas, incubi, vampires, even elves. Somewhat different from the shapeshifter/vampire fare of a lot of urban fantasy.
- The socially awkward aspect to our heroine. Owl is actually a bit of a disaster socially speaking. She has a tendency to mouth off every time she feels vaguely threatened, which often leads her into more dangerous situations than she started out in. She also spends most of her spare time playing computer games, engaging in witty banter with her online players, at least one of whom becomes an important secondary character in the book.

What I didn't like so much:
- The socially awkward aspect of our heroine. Unfortunately, while it's initially amusing that Owl isn't all that great with people, it also became exasperating that she kept getting into worse and worse scrapes because she would recklessly and blindly rush into situations that were clearly hella dangerous or even obvious traps, or mouth off to the people threatening her.
- The number of dangerous situations Owl escapes more or less unharmed. This book is a bit of a roller coaster of danger and escaping it. Considering she is just a normal, frankly surprisingly clueless human (it's made a joke out of, but seriously, after that many situations where your opponents turn out to be supernatural, it's just common sense to start researching them and their weaknesses), Owl survives a LOT of bad shit relatively unharmed. She's constantly rescued by someone, be it Rynn, Captain the vampire slayer or even her friend Nadya. Even when she is injured, she seems to heal unfeasibly quickly.
- The pacing. Considering I, on occasion, read 400 page paranormal fantasy books in one sitting, or at most, a day and a half, the fact that it took me 6 days to get through this book should speak for itself. There was only a niggling sense of duty that made me pick it up to keep reading when I put it down. I did have a heavy workload while reading the book, but in the past, with books that are more engrossing, I tend to neglect said work, at least until I've finished the compelling book.

The book has promise and as long as Owl keeps growing and evolving as a character, I will give the series a few more chances. A lot of paranormal series take two to three books to really get good, and I can think of more than one heroine who needed to grow smarter and less reckless to really become a likable protagonist. I am a sucker for dragons, and any book series who have them as part of the paranormal big bads is going make me take notice. I have problems with your first book, Ms. Charish, but will be keeping an eye out for the sequel, hoping that the writing improves as the series progresses.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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