Saturday 4 July 2020

#CBR12 Book 33: "The Unleashing" by Shelly Laurenston

Page count: 385 pages
Rating: 3 stars

#CBR12Bingo: Cannonballer Says (previously reviewed by alwaysanswerb, yesknopemaybe and teresaelectro)

Official book description:
Kera Watson never expected to face death behind a Los Angeles coffee shop. Not after surviving two tours lugging an M16 around the Middle East. If it wasn't for her hot Viking customer showing up too late to help, nobody would even see her die.

In uncountable years of service to the Allfather Odin, Ludvig "Vig" Rundstrom has never seen anyone kick ass with quite as much style as Kera. He knows one way to save her life--but she might not like it. Signing up with the Crows will get Kera a new set of battle buddies: cackling, gossiping, squabbling, party-hearty women. With wings. So not the Marines.

But Vig can't give up on someone as special as Kera. With a storm of oh-crap magic speeding straight for L.A., survival will depend on combining their strengths: Kera's discipline, Vig's loyalty... and the Crows' sheer love of battle. Boy, are they in trouble.

There are so many elements of this paranormal fantasy that should make it exactly my thing - a lot of references to Norse mythology; hunky fighter dudes; a diverse cast of kick-ass warrior women; a big lug of a loyal dog, a romantic subplot- yet, it took me nearly a week to finish The Unleashing, because I kept putting it down and there was nothing much enticing me to pick it back up again to keep reading. Maybe I just read it at the wrong time, because I do not seem to have responded to it as enthusiastically as previous Cannonballers.

Kera is an ex-marine. She's tough, independent and very organised. She finds herself part of a near-immortal group of warrior women sworn to the Norse goddess Skuld (one of the Norns, think three Fates in Roman or Greek mythology). The sisterhood are called Crows and they live in a big, gorgeous mansion in Malibu. While they can manifest wings and claws and are fearless fighters, a lot of them also seem like bitchy sorority girls a lot of the time, all very busy doing their own thing, and no one really seems to bother to explain much of her new and very strange existence to Kera. At least her rescue pitbull Brodie was also brought over with her, with the unexpected side effects that the dog can also manifest wings and supernatural fighting powers now. Of course, Kera barely ever sees her dog, as her various new battle sisters keep taking the dog with them on runs.

Kera discovers that the reason she didn't die in the alley behind the coffee shop where she worked is because the hot, silent guy who frequently showed up there (who she believed to be a veteran of some kind with severe PTSD) is, in fact, a Raven, one of a legendary group of warriors sworn to Odin. Ludvig "Vig" Rundstrom is a gifted blacksmith and seems to make weapons for all the various groups of viking warriors (there's a whole bunch of them). Vig was too late to stop Kera being stabbed, but since he has a big old crush on Kera, he begged Skuld to give her a new chance at life. Since the Crows are less than forthcoming about Kera's new afterlife, except to say that she'll grow wings and have to fight when the time comes, Kera very much appreciates having Vig basically explain all the nitty gritty and also offer to teach her how to fight, as the army training she possesses isn't going to cut it in the sort of fights the Crows get into.

Even before Kera got an unfamiliar new afterlife, she was attracted to Vig, and we discover that he went massively out of his way to go to the coffee shop where she worked just so he could see her. So obviously the two act on their mutual attraction to one another. They just sort of decide that they're crazy about each other, without the reader really ever getting to see how that attraction, or affection for the other, came to be.

Generally, while quite a bit of the world-building here is interesting, the relationships, whether the romantic or platonic are not well established enough for me. While it's clear that there's a lot of tight-knit friendships among the already-existing Crows, they are all initially mostly surprisingly unhelpful and in some cases, really rather bitchy to Kera. While I can see that to their free and chaotic, self-indulgent party lifestyle, her tendency to wander around with a clipboard, trying to impose order and regular schedules on them (because this is what she's used to) is annoying, but there are more mature ways of dealing with things than how it goes down here. It didn't really become clear to me why I was supposed to like any of these women.

At least a couple of the main reviewers over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books really rave about these books and talk about how funny and action-packed they are. Same with a lot of reviewers on Goodreads. I get the action part, there's quite a lot of fighting, but I really don't think this book was all that funny. It takes quite a while before the reader gets a clear picture of what has actually happened to Kera. The whole situation with a bunch of warrior tribes dedicated to various Norse gods is also not very clearly established until quite a long way into the book. There's a lot of switching between POVs, we don't just see things through the eyes of Kera and Vig, but a whole bunch of other supporting characters, including some antagonists. The book also ends really rather abruptly, on quite the cliff-hanger, so while the romantic subplot involving Kera and Vig is resolved, the reader is clearly going to have to keep going with the series if they want to see how the big battle between some ancient evil and what I'm assuming is going to be the united front of all the various Norse battle groups. Not a huge fan of that either. I have heard really good things about Laurenston's writing, and I already own the full trilogy (thanks, frequent e-book sales!), so I probably will keep reading, but I'm not entirely sold on this just yet.

Judging a book by its cover: First of all, I genuinely don't know if this is the first book to use what seems to be a stock image of that shirtless, very ripped guy in a hoodie, but I've seen variations of this exact image on a bunch of books during the last few years. Obviously, the others don't have a bunch of birds in the background, but otherwise, it really an image that's been doing the rounds.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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