Monday, October 6, 2008

Richelle Mead - Storm Born (Book Review)

"Storm Born" (Amazon: US, UK)
by Richelle Mead (Homepage)
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Publisher: Bantam Books
- Warning: the first paragraph of this review includes (more or less) only my musings on the topic of urban fantasy and no information on the book, so feel free to skip it if you wish.
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You might have noticed that I'm the only member of RoSF review staff who reviews urban fantasy. There are several reasons for this:
  • the other three prefer reading epic fantasy and space-opera tinged SF, and while I’m not the biggest fan of urban fantasy, I have no prejudice that would keep me from reading it
  • I’m the youngest of the four (which is a rather silly reason, but on the other hand, it’s true that urban fantasy books usually aim at younger and less demanding audience)
  • my girl-friends are avid fans of urban fantasy, so I’m, in a way, 'obliged' to keep track of this sub-genre
  • and the most important reason, which is in a way related to the previous one: I’m the only female reviewer at RoSF and it’s a fact that urban fantasy is being written predominately for young women, since it’s mostly about young women with extraordinary powers who, in most cases, fall in love with equally extraordinary (and often non-human) young ‘men’. These elements of paranormal romance genre are often present up to the point where almost no actual ‘fantasy’ is left (e.g. Twilight), but however cheap that may sound, it usually works.

The problem is mostly that while I can enjoy well-written romantic elements in books I read, I still prefer them to remain only additions to a good plot and not, as it too often happens in urban fantasy, the other way around. That’s why I usually find urban fantasy easy to read and even easier to forget – but Storm Born came as a nice surprise and made me reconsider my opinion on the genre.

Meet Eugenie, a young woman whose life has never really been an average one. Introduced to a world of demons and fay at an early age, she’s been trained by her stepfather to become one of the world’s best shamans, known as Odile. Everyday routine has made her profession almost as ordinary as any other one, but all of a sudden, things start to go wrong. Every demon she is asked to banish seems to know her real name, the mysterious, sexy Kiyo is messing with her head and there seems to be a prophecy predicting she will bear the descendant of the Storm King, a powerful and feared ruler whose ability is to control weather. So, in a way, a client asking her to find his sister in the dangerous, gentry-inhabited Otherworld, is a good thing …

The plot struck me at first as eerily similar to the “Abhorsen” trilogy by Garth Nix – the most obvious of the elements they share being the banishing of evil creatures into a hidden, underlying world. It soon became obvious, though, that Storm Born’s Otherworld is nothing like Abhorsen’s Death, being much more like a colorful fairyland from folk tales, not to mention that finding a person in Otherworld takes much more time and labor. In other ways, Storm Born resembles Bloodring, with all the powerful gems, Eugenie's way of living and (sometimes rather demonical) visitors from Otherworld. As far as elements of paranormal romance are concerned, it's far from both previously mentioned books - it plunges boldly into sexuality, which (at least for me) is a welcome change form an adolescent naivete, especially after Bloodring, where the main protagonist does a lot of thinking on the subject but little else. In Storm Born, Mead introduces the super-sexy Kiyo very early in the book and there are whole chapters dedicated to whatever action he and Eugenie get involved into, be it lovemaking or solving their personal problems. Not to mention the decadent Otherworld palace of Dorian, a wise but rather bored gentry king, who tutors Eugenie and provides many comical moments.

As already mentioned, the first impression of the Otherworld being a rather dark and grim place falls away swiftly when we are introduced to a jolly and colorful land of the gentry. We follow what at first looks like a classical tale of The Chosen One's training, power-gaining and such, but it is brimming with very innovative ideas and twists. The characters we encounter are funny, witty, cynical, sexy and in a few cases rather obscure - in a way, they represent the book itself. The final twist is, for once, not exceedingly obvious, and it succesfully turns things upside down, leaving a reader wishing for more.

All in all, Storm Born is funny, full of sex-appeal, but it sometimes deals with the serious side of life, too. It balances the contrast between Eugenie's everyday problems and her Otherworldly adventures perfectly, not shying away from sexuality but never overstepping the treshold of vulgarity. It might not be an astonishing book, but is nevertheless a very good one - the best urban fantasy book I've came upon lately and one whose sequel I'll not only gladly read, but also actively seek out.

~ Trin ~


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