Web of Lies (Elemental Assassin #2) by Jennifer Estep
I am annoyed.
I really did not like this book. I didn’t like the first one either, and I hadn’t originally planned on reading the second after I finished it. But my book club has still been reading this series, so I keep hearing about it, and my mom at some point in time got all of these on one of our shared “family” devices (the contents of which were a lot easier to keep track of when only my dad and I read fantasy). So since I kept hearing little tidbits about things that had been bothering me from the first book being made moot in later books, and since it wasn’t going to cost me anything (including a trip to the library), I gave it another shot. I hadn’t been able to put my finger on specifically what bothered me so much about the first book, so maybe I was just in a bad mood.
No, I really didn’t like it. And since I’ve started keeping this book, I have apparently gotten much better at identifying what I consider to be faults in the writing. And there were enough things that were getting on my nerves throughout this book that I started keeping a list. I could therefore rant for hours, but I will try to keep it relatively condensed for this post.
Let’s start with one of my biggest pet peeves that is something I have been working on myself lately. Jennifer Estep really does not give her readers enough credit. At all. I mean, there are times where I try to explain too much because I don’t know if the reader will be able to catch on to my subtle clues. There’s an art in scene selection and in the amount of detail the writer should share in order to give the reader just the right amount of information and let them do the rest. Estep isn’t so bad about oversharing information such as world-building or description—she does more than I personally like, but it’s not overwhelming. No, my biggest problem with underestimating the reader in this book is Estep’s repetition of not-effective things. I think in this book it took us meeting Jojo three times before we stopped getting the explanation that she was Sophia’s sister. Seriously? I think I can remember who the character who just dominated the scene before last long enough to not need the reminder about who she is. Another example: lines painfully similar (or identical) to the following appeared so many times in one chapter I lost count after about four: “A sunburst. The symbol of fire. Mab’s personal rune.” Okay, I get the idea. Mab is a fire elemental. Her personal rune is a sunburst. When I see sunbursts I’m supposed to think of Mab. If nothing else, at least mix up your phrasing. I get that the imagery is important and we’re supposed to be making these connections, but you don’t need to slap us in the face with it. There are other examples of this, but these were the worst offenders for me.
Let’s talk about characters. I consider there to be a distinction between not liking the characters and not liking how the characters are written. Normally I can tell if there’s a character I think I would really like but maybe the writing isn’t quite there. It’s usually pretty easy to tell when characters are written well, and you’re supposed to not like them. Those are actually usually my favorite characters. In this book, I honestly can’t tell if all of these characters grate on my nerves because that’s who they are as people, or if they drive me nuts because they weren’t written in a manner that didn’t annoy me. I have no idea. I mean, Gin feels real enough, in her own way, although I personally think she’s a bit flat. Let’s talk about Gin in bullet points, because this would turn into a terribly long paragraph otherwise.
- Her voice is annoying. That’s fair—maybe that’s just her voice and a personal preference for me. Part of this is because I like moderated use of first and last name, but not excessive use.
- She’s terribly overconfident. I get that that’s a trope of the genre, but when she says things like “Giants didn’t need weapons—they could kill you with a single punch” in one chapter, and then a few pages later, she says something along the lines of “I don’t even think I could beat the giant in a fight.” Of course she can’t beat the giant in a fight. We just established that they’re strong and powerful beings that don’t even need weapons. I get that you’re an assassin. I get that you’re an elemental. But let’s face it, if you actually fought a giant, you would probably not win, even with those advantages.
- Why does she need to justify her knowledge every time she knows anything not related to cooking or killing? I mean, almost any time she says something that would be regular tools of the trade, people are surprised. Or she has to explain that her cover identity as Gin Blanco, perpetual college student, involves her taking a lot of random classes and she learns random things. Can’t she just know something? Most of these little “surprise trivia tidbits” are actually pretty common-knowledge. Like the relationship between diamonds and coal.
- THIS BULLET CONTAINS VERY MILD SPOILERS. I feel the need to question her time management. I’m a very busy person, and I budget my time accordingly. Gin’s use of her day throughout the book confuses me. I mean, her restaurant gets shot at and she has someone come replace the glass. That must happen instantaneously, because she certainly didn’t spend any more time at the store after the bullets before the windows are fixed. She’s always cooking. I mean, “Hey, thanks for healing this random person who almost got raped, Jojo. While you ask me what happened, I’m going to make apricot bars in your kitchen. By the way, do you have ice cream? I’m going to make my version of a poor man’s cobbler. Jojo, did you know that this is my version of a poor man’s cobbler? Here, have my version of a poor man’s cobbler.” (As I’m typing this, I realize I have another example of the repetition thing I mentioned above—go figure). She also makes a blueberry cobbler while she’s waiting for Finn to come over. She’s not, I don’t know, doing her own research, or supervising the replacement of the window at her restaurant. No, she’s making another cobbler. Seriously, this book did everything but teach me how to make cobbler.
- THIS BULLET CONTAINS VERY MILD SPOILERS. She’s inconsistent. She’s going to help Violet, she asks Sophia if the dwarf can watch the Pork Pit for a while. Sophia agrees. A chapter later, Sophia and Gin are both at the Pork Pit (and the windows are already fixed!). Two chapters after that, Sophia is helping to protect Violet. Gin is off trying to kill someone again (while she’s retired and supposedly out of shape, though she’s still highly successful—man, she must have been REALLY good when she was in shape). Finn is helping with research (I’m still not sure that I know how. And why Gin isn’t capable of doing some of this herself). Who’s watching the Pork Pit? Yeah, I know it didn’t have any customers coming anyway, but are we just supposed to ignore its existence even though we keep talking about it amongst ourselves for the rest of the book? I mean, you do have a homicidal teenager pretty focused on your store, not just on you. I wouldn’t want to leave it unsupervised if I cared about it so much, in light of the fact that it’s where Fletcher Layne died …
- What the hell is her infatuation with Donovan Kane? I get that he’s apparently handsome. She’s had a fling with him. She hasn’t seen him in months. The second he steps into her restaurant, she’s like, fawning over him. But she’s got too much testosterone to actually do that. And she’s too independent. And she doesn’t care what he thinks. But apparently that’s all she thinks about. I’m sick of listening to Gin whine about her obsession with Donovan Kane and about how he’s in such a moral dilemma because she kills people and he’s a cop. Again, another trope in urban fantasy that doesn’t need to be hit on quite so hard. I get frustrated enough when it’s always there even just a little, but you really don’t have to slap me in the face with it. Make something more subtle if you want to make a statement about morality. Oh, and if you want to effectively make commentary on morality and the whole black vs. white thing, you might want to consider making your setting not-Ashland, where apparently every single person except for Donovan Kane is corrupt for one reason or another. (On a side thought—Donovan Kane is supposedly a good detective, but even after he apparently did some research in this whole coal mining company thing a few years ago, he didn’t know that diamonds are more ore less pressurized coal. And he really didn’t get it. And was really surprised when Gin knew).
Slightly smaller complaint: Sophia grunts instead of talking. I’m okay with that as a character trait. I don’t always need to read “‘Hmph,’ Sophia grunted.” At some point, I’m going to assume that Sophia grunts. Probably after the first time you mentioned it in the first book, and probably after the first time you reminded us of it here. Every now and then an indication of her ‘yes’ grunt and her ‘no’ grunt would be nice, but not every time. You don’t put “she said” after every single line of dialog, because you don’t always need it to guide the conversation. The “she grunted” is even less useful.
So now I’m curious … Am I just being way too critical about this book? How did you feel if you’ve read it? I’m particularly curious on how you feel about the characters—do you think I’m annoyed more because of the writing or because I just don’t like the character?