Originally posted 06-23-10 on my meta/review blog.
I very much did not like this book–but your mileage may vary. (I’m not really fond of this particular series in general–Jill Kismet even more “standard babe with gun urban fantasy romance” than Saintcrow’s previous “standard babe with a gun urban fantasy romance” series heroine, Dante Valentine.) I had many problems with the plotting and world building, to the point where I was very reluctant to write a review. (Very, very reluctant, I bought and read the book a few months ago.)
This particular installment features the arrival of a hellspawn-run circus called the Cirque De Charnu, which is a great deal like the carnival in Something Wicked This Way Comes–only it apparently has some variety of legal sanction as long as certain rules are followed. (This is not the brain breaking part. After the umpteenth bizarro-dystopia, you get used to it.) There is also a homicidal transgender mambo, the usual shrieking and snarling between Jill and the demon she has a contract with, accompanied by Jill being Very Stupid about her relationship with her Native American werewolf boyfriend.
The brain breaking parts come in with how Saintcrow handles–or doesn’t handle–voudou. Much like Boyett in Elegy Beach (previously reviewed here), she attempts to indicate that it’s a religion, and that it has nothing to do with “devil worship.” Unfortunately, she does this mostly by having the hellspawn characters be completely unfamiliar with Vodou to utterly ridiculous lengths. They are so unfamiliar they apparently don’t even have a grocery store book rack familiarity with it. They don’t even have an old horror movie or Dark Shadows concept of it.
Jill does have some experience with it, and apparently has an affinity for one of the loa, but her general attitude is one of fearful hostility. Then there’s the very problematic theme worked in where Saintcrow repeatedly states in narrative that the loa are opposed to the hellspawn, while not acting all that different from them (and again, the hellspawn are apparently oblivious to the loa. To me, this would tend to indicate they must not be very effective enemies.)
Some other problems I had were some of her slightly stereotypical “ethnic” characters, and the Native American-coded were-animals. (Note to writers: PLEASE STOP DOING THIS. OKAY? THANK YOU GOODBYE.)There was also the subtext of “depressed or otherwise mentally ill people who go to an evil circus to be eaten deserve to get eaten.” The general tone of the series maintains a certain “tee hee I’m so dark and edgy” that occasionally overwhelms the storyline, and we get an overly large dose in this installment. I do not recommend this book, but if you are a fan of the writer or the series there is a great deal of action, and the mystery elements manage to pull a few rabbits out of the hat.