Living with the Dead

Kelley Armstrong
November 2008, Urban Fantasy
Spectra, $22.00, 372 pages, Amazon ASIN 0553806645
Part of a series

Grade: D
Sensuality: Subtle

I’ve been on and off Kelley Armstrong for a while and now it’s official: I am off. S-o-o-o-o-o off.

This one, the latest in what’s turning out to be the interminable Women of the Otherworld series, is a textbook example of how not to engage a reader. You take multiple stories and every few pages shift POVs between characters you never…well, actually bother to character-ize and the result is a confusing, uninvolving novel that is a total chore to read.

The plot basically can’t be described in a short synopsis largely because it is incredibly unfocused but the nominal “central” story involves a woman suspected of killing a Paris Hilton wannabee and a cop. Along the way, however, there are significant detours, usually featuring Hope and Karl from the previous book in the series as well as a Big Bad who's actually more of a Little Big Bad. But my point (and I do have one) is that there isn’t any focus at all. Even worse, what little explanation there is of the author’s complicated world adds up to little more than info-dumpery. Make that eye-glazing info-dumpery.

You know, not every book I enjoy is a traditional romance. I love a good thriller. I love a good action story. (Have I ever mentioned my affection for the novels of John Sandford?) I also love a complex and fascinating urban fantasy. But when a writer employs the kind of shorthand character “development” Armstrong resorts to here while also telling a flat - total Pancake City, as a matter of fact - story, the result is a book I found myself picking up with the level of enthusiasm previously reserved only for my high school Algebra book. And I really, really mean that.

On the "positive" side, the prose doesn't suck. On my grading scale, prose must be at the total suck-age level for a book to earn an F.

If you’re not up to date on the series (and I’ve missed the last few) then forget about this one making any sense or holding your interest. And here's the reality all authors need to come to terms with: Life is busy these days and there are a lot of entertainment options. If a writer wants to keep my interest, she needs to engage me in the characters and the story – whether it be urban fantasy, romance, adventure, or whatever the hell kind of book she is writing. This one didn’t. Not even close.

-- Sandy Coleman

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