Title: Spider’s Bite

Author: Jennifer Estep

Genre: UF

Publisher: Pocket
Publication Date: January 2010
MMP: 432 pages

Stand alone or series: First in the Elemental Assassin series

My name is Gin Blanco. They call me the Spider — the most feared assassin in the South (and a part-time cook at the Pork Pit BBQ joint.) As a Stone elemental, I can hear the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet and feel the vibrations of the soaring mountains above me, though I don’t use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride.

After a ruthless Air elemental double-crossed me and killed my handler, I’m out for revenge. And I’ll exterminate anyone who gets in my way. I may look hot in a miniskirt, but I’m still one of the bad guys. Which is why I’m in trouble when irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine agrees to help. The last thing a coldhearted killer needs when she’s battling a magic more powerful than her own is a sexy distraction … especially when he wants her dead just as much as the enemy.

How did I get this book: Review copy from the publisher

Why did I read this book: Because of the rave reviews it has received everywhere.

Review:

“My name is Gin, and I kill people.”

Thus begins Spider’s Bite and it’s a good beginning too: from within Ash¬land Asy¬lum, where our heroine, Gin has been purposely admitted to, in order to kill her next target. For Gin, AKA the Spider, is an assassin for hire and the very best in the business. As soon as she finishes her stint at the Asylum she meets with her handler Fletcher who passes on her new assignment. When that goes awfully wrong and she is double crossed and the death of Fletcher is the outcome, Gin has no choice but to side with detective Donovan Caine in order to investigate what went wrong and why and avenge the death of the man who was like a father to her. The already tense situation is amped up by the fact that Caine has sworn to kill Gin for the murder of his partner and being on the run whilst trying to solve the mystery.

Set in the city of Ashland where corruption and crime run amok and people don’t who is ally or foe, the story is a basic murder mystery which I thought it was well executed. The greatest strength of the novel decidedly lies in its unapologetic, morally ambiguous protagonist though. She presents a great opportunity for a character study, even reminding me of Dexter, one of my favourite TV protagonists. They both had their families tragically killed when they were young, and they both kill criminals only – although Dexter is a proper sociopath – and they share the need to have a “code” to follow. For Dexter, the code is what prevents him from being engulfed by his sociopathy , for Gin, it is the line she won’t cross and what makes her a heroine of sorts and not a downright villain (and perhaps more palatable for the readers). She will not kill innocent people (nor will she kill kids or pets) but she will kill anything that moves when they come in her way of solving this mystery and very effectively so, no holds barred. Plus, she prefers not to use the magic skills she has – and this is another aspect of the book that proved to be interesting to me, although admittedly these aspects were not as fleshed out as they could have been. In this world, some people can wield magic based on four elements. Gin for example is a Stone Elemental (with some Ice in the mix) and can for example harden her body to avoid being injured or get a feel for a house or building.

Since I liked the mystery and I liked Gin for most part, I could have quite comfortably breezed through the novel except, I had major issues with the technical aspects of the writing and they ultimately marred my enjoying of the novel.

For starters, there is simply too much exposition and repetitiveness. I don’t like info dump at best of times but understand that it might be necessary for a story. However, this needs to be done really well in order not be too obvious or to not to bring down the pacing of the story. AND, it is an even more difficult task when the narrative is in first person. The first few chapters of Spider’s Bite are pure exposition – about the city, about the magic system, about Gin and her past. The main problem with this, on this occasion was that SHE was narrating her story, so she should already know everything she is telling US. It was a way too obvious way of info dumping. One particular instance is when she is about to enter an action sequence and then she looks at the scars in her hands and muses about them – why would anyone do that at that moment in time, when the scars have been there for 17 years if not for the reader’s benefit, therefore rendering the sequence completely artificial

Another problem I had was the repetitiveness. For example, every time Gin sees Donovan she will enter a state of lusting and will add a “Mmm” at the end of her thoughts:

“Despite the seriousness of the situation, I thought about those lips against mine. His heavy tongue stroking my own, then moving down my body one sweet, slow inch at a time, before plunging into the curls at the junction of my thighs. Mmm”

“But Donovan Caine smelled so good I wanted to bury my face against his neck and just breathe in his scent. Mmm”

“If the detective looked that good merely smiling, how would he look after a night of slow, sweaty sex? Mmm”

“Donovan Caine naked, water droplet sliding down his lean body, his muscles clenching and relaxing as he washes himself. Mmm.”

I counted at least another four instances of “mmm” dropping. This was very…..let’s say, distracting and completely took me off the story. Not to say that most of these occurs at crucial times in the story when Gin is obviously in danger which is one of my greatest pet peeves: the Lusting at the inappropriate of Great and Terrible Danger.

Other examples of repetition are how it was always “Gold on gray” when her eyes met Donovan’s “hazel eyes” . Or how enemies were always “Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy” .

The good news is that in a 400 page books these lines end up not amounting that much which is the reason why I was able to carry on till the end (when there is some serious pay off for my patience). I do believe this book could have been better edited – there is simply no reason for the amount of repetitions and for these examples in particular to be even there. Overall this could have been a much better book than it actually is, but I have hopes for the second novel. I did like this one enough to go back for seconds.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From the first chapter:

“My name is Gin, and I kill people.”

Nor­mally, my con­fes­sion would have elicited gasps of sur­prise. Pale faces. Ner­vous sweat. Sti­fled screams. An over­turned chair or two as peo­ple scram­bled to get away before I buried a knife in their heart—or back. A suck­ing wound was a suck­ing wound. I wasn’t picky about where I caused it.

“Hi, Gin,” four peo­ple cho­rused back to me in per­fect, dull, monot­one unison.

But not in this place. Within the walled con­fines of Ash­land Asy­lum, my con­fes­sion, true though it might be, didn’t even merit a raised eye­brow, much less shock and fright­ened awe. I was rel­a­tively nor­mal com­pared to the freaks of nature and magic who pop­u­lated the grounds. Like Jack­son, the seven-foot-tall albino giant seated to my left who drooled worse than a mas­tiff and gur­gled like a three-month-old child.

A long string of clear, glis­ten­ing spit­tle dripped out of his over­size lips, but Jack­son was too busy coo­ing non­sense to the crude daisy tat­tooed on the back of his hand to pay atten­tion. Or do some­thing sane and hygienic, like wipe his mouth. I shifted away from him so I wouldn’t come in con­tact with the ooz­ing mucus.

Dis­gust­ing. But Jack­son was typ­i­cal of the sorts of folks in the asy­lum. Asy­lum. The word always made me smile. Such a pretty name for a hellhole.

It was bad enough I’d been stuck here for almost a week. But what really set me on edge was the noise—and hav­ing to lis­ten to the build­ing around me. The screams of the damned and deranged had long ago sunk into the gran­ite walls and floors of the asy­lum, the way all emo­tions and actions do over time. Being a Stone ele­men­tal, I could feel the vibra­tions in the rock and hear the con­stant, insane chat­ter even through the indus­trial car­pet and my white, cot­ton socks.

When I’d first got­ten here, I’d tried to reach out to the stone, to use my own magic to bring it a bit of com­fort. Or at least quiet the screams so I could get some sleep at night. But it had been no use. The stones were too far gone to lis­ten or respond to my magic. Just like the poor souls who shuf­fled along on top of them.

Now, I just blocked out the damn noise—the way I did so many other things.

A woman at the head of the cir­cle of plas­tic chairs leaned for­ward. She was directly across from me, so it was easy for her light eyes to find mine. “Now, Gin, you’ve made this claim before. We’ve dis­cussed this. You only think you’re an assas­sin. You are most cer­tainly not one.”

Eve­lyn Edwards. The shrink who was sup­posed to cure all the cra­zies in this mag­i­cal nut­house. She radi­ated pro­fes­sional cool and con­fi­dence in her tight black pantsuit, ivory blouse, and kit­ten heels. Square black glasses hung on the end of her pointed nose, high­light­ing her green­ish eyes, and her sandy hair was cropped into a short, tou­sled bob. Eve­lyn was pretty enough, but a hun­gry look pinched her pasty face—a look I rec­og­nized. The hard gaze of a sly predator.

The rea­son I was here today.

You can read the rest of the excerpt here.

Additional Thoughts: If you would like to know more the inspirations behind writing the series, you can check the Inspirations and Influences post by the author posted last Friday. We are also giving away 10 signed copies of both Spider’s Bite and Web of Lies. Check it out.

Verdict: Spider’s Bite has a great (truly) tough-as-nails protagonist and a well-executed mystery but certain aspects of the writing did not appeal to me. The series has a lot of potential though, hopefully the next one will have less repetitions.

Rating: 6 – Recommended with Reservations

Reading Next: Ten Things I Love About You

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12 Responses to Book Review: Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep

  1. I really dislike repetitiveness as well. I have actually just read such a book – although the story and characters were good, I found myself getting irritated by things that had already been said or done and by repeating them didn’t add anything to the story. I will be interested in hearing what you think of Web of Lies, if you’re going to read it.

  2. Felicia says:

    That is sometimes my biggest complaint with books–is when a character gets “stuck” saying the same thing over and over. I get that the author wants us to get it but I usually do the first (or even second time)! Very detailed and great review.

  3. janicu says:

    Haha. I noticed the “Mmms” and the “sloppy, sloppy, sloppy”s too. I think the Mmms got a bit much (in general if this book was a *tad* less sexy, it would have worked better in my opinion. Lusting and impetuous sex didn’t go with Meticulous Killer), but the sloppys didn’t bother me. So I guess the repetitions didn’t bug me as much as the sexiness in the book. If it was at a lower level and had a longer timeline, it would feel less jarring I think.

  4. janicu says:

    I really should say that I loved this book despite the above niggle. I really liked Gin’s character and the way Donovan Caine has to wrestle himself because of his attraction to her while believing her to be a “bad guy” he shouldn’t be attracted to.

  5. Liz says:

    Thank you for your review. The sloppy exposition and filler stuff will keep me from giving it a look, despite my really liking the opening. (And I’m putting the “10 Things” book — the newer post — on hold as soon as I’m done here, by the way.) For those who like paranormal romance — even the YA version — “Minder” is the first in a new series and it comes out next month. (We’ve pre-ordered it in this house.) The US government declassified its psychic spy program in the 1990s, but that’s not the whole story…

  6. Tiah says:

    I liked this book. I noticed the “Mmms” too and thought they made her sound like a perv. I can’t wait to see how things go between Gin and Donovan. A cop fighting his attraction to an assassin? That’s good stuff.

  7. kay says:

    I dislike repetitiveness, too, and I also dislike when sounds like “mmm” are written in a narration. While it fits in a dialogue, it doesn’t do well in the text, in my opinion.

    Still, I really want to read this one and I’m glad to read a great review that is a little less “raving”. :-)

  8. carol says:

    I agree that the repetition could get annoying, but I did love the magic system.

  9. sorryman105 says:

    The second book improves/removes most of the problems the reviewer objected to.

  10. [...] reviewed by: Jackie’s review on Literary Escapism The Book Smugglers Fiction Kingdom Paperback Dolls Alexia’s Books and Such Babbling About Books var [...]

  11. [...] is the author of the Elemental Assassin series: the first two books are Spider’s Bite (reviewed here by Ana) and Web of Lies. Venom, the third book, came out on Sept. 28. Tangled Threads, the fourth [...]

  12. [...] read this series but a number of my bookish friends have and they are fans. The Booksmugglers gave it a 6, recommended with [...]

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