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Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between by J.A. Saare

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Rhiannon's Law
Rating: 3 Stars
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between
Upper Echelon Urban Fantasy Debut...With Some Issues

You ever notice that some authors write decent stories that aren't very polished, and some authors write excellent stories that are? J.A. Saare falls somewhere in between in this debut of the Rhiannon's Law series. Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between is an excellent story - and that makes reviewing it particularly difficult for me, because - rightly or wrongly - I tend to be a harsher critic of stories and authors that I believe are top notch. And this one is.

Lets start with the good - and there's a bunch of good here. Rhiannon Murphy is a reluctant necromancer who hasn't had any training. She sees dead people and doesn't particularly like what she sees. A bartender and pool shark by trade, she's unabashed about her lack of formal education and her willingness to throw a punch or excise a problem with that wicked mouth of hers. She's tough, ballsy, crude...and her past is horrifying to the extreme. She's a mile of bad attitude wrapped around a kernel of innocence and light and the dichotomy in her personality is ultimately refreshing and extremely interesting. I liked just about everything about her...even when I wanted to strangle her. And I love that Saare gave her a legitimate backstory that explains exactly why she is like she is. That's rare. I love even more that we see true growth of the character through the progression of the book - and that growth is very organic to the story line and character. Very well done.

Disco, the vampire who goes to Rhiannon for help with a problem of missing vampires, is quite possibly my favorite male protagonist in any of the urban fantasy series I'm currently reading. If he's not the favorite, he's definitely in the top three. I don't know what it is about him, really, but something about how he is as a character, and how the relationship with Rhiannon evolves, just totally worked for me. If I had any complaint about him, it would be that he was more of a secondary character than a true co-star. As the series is obviously Rhiannon's, I guess that makes sense, but I'd have really enjoyed had he had more of a role, like Val in the Jazz Parks series by Jennifer Rardin, or Bones in the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost. Those are different types of urban fantasy, I know, but hey, I'm just telling you what I would've preferred, because I enjoyed Disco so much. The name didn't fit him though. I'll admit that. His nickname conflicted with his dialogue a bit. His real name is Gabriel and he speaks far more like a Gabriel - and a vampire that was born in 1837 as a human - than a 'Disco', but there's backstory to explain the name (eventually) so I can't really complain about it. The other secondary and ancillary characters were also extremely well written and fully formed - from the very vanilla Ethan (Goose), the necromancer who's not nearly as strong but is far better trained than Rhiannon, to the other members of Disco's family (Paine was an interesting and favorite secondary character), to even members of Joseph's family (like his necromancer), the book was well populated with three dimensional and very real-feeling characters (some who horrified me, as the bad guys were just as well done). I'd definitely say that the strength of this particular book rests on all their shoulders, though the story itself was by no means a slouch.

Unfortunately, there were some issues, and you may have noticed that while I just gushed about the characters and story, I rated the book three stars. I'll admit, part of that is because I think this book is in that upper echelon of urban fantasy and I expect more from it than I would from some other authors, and part of it is because this book contains one of my all time pet peeves. It ends with a cliffhanger. I loathe cliffhangers.

If I know when I start a book that it isn't an encapsulated novel, I can take steps to deal with it. Karen Marie Moning's Fever series springs to mind. I started that series late; three books were published and the fourth released before I reached the end of the third, and I knew before I started any of them that the Fever series is really one very impressive and monsterously huge story broken up into five parts. I was prepared and accepted it.

I wasn't prepared here, and I think readers should be aware - without giving spoilers - that Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between ends with a cliffhanger, and I wanted to toss my Kindle out the window when I reached it. I know there's a second book in the works, titled The Renfield Syndrome, but I have no idea what the expected release date on that is. This past March J.A. Saare was kind enough to contact me following the posting of my review on Amazon, and she assured me that she's working on the sequel and expected it to be completed in six to eight weeks, but I haven't had a chance to check out her website since to see if there's anything further. So if you're like me and hate cliffhangers, this might pose a problem.

On the bright side, the main plot of this book was wrapped up by the end. But that just ticked me off more, because the author could have left it wrapped up and provided a sneak peak of The Renfield Syndrome that included the last chapter of Dead and I would've been perfectly content. It makes me feel obligated to buy the next book, and frankly, Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between was good enough that I would've anyway. I just resent that feeling of obligation.

The other issues I had with the book were story-related. I found the beginning to be a bit confusing and muddled, and I felt sort of dropped into Rhiannon's head without any signposts to mark the way. There were several things that read like random mentionings of past occurrences that were explained further in, but while reading it had me scratching my head a bit. And it did take me a little while to translate Rhiannon's speech and thought patterns because of that. Just about everything while she was in the bar had me a bit off kilter, but once the story progressed beyond that, it really gelled nicely and either I started to really understand Rhiannon or enough had been explained in retrospect that everything fell together.

There was one other scene in particular that didn't work for me at all given what the author had set up about the character, the scene in which the reader finds out about Rhiannon's past. Rhiannon had said she never spoke of it to anyone and she was absolutely vehement about it, and so the manner in which it came out and the person to whom it came out struck me as odd. It's a brutal, horrifying backstory that broke my heart, so I wish it had been revealed in a way that was more organic to the character and didn't leave me feeling like the author had to explain it in some way, so that's the way she chose and contradicted her character's definition to do so.

There were a couple of other issues I had, but they are small and the sum of them is more significant than the detail of them. All in all, this is an excellent, solid urban fantasy that I would've absolutely rated four stars - if it weren't for that damned cliffhanger. So keep in mind, I really liked the book. I plan on word-of-mouthing it to as many people as I know who enjoy good urban fantasy. I just plan on mentioning the cliffhanger...as I anxiously await the second book in the series. I'll definitely be reading it.

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Ratings Guide

Here is a rundown of what the star ratings mean to me! It's not a perfect system, so you may see me add in a .5 star here and there if my impression of the book falls somewhere between these:

5 Stars - Loved it
4 Stars - Liked it
3 Stars - It's okay
2 Stars - Didn't like it
1 Star - Hated it

2014 Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.
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Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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