Published 2010 432 pages
Reviewed by Ania Tyburska
Summary (from the book jacket)
My name is Gin, and I kill people.
They call me the Spider. I’m the most feared assassin in the South — when I’m not busy at the Pork Pit cooking up the best barbecue in Ashland. As a Stone elemental, I can hear everything from the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet to the vibrations of the soaring Appalachian Mountains above me. My Ice magic also comes in handy for making the occasional knife. But I don’t use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride.
Now that a ruthless Air elemental has double-crossed me and killed my handler, I’m out for revenge. And I’ll exterminate anyone who gets in my way — good or bad. I may look hot, but I’m still one of the bad guys. Which is why I’m in trouble, since irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine has agreed to help me. The last thing this coldhearted killer needs when I’m battling a magic more powerful than my own is a sexy distraction… especially when Donovan wants me dead just as much as the enemy.
If you are looking for a bit of dark criminal, Spider's Bite is definitely a book for you. Gin aka Spider is an assassin. She kills people for money, no questions asked, no remorse. It gets mentioned few times during the book, that she has a kind of a moral code, but she is not averse to bending it, when it is necessary. She is thinking of well deserved retirement, having gathered enough money to spend rest of her life somewhere on the cost where drinks are cold and boys oily, when one of her jobs goes wrong. She gets double-crossed and her handler, a man who was like a father to her, is killed in a gruesome and painful fashion. Spider is out for some answers and revenge.
She joins forces with her handler's son, Finn, a corporate banker and a real sleazeball and she enlists the reluctant help of the last, just cop in Ashland, Donovan Caine. I guess the name Ashland is supposed to suggest some post-apocalyptical setting, but the familiar objects, house appliances even literary references make it into more of an alternate universe. This southern Gotham/ Sin City is a perfect place of equal opportunities. There is no gender struggle so it makes a perfect sense that both the main hero and the arch-villain are female. Ashland is divided. The bad side of the tracks belongs to addicts and vampire hookers. The equal opportunity theme extends to the vampires, but in this universe they get off on sex as much as on blood, hence the preferred profession. The city is virtually ruled by wealthy families of elementals, magic users with abilities connected to four elements: air, fire, ice and stone. Gin herself is a stone elemental, but is apprehensive when it comes to using her powers due to some tragic episode from the past.
It might seem like the whole story is something from a Marvel universe, but do not get excited. The atmosphere is actually the one thing that is missing. Jennifer Estep has a specific way of writing. Clipped sentences, brief descriptions. From time to time I had a feeling, I'd like to linger, mull over the implications of a certain scene or discussion, but the author already zipped it in and moved on. The same goes for the main heroine. She seems to have one action mode. Catch the suspect, interrogate him, torture if needed, kill him. No finesse, no tight planning.
Finn is the one doing all the intelligence work. Looking for info, calling in favors. The cop Donovan is just a pretty accessory. His role seems to be moonlighting as a kind of love interest for Gin. I use the term “love” very loosely as what she actually does is daydreaming of nailing him during the most awkward moments. He was supposed to be this one fully positive character in the book. But, whereas Gin and Finn with there questionable life choices, still get my sympathy, Donovan just appears self-righteous, pompous jerk. It does not help that Gin is always the aggressor in their interactions. I am tired of domineering guys in urban fantasy, but such a revision of a stereotype is a bit puzzling. Can’t the heroes be good and nice without appearing spineless?
Maybe this book has not much to offer in the romance department, but the other parts make up for it. I especially loved the equal chances theme, I've already mentioned. It's good to finally read about a heroine that is strong and cunning and does not need the macho man to rescue her when she's in a tight spot. I might not be impressed by her gung-ho attitude, but damn, it was nice to read how she dispatched the bad guys. Gin is also a relief from all those typical urban fantasy females, with rock solid moral codes, always mulling over their choices and fearing for their immortal souls. She is nether good, nor bad, just efficient. And she has some good one-liners.
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