Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Author:  Cassie Alexander 
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality4; Humor3
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin's
        Nightshifted (5/2012)
        Moonshifted (11/2012)
        Shapeshifted (6/2013)
        Deadshifted (12/2013)
        Bloodshifted (7/1/2014)   

     This post was revised and updated on 6/30/14 to include a review of Bloodshifted, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first four novels.  

            NOVEL 5:  Bloodshifted              

WARNING: Before reading this review (or the book), you should first read Deadshifted in order to avoid inevitable and unavoidable spoilers.

     Edie is now in the hands of the vampire Raven, who saved her life with his blood after she became terminally ill from the virus that killed most of the cruise ship passengers in Deadshifted. Edie is now a daytimera blood-bound slaveand she is under Raven's complete control. He is her master, at least until her child is born, when Anna plans to make her a vampire…that is, if Edie lives that long. 

     The first half of the book follows Edie as she is introduced to life as a daytimer in Raven's dark and gloomy underground haven, deep underground in the catacombs beneath Los Angeles. She meets the other daytimersJackson, Celine, and Larsand develops varying relationships with each of them. Jackson seems friendly and helpful but he has some shady connections and questionable loyalties; Celine is hostile and jealous; and Lars tries to kill her. Edie also reconnects with the Shadows, some of whom have hitched a ride to Raven's dark tunnels and are willing to help her.

     When Edie meets Raven's daytimer lover, Natasha, she is stunned when she realizes that Natasha is the daughter of Nathaniel, the psychopath who infected and sank the cruise ship (in Deadshifted). Raven assigns Edie to assist Natasha in her laboratory, where Edie is dismayed to learn that Natasha's experiments are even more dangerous than Nathaniel's were. 

     In addition to the vamps, daytimers, and Shadows, Edie also has to deal with a dream-vampire who appears to her every time she falls asleep. He says that he is a prisoner in Raven's dungeon, and he also claims to be Raven's sire. The Prisoner wants Edie to help him escape so that he can kill Raven. At this point, Edie doesn't know who to trust or if, in fact, she can trust anyone.

     Here is Edie's summation of events about one third of the way into the book: "An unknown vampire had contacted me in my dreams, I didn't know what Natasha was researching yet, Raven wanted me to lure Anna in, Jackson wanted me to betray Anna to House Greyand Anna was my only hope of ever seeing Asher again." (Chapter 10) The rest of the story resolves those issues as Edie faces her dark side and fears that she is losing her humanity. Throughout the book, Edie's innate urge to heal and protect is at war with her need to do whatever she has to so that she and her baby will survive. Complicating matters is the fact that Edie's newly developing daytimer impulses are in direct conflict with the heal-don't-harm side of her personality that has been so much a part of her life as a nurse. When Edie asks the Prisoner how she can stay alive until Anna arrives, he tells her, "You must think of that as your only job. Whatever that takes, whatever that means you must do. You gain nothing by struggling to the point that [Raven] crushes you....Your children cannot eat pride, your man cannot make love to pride at night. You must be a thing without pridelike a beast. That is the only way."  (Chapter 24) But that's the problem. Can Edie do whatever it takes if that means going against her nature by killing someone, either directly or indirectly? 

     The book ends with a minor cliffhanger, but I have read one or two reviews that are calling this the final book in the series. To date, I have not been able to verify this. I hope that is not the case, because I'd like to see Edie, Asher, and their child have at least one more adventure and find their HEA. Asher does not appear in this book until the very end, which is an unfortunate circumstance of Edie's imprisonment, but she thinks about him and her baby constantly, using them as her motivation to stay alive.

     This is a strong series, with a fierce and intelligent heroine who doesn't need black leather and multiple weapons to face the world on her own terms. The mythology is fresh and inventive, particularly the Shadows with their smug, sarcastic manner. It would be great if Alexander would write more (perhaps a novella or two) about the quirky characters in the Y4 ward at County Hospital, which was featured in the first two books.     

FULL DISCLOSURE: This review is based on a pre-publication copy of the book that I received from the publisher via NetGalley. I have received no promotional rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

     The series is set in Port Cavell, a large city that has a substantial supernatural population who coexist with humans but hide their true identities and natures. The central focus of the early part of the series is the County Hospital and its Y4 ward, which is located deep down in the subbasement and is unknown to most of the rest of the hospital staff. "Floor Y4 catered to the supernatural creatures that no one else knew about: were creatures in their mortal phases, the daytime servants of the vampires, the sanctioned donors of the vampires, and shape shifters that occasionally went insane. And sometimes zombies." (Moonshifted, p. 4) Seeing these supernaturals as vulnerable, bed-bound patients who are not at their full strength is new and interesting. The protectors of County Hospital are the Shadows, creatures who literally form themselves from the shadows and who draw power from the positive and, especially, the negative emotions of the patients.    

     The vampires exist in communities called Thrones, living on the blood of their human donors, most of whom look forward to the day that they, too, will be changed over. The Thrones are not especially friendly towards one another, and their rivalries are part of the story lines. These vampires are strongest at the dark moon, a time when the werewolves are fully mortal, and thus at their weakest. Conversely, the werewolves are strongest at the full moon when the vamps are weaker. 

     In this world, were-creatures and shapeshifters are two entirely different species. A Y4 nurse explains, "Weres only have one additional form. Any animal, really, only they just get one particular one. Werebats, werewolves, werewhatevers. A shapeshifter can only be other humans, and only replicas of ones that they've touched once before. To be honest, I think being a shapeshifter is more traumatic. Changing into fur is nothing compared to changing into other people." (Nightshifted, p. 203)  

     A mysterious organization called the Consortium is somehow involved in ruling or at least controlling, the supernatural community, but few details are provided on exactly how that works.

     The series heroine is 25-year-old Edie Spence, a nurse who is offered a job on Y4 in exchange for a promise by a mysterious man to get her long-time-junkie brother, Jake, off drugs for good. Going in, Edie has no idea that vampires or werewolves exist, but she soon learns that those two types of creatures are just the tip of the supernatural iceberg. Edie is 100% humanwith no special talents, no magical abilities, no super strength, and no super-woman beauty. She's a normal nurse in a big-city hospital who lives in a crappy apartment with her cat and tries to make enough money to get all the bills paid every month. Here's a nice description that perfectly captures the atmosphere of Edie's depressing, low-rent, urban neighborhood: "There was a light covering of fresh snow dusting the tops of all the cars outside making them look like a row of worn-down teeth." (p. 113)

     In an interview, the author explains, "I just wanted to write a protagonist I could sympathize with. When my life was at its worst...reading about other characters with strange abilities began to feel like those characters were cheating. Of course they could solve their problems and get the man. But there was no one out there like me. So, I wrote Edie, a character I could believe in, one who only had the tools I had to deal with a very weird world." To survive in this life, Edie relies on her nursing skills, her well-nurtured tenacity, and her willingness to take a chance on some really strange people. 

             NOVEL 1:  Nightshifted             
     As the series opens, Edie is still "New Girl" to the rest of the Y4 staff, and right away she makes a big mistake that costs a patient his life. As that patient dies, he begs Edie to "Save Anna." Reeling with horror and guilt, Edie sets out to do just that, and her actions from that point set off the conflict. When Edie tracks down Anna, she finds her in horrible circumstances and unknowingly gets in the middle of an ongoing fight between two rivalrous vampire Thrones. Soon, one of those Thrones accuses Edie of murder and demands a trial that will probably cost Edie her lifeand her soul. In the meantime, Edie has picked up two love interests: Asher and Ti. Edie's relationship with Asher starts out as a one-night stand but develops into something deeper. Asher is a shape shifter, which means that he can absorb the spirit of anyone he touches and can then change his shape to mimic their appearance. The more people he touches, the more people he can be. Ti is a zombie fireman whom she meets and falls for when he makes one of his periodic visits to Y4 for a regular dosage of human fleshhis only legal way to regenerate. Throughout all of her supernatural adventures, Edie is still dealing with Jake, who keeps stealing and pawning Edie's possessions to buy drugs. Even though they no longer get him high, he's addicted to being addicted.

     This book has a number of strong points, both in characterization and plot. Edie's fellow nurses are a sympathetic group and all have distinct personalities, even Meaty, who is a creature of indeterminate shape and gender. Ti's zombie characteristics are graphically portrayed in all their raw and awful details as he does what it takes to keep his fragile body together. One of the quirkier characters is a ghost-possessed CD player with a male voice that speaks only German. We don't learn much more than that in this book, but he turns into a kind of lucky charm for Edie even though she can't understand most of what he says. Edie is a great character, hiding her vulnerability behind a hard exterior built up after years of living hard on her own. She develops confidence as the story moves along, even though she fears that the vampires are going to end her life. Edie's relationship with Ti is intriguing. At one climactic point, she realizes the horrific things that he has done to come to her rescue, and she accepts themand him. She tells him, "You're my monster..." and thinks to herself, "Because the monster you knew was always better than all the ones you didn't." (p. 288)

     I have read a few reviews that criticized this book for having no world-building. Those reviewers are absolutely wrong. Granted, the author does not do a big info-dump in chapter 1 to explain the series mythology. What she does instead (and she does it brilliantly) is weave the world-building into the storyall the way through. Keep in mind that Edie is an innocent in the supernatural world, and she tells her own story in the first person voice. Consequently, we learn about that world right along with Edie. Although I admit that the early chapters were a bit hard to get into, that soon changed as the storyand Edie herselfswept me right along. This is a solid urban fantasy series with a fresh and inventive take on the dark side of big-city life.   

             NOVEL 2:  Moonshifted            
     As is evident from the title, the second book in the series revolves around werewolves and is set at the time of the full moon. In the opening scene, Edie witnesses a brutal hit-and-run attack in which the king of the Deepest Snow werewolf pack is fatally injured. He dies slowly over a period of days in the Y4 unit of the County Hospital, and as Edie cares for him she meets his daughter, Helen; his young grandson, Fenris Jr.; and his sexy nephew, Lucas, who is destined to become the new pack leader. She also gets involved in some seriously dangerous pack politics that put her in danger throughout most of the story.

     Some information about weres is added to the series mythology. Here, Lucas explains: "Major weres like my family that can switch anytime are rare. Minor ones, with diluted blood, that only get pulled by the moon are more common. Bitten ones look like the weres from the movies, half man, half wolf, that sort of thing. Each has its pros and cons. We're all mortal without the moon in the skyafter that, it depends on how much were is in your blood." Lucas also explains that weres don't have long life spans because "every time you change it eats minutes off your life."

     Two other story lines thread through the main plot. First, Edie's vampire friend, Anna Arsov (whom we met in book 1), asks Edie to be her Ambassador to the Sun as part of her initiation in the Sanguine—the ruling council for the Rose Throne of vampires. This requires Edie's presence at the initiation ceremony on New Year's Eve and her temporary possession of a ceremonial knife that holds a container of Anna's blood in an hourglass embedded in its handle. Part of Anna's initiation process involves a series of tests, and there are a number of Rose Throne vampires who don't want Anna to pass those tests. Consequently, Edie's connection with Anna opens her up to even more danger. It also means that when Gideon, Anna's human bodyguard, is attacked and horribly mutilated, Edie is assigned to be his caretaker. This plays out into yet another subplot as Edie's German "grandfather" (who is a ghostly voice in an old CD player) gets into the act and turns Gideon into a steampunkish mechanical man using pieces and parts pulled from Edie's possessions.

     In yet another story line, Edie's brother, Jacob, is back to his old drug-dealing ways, this time with a new concoction called Luna Lobos, which purports to be a natural mixture that gives its users a new lease on life. If Edie had thought  harder about the translation of "Luna Lobos" (wolf moon), she might have been able to figure out the major plot problem, but she doesn't—no one does—and the situation builds to its inevitable climactic conclusion.

     About two thirds of the way through the book, Edie sums up her dismal situation: "Everything I owned was torn, broken, covered in blood, or absorbed into a creepy cyborg. I still owed a vampire a new hand. Weres were attacking me, and I had a date with a vampire on New Year's Eve night. My thoughts spiraled like the water down the drain."

     All of the story lines converge in the requisite climactic showdown scene, which puts Edie in life-threatening danger and results in a major change in Edie's relationship with the supernatural world. The ending is mostly unpredictable, although I was able to figure out the identity of the major villain by the middle of the book. No spoilers—but I'll just say that when characters seem too good to be true, they're 
frequently not.  

     Now, let's take a look at Edie's love interests. Her true love, Ti, walked away at the end of book 1 and is still out of the picture, but she does have an affectionate scene with her old lover, Asher the shapeshifter, and a major bedroom scene with Lucas, the werewolf king-in-waiting. Edie has no plans to commit romantically to anyone. She has no trust in relationships because all of hers have ended badly. After a passionate tryst with Lucas, she walks away from him thinking, "I didn't want to hope ever again. It wasn't even about him, it was about how my life would probably be better if I never let any one in." Asher has a darkly sardonic, but very funny, line when he and Edie are interrupted in the middle of a make-out scene by the sound of Edie's drunken friend, Gina, being sick in a near-by bathroom: "Let me guess....The sound of retching is like a mating call to a wild nurse." By the end of the book, though, Edie's status with the supernaturals has undergone such a sudden and severe change that both of her romantic relationships seem destined to go nowhere.  

     This book has the same compelling action as the first, with Edie barely escaping with her life in one tough situation after another, mostly because she just can't turn her back on anyone—not Anna, not her junkie brother, and not Helen. As Asher tells her, "You can't just leave anyone. It's one of your biggest virtues, and one of your worst flaws." The technical medical references seem to be more frequent in this book, and that sometimes slows down the story's flow. One medically related reference, though, sums up Edie's life. At Anna's initiation, Edie must use a scarificator to extract blood from Anna's arm. She is horrified at the prospect, but then thinks: "Where was the difference between piercing someone's skin with a needle, for their own good, and setting this thing's blackened grinding blades onto her? How many times had I hurt to make things betterhurt other people, and hurt myself?" (Click HERE to watch a YouTube video of a scarificator in action.) 

     This continues to be a strong series, with the ending of book 2 setting the stage for an all-new playing field for Edie. She is a strong and intelligent heroine who consistently tries to help others (frequently to her own detriment) and to deal with the extraordinary events that keep coming her way.

     FULL DISCLOSURE: This review is based on a pre-publication copy of the book that I received from the publisher via NetGalley. I received no promotional rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.  

        NOVEL 3:  Shapeshifted       
     It's been six months since Edie was banished from the supernatural world, and she's having a tough time adjusting to her now-dull life and her sudden lack of friends. Currently, Edie is working the night shift at a sleep lab, and she is bored to tears. Out of desperation, she goes back to County Hospital for a chat with the Shadows, hoping that they will allow her to come back. Their answer is "no," but they do offer her a deal. If she can track down Santa Muerte for them, they'll consider lifting her shunning. Edie has no idea who, what, or where Santa Muerte is, but she agrees to give it a try.

     Edie's life has always been filled with struggles and strife, and this book is no exception. Just as Edie is in the dark depths of despair over her banishment, her mom announces that she has stage 4 breast cancer. Edie figures that if she can get hold of some vampire blood, she can save her mother's life, and that thought drives her actions throughout this book. 

     At this point, Edie realizes that if she keeps her present job she will sit there night after night getting more and more depressed so she applies for a position at the Divisadero Clinic in the Spanish-speaking part of town. When she googles the clinic, she is shocked to see that the building has a huge mural of Santa Muerte on the side wall. That seems like a sign that she must take the job, so she goes for an interview that ends with Edie helping the doctor—the handsome and charismatic Hector Tovartreat a man who was shot by some local gang members. 

     Just as Edie gets ready to start her new job, two supernatural visitors from her past show upseparatelyat her apartment: Ti, her zombie ex-boyfriend, who took off some months ago (at the end of book 1) to track down the missing part of his soul, and Jorgen, a werewolf who blames Edie for his being turned into an enslaved Hound (in book 2). Ti has come to say good-bye to Edie; he has found a magician who has promised to help him regain his soul, which is the one and only goal of his undead life. Jorgen wants Edie to follow him, probably to his vampire master, Dren, who is one of Edie's most dangerous enemies.

     Reading this bookespecially the first halfis like putting together a very complicated jigsaw puzzle without the box lid that has a photograph of the finished puzzle. You know that all of the pieces will eventually fit together into a big picture, but you have no idea how they are all related. The coming-together is a slow process, but well worth the wait, as the second half of the book speeds up the action and pulls everything together. Just keep in mind that, like that puzzle, every single small piece of information has some connection to the whole. I can't really explain much more about the plot without giving away spoilers except to say that it involves a religious cult, street gangs, hidden identities, andof courseSanta Muerte and the Shadows.

     This continues to be a solid urban fantasy series with compelling plots and nuanced characters. Even with its slow build-up, this is a great story. Edie is such a strong heroineconstantly being forced into challenging predicaments and dangerous situations, but always dealing with the fluctuations of her life the best she can without ever giving up hope. She reminds me a lot of Chess Putnam in Stacia Kane's DOWNSIDE GHOSTS series (but without Chess's addiction problems). 

FULL DISCLOSURE: This review is based on a pre-publication copy of the book that I received from the publisher via NetGalley. I received no promotional rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.         

            NOVEL 4:  Deadshifted            

WARNING: Before reading this review (or the book), you should first read Shapeshifted, in order to avoid inevitable and unavoidable spoilers.

     As the cover art implies, this story is set on a cruise shipa ship that has more in common with the Poseidon or the Titanic than with the Carnival BreezeThe story combines elements from Alien movies, Rick Riordan's Sea of Monsters novel, Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and any news story you've ever read about a novovirus epidemic on a cruise ship. 

     The story opens with a brief scene on a life raft in the Pacific Ocean in which Edie lies bound and gagged while Asher navigates the raft. Almost immediately, Edie has a 270-page flashback that takes her back to the point (several days before) when she and Asher boarded the Maraschino for a delightful cruise from California to Hawaii. As she embarks on the voyage, Edie is 99% sure that she is pregnant with Asher's child, but she hasn't told him yet. In the first hours of the voyage, Asher recognizes an old enemy aboard the ship: a really bad guy named Nathaniel Tannin. Seven years ago, when Asher was still a mercenary, he stole research data about synthetic blood from Nathaniel, then took a huge amount of money in payment and promptly ratted Nathaniel out to the Consortium. He's been looking over his shoulder for Nathaniel ever since.

     Almost as soon as the ship leaves the dock, passengers begin to become ill. Given that the their illness mimics the symptoms of novovirus, the story gets pretty icky at times. When you combine the shipboard illness with first-trimester pregnancy, you can understand why Edie spends much of her time hanging over the toilet bowl retching her guts out. The horrible effects of the illness make almost all of the shipboard scenes stomach-churningly difficult to read. 

     After the illness grows to epidemic proportions, Asher goes off to help out (because he is a doctorper the plot of the previous novel) and because he is certain that Nathaniel is at the bottom of this whole mess. When Asher doesn't come back to her within his promised time limit, Edie leaves the relative safety of her cabin and heads out to find him. The story follows Edie through a series of dangerous adventures, including a run-in with some supernatural frenemies from her past, as she slowly learns what is really happening on the ship and tries to rescue Asher. The ending is totally unexpected, completely unpredictable, and nowhere near an HEA, and it sets up the next novel: BloodshiftedClick HERE to read an excerpt from Deadshifted

    In this book, Edie's life takes an epic turn, one that will affect her relationship with Asher, the life and health of her unborn child, and her own mortality. On Alexander's blog, she says, "I made a lot of big choices in this book. I think this book is going to polarize people, and I just have to be OK with that, because all the decisions that I made were the right thing to do at the time." I'm not sure how I feel about the new direction the series takes in this book. I have to admit that I really loved the original County Hospital setting that featured a cast of weird supernatural beings and plucky medical staff, but Alexander abandoned that part of Edie's life after the first two novels. Edie's new relationship with Asher seems to lend itself well to future story lines because of his checkered history and the likelihood of his meeting up with troublesome people from his pastas happens in this book. The baby, though...I'm not so sure about that new element. In general, babies are more common in paranormal romance series than in urban fantasy, and even then they are usually givenlike a rewardonly to supporting characters after the book in which their romance survives its ups and downs and proceeds to its HEA. Those couples and their kids are almost always placed in the backgroundnot in the starring rolesin ensuing books. Babies in urban fantasy are extremely rare, especially for the heroine of a seriesmainly, I think, because motherhood places severe limits on the heroine's adventures. (for example  how does she find a babysitter when she's called out in the middle of the night to battle supernatural monsters?) Regarding the final element that Alexander adds to the story at the very end, I can't say anything without a spoiler, except that the next few months don't look very promising for Edieand after that, who knows? Alexander is correct in stating that this is a polarizing book. I'm not sure how things will turn out for Edie, but I'll be back to see what happens to her and to Asher (and their baby) in the next novel, Bloodshifted. (WARNING: Don't read the summary of Bloodshifted until after you read Deadshifted because it contains spoilers that will ruin the ending for you.)

     FULL DISCLOSURE: This review is based on a pre-publication copy of the book that I received from the publisher via NetGalley. I received no promotional rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

No comments:

Post a Comment