Thursday, August 9, 2012
Bastard Reaction: By a Thread by Jennifer Estep
What's next for Gin Bianco? The previous installment, Spider's Revenge, ended an arc that could have been series ending. Author Jennifer Estep decided to extend the series, and we're left wondering in what direction the Elemental Assassin series will be going next. By a Thread, the sixth novel in the series, doesn't really answer those questions yet, but it seemed to me that it was the perfect installment that will work as a bridge for what's to come next.
Gin has retired from her Spider duties. At least that's what she's been telling herself for a while now. She's trying to live as normal a life as she can, running the Pork Pit diner. Of course, with the occasional asshat trying to make a name for himself by attempting to kill the infamous Spider and failing at it. It's decided she's going on a vacation with her sister Bria, and they go visit the town where she grew up. They're both forced to face the truth about their relationship, and some of the lingering resentment that they may feel towards each other. Add to that some of the jealousy overwhelming Gin as she sees Bria interacting with some of her best friends, ruining what was supposed to be a promising vacation between sisters. Luckily for Gin, some unsavory people start muscling in on Bria's friends and an old acquiescence makes a return to the scene. What's a vacation without Gin doing what she does best: make people dead.
I've been a big fan of this series, so it was with some trepidation that I began reading By a Thread. I've been of the opinion that in order for this series to move forward, Estep had to finish the arc that began with Spider's Bite and find new story-lines to follow. That done, the author finds herself in a tricky cross-road as the rest of the series will depend on the setup that may be found in By a Thread. What we found instead was a novel that looked to close any loose ends from the previous quintet, while giving options of where to go next without committing to any.
Critics of Estep's writing should be glad to know that I found this novel to be the best written in the series since Spider's Bite from a technical standpoint. Maybe it was due to circumstances, but it was apparent to me that Estep has improved her craft. I think it was mostly evident on how repetition and recapping was very much minimized compared to the previous installments and, to a degree, non-existent. The novel simply read and flowed better to me.
One thing I'd point out though is that I think the series could use less flashbacks. Many of the times they really don't add anything new, and much of what is introduced can be inferred. I still like some of them though as they expand on the mythology already presented and gives our characters more depth, but for books like these that aren't long, I think shorter and less frequent flashbacks would be for the better.
Story-wise, I don't think this installment was as strong as the previous ones. I think that's to be expected and something I easily accepted as a necessity as we transition to the next portion of the series, also considering the climactic event in the previous novel. The main of it was that a lot of time was spent adjusting to the new situation and new locations, and we were well into the novel when the book specific predicament began to develop. One of the consequences of this was that once we are faced with the adversaries, we're pretty much close to the climax and the conclusion of the novel, and I was left wanting a bit more of it. On the other hand there was more focus than before on Gin and Bria's relationship, which was the main catalyst of the story this time around, when it was usually mostly about Gin and the case she was working on. So on that regard, this novel was stronger than the previous ones as far as interpersonal relationships and the drama that accompanied it.
Not to be missed was the usual abundance of kickass scenes. Gin is such a pleasure to have as a narrator when action is about, and Estep didn't disappoint on this regard. I'd like to mention that there was one particular scene that was just disturbingly amazing, and it involved just a little bit of bloodsucking. One of the best I've read of that particular nature.
Jennifer Estep has once again written a solid installment in the Elemental Assassin series. By a Thread being a novel that worked as a great aftermath to the previous arc, having Gin faced with some of the lingering demons that still threaten the semblance of peace she has been striving to create for herself and those she cares about. Demons that prevent her from moving forward to live the life she wants, but thinks she doesn't deserve. Old wounds keep her restrained, and she's also faced with new concerns she doesn't know how to handle, and they test the small amount of good she has going for herself. As the novel is aptly named, relationships, life, and mental health all are hanging for dear life "by a thread". It's up to Gin to become resolute and make peace with herself to have a fighting chance to tackle her current predicaments.
By a Thread takes on a journey of self-exploration now that Gin has lost her compass, what she thought to be her life's goal as she struggles to cope and to keep what's left in her life. It's a novel that intends to remedy and heal, and if it fails, Gin's journey would have been for naught. At least in her eyes. Regardless of how it all played out, the stage has been set, and we get a satisfactory conclusion to the story so far as I'm sure many will get a kick out she goes about solving some of those lingering problems. We're ready to move forward. It's time to join Gin in her new adventures, and very much looking forward to what's coming next. It starts with Widow's Web coming out soon, and I've already reserved my copy.
Buy By a Thread from The Book Depository.
Please visit Jennifer Estep's website for more information and short stories set in the Elemental Assassin universe.