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Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep

November 13, 2010

Elemental Assassin, Book 1

Publisher: Pocket

Publication Date: January 29, 2010

Format: Mass Market Paperback

Status: First in the Elemental Assassin Series. Spider’s Bite is followed by Web of Lies and Venom. Book four, Tangled Threads, will be published April 26, 2011.

Source: Purchased by self

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Location: (From the author’s website) The Ele­men­tal Assas­sin books are set in the fic­tional south­ern metrop­o­lis of Ash­land, where Ten­nessee, Vir­ginia, and North Car­olina meet in the heart of the Appalachian Moun­tains.

Other Info: Estep is also the author of the Hot Mama Paranormal Romance Series and (joy of joys) the upcoming Mythos Academy Books. The first book Touch of Frost, will come out in in July, 2011. You can preorder it on Amazon, but the link I included takes you to the post where Estep gives a description. Follow the link and you’ll find out why I’m inwardly squeeing. It’s going to be a Private School Paranormal. How awesomely serendipitous is that? Also, check out the Estep’s website to read up about the short stories Estep has written to supplement the series. They’re free!

Description: (From Amazon):

“My name is Gin, and I kill people.”

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.

I was skeptical when I read the blurb about this book. I don’t mind a kick ass heroine, but an assassin? I don’t even believe in the death penalty. So, what could a book like Spider’s Bite offer a reader like me? I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin Series had been getting a lot of buzz everywhere. I decided to suck it up and give Spider’s Bite a try.

Let me first say that the writing in Spider’s Bite is grade A. Estep tells Gin’s story in first person, which is awesome. This story wouldn’t work at all if we didn’t get into her mind. How else would any reader be able to connect to a assassin-narrator? The story, too, is tight, enthralling and action-packed. If it had been a movie, I’d’ve had my eyes covered 30% of the time. You know a bit about the plot from the back cover blurb, so let me add a little more detail.

The story opens with Gin on one of her jobs. Yep, one of those jobs. We learn almost immediately that Gin is not a woman to mess with. She’s smart, she’s deadly, and she’s very, very good at her job. What we also learn a little bit about Gin’s past. As a thirteen-year-old child, she suffered a traumatic event involving torture and the death of her family. For a while, she lived on the streets. It wasn’t until she met Fletcher Lane and his son, Finnegan, that she began the long road to assassin-dom. Fletcher, who was an assassin in his own time, took Gin in and trained her to take after him. Eventually, he became her handler. I have pretty mixed feelings about a character who deliberately turn a thirteen-year-old girl into an assassin. No, scratch that. My feelings aren’t mixed at all. In fact, when he dies–not a spoiler, it happens pretty early in the book–I had a hard time mourning his loss. I mean, I did, but it was for Gin’s sake and not his own.

Fletcher’s death follows a botched job. Botched because Gin, Fletcher and his son Finn were set up. Not because Gin failed in any way. With Fletcher dead, Gin is all the more committed to keeping his son alive. Also, Gin and Finn have a brother/sister relationship, complete with bickering and insults. I’m really rooting for them to get together, even if Gin’s already “been there, done [him].” But, sadly, Finn is not Gin’s romantic interest. Gin’s attracted to Donovan Caine, the straight-arrow cop who reluctantly joins forces with her and Finn. It’s meant to be hot and it comes off as sad. I mean, it’s not a good sign when a girl wants to sleep with a man who clearly despises her. I wavered back and forth between being pissed off at him for being such a self-righteous jerk and remember that she’s (duh!) an assassin, and therefore, against everything he stands for. The fact that he and Gin eventually give in to the attraction they share simply makes his character even weaker. I really, really hope that Caine isn’t meant to be Gin’s long-term love interest. Either way, the romance didn’t work for me. And if you’ve paid any attention at all, you’d know how important that is to my reading enjoyment.

What I really did like was the world-building. The Ashland that Estep paints is dark, seamy and full of corruption. I loved it. I liked the slightly different take on vampires. I was into the intricacies of Elemental Magic, and how personal runes played a role. I look forward to discovering more about the world of the Elemental Assassin Series.

However. I have to address this because, as Estep said herself, writing about an assassin brings up all kinds of complex moral questions. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and here’s what conclusions I’ve come to. Estep makes an effort to make Gin’s career as an assassin as palatable as possible. The people of Ashland have very little justice. The police are so corrupt, it’s easy for criminals to weasel their way out of the worst crimes. Part of Gin’s role as a killer is bringing justice to men whose crimes are among the most heinous–child abuse and rape are pretty much the standard for her marks.

It would be impossible for me to say that such criminals deserve to live. I don’t know if my feelings about Gin’s profession would be different if she explicitly stated that she never accepted a job unless she was 100% certain that the mark was guilty. But it’s not because she doesn’t. The man that she’s hired to kill that starts the whole ball rolling is supposedly an extortionist. Does he deserve to die? Extortion is a crime that can, potentially have many victims, but I can’t agree that the appropriate punishment is death. The fact that Gin was hired to kill him for a crime for which he is innocent is never addressed, which suggests to me that it’s not a factor for Gin. Which leads me to my other point: it’s hard for me to relate to a character who not only kills for a living, but isn’t concerned about guilt or innocence. Ultimately, this is the same objection that I have to the death penalty–if you kill someone for a crime they didn’t commit, how is that justice? How does it make you any better than an actual criminal?

I struggled with Gin’s profession throughout the entire novel. I was never able to forget it–though I don’t think I was meant to. The book’s saving grace is that it’s fiction. I know that Gin’s not a real person. I wouldn’t want to know her if she was. The good news is that I liked the world well enough to revisit it. And the end of the novel gives me hope for Gin’s future. Now, if only Donovan Caine would get transferred to Alaska.

Deciding on a grade for this book has been hard. I liked Estep’s writing a lot, but I wasn’t crazy about the character. I think I might have been if she had some other job. It’s hard to say. Therefore, I’m creating a new point category for this book. I feel that this book is a 4 1/2. I’d want to go on a second date with this book, but I don’t know if I’d want to move in with it. So, it gets 4 1/2: I’d go on a second date with this book.

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