(But I’m only talking about the last two, because I’ve been going through them too fast and they’re running together.)
Black Orchids (Nero Wolfe 9) and Not Quite Dead Enough (Nero Wolfe 10), by Rex Stout
These books are both two novellas glued together, but they did not warn me that they were. So Not Quite Dead Enough started and Lily was the prime suspect for the murder, and then Archie framed himself for the murder, and I expected all these dramatic shenanigans between them over this, and then all of a sudden it was over and there was still half the book to go, and Lily wasn’t even in it. Curses upon this book.
And upon the other one, but less so, because it only really stood out to me as an entry in my directory of books containing an Eccentric Rich Woman Who Keeps A Pet Monkey.
Silent Blade, by Ilona Andrews
This is a novella which I guess I should describe as a paranormal romance, though it’s sci-fi, not fantasy. Meli is a mutant cyborg assassin with special martial arts powers! Celino is a mutant cyborg CEO with special hostile takeover powers! They were engaged in an arranged marriage as children, but Celino ruined Meli’s chances of marriage and independence by breaking the engagement in such a way that no one else would ever want to risk marrying her. She is ready to retire as an assassin, until her brother offers her one last job – killing Celino! Exclamation points.
This is okay for what it is – I mean, if Nalini Singh had written it I’d be overjoyed! It’s a romance where it’s the heroine who might kill the hero! But it suffers a lot by comparison to the Kate Daniels books. I appreciate the novelty of a romance in which both leads are, basically, crazy bastards, but would have been more convinced by the premise if we saw more of them being crazy bastards. The genre requirements, however, force Andrews to waste time on sex that could have been more productively spent on violence. I don’t think this is either Andrews’ natural length or her natural subject matter.
Here is the paragraph that shows us why Ilona Andrews should probably not write straight-out romances: “I know the details of every assassination you have ever done. [...] I think the risks you took with Garcia were idiotic.” He knelt beside her. “I also kidnapped your father and your brothers. I would’ve tortured them if I thought they knew where you were.”
I just think this sort of relationship would have been more interesting in a story with a focus wider than the period of time surrounding the removal of garments.
Od Magic, by Patricia A. McKillip
This is definitely one of McKillip’s weaker books, if not her weakest. As is McKillip’s habit, particularly in her city books (this is one), there are several separate plotlines which come together in the end. Brenden is a shy young man with an uncanny ability with plants and animals, who, traumatized by the recent loss of his family, is invited to become gardener at a school of magic by its founder, a huge immortal woman named Od. Yar is a teacher at Od’s school who has recently begun to feel that the paranoid and joyless King’s iron grip over the school is irreversibly damaging its students, and perhaps the entire kingdom. Arneth is a member of the city guard who finds himself falling in love with Mistral, the daughter of and manager for a traveling performer he may have to arrest for illegally using magic without the King’s permission. Sulys is the King’s daughter, who is herself harboring illegal magic, and is being forced to marry Valoren, the humorless and socially awkward young wizard who is her father’s most loyal servant.
So, that’s four plotlines and five POV characters. In general McKillip’s very good about bringing together a lot of different plot strands in a way that feels organic to the story. The ending doesn’t really feel awkward or crowded here – but then it’s not entirely an ending, because one story is left unresolved. I think there just wasn’t any space left for it. It’s not a big enough issue to ruin the book, but for a McKillip book, it’s surprising. Sometimes writers leave threads hanging early on in a book without knowing whether they’re going to pick them up again, and presumably she does it just like everyone else, but she always seems to tidy up them all up before she finishes. This book has some visible loose ends. Example: Brenden repeatedly mistakes Mistral for his lost lover Meryd. Why? Do they have something to do with one another? It’s never explained.
I’m still probably unwarrantedly fond of this book, mainly because of Valoren. I just like dorky villains! McKillip doesn’t do many of them! He and Yar have a conversation in which Valoren can’t decide whether to threaten Yar for his seditious behavior, or ask him for advice about Sulys. “Why did she slam the door like that? What did I do to make her so angry?” Yar tries to explain!