Ilona Andrews, $12.99, ISBN 978-1518741289
Well, this is a pleasant surprise. Ilona Andrews’s Innkeeper Chronicles series seems to be the closest to the author’s version of a TV show on the CW Television Network, what with every guy that shows up being uniformly muscular, dangerous, and sinister while still looking like a long-haired bishōnen in the illustrations. These guys can frolick in Laurell K Hamilton’s poolhouse for her rainbow-hued men, and locating these men would be a fiendishly difficult game of Where’s Wally?. However, Sweep in Peace, book two of the series, is the least relationship-heavy book from the author in a while. It is glorious as a reminder as to why I enjoy the author’s books before all the pandering elements and my-werewolf-has-the-biggest-dong nonsense everything down.
Yes, if you have read the first book Clean Sweep, you may cringe like me when Sean Evans realizes by the last page of that book that not only is he a werewolf, he is the werewolf – biggest, baddest, whatever-est of them all. “Good lord, how many versions of that musclehead asshole Curran do we need?” was the exact thought in my head, actually. Here’s the good news: Sean is missing for the bulk of this story, letting Dina Demille do her magical innkeeper thing without being bogged down by boyfriend issues. Arland is here, but she’s not into love triangles – like all of the author’s heroines, they only want Curran and nobody else – so she doesn’r let him drag her down. Therefore, almost the entire book is straight-up urban fantasy. Hallelujah, baby!
Anyway, Sean had taken off to do his “I am Space Trash Curran, hear me roar!” nonsense, leaving Dina to wonder whether he will ever write or call. Oh, he won’t – he’s too manly for mere communication stuff, probably having taken some mail-order course from the Nicholas Sparks school of manly masculine romantic behavior. Dina has bigger worries on her mind, though. You see, the Arbitrators, the intergalactic task force to mediate peace and what not, need a neutral ground to conduct a peace talk. Inns are the best place to do this, naturally, as they are designed to be completely neutral. However, this peace talk brings together three factions long involved in a war of attrition to conquer a planet called Nexus. All three factions have many reasons to want the war to continue, and putting these delegations in the same inn may spell disaster – to the inn’s existence, if people get violent, and the inn’s reputation, if someone dies. Dina’s inn Gertrude Hunt needs the business, publicity, and guests to flourish, however, so Dina is willing to take a gamble on this one. It’s a big gamble, especially when the key players in this story all have their own hidden agendas.
Sweep in Peace bears many trademarks of the author’s style – characters love to launch into exposition (the author does this pretty well, though, as the exposition always feels natural and organically woven into the narrative), the main characters all seem unusually capable and talented, and the setting is absolutely fascinating. If you have read enough of the author’s books, this one will feel pretty much like a playground one has spend a lot of time in. However, the author knows how to grab me by the throat and make me pay attention to her story, and this one demands to be read in one sitting. Dina is still a fascinating kind of character – she’s a Martha Stewart/Mary Poppins type who can, if she gets mad, encase you into the oak panels forever. The secondary characters are all interesting. Okay, Arland is bland, and Caldenia seems too easily entertained by basic intrigue for a supposedly amoral tyrant who has done everything and eaten everyone else in the process. But everyone else is fascinating to follow, especially the Arbitrator guy who has – according to the prologue – a connection to Dina’s brother.
Okay, the resolution of the story makes me cringe a bit, as it is a very “love is all you need, peace and understanding to the world” kind of icky but I read this around the Christmas season, so I guess it fits right into the mood of the period. How fortuitous, really. But up to that point, this one is a solid, gripping read and the fact that there are no protective boyfriends systematically isolating the heroine and making her completely dependent on him are icing on the cake. I like this straight-forward urban fantasy tale – it’s a throwback to the glory days of those Kate Daniels novels before the whole thing turns into an eye-rolling 24-hour “Curran! Curran! Curran!” werebeast soap opera. God, I hope Sean stays far away from Dina for a long time more, because I’m really enjoying the author’s stories when she’s not pandering so hard to Curran fangirls.