Kensington, $15.00, ISBN 978-1-61773-505-9
Fantasy Romance, 2015
I’m not sure who the guy on the cover is supposed to be, since Ludvig “Vig” Rundstrom, our hero, looks like a Viking – full, thick hair and beard included. However, I won’t complain if someone puts a bag over the guy’s head and sends him over to me so that I can personally check whether those abs are as deformed as they look on the cover.
Oh yes, The Unleashing. It’s the first book in a new series, Call of Crows, and if this book is anything to go by, this one is a throwback to the feel and atmosphere of the author’s series for Samhain Publishing: full of gratuitous violence and glorious ass-kicking like any decent action-packed fantasy romp should be. As this is the first book in the series, the author uses the classic “a newbie joins the gang and trains” story to allow readers to be introduced to the whole setting. There’s a plot, of course, but for the most part, this book is clearly an introduction.
In this world, the Gods of various cultures (Greek, Egyptian, and, our focus for now, Viking) are up and about, but they are barred from personally interfering in mortal affairs. Thanks to an initiative started by the Norn Skuld that eventually became adopted by other Viking higher-ups, these Viking gods use bands of recruited humans – given special abilities, of course – as their proxies, mules, and such. They’re like Mafia bosses, in other words. Skuld’s Clan, as such groups are called, is called the Crows, and Crows are an elite squad of mostly gorgeous, completely violent assassins that can go into episodes of rage and just won’t stop until everything in their path is completely pulverized. Vig’s clan is the Ravens, formed by Odin in response to the Crows, and while the Claws are a bunch of violent men, they serve mostly as rescuers and such. The leaders of the LA Ravens and LA Crows were once married, and the divorce wasn’t pleasant, so right now the two Clans are not exactly holding keg parties together anytime soon. Then there are Thor’s Giant Killers (who are exactly what the name suggests), Skaldi’s druid-like Isa, and more.
The setting is very similar to that in the author’s Hunting Season, but the author’s website states that this one has nothing to do with that book, it just happens that she is re-purposing the whole Crows and Ravens thing for a new series. Maybe it’s a contract thing that forces this to happen. Oh well.
Former Marine Kera Watson was murdered, but she now has a second chance at life when Skuld recruits her into the Crows. Actually, Vig is the one who asked Skuld to take a look at Kera – he has a big crush on Kera and, prior to her murder, he spends a lot of time drinking coffee at the place where she works as a waitress. This story follows Kera’s initiation into the Crows and her training, with the backdrop of some cult trying to summon a Goddess back into this world as a reason for all the Clans to get all worked up over. Kera’s problem is that she is hampered by something the other Crows lack – an inconvenient personal moral code that often sees her going all, “Eek! Eek! Don’t kill, we should all be reasonable people!” until the other Crows feel like strangling her. Of course, Vig is still around, and there is plenty of gore, violence, and downtime smooching to be had. This is, after all, a book by Shelly Laurenston.
You know, I have a very difficult time getting into this book. It took me months to wade past the first half, because for a long time I have problems with the huge cast. Every man and woman seems interchangeable, as they are all violent and oozing one-liners all at once. Some of the Claws under the spotlight tend to resemble the author’s previous female characters to such an extent that I can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm to wade through the turgid and overdone first half of the book. I’m also, sadly, bored by Kera and Vig. Okay, Vig has his moments when he gets all dopey and sensitive in his infatuation with Kera, which leads to all kinds of hilarious mocking from his fellow Ravens, but he never comes to life as he should have. Kera is easily the weakest link in this story. On paper, a goody-two shoes type stuck with a bunch of walking PMS headcases seems interesting, but what happens is that the poor girl is completely overshadowed by her fellow Crows. And they are right – her “morals” cause her to hesitate at crucial moments, making her a serious liability as the other Crows cannot rely on her to have their back. Her “I can’t kill! So I let the bad guy get away – oops!” nonsense, in fact, allows the chain of events in the second half to take place and unleashes what seems like the big bad into the world. Way to go, that virtuous bore!
In the second half, when things go to hell, Vig and Kera are completely overshadowed by their Clan mates, who just let everything rip – literally – like the world is ending and we are all going to die happy in a gloriously amazing kind of kaboom. The secondary characters and the villains don’t just steal the limelight, they practically snatch every strand of hair on the heads of our hero and heroine.
Not that I am complaining much, as these characters are so entertaining and I really enjoy the pants off myself in the second half of The Unleashing. I just find it odd that the main characters are reduced to side characters by that point. Then again, this is more of an urban fantasy tale despite Paranormal Romance being stamped on the spine, so maybe this isn’t so odd after all. Still, it’s quite sad when the designated main characters turn out to be the least interesting characters in the cast.
Still, I have had fun, so a four oogie score is only fair at the end of the day. To be honest, though, I think the author has written better books than this one. Still, this is only the first book, so there are plenty of opportunities for the party to kick up a notch sometime down the road. Fans of the author may like this one, as it’s pretty much the typical offering from her, while other not-big-fan folks may want to proceed with a little more caution.