Bitchin' Blog Posts
Title: Blood Smoke and Mirrors
Author: Robin Bachar
Publication Info: Samhain 2010
For a debut book, this story has an incredibly strong and funny main character - it is first person, for those who abhor the I, me & myself - and a strange and interesting world of characters. Even though it had some flaws in characterization and evenness, I had some difficulty extracting myself from the book. It’s fun and different and the narrator is bizarre and goofy and doesn’t take herself too seriously - which I adore in an over-emo-paranormal-flooded market.
First, look at the cover. Holy SMACK is that a good looking cover. If this were on a shelf, I’d totally pick that up. The only problem: the heroine is not that thin according to the description - but when does the cover exactly match the book inside? Rarely, if ever. Everything otherwise about the cover references the story, and looks good doing it. I freaking love this cover. The artist, Kanaxa, did a bang-up job.
Now, on to the story. Catherine Baker has been outcast from among the witches in her world after defending herself through magic. Witches are bound quite tidily in this world to the “harm none” thing, and turning a would-be rapist’s actions and evils back against him in defense counted as harm - and Catherine’s boyfriend, Lex, a Guardian among the paranormal world, turned her in. So when the story begins, she’s alone and nursing a major hurt, outcast because of her actions and because of the sins of her father, and barely scraping by financially.
If I had to grab one word to describe this book, it would be refreshing. Not like a diet Coke or something that’s saccharine and only satisfying in the short term, but refreshing like thinking to yourself, “Oh, that’s new, that’s different” while reading a plot that could have turned on a dime into well-trod cliche-land. Bachar keeps the story firmly in the present with a quick and witty narrator, and I kept reading.
Cat is not rich - which is kinda spiffy considering how many affluent paranormal creatures there are in Romanceland. She’s a waitress, she lives in a plain and small apartment, and she’s trying to figure out what to do next. She’s been in a holding pattern when the story opens, and she reports to work one night to learn that the last Titania, the de facto ambassador for her area representing the Faerie of her region, has been murdered, and had not named an heir.
Her boss, Mac, the owner of the cafe, which serves a neutral ground location for the creatures in their world, thinks she ought to submit her name as a candidate. The Titania, or Oberon if the person is male, serves as a representative for the Faerie in their region for the inter-species politics that inevitably cause angst and drama. To Cat’s great surprise, Lex, the ex boyfriend of much betrayal, thinks so, too, and promises to protect her as she faces the other candidates in a series of tests to determine her worth as a representative for the Faeries. Her opponent? I’m not sure if that’s a plot twist or surprise or what, so I’m not going to reveal it, but the competition adds a whole layer of emotional ouch to the plot.
Cat is kinda awesome. She’s a lot awesome, actually. I know that many of you really dislike the first person narrators, but they never bother me. She’s unique and sets herself apart in a flamboyant fashion among her kind. Even when she doesn’t know what she’s going to do next, she knows herself, and her relentless adherence to her own moral code and her own sense of fair play and values made me respect her, especially as she faced mounting tests to prove her worth to the Faerie. Cat is also a narrator very well connected to the present world, and she had a sharp ability to explain her world in terms of human reality:
The blood drained from my face at the idea of wearing an even fancier gown, and I nodded as Tybalt walked off. Deciding I’d better pick something before she did, I made my way through the castle and tried to ignore the fact that the noise level had raised a few decibels with general excitement at the prospect of a party. Faeries love to party—they love food, they love booze, they love music. Wine, women and song is a nicer way to phrase it, but the plain truth is faeries are as rowdy and fun-loving as the Greek community on a Big Ten campus.
Lex is powerful and conflicted. He’s from Louisiana, and at times his written dialect was irritating (yes, I get it, he drops his g’s) but his skills and ability to fight and protect Cat are fun to read about. Plus, there’s a lot of dialogue between him and Cat, and they bicker marvelously:
“Why do you own a sword if you have no idea how to use it?” Lex asked as I missed stabbing the practice dummy by at least three feet.
Dusting myself off, I raised my chin indignantly and glared at him. “Because it’s a ritual tool, and it’s not meant to spill blood other than mine. It’s a symbol, not a weapon.”
Lex and Tybalt turned to each other and sighed, both muttering, “Witches,” in the same disappointed tone of voice.
Bachar’s writing also employed descriptions that I really liked:
A slight breeze brushed my face and I caught the scent of vampire magic. It’s a peculiar but memorable scent, the smell of the last dying ember clinging to a candle’s wick, refusing to be snuffed. Really, that’s all vampires are, that last spark of life clinging like hell to this world, terrified to give in to what lies beyond.
Unfortunately there were a few areas of significant emotional absence that undermined the strength of the story elsewhere. First, when something happens to one of Cat’s very good friends, her grief is immediate, stormy, and over like nothing. She’s smart and cunning and a relatively good decision-maker, but her emotional complexity in other areas, such as her existence as an outcast, contrasted too sharply with the complete lack of grief in this area. It was as if she was over it way too quickly or never had any emotions to begin with - and I thought less of the story because of that lack.
Moreover, one of the characters and her relationship with him is trite, cliched, and flimsy, so when she pretty much turns herself inside out to help him, it makes no sense. It was impossible for me to gauge how important he was in her life, or how important other figures were, when Cat’s behavior was genuine and real at some points, and utterly artificial, plastic, and unreal in others. If anything, Cat needs much more realistic and emotional reactions to grief, as it’s a theme in the book and Cat’s lack of reaction, or what little reaction she had, was disappointing and jarring.
That unevenness of the portrayal of the relationships, coupled with a few HUGE leaps in plot development (I about slammed into the ending not expecting it and felt like I needed a seatbelt on the final page because ow) kept this book from totally blowing my mind. Cat is surrounded by people who lover her: you can tell by their actions and the way they embrace, protect, and defend her. But you can’t tell much from Cat’s reactions to them because they’re absent or muted. She says they are important and she cares, but her actions don’t support it.
But there were times I snorted at Cat’s thoughts, empathized with her predicaments, and could almost hear her voice in my head. It’s rare for a character to be so vivid in my brain, and I enjoyed that part immensely. This book was at times silly, fun, fast, light, and amusing, and since I know from the setup at the end that there will likely be more, I will look forward to the next edition with the hopes that Cat develops emotional depth equal to her strength and sense of humor.