Back in August, this lovely author, Theresa Meyers, sent an email to Smart Bitch Sarah asking if I (Me! CarrieS!) would review her latest book, The Hunter. Well. As Paula Deen once said, that just knocked my socks clean off and into the washer. I feel I have Arrived. Now that authors (or, at least, an author) are requesting me (me!) personally, I'm sure the New Yorker will be calling any minute. I'm waiting by the phone, New Yorker! Call me!
Anyway, there I was, flattered right out of my mind, when I realized that this was actually a disaster, because for the first time I knew in advance that an author was going to read my review. What if poor, nice, trusting Theresa sent me the book and I hated it? What if I had to say, “In all honesty, Theresa, reading your book is akin to having my toenails pulled out by angry monkeys?” Would I be able to keep my journalistic objectivity under this kind of pressure?
Fear not, Theresa. Reading The Hunter in no way resembled having my toenails pulled out by angry monkeys. Alas, neither did it resemble having Daniel Craig feed me spoonfuls of chocolate mousse on the beach. It had wonderful world-building, grand adventure, and all the steampunk fun you could ask for. It also had way too much repetition and would have benefited from a much shorter length. I would recommend it to steampunk fans and I am giving it a B- based purely on the strength of the descriptive passages, even though it dragged like crazy in the middle to such a degree that I lost my interest by the end.
To start with, wow, Theresa can write a description. The Steampunk-Western atmosphere was just perfect. You could smell the leather and the sulfur and the sagebrush. Every detail felt just right, in both quiet passages and action scenes. Steampunk fans will love the Arizona Ice Mines, the wind-up horse, the shape-shifter who turns into a mountain lion (pretty!), and, oh yeah baby, the zeppelin flown by vampires. The action scenes are straight out of Indiana Jones, which I mean as a compliment. Also, special props for having several scenes set in Bodie, a place I've actually been to several times. I was a bit discomfited by the fact that the hero seems to have no trouble travelling fairly quickly between Bodie, California, and Phoenix, Arizona. I've driven more or less from the one place to the other, and it seemed to take forever in a car so I'm not convinced you could do it in a few days’ time on horseback, even on a clockwork horse. Still, since the maximum speed of the horse is never established, and it doesn't require rest, and I'm not an expert on geography, I'm willing to let that slide.
The plot involves Colt (who has brothers named Winchester and Remington) who is a demon hunter. Colt wants to retrieve a book that his Father compiled and then hid, which contains information that is useful to Hunters (the capital H is not a typo, as it’s his actual title). There are two other sections of this magic book, each of which will presumably be sought by the other brothers in the rest of the trilogy. The sections are elaborately hidden and protected by various traps. Why? I dunno. There's some handwaving to explain why the Hunters would make it so difficult and deadly for future Hunters to access world-saving information, but I never bought it. Colt summons a demon to help him, and she turns out to be a succubus named Lilly. Lilly being a succubus allows the author to justify all kinds of things that normally drive me bonkers – he can't stop looking at her butt when she wears pants, he can't stop looking at her boobs when she wears dresses, she always smells great and can instantly summon up sexy underwear with her magic powers, they make out in the middle of dangerous situations that I personally would not find conducive to sexy times – you know, she's irresistible. Meanwhile Lilly is trying to escape from this mega-demon who has clearly been watching the “Saw” movies on his DVD player in Hell, and he (the demon) is also trying to get the Hunters' book.
The Hunter falters in its pacing and its insistence on telling us what the characters are thinking, even when they are thinking the same thing over and over. Here's how the story goes. Colt and Lilly discuss their next move, and they contemplate (to each other) how weird it is for a Hunter and a Demon to be allies, and wonder (to themselves) whether they can trust each other, and decide that they can. Then there is a kick-ass action sequence. They clean up, discuss their next move, contemplate (to each other) how weird it is for a Hunter and a Demon to be allies, think (to themselves) that the other person's behavior during the action sequence means they can be trusted, but what if it's all a ruse, oh the heck with it, repeat – and repeat, and repeat. For half of the book, I was enthralled. The other half was just as well written as the first half, but I sort of felt like I had already read it, and I (forgive me, Theresa) got kinda bored. I have to admit that I am usually not thrilled by plots that involve long quests for macguffins, so maybe this plot would be a greater hit with other readers.
In short, The Hunter would be a great book if it were cut ruthlessly in half – yes, even if that meant we lost the vampire zeppelin. I'm giving this book a B- because for the first half or so I thought it was Made of Win and worth an A, but by the end I was just sort of hoping it would be over so I could move on from the endless search for the macguffin that, frankly, was sort of silly to start with. That loss of interest would usually cause me to grade a book no higher than a C, but the atmosphere is so well drawn that I figured I'd split the difference and call it a B-. It is possible, indeed probable, that I'm grading a tad generously, since Theresa is watching, but really, the descriptions are absolutely amazing and not to be missed. And it is just as possible, that readers who don't mind the endless quest plot will love every moment of the book. This book ends with the relationship stuff nicely resolved (with a nifty twist) but the plot unfinished, leaving it prepared for the rest of the trilogy without being an annoying cliffhanger. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.