Friday, April 20, 2012

REVIEW: Back from the Undead by D.D. Barant

Back from the Undead Back from the Undead by D.D. Barant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoiler

With over 90,000 words, Back From The Undead was one of the best books in the Bloodhound Files series. As usual, BFTU had the series' signature twists and turns that sometime become too complex to comprehend. Fortunately, the twists and turns in this novel did not lose me. BFTU had one of the more linear plots in the series, something I was glad to get in this series.

Bonus to boot was BFTU's moderate amount of angst, compared to book 4 Better Off Undead which was angst heavy, and BFTU's high amount of humor, compared to the rest of the series. BFTU was truly a delight to read. I chuckled many times and it wasn't just because of the witty dialogue but also of the WTF scenes themselves. WTF-good, not WTF-bad.

We last left off from book 4 with Cassius confessing his love for Jace. Jace is insecure about the matter, and not necessarily because Cassius is her boss, or the fact that she yet refer to him by his first name David, or that she's a human and he's a vampire. It is mostly because her last three lovers betrayed her. What trust issues?

Anyway, there were a short scene between the two lovers but it was quickly interrupted by their job. Cassius disappeared on a case that took him away from Jace, and soon Jace was on a case herself. I felt their separation was a detriment to the story. Things didn't look good...

When it rains it pours

A direct line from the book, FYI.

Jace always get the most complicated case, an observation that was flat out acknowledged by her co-workers much to their headache. In BFTU, Jace gets the following problems:

1) Aristotle Stoker has asked Jace for her help. Aristotle Stoker is the villain Jace must capture/kill so she return to her home dimension. He is the villain who have eluded Jace for the last four books of the series. He is the villain the vampires and the lycanthropes fear like the bogeyman and Jack the Ripper and Hitler combined.

Is this a trap? 99.9% likely.

2) Stoker asked Jace to help him break up a human-trafficking ring... Except it's not humans being trafficked, it's vampires. It's not just vampires, it's vampire children. It's not just vampire children, it's vampire orphans who were cruelly abandoned by their parents in a world where vampire reproduction (the pregnant kind, not the bite-to-infect kind) is highly valued because not every pregnancy is successful and there's a magical price on the parents.

WTF? It's hard to believe since Stoker is a villain. Villains don't help people. It's impossible to believe because Stoker is a human supremacist/terrorist who thinks all the supernatural races should take a dirt bed.

Obviously, there's more to this trafficking ring than what he is saying. Honesty and villainy doesn't go hand in hand, especially in a sociopath like Stoker. Though if what Stoker says is true, Jace will need to stop the trafficking ring and capture Stoker.

3) Stoker asked Jace to come to Vancouver, Canada where the trafficking ring is located. In our dimension, America see Canada as "Our Great Neighbors to the North" where border security is laxed. In the other dimension, America see Canada as "Our Corrupt Neighbors to the North" where border security is stricter than the Korean DMZ of our world. Basically, Canada and Mexico switched stereotypes in Thropirelem (what Jace calls the alternate Earth). In Thropirelem, Vancouver is "the homicide capital of the world."

Jace will need to stop the trafficking ring and capture Stoker while avoiding the ubiquitous criminal.

4) Beside Stoker, Isamu is back too. He's the Yazuka lord of a vampire who promised to kill Jace in book 2. Looks like he might pull through on that promise... And somehow, he magically banned Jace from Heaven so she can never go there when she die.

As if Jace's life wasn't already in jeopardy, now her afterlife is too. Oh what joy. x_x

5) But hey. Why stop at two uber villains? How about throwing an ex who betrayed Jace and left her to die in book 2?

To be fair, Tanaka only did it because of the greater good. He ended up feeling so guilty that he swore to protect Jace by killing Isamu. However, Tanaka might need to aim at others to protect Jace because Isamu is small fry compared to the others...

6) There is a godlike character named Dagon in BFTU. Think Godzilla.

7) Let's also throw in one bored kitsune and two meddling deities for the heck of it.

This is not your usual trafficking ring case.

Raining Cats and Dogs

Meanwhile Jace is running out of gunpowder. She can make more if the global anti-gun spell wasn't such a bitch to deal with. Not only that, the spell started to affect Jace. The good news is that she get less nausea from being a dimensional displaced entity. The bad news is that her big advantage — her ability to splatter other supernaturals with her gun — is going away, leaving her largely defenseless.

The World-Building

I was happy at how the series went back to Oriental mythology for its world-building. At present, most Urban Fantasies relegate themselves to Western mythology. I love my angels and demons, my vampires and werewolves, but it can get stale sometime. Thus, I greatly appreciated it when BFTU incorporated kami, oni, and Yomi into its world.

Yomi, the Shinto hell, was one of my many favorite parts in BFTU.
A Christian Hell, for example, would be full of fire and torment, populated by leering, sadistic demons. Not a nice place to visit—or to have angry at you.

The Asian Hell, by contrast, is simply boring.

Now, that’s a very Eastern approach, and no doubt a room full of philosophers could spend an eternity arguing about which fate was worse: everlasting agony or never-ending dullness (or possibly being locked in a room full of arguing philosophers).
Jace didn't just visit "the homicide capital of the world [filled with vampires, lycanthropes, and golems]," she also visit Hell.

A Few Gripes, Some Mehs, and Many Spoilers

The cover-art didn't make much sense. Jace did visit a graveyard, but it was at 3 am not sunset. She did get attacked by lycanthropes but it was in the forest.

As said before, there was little of Cassius in BFTU. He didn't showed up again till the end, barring Jace's dreams. When Cassius did, the ending was a cliffhanger.

I was sad when Tanaka died because the story successfully redeemed the character. I wish things could have gone differently.

Another thing that could have gone differently was how the trafficking ring case was resolved. The vampire orphans were rescued from the trafficking ring, but they were not rescued from homelessness. At the end, they were returned to their street life on Vancouver and were still perpetually children. The only upside was that Isamu was killed so there's a little chance the evil plan will happen again. Very little because it would require the help of the god Yog-Sothoth who hardly meddle in humanoid affairs, this one time being one of those few exceptions. It was realistic the way things ended, but I thought it could have been happier, even at the risk of making the ending sickeningly sweet.

If readers love Jace's co-workers, they will be disappointed in BFTU. There were very few scenes of Gretchen. Charlie, along with Eisfanger, was with Jace on her case but Charlie didn't play a big role compared to the other books because Stoker took some of that spotlight. Surprisingly, I wasn't bothered by these changes.

Speaking of the devil, it was weird watching Stoker and Jace working together rather amicably. On one hand, I wanted to scream at Jace to shoot the guy already before he ran away again. On the other, I appreciated how they didn't antagonize one another, resulting in a low amount of angst. Angst wasn't something I wanted to get again after book 4.

Too bad Stoker was the series' villain, because he worked well with Jace. My biggest gripe about him was that I thought he needed more character development to make his change in BFTU believable.

Jace finally captured Stoker!!! To be accurate, Stoker surrendered himself. But who cares?! All that is left is Ahaseurus, the evil shaman dude who took Jace from her home dimension. It's because the shaman who dimensionally displace the person must be the shaman who dimensionally return her back. Except Ahaseurus has captured Cassius in another dimension at the cliffhanger of an ending. And just when I thought things were going right.

In Conclusion

Truthfully, BFTU was a 3.5. Many things did work for me, including the weird partnership between Stoker and Jace, the series' villain and heroine respectively. However, I wish the ending was more different. I wish the ending was a happier, more conclusive one. I really wish the ending wasn't a cliffhanger.

The reason why I rounded up my rating was because Jace shined greatly as an FBI profiler, an element that hasn't shown consistently in a big way throughout the series. Her profiling skill largely compensated the declining advantage of her gun in BFTU. Watching Jace out-scheming the other characters was a joy, especially at climax against Isamu. That and the unexpected high amount of humor the novel delivered is why I rate BFTU 4 stars for I really liked it.

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