They call me the Spider. I'm the most feared assassin in the South -- when I'm not busy at the Pork Pit cooking up the best barbecue in Ashland. As a Stone elemental, I can hear everything from the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet to the vibrations of the soaring Appalachian Mountains above me. My Ice magic also comes in handy for making the occasional knife. But I don't use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride.
Now that a ruthless Air elemental has double-crossed me and killed my handler, I'm out for revenge. And I'll exterminate anyone who gets in my way -- good or bad. I may look hot, but I'm still one of the bad guys. Which is why I'm in trouble, since irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine has agreed to help me. The last thing this coldhearted killer needs when I'm battling a magic more powerful than my own is a sexy distraction... especially when Donovan wants me dead just as much as the enemy.
The first installment in Jennifer Estep's new Elemental Assassin series, Spider's Bite introduces us to Ashland, a southern city in the Appalachians where you're as likely to run across a good barbeque joint as you are a vampire hooker on the corner. It's a gritty film noir-ish world with lots of back alleys, hit squads, and corrupt cops behind most every badge. The main character is Gin Blanco, or Gin to her friends, but in some circles she's known only as Spider the assassin. However, in the secretive world of Ashland, she and her cohorts seem to be just as trustworthy and honorable as the next guy but are they? Everyone in this town has an angle, a history and it seems most have blood on their hands.
Actress Lauren Fortgang does a fascinating balancing act voicing Gin. There's ample southern lilt and sly naughty charm to bring the material to life, and there is considerable music and imagery to be mined here in the writing. Yet her voice has enough bite and gravel to ground our no-nonsense morally ambiguous anti-heroine. The challenge for any good book in the urban fantasy genre is the paradox of making wildly fantastical worlds believable. Estep manages to take Ashland this world of troubled souls, dwarfs, giants, and vampires, as well as human elementals who can tap into the very forces of nature and make it all seem part of the everyday grind. With Spider's Bite you feel as if you could really walk these streets, but you'd also immediately feel the dirt on your skin and the hairs rising on the back of your neck as you hear noises in the shadows. Fortgang completes the task, making Gin a very believable character, somehow part embittered hard-ass, part loyal friend, and vulnerable lost soul on occasion.
The book takes a cue from its main character. It is patient, carefully spinning a web of atmospheric settings and carefully observed characters then like a spider it jumps into action from the dark. Ashland is a tricky place and you can never judge anyone by appearances, especially Gin, and it seems there's a long line of those who have died underestimating her. One should be wary, though, of any sexy southern charmer who can not only summon razor-sharp ice daggers from thin air, but also control the very bricks in walls, rocks, and stones, and the very ground beneath her. Cleo Creech
"Fortgang’s captivating drawl sketches Finn’s flirty, genteel arrogance and Caine’s horrified disapproval of her. Fortgang portrays Gin’s well-hidden emotions as well as her habitual analysis of combat probabilities. The capable narration ensures that Gin comes across as an intriguing mix of battle-weary assassin, sorceress, and affectionate homebody. Fortgang also delivers the book’s wry humor with subtle elegance." (AudioFile)
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How I got to loathe the story
- Brian Rygaard Jensen