Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep

I liked the fun series set in Bigtime about superheroes by Jennifer Estep, so when I found out she had an urban fantasy series in the works, it went on my wishlist. I won a copy of this book over at vampirewire.

The Premise: Gin Blanco is an assassin who works at a barbecue restaurant called the Pork Pit during the day. She relies on her knives and tools for her job, but in case she needs it she’s also a Stone Elemental – someone with power over rocks and Earth with a small amount of Ice Elemental power as well. One day, Gin is hired to kill an embezzler, but is surprised during the job by a double cross by the client. Within moments, Gin is wanted by the police and everyone around her is in danger. To clean things up Gin makes a surprising move: she teams up with a straight-laced cop, Donovan Caine.

My Thoughts: Reading Spider’s Bite right after The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay really highlighted how expectations of a character’s morals and whether they live up to them is part of what affects my reading experience. Although I didn’t always agree with what Gin did, I expected her to be ruthless, and it wasn’t as much a problem for me when she was. I understood her rules, and although she was not above doing something I find questionable, she was consistent with what my expectations were: a killer who doesn’t pretend to be one of the good guys. The interest is in knowing up front that Gin walks a fine line, and I’m not sure whether or not she will go over.  Somehow, I root for her despite her profession.

Because of the female assassin, this book reminds me of Kelley Armstrong’s Nadia Stafford series, which is a series I LOVE and am patiently waiting to continue. Of course this book is really different, but the smart, capable heroine is similar. I feel like this series, which has three books out this year (Web of Lies comes out in May and Venom comes out in September), fills some of the void I feel over Nadia Stafford, and I recommend this series for people who like that one.

What I really like about this book is how the hero, Donovan Caine, an honest detective with ideals, has to work with with an assassin in this story! He’s the one trying to make sure that Gin doesn’t do things that go over the line, and he has a moral dilemma – he likes and is attracted to her while he thinks that she’s a cold-blooded killer. His his physical attraction to someone who may have murdered his partner and all the mixed up feelings of guilt and anger involved with that make their relationship kind of delicious. I’d love to see how things develop in the next two books. One thing I’d say though – Gin isn’t subtle about her appreciation of the detective. Her thoughts are clear to the reader and I think that romance readers would be unfazed but readers who don’t like anything explicit could be turned off.

The relationships in this series feel real life, maybe because I thought Gin felt like a three-dimensional character. The people in Gin’s life felt like family – her handler Fletcher and his son Finnegan, and the twin dwarf sisters Jo-Jo and Sophia have a long back story that is hinted at but you feel like they’ve had years together to build their relationships.

Another thing I liked was the idea of the Elementals and how they are a normal part of society (along with giants, vampires and dwarfs). There are different shades and kinds of Elemental power: Ice, Stone, Air and Fire, and Elementals veer to certain jobs because of it just like any other talent. It’s also common for people to have their own personal rune to reflect this talent.There’s a promising introduction to Fire Elemental and Big Bad, Mab Monroe, who sounds like she owns the town and may be someone Gin will eventually confront in the next couple of books. Mab and Gin’s past looks to be part of a larger story arc I”d like to read.

Note: for fans of Estep’s Bigtime series – the Elemental Assassin series has a very different voice and a darker tone, but I noticed a nod to Estep’s previous series in the form of a mention of Fiona Fine. It tickled me. :)

Overall: The more I think about it the more I like this book. I recommend this urban fantasy for people who like a smart, practical kind of heroine with a hard edge. If you liked Kelley Armstrong’s Nadia Stafford, I think you will like Gin Blanco. I plan to buy the rest of these books.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
Fantasy Dreamer’s Rambings5 out of 5
Smexy Books – 5 out of 5
A Buckeye Girl Reads – found the first half slower than the last but positive review
Literary Escapism – positive review

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