Review: Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

Monday, November 7, 2011
Author: Lili St. Crow (pen name for author Lilith Saintcrow)
Genre: young-adult, supernatural/paranormal/ fiction (vampires, wulfen), horror (zombies)
Series: Strange Angels #1
Pages: 293 (paperback version)
Published: May 2009
Source: bought
Rating: 3.5/5

Dru Anderson has what her grandmother called "the touch." (Comes in handy when you're traveling from town to town with your dad, hunting ghosts, suckers, wulfen, and the occasional zombie.)

Then her dad turns up dead - but still walking - and Dru knows she's next. Even worse, she's got two guys hungry for her affections, and they're not about to let the fiercely independent Dru go it alone. Will Dru discover just how special she really is before coming face-to-fang with whatever - or whoever - is hunting her?
Strange Angels is my first entrance into the world and novels of the prolific author behind the Strange Angels, Dante Valentine, Jill Kismet and Hedgewitch series. I had high expectations for such an apparently creative and verbose author - some of which were met (I didn't hate Dru upon reading her, no ridiculously obnoxious love triangle yet I know it is coming don't spoil me, not a total whitewash of the cast, great descriptions, interesting twists on vampire mythology/lore, the entire wulfen dynamic) and others were sadly not (I didn't exactly love Dru either, a rushed, unsatisfying ending.) I liked a great deal more than I disliked and found Strange Angels to be a fun and amusing read. With four sequels already published in the young-adult series, two in my hot little hand, I see definite potential for such a rewarding and creative paranormal series.
"Dru" (a nickname short for. . . .?) Anderson is a girl with a transient lifestyle, with her monster-hunting ex-Marine stoic father. Dru puts it best with a typical succinct: "ridding the wold of nasty things" is their job. With a tropic Mysterious Missing/Dead Mother, Dru and daddy are the family entire - with all the baggage that goes along with. My first, initial thought: Supernatural but with a father/daughter duo instead of a fraternal team of badassery. Dru is fairly well-rounded, while still managing to come off as annoyingly precious at times. I liked the harsher, less emotional side of Dru much better: tomboy, burper, abrasive and decisive. She's definitely not a "rescuee" in a situation - this orphan knows her way with a weapson (something I always enjoy in YA: capable teenage female with an affinity for deadly weaponry) along with a steady practice of tai chi to keep her sharp. Dru is only 16, she doesn't suffer from the immaturity of some of her counterparts in the genre (Bella, all of Amanda Hocking's female characters) and when her dad is zombiefied, Dru does what she has to and rekills her own father. Whoa - now that's a conflicted lead, but understandably so, and even better, within the confines of the plot itself. Dru's daddy wasn't just killed for kicks/drama/gravitas - it's actually a part of the plan and feels natural for the novel. I also did find that Dru can come off as trying too hard to be "hard" or "badass", particularly in the beginning, the persona eventually begins to feel natural, to feel like it is essentially Dru and how she is. I may have just taken a long time to warm up to her, who knows. I do wish she was a little less full of herself, less assured she is the only one capable of doing anything. 

Sadly, with so much time and attention lavished on the main character, the secondary cast leaves a little to be desired. Largely two-dimensional, I was still charmed by the majority of Dru's friends, foes and fighting opponents (strained too hard for that alliteration? Perhaps.) Graves, the only background character to largely escape this ignominious fate, steals a lot of the time as an obvious/oblivious love-interest for the closed-off Dru. Half-asian and repeatedly called "bird-like" (seriously, I love her writing but Graves deserves more than just "skinny" "beaky" and "bird-like" for descriptors! Ugh!), Graves wormed his way into Dru's (and my) affections with his gawky, awkward schtick. Homeless, full of heart and hope Graves is the optimistic yin to Dru's pessimistic yang, when she finally gives into the friendship. I did weary of the reluctance Dru displayed towards Graves: it went on too long and seemed pointless when it was clear these two were destined for bffdom/trueluuuv. Surely we the readers don't believe that someone as special and clearly needy as young Miss Anderson is going to not need some snarky companionship to keep the fangirls reading help her search for vengeance.

I had a great deal of fun with Saintcrow's mythology and lore for her universe. Not limited to Dru's psychic-esque "touch" or her waxes-and-oranges precusor of Oh shit!, Saintcrow created a unique and compelling history, social order and mythology for her supernatural beings. Two big things on The Checklist: more-than-decent female lead AND inventive interpretation of cliched and overused ideas. Every author these days has a young-adult paranormal series with vampires/werewolves/whatever/etc. - but the ones that get - and keep - my attention are those that make the myth theirs in some way: either reinvent it and own it. With a strict caste hierarchy for the "suckers" (vampires) reminiscent of the castes of real-world India - the nosferatu of Crow's world rule over the lesser forms of bloodsuckers. Combined with the Balkan myth of the dhampir (called djamphir in these novels) as the almost-universally male offspring of vampire fathers and human mothers. . .  that hunt their paternal side, I'm more than intrigued. Add in the one-in-a-million girl offspring, the svetocha, an alluring and a minefield of power to vampires until blooming at 16, then literally toxic to vamps (tem guesses on who that one-in-a-million is?!), and we have a whole new ballgame. Saintcrow didn't limit her society to just the blood-drinkers: complenting man's more bestial nature, this universe also has the wulfen (werewolves), as well as the "prince" of the them, the loup-garou. Regarded as less than all forms of suckers, the wulfen are an integral and unsettled aspect of this varied world. Harmony among the races, even just among Dru's allies, is hard-fought and fleeting - further adding to the overall stress, uncertainty and anger of the main character.

I'm a big, BIG fan of how Ms. Saintcrow writes, judging, perhaps a bit hastily, off this one novel of hers that I have read. She has an utterly unique spin with her words, and her descriptions in particular often stand out to my eyes. Several times, at non-crucial or romantical moments, I would literally reread certain sections just because I enjoyed reading them so much - phrases like "laughter as bright and shiny as a new penny" capture both characters and setting with a vividness I loved throughout. An articulately written young-adult book with a dab hand of humor, I found it hard to put this novel down from the start. It's descriptive and evocative without overdoing it and veering into eye-rolling territory. Though I found the simple descriptions a joy to read, the action scenes are not at all bad either. With many and varied creatures/people for antagonists (Ash, Christophe, Sergej, the burning dogthing?) none of the fast-paced, loose fights feel repetitive or rehashed. And when there are a lot of altercations breaking out (and there are a LOT) that is something to be noted and enjoyed.

I do wish that there had been more to the final confrontation with the Big Bad Sergej. It felt extremely rushed, almost harried in pace, and failed to even bring a feeling of satisfaction or finality for any of the issues of the novel. I understand it is a series, but there should be some payoff for the reader. Not even Dru's real name is revealed, nor any details about her cliched mother. I still more-than-enjoyed this supernatural outing, and look forward to the numerous sequels in store. I hope for much more of Graves, more answers, and if I am being honest, even more Christophe. Bring on Betrayals.  

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