Author: Rhys Ford
Publisher: DSP Publications
Length: 240 Pages
Category: Urban Fantasy
At a Glance: Go get this book RIGHT. HECKIN’. NOW. It’s a visceral urban fantasy adventure (with the barest flavor of future romance) set in a fascinating world peopled by compelling characters.
Reviewed By: Cassie
Blurb: Kai Gracen has no intention of being anyone’s pawn. A pity Fate and SoCalGov have a different opinion on the matter.
Licensed Stalkers make their living hunting down monsters and dangerous criminals… and their lives are usually brief, brutal, and thankless. Despite being elfin and cursed with a nearly immortal lifespan, Kai didn’t expect to be any different. Then Ryder, the High Lord of the Southern Rise Court, arrived in San Diego, Kai’s not-so-mundane life went from mild mayhem to full-throttle chaos.
Now an official liaison between the growing Sidhe Court and the human populace, Kai is at Ryder’s beck and call for anything a High Lord might need a Stalker to do. Unfortunately for Kai, this means chasing down a flimsy rumor about an ancient lost Court somewhere in the Nevada desert—a court with powerful magics that might save Ryder—and Kai’s—people from becoming a bloody memory in their Merged world’s violent history.
The race for the elfin people’s salvation opens unwelcome windows into Kai’s murky past, and it could also slam the door on any future he might have with his own kind and Ryder.
Review: YOU. GUYS.
This book was worth the three years I waited to get it into my hot little hands. I read Black Dog Blues in its first publication, and I was DESPERATE for the second book. Now it’s here, and it is everything I hoped for.
But also please, please, please do not make me wait three more years for the third book. I will die. For reals.
One of the things I love about Rhys Ford is that I always feel like I learn something reading her books. I pick up new vocab words or end up googling pictures of paho’eho’e lava in the first five pages so I know what the landscape actually looks like. Her phrases are innovative and complicated in that fun way that feels like your brain just took a yoga class and came out bendier and hotter, or you know, sore and sweaty. Either way, FUN. It also has the added benefit of slowing this speed-reader down and prolonging my enjoyment. I dig it.
One of the other things I love (yeah, there are lots—just strap in for the gushing, okay?) are the opening sequences. All her books tend to start off with a bang, this series and the Cole McGinnis series in particular. But this time, Ms. Ford REALLY outdid herself. I’ve never been so concerned, while laughing so hard, while also feeling slightly ill. It was great. I went back and read it again before I moved on just to be sure it had actually just happened. It had.
The writing style is visceral. The hard living and pointy edges of Kai’s character are very clear in the voice of the book. Well done, as it’s first person from Kai’s perspective. The fight sequences are graceless, glorious, mad-scrabble scrambles for survival; not well-choreographed bouts, but sheer, desperate brute force and stalker-wiles. It communicates a sense of reality and urgency that I thoroughly enjoy.
If you’ve read my other reviews, then you know I’m here for the world-building and the character arcs. This book (and series) has both in spades. I’m totally in love with this universe. Its unique blend of magic and technology is fascinating and inventive, and we get to see more of both fictional San Diego and the devastation brought on by the merge in the wider world.
Kai is straight up my favorite of all Rhys Ford’s “voices”; he says words like “snorfling” (I mean, come ON). I could read him all day, every day. I went back and read Black Dog Blues to prep for reading Mad Lizard Mambo, and his character hangs together really well between the books. His arc is seamless, natural, and full of developments. He’s in no way static. His past is a constant specter in his head, and it colors all of his interactions. In Mad Lizard Mambo, his key relationships are all in flux or under new and intense stressors, and it’s wonderful to watch him grapple with and grow into himself to meet those challenges. Kai’s desire to be human continues to be an achingly sympathetic character trait. We also get some real details about his past. It’s terrible, moving, and fascinating. I may also have screamed at one point. So look forward to that.
Ryder really starts coming into his own in this book. In Black Dog Blues, he was more of a mystery. Not one-dimensional, per se, but definitely not as fleshed out. Which makes sense, as he was a stranger to Kai, and we’re getting these stories from Kai’s perspective. In Mad Lizard Mambo, Ryder is still arrogant and autocratic, but he’s also kind and more open to sharing what’s happening in his head with Kai. Kai sees a lot more of his inner workings, and it makes it much harder for Kai to keep that enforced distance between them.
Now, heads up. This is Urban Fantasy. These characters are on a collision path, but it’s a sloooooooooooooooo *gasp* ooooooooow burn. This isn’t a romance. YET. The frame work is being set up, but don’t go into this book looking for make out sessions. The characters are just not in a place where consummation feels genuine; okay, KAI is not in that place. By the end of the book he’s more accustomed to his attraction to Ryder, but also better at riding herd on it. He’s more willing to think about it, but not ready to give in to it. Ultimately, I wasn’t disappointed by the lack of the love scene; it would have felt disingenuous if there had been one.
We get some insight into most of the secondary characters as well. The highlights being that Jonas makes an appearance, and we get a tiny glimpse into his family dynamics. Because let’s be honest, we ALL wanted to know how that worked after Black Dog Blues. And Sparky has a truly lovely little speech to Kai about their first meeting that is very touching.
Guys, I love-LOVE this book and these characters, and I plan on buying an actual copy to read again when it’s out, and then getting the audio version and listening to THAT once it comes out. So keep that in mind for the next few paragraphs, okay?
I rated this book 4 stars instead of 5. I actually read this book twice before reviewing it. I was so excited to get it, and I DEVOURED it once I had it. I knew my first impression was going to be way too skewed. So I re-read to get a little perspective on the book. And a couple things struck me—one minor and one kind of major.
First the minor one. I love Rhys Ford’s twisty writing style—as I said already, but about 1.5% of the time, I can’t untangle the verbal knot. It is, just occasionally, too convoluted. Sometimes I have to re-read to get it, which is 100% fine with me. I read too fast, and that’s my fault. But sometimes, even after a re-read and then an in-depth study, I just have to take my best guess at the sentence’s meaning and move on. I’m not talking about words I don’t understand. I like words, and I own a dictionary. But very rarely, there’s a sentence where I know 100% of the words, but only get about 70% of the actual meaning. This is also the nit-pickiest paragraph I’ve ever written in a review. SO. MINOR.
What isn’t quite so minor is after reading the book again, I realized I’d missed the REASON. There’s a ton of action; it’s compelling, intense, and very exciting. I loved reading it. But by the end, I didn’t feel like there was adequate explanation for why all the chaos ensued. Without giving too much away, the motive of the antagonist(s) (it could be one! it could be many! no spoilers here!) is a bit murky. Who was the real target of all that violence? And, if it is who is suggested, why? Didn’t targeting that person actually jeopardize the whole thing? Also, what was the ultimate end game, the purpose behind the plan? I am, quite honestly, not really sure. Maybe book three will shed some light on the whole thing. But that’s why 4 out of 5 stars.
To sum it up—GO GET THIS BOOK. It’s full of compelling characters, fascinating landscapes, and intense action. Some burning origin questions get answered, though I still have more questions. Which ultimately, I like in a series. Each book has a story arc, but the series has a larger arc, too; there’s definitely still somewhere for this series and these characters to go. I, for one, cannot WAIT to get hold of the next book.
You can buy Mad Lizard Mambo here: