Spider’s Bite: Southern-fried noir

Jennifer Estep Elemental Assassin 1. Spider's Biteurban fantasy book reviews Jennifer Estep Elemental Assassin 1. Spider's BiteSpider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep

The atmosphere of Spider’s Bite might be described as “Southern-fried noir.” The setting is Ashland, an Appalachian city where magic is openly known and a ruthless magical mobster has her fingers in every pie. Most of the cops are corrupt. The hair is big and the food is gloriously unhealthy.

Gin Blanco is an assassin. She takes pride in her skill and doesn’t waste a lot of time brooding about her chosen career. Her profession makes her an unlikely heroine, but her tough, snarky voice and her surprisingly strong sense of ethics are likely to win you over in spite of yourself. She’s a fun character to follow, and to live vicariously through, for a few hundred pages. You might find yourself wondering whether you would have what it takes — not necessarily the willingness to kill people, but the cleverness to get away with it. I knew she’d hooked me when she caused trouble for a waiter and I got angry, only to think a moment later, “Wait, she kills people and you’re worried about that?” Oh, and she tries to be well-rounded. Gin is a great cook and dabbles in art.

She does have a few tics (“Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy,” “get dead”) and a tendency to indulge in lustful daydreams at the worst possible moments. Jennifer Estep draws her character vividly enough, though, that these quirks feel less like “things that annoy me about the writing” than “things that would annoy me about Gin Blanco, if I met her in real life.”

Estep then takes this deliciously fun character and throws her into a suspenseful plot. She takes a lucrative job, only to be double-crossed by the client. Now, Gin must learn the true identity of her client and avenge a dead friend before she “gets dead” herself. To do this, she has to team up with Donovan Caine, quite possibly the only honest cop in Ashland. Sparks fly between Gin and Donovan, though their connection is an unlikely one. Not only are they on opposite sides of the law, Gin is responsible for the murder of Donovan’s partner.

There are a few twists that aren’t too hard to guess, but Gin’s engaging voice, gutsiness, and resourcefulness keep the pages turning. When I finished Spider’s Bite, my first thought was, “What a fun book!” I will definitely check out the rest of the Elemental Assassin series.

~Kelly Lasiter


As Kelly said, this was fun. There were a few places where the plot felt contrived or where characters behaved or spoke in a way that served the plot more than reality, but I enjoyed the story and the romance and look forward to reading book two. I read this in audio format. It was produced by Audible Frontiers/Brilliance Audio and read by Laura Fortgang who did a nice job. I will read the next book in audio format, too.

~Kat Hooper


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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One comment

  1. I liked a lot about this book (I reviewed it over on Spinetinglermag.com if you’re interested. It’s a few posts down by now, I think.)

    It had some issues and things about Gin that I didn’t like…BUT I think I liked the over-arching plot and characters well enough to continue the series. Good action, decent plotting…I’m a bit on the fence so I’ll have to hunt down the book 2 and 3 reviews here before I continue!

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