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.