Venom: Fun plot if you don’t think about it too much

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Venom is the third book in Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series about Gin Blanco, an assassin who runs The Pork Pit, a barbecue restaurant in Ashland, Tennessee. My review will contain spoilers for the previous books, so you might not want to read it if you haven’t yet read Spider’s Bite and Web of Lies.

Gin has been trying to retire from her assassin’s trade, but as long as the Fire Elemental Mab Monroe runs Ashland as if she’s a crime boss, there will always be people in distress who need Gin’s help. Gin is all too happy to help them because her eventual goal is to take Mab down because Mab killed Gin’s mother and big sister about 15 years ago.

This time the damsel in distress is a vampire named Roslyn who is being stalked by Elliot Slater, the giant who’s Mab’s top security guy. Gin knows that Elliot is a serial killer who enjoys stalking women before he finally rapes and kills them, but the Ashland police have been ineffective, as usual, at bringing him to justice. That’s because the police are also under Mab’s long-armed influence. All except for Donovan Caine, Gin’s part-time lover who left town because he couldn’t handle having a relationship with an assassin, and Bria Coolidge, the new detective who recently replaced Caine. Gin immediately recognizes Bria as the “baby sister” who she thought had died at Mab’s hand all those years ago. What is Bria doing in Ashland? Gin wants to figure that out before revealing herself as Bria’s sister. As Gin and her friends plan and maneuver to kill Elliot Slater, Bria keeps showing up. Gin is impressed with her courage and sense of duty. She’s a female version of Donovan Caine.

The plot of Venom moves quickly and is fairly exciting. It’s easy to care for Gin and her friends as they are essentially vigilantes in a town where the authorities aren’t doing their jobs. Gin’s personal life is interesting, too. She still has a thing for Donovan Caine, but they’ve been out of touch and there’s a new man in her life — Owen Grayson, a rich businessman who, it turns out, has some secrets, too. And then, of course, there’s the relationship with her sister. When will Gin reveal herself? What will Bria say? Will they team up together to take Mab down?

Despite the fun story, there are so many irritating little things about this series that I feel I can only recommend it to those who can just enjoy the plot without scrutinizing it and without being annoyed by Estep’s writing quirks. (If you managed to get through Web of Lies without being irritated, you’re probably fine and you can just skip the rest of my review.)

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe plot is fun if you’re willing to not think too much about it. (I’d love to do that, but since I’m supposed to be writing a review, I feel like I can’t.) Once you start asking yourself whether their might be better ways to accomplish Gin’s goals (remembering that she is the best assassin in the city and the ultimate goal is to bring down Mab), you start to notice how convoluted Gin’s plans are and it gets harder and harder to suspend disbelief. For example, why does Gin carry only five short silverstone knives as weapons? Wouldn’t a gun make much more sense? Why doesn’t she ever call the police for help or give them information about the bad guys? Estep tells us that the police are corrupt, but so far we’ve seen their leaders (Caine and Bria) act admirably. Why doesn’t Gin use her magic when she’s getting beat up by one of Mab’s goons? She is constantly being beaten nearly to death and she uses the lame excuse that she doesn’t want to give herself away as an Elemental, yet we see her using her magic to chill the milk in The Pork Pit, a public place. Gin is trained in all sorts of weapons, including guns and the crossbow. Why not just hide in a tree or a building and shoot Mab when she walks by? This works for major world leaders, why not Ashland’s crime boss? If Gin’s such a great assassin, why can’t she kill Mab and get it all over with? Obviously the reason is that if she did, the ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series would end. So, in each installment, we get an elaborate scheme to take down one of Mab’s associates, not Mab herself, and Gin is always almost killed. Again, if you’re willing to just go with it, the plot is fun enough, but it’s definitely sloppy.

Another issue is the writing quirks, and these are so noticeable that I suspect they bother many readers. There are many examples such as Gin’s tendency to use most of the characters’ first and last names most of the times she mentions them, the way she talks about people “getting dead” instead of being killed, the fact that she always has to say baby sister and silverstone knives and chicory coffee, the way that each character’s eye color and their clothing and jewelry are described each time they appear on the scene, and the huge amount of recapping of old events. Every time one of these things happened, I had a negative physiological reaction. One of them did make me laugh, however:

…Sophia … was a cook down at The Pork Pit, the barbecue restaurant Fletcher had left me upon his death. Sophia was also rather handy at disposing of the many bodies I left in my wake….

Every time we see Sophia in The Pork Pit, she’s stirring a big pot…. uh, remind me never to eat there.

The audio versions of the ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series, read by Lauren Fortgang, are wonderfully done. I recommend them if you’re going to read this series.

Elemental Assassin — (2010- ) Publisher: “My name is Gin, and I kill people.” My name is Gin Blanco. They call me the Spider — the most feared assassin in the South (and a part-time cook at the Pork Pit BBQ joint.) As a Stone elemental, I can hear the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet and feel the vibrations of the soaring mountains above me, though I don’t use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride. After a ruthless Air elemental double-crossed me and killed my handler, I’m out for revenge. And I’ll exterminate anyone who gets in my way. I may look hot in a miniskirt, but I’m still one of the bad guys. Which is why I’m in trouble when irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine agrees to help. The last thing a coldhearted killer needs when she’s battling a magic more powerful than her own is a sexy distraction… especially when he wants her dead just as much as the enemy.

Jennifer Estep Elemental Assassin 1. Spider's Bite 2. Web of Lies 3. VenomJennifer Estep Elemental Assassin 1. Spider's Bite 2. Web of Lies 3. VenomJennifer Estep Elemental Assassin 1. Spider's Bite 2. Web of Lies 3. VenomJennifer Estep Elemental Assassin 1. Spider's Bite 2. Web of Lies 3. Venom 4. Tangled ThreadsJennifer Estep Elemental Assassin 1. Spider's Bite 2. Web of Lies 3. Venom 4. Tangled Threads 5. Spider's RevengeJennifer Estep Elemental Assassin 1. Spider's Bite 2. Web of Lies 3. Venom 4. Tangled Threads 5. Spider's Revenge 6. Thread of Death (novella) 7. By a ThreadJennifer Estep Elemental Assassin 1. Spider's Bite 2. Web of Lies 3. Venom 4. Tangled Threads 5. Spider's Revenge, Thread of Death (novella) 6. By a Thread 8. Widow's Webfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsVenom in the Veins: An Elemental Assassin Book Kindle Edition by Jennifer Estep (Author)

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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 and conducts brain research 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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