The first book in the Elemental Assassin series.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Running Time: 11 hrs and 59 minutes

As the Spider, Gin Blanco is the most feared assassin east of the Mississippi. She’s also an Earth and Ice elemental but she doesn’t use her magic to kill or to give herself an edge in a fight. Instead, she can feel the vibrations in the stone around her. The people and actions have infused themselves into the stone so Gin can feel a place’s history. She uses stealth and knives to do her job.

The story starts with a routine assassination, as much as any job can be said to be routine. Gin has been paid to kill Asylum’s resident psychologist, Evelyn Edwards. In order to do that, Gin infiltrates the Asylum as a woman who has become crazy because of magic use.

After she completes her mission, she returns home. Gin’s original family was killed when she was thirteen and afterwards she had to live on the streets. But she did make a few friends who are now the only people she cares about. Fletcher Lane is Gin’s father figure and her handler. Fletcher has a new job for Gin which would pay so much that Gin could retire on it, if she wanted to. Gin takes the job but her client double crosses her, the client’s minions torture and kill Fletcher, and torture his son Finn whom Gin manages to rescue. Gin swears revenge.

Like all good guy assassins, Gin takes only victims who are rapists, abusers, or otherwise bad people. She also won’t kill kids or pets or anyone she considers an innocent. Her cover identity is as a waitress in the Pork Pit which is owned by Fletcher. Gin also loves cooking and reading, although we don’t see her doing much reading this time. She insists that all emotions are a weakness but she’s very loyal to Fletcher, Finn, and all her other friends. She’s also lusting after Detective Donovan whose partner she killed earlier.

Gin is pretty nonchalant about killing which is usual for an assassin protagonist but not usual for a female character. Most of the time she’s an efficient killer and very good at using disguises. Her years on the streets have hardened her. She’s very confident with her (hetero)sexuality.

Unfortunately, the book has a lot of repetition. Every time there’s a chance that Gin mentions her eyes or hair, their color is also mentioned; gray eyes and bleached blond hair. When an enemy makes a mistake Gin always thinks “Sloppy. Sloppy. Sloppy.” (But not when she makes a mistake, such as drooling over a detective so hard that she’s taken by surprise in the middle of an assassination.) I also had trouble believing that assassins really know each others “secret” assassin identities. The book is written in first person but Gin describes her own expressions a lot. There are also some contradictions. Gin mentions that the reason why elementals aren’t ruling everyone is because of guns. Yet, she thinks that guns jam too easily and uses knives and crossbows instead.

Gin lusts after detective Donovan Cain, a lot. I’m hesitant to call him a potential romance partner; rather he’s an object of lust. Gin clearly doesn’t give a rat’s ass that Donovan is very uncomfortable with her. Gin has killed Cain’s partner, who was a rapist, pedophile, and all around bad guy, and she knows that if Cain finds out that Gin is an assassin and his partner’s killer, Donovan would come after her in a heartbeat. So, no tender feelings there from either side.

The book doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but the ending introduces a new plot line to keep the reader returning.

The world-building is interesting with lots of magic. Dwarfs, giants, and vampires are ordinary sights on Ashlund’s streets. Vampires even work as a street whores. Lots of humans can use elemental magic but they can still be homeless or become crazy. It took me awhile to realize that the elementals are just humans, and other people, with magic, and not spirits. Ashlund is throughly corrupt, in fact it reminded me of Gotham without Batman’s influence. The most notable person in the city is the fire elemental Mab Monroe who runs the underworld, and therefore the city.

I rather liked the secondary characters. Finn is a womanizing tech wizard and as such wasn’t really original. However, the dwarf sisters were great. Sofia is a cook/cleaner of murder scenes and she dresses like a goth, and her sister JoJo is a healer, and a beauty salon owner.

I haven’t listened to Fortgang before. Her throaty female voice is very good for Gin but unfortunately she makes breathless voices for many of the males, especially the main love interest. It’s pretty strange to listen to the dialog with Fortgang’s breathless, seductive voice and the hear a tag “he growled”.

The first chapter is available for free on the author’s web site: http://www.jenniferestep.com/excerpts-short-stories/spiders-bite/

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