Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nightlife

I've been intrigued by the reviews I've read of books in this new-to-me series, and I finally brought this first book home from the library to give it a try. It ended up sitting on my shelf, being passed over again and again as I turned to other books - when suddenly it occurred to me that one of the things that most appeals to me about the urban fantasy series I read is that they all have strong female protagonists. Could it be that I wasn't picking this one up because the main character was male? Am I that shallow and, possibly, sexist?

So I decided I'd better remedy that and give it a try. And, I have to say, I wasn't immediately drawn into the story. But by the third or fourth chapter I found myself captivated by the relationship between Cal and his big brother, Niko. And from there, the story took off, and I never looked back.

The premise is that Cal (Caliban) is half "Grendel" (as he and his brother call the terrifying creatures), half human. His brother has protected him his entire life, taught him how to defend himself, and the two of them have been on the move, trying to avoid the demons, and they are now living in New York City. What better place to remain anonymous? But now, it seems, they've been discovered. At least, Niko has seen (and killed) a Grendel he saw in Central Park. They're not sure if they've been discovered, but it looks like it's time to run. They have no idea what the demons want with Cal, but they know he must have been conceived for a reason - and whatever that reason is, it can't be good.

Cal's world is a dark and frightening one, where no one can be trusted, and nothing is as it seems. The only constant in his life is Niko, but even his relationship with his brother isn't an entirely positive one - Cal feels immense guilt for what his brother has sacrificed in order to keep him safe all these years. While their relationship takes center stage in this book, the supporting cast of characters is a fascinating one. There's the young psychic girl who hangs out in an ice cream parlor and helps those who come to her - refusing all payment, except for an ice cream or milkshake here and there; a most unusual car salesman, who raises all kinds of intriguing possibilities for future books in the series; and also a doctor who has a few secrets in his past.

It was interesting to discover that Rob Thurman (according to Wikipedia) is the name Robyn Thurman uses, and I'm wondering why she or her publishers thought it better to have the author appear to be male rather than female. Would men be less likely to pick up an urban fantasy featuring male characters that was written by a woman? Would I have let this sit on my shelf so long had I known that the author was a woman? I have no idea. And really, what it comes down to is that the story has to speak for itself - and it certainly does.

In the end, I enjoyed this book very much. The pacing is tight, the characters are interesting and complicated, and the magical world is believable and compelling. There were many pop culture references that seemed oddly out-of-date for a teenage protagonist (Marcus Welby, for example), and Cal and his brother seemed amazingly well educated for two young men who'd spent so much time on the run. The relationship between the brothers, though, rang true on every page. Here's a passage that made me smile. Cal is trying to evade his brother's questions about a sensitive topic, but Niko won't allow him to get away with it:
"I could guess if you wanted. I'm rather good at that."
As if I didn't know. He was hell on wheels when it came to anything involving intellectual muscle flexing. When we were kids he was busy dragging Colonel Mustard off to jail while I was still trying to figure out what the hell a conservatory was.
The book ends with a satisfying conclusion, but leaves enough unanswered questions and unresolved issues to entice readers into the next book. I am looking forward to more of Cal and Niko's adventures, which continue in the next book of the series, Moonshine.

Books in the Cal Leandros series:
1. Nightlife
2. Moonshine
3. Madhouse
4. Deathwish
5. Roadkill
(forthcoming, March 2010)

Nightlife (#1 in the Cal Leandros series) by Rob Thurman (Roc, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
The Good, the Bad and the Unread: "There’s a lot going on, not all of it pleasant for our protagonists, but there were good moments of humor interspersed throughout. The villains were a shade stereotypical, but I guess you can’t have everything."
LesleyW's Book Nook: "The major focus of the story for me was the relationship between the two brothers, they are siblings who've had to learn how to get along and depend on one another. But I don't think it would have worked as well if it hadn't been for the secondary characters..."

12 comments:

  1. This is one series I have been wanting to try for a long time. I keep passing it by too! So glad I read this review..I am moving it up in my tbr!

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  2. I had not heard of this series, and must say it didnt immediately appeal, but your review may sway me! It is interesting that the author shortened her name (rather like JK Rowling) and I'm sure it is to appeal to male readers, though it may have been her publisher's suggestion.

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  3. I worry a lot about being a sexist reader - though really, in the broad scheme of things, I don't think it's so awfully damaging to read more books with women protagonists, than men. But I'm glad you enjoyed this!

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  4. Mandi - I'll be interested to hear what you think of this one!

    Mariel - I read that she has a new series out (just one book so far, I believe), and it features a female protagonist. So I'll probably give that one a try once I finish this series. I should have mentioned that it was really well done, particularly as it's a first novel, so I have high hopes for the rest of them!

    Jenny - I know exactly what you mean. And I admit that I seem to be more likely to pick up an unfamiliar book by a woman than by a man - which may be a reaction that comes from all those dead male authors that make up so much of the literature I read in school. But when I think about my favorite writers, I think it's a fairly even split among men and women.

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  5. Interesting. I don't tend to pay attention to authors' gender when I'm picking books to read, except... I was looking through my TBR and noticed that they're mostly female authors. And I think that might have more to do with plotlines and characters that appeal to me, but I'm not sure. I'm going to be a little more conscious of that from now on. I might not change my habits, but I'll pay attention to them.

    I do think, however, it's true that "Rob" Thurman will probably garner more male readers than "Robin" would have for this series. Sad though that is. Because I have just noticed that in my brain, I would have assumed Nightlife was a paranormal romance if it had been written by a woman. Which is bad stereotyping, kiirstin. Bad.

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  6. Kiirstin - I think you are right - I would have assumed it was a paranormal romance, too! Funny how our perceptions work independently of conscious thought, isn't it?! It's interesting to think about our reading habits and the things we do with or without realizing it.

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  7. Haven't heard of this before. I do prefer a strong female protaganist usually but this does sound interesting. Cute excerpt!

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  8. Thanks, Ladytink - I think you would probably enjoy this one. (I know, I know, I always say that!) :-)

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  9. I've got a copy of this one on my shelf waiting to be read. The thing about male/female leads is an interesting thing to consider. Most of the urban fantasy I read is female focused too, maybe that's why I've been slow to pick this one up.

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  10. Joanne - interesting that I'm not alone in that. I think you'll enjoy this one. I'll be interested to hear what you think!

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  11. Well, you're usually right. We tend to have similar reading tastes!

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  12. Ladytink - Absolutely. You've certainly added a ton of great books to my reading choices! :-)

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