What happens when a werewolf better known for his bedroom prowess than his fighting abilities goes after a cunning mastermind? That’s what legendary lothario Nick Sorrentino is about to find out. He’s determined to track down the infamous Malcolm Danvers, a psychotic werewolf with a laundry list of crimes against the Pack and Nick’s friends and family. To that end, he’s enlisted the aid of private investigators and supernatural mercenaries, including a lovely half-demon named Vanessa Callas.
More of an overlong novella than a full book, Brazen is the latest entry in Kelley Armstrong’s popular and long-running Otherworld series (which consists of thirteen novels and numerous short stories). For those already in the know, it comes last in the current chronology, after Thirteen and “From Russia With Love.” Happily, this installment is almost totally accessible for new readers, and actually serves as a suitable and satisfying, if somewhat quick, sample of the overall series. I went into this knowing very little about Armstrong’s work, and had absolutely no trouble picking up the important basics.
On the other hand, it lacked a certain something. Complexity, perhaps? Depth? While I got a feel for the characters, the setting, and the situation, it felt a little light. Dare I say it, it felt like generic urban fantasy/paranormal romance, with little to distinguish itself from any of the many other series out there. I’ve seen a lot of books with werewolves, mages, demons, and their ilk running around, and it takes a lot to capture my interest these days. Solidly-written, quite enjoyable—I hit a certain point and couldn’t put it down—but so much was glossed over or unexplained because Armstrong clearly felt her readers already knew the significant beats and elements. Vanessa’s nature as a half-demon who can conjure fire is met with a stunning casualness, something explained away in a single sentence. Clearly, half-demons are a common enough thing in the Otherworld mythos that they don’t need further explanation. Some things I had to pick up from context, other things I went online to research (which is how I know where this fits in the chronology.) I suppose it’s a delicate thing, to write for the fans without alienating newcomers. Of course, this novella is coming out through Subterranean Press as a deluxe hardcover, so it’s not exactly geared for newbies….
On to the good points. The cat-and-mouse game with Malcolm is tense and chilling; Armstrong depicts Malcom’s atrocities with subtlety and a touch of horror, keeping it from getting too gruesome without sugarcoating his psychotic, sadistic nature. The chemistry between Nick and Vanessa is quite lovely, and they make an excellent team, both in the field and later in the bedroom. Vanessa makes for a great protagonist, and not just because she’s somewhat older than the average heroine at thirty-eight, and attractively curvy (with the “body of a Forties pinup”.) She knows what she wants, and goes for it, without shame or regret. And there’s some humor attached to Nick’s reputation as a guy to whom threesomes happen almost by accident, since he’s apparently also the sort of guy who respects his bedmates in the morning, and doesn’t actively try to get those notches on his bedpost. Then again, it’s gotten to the point where I expect the sex to happen in these urban fantasy/paranormal romances. It comes standard, like fur, fangs, or trilogies.
In the end, Brazen is a rather nice entry in the Otherworld series. A tasty treat for existing fans, while basic enough that even a newcomer can appreciate its appeal. Perhaps not the best example of Armstrong’s skills, but from this sample, I’m tempted to go back and give the main series a shot. I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing Nick and Vanessa in action again sometime. At the very least, I now feel confident in recommending Armstrong to folks who like Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, and their peers.
Brazen is available now from Subterranean Press
Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Southwest VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who translates Geek-to-Mundane for him. He is the self-proclaimed High Pornomancer of the Golden Horde, and the editor of Scheherazade’s Façade. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at Schrodinger’s Bookshelf.