Review: Mad Lizard Mambo by Rhys Ford

Review: Mad Lizard Mambo by Rhys FordMad Lizard Mambo (Kai Gracen, #2) by Rhys Ford
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Kai Gracen #2
Pages: 220
Published by DSP Publications on September 13th 2016
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Kai Gracen has no intention of being anyone’s pawn. A pity Fate and SoCalGov have a different opinion on the matter.
Licensed Stalkers make their living hunting down monsters and dangerous criminals… and their lives are usually brief, brutal, and thankless. Despite being elfin and cursed with a nearly immortal lifespan, Kai didn’t expect to be any different. Then Ryder, the High Lord of the Southern Rise Court, arrived in San Diego, Kai’s not-so-mundane life went from mild mayhem to full-throttle chaos.
Now an official liaison between the growing Sidhe Court and the human populace, Kai is at Ryder’s beck and call for anything a High Lord might need a Stalker to do. Unfortunately for Kai, this means chasing down a flimsy rumor about an ancient lost Court somewhere in the Nevada desert—a court with powerful magics that might save Ryder—and Kai’s—people from becoming a bloody memory in their Merged world’s violent history.
The race for the elfin people’s salvation opens unwelcome windows into Kai’s murky past, and it could also slam the door on any future he might have with his own kind and Ryder.

My Review:

There’s more than one very mad lizard in this story. Whether or not any or all of them are doing the mambo? I’ll leave you to make your own decision.

What definitely does get danced around is Kai’s heart and soul, and his carefully constructed identity. Kai has stitched together who and what he is around a soft squishy heart and whole lot of tough gristle. To come from where he did, and to do the job he does, that outward projection of untouchable toughness is absolutely necessary.

The soft, gooey center is unexpected. And likely to get him killed.

Black Dog Blues by Rhys FordReaders were first introduced to Kai and his world in the completely awesome Black Dog Blues. And while it is not strictly necessary to have read the first book to enjoy the second, it is highly recommended. It’s been three years for this reader, and I wish I had done some catch up before opening Mad Lizard Mambo.

This world is very complex. In this alternate universe, something folded Underhill, the formerly legendary world of the Sidhe (elves) and Unsidhe (dark elves) into what used to be our world. Some places in each world survived relatively intact, like San Diego, and some places clearly didn’t. The humans and the sidhe fought to determine who would be the apex predator in this new combined reality, and the peace was hard won. Also a bit indeterminate.

Kai has a foot in every camp, and is uncomfortable at best and hunted at worst in all of them. Technically, he is a chimera, a genetic mixture of sidhe and unsidhe, possibly with something else thrown in. But after his first few horrific decades, he was raised by humans who make their living hunting the deadly creatures that now populate the wilderness. So while he may genetically be part of one race, he is socialized in another.

And sidhe and unsidhe are not supposed to be able to mix. Kai may look sidhe, but he knows there is darkness literally buried in his psyche. He doesn’t feel like he really belongs anywhere.

But Ryder, sidhe lord of the Southern Rise Court, believes that Kai belongs to him. Not in any of the terrible ways that Kai has been possessed and used in the past, but in the way of family, friends, and hopefully someday, lovers.

It’s probably going to be a long time before that happens. Kai has been tortured and abused in not just the past, but the very recent present. Ryder may believe that blending all of the races is the key to everyone’s salvation, but Kai is far from certain that he even wants, or deserves to be, saved.

The sidhe are dying out. Slowly but inexorably. Their birth rate is not high enough to maintain a healthy gene pool. Ryder wants to hunt for the possible site of an ancient sidhe fertility ritual, deep in the no-man’s land outside New Vegas. He has gently coerced Kai, by forcing him to abide by his Stalker contract with the SoCalGov, to guide him to a place where no sane being would ever want to go, through lands that are claimed by wild black dog packs and hungry sand dragons.

This quest might be the salvation of the sidhe. It might just get them all killed. And it might deliver Kai to a fate that truly is worse than death.

Escape Rating A-: Mad Lizard Mambo is the wildest of wild rides. If you like your gritty urban fantasy with a side of dragon and only the tiniest glimmer of romance on the far horizon, Kai’s misadventures make for fantastic reading.

I say misadventures because Kai’s life seems to be one long run of “out of the frying pan into the fire” and back again. In his whole life breaks have been very few and far between. In this story, there are none. It’s a non-stop thrill ride that always seems to headed for the bottom of the trough, only to pull up and out at the last possible minute. Then it swoops down again, leaving the reader’s stomach hanging on for dear life as the story twists around the next turn.

Through Kai’s eyes, we see the most post-apocalyptic view of this brave new world. When Underhill folded into our Earth, it left a terrible mess. The three races have achieved an extremely uneasy peace. Kai and his friends make their living by hunting down rare creatures and strange objects out in the desert wastes. The unsidhe seem to see humans as prey to be toyed with and then eaten. The sidhe are only slightly better, they mostly see humans as inferior animals, like pets, or apes who have learned to wear clothes.

Ryder seems to be the only person who recognizes that at least the sidhe and the humans are going to have to band together in order to survive. And while he’s right, getting there is going to be a walk through hell, fighting both the unsidhe and his own family all along the way.

And then there’s Kai, shakily straddling all the worlds, certain that he belongs in none of them. He’s too human to be unsidhe, too unsidhe to be sidhe, and too sidhe to be human. He’s scared to let anyone get too close, because he has no belief that he deserves any consideration at all.

And he is utterly fascinating.