Review: Junkyard Bargain by Faith Hunter

Review: Junkyard Bargain by Faith HunterJunkyard Bargain (Shining Smith #2) by Faith Hunter
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, urban fantasy
Series: Shining Smith #2
Published by Audible Audio on February 25th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Sometimes before you can face your enemies, you need to confront yourself.

Time is running out for Shining Smith and her crew to gather the weapons they need to rescue one of their own. But will they even make it to the ultimate battle? First, they’ll need to hit the road to Charleston - a hell ride full of bandits, sex slavers, corrupt lawmen, and criminal bike gangs looking to move in on Shining’s territory.

Shining’s human allies will do anything to protect her - because they must. But will victory be worth it if she must compel more and more people to do her bidding? And will her feline warriors, the junkyard cats, remain loyal and risk their lives? Or are they just in it for the kibble?

My Review:

Honestly, I picked up the audio of the first book in this series because of the title. Basically, I started Junkyard Cats for the cats. But I came back for Shining, her friends, her totally screwed-up world and her need to preserve her own little corner of it – and the cats.

OK, I’m still here for the cats. It’s actually the cats that Shining makes the junkyard bargain of the title with. Because she needs to take some of them away from the junkyard and with her and Cupcake on a dangerous and deadly mission – to Charleston, West Virginia.

A place which isn’t all that dangerous or deadly in our world. But in Shining’s world, post the apocalypse that punched a hole in the ozone layer, totally wrecked the planetary environment and brought alien peacekeepers to our solar system to keep us from screwing ourselves any further – every trip away from Shining’s base at the scrapyard is fraught with danger.

Especially this one. Because she’s preparing to take on and take out the one person who might be a bigger threat to the world than Shining is herself. Someone who is more than willing to take over the entire planet.

The world is literally not big enough for both Shining Smith and Clarice Warhammer. They may both be queens, but only one of them is out to rule the world. And the other is out to stop her.

Escape Rating A+: The first book in this series was very insular, while it still managed to introduce us to the mess of the world that is what Shining, and the rest of humanity, is left with. That insularity managed to introduce us to everything that’s going on because we spend the entire story – and this one as well – inside Shining’s head. And because the world comes to her, her sanctuary and her scrapyard, in order to take her out.

So in the first book the war came to her. This second book is about Shining getting ready to take the war out to the rest of the world – or at least out to the people who are after her. That she may have to take out at least a piece of a rival gang and possibly even part of the government along the way is just part of the cost to protect herself and those she sees as hers.

And that’s where this story goes to all kinds of interesting places. Because Shining is in the process of adjusting her perspective on exactly who and what she sees as hers and how it got that way. She wants friends – not too many but a few. What she’s afraid she has made is something else altogether.

As this story takes us out into Shining’s greater world, we get to see just how FUBAR’d everything really is. Humanity seriously screwed up. In a way, it reminded me of the world of Horizon Zero Dawn. In both post-apocalyptic worlds, at first it seems as if it’s the machines who are the enemy of humanity, only to eventually realize that the situation is one that Walt Kelly’s Pogo recognized all the way back in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

What makes the story, at least for this reader, is that we do spend all of it inside Shining’s head. This is a first-person singular perspective that is absolutely aided by the marvelous narrator, Khristine Hvam, who manages to perfectly convey Shining’s tired, sad, and generally world-weary voice in a way that made me really feel like I was listening to Shining think. That Shining is excellent at bringing on the snark provides a great deal of rueful laughter and gallows humor.

And yes, the cats are still part of the story. I suspect that the reader’s mileage on just how much they enjoy the cats’ participation in Shining’s not-so-little war is going to depend on just how much the reader likes cats, anthropomorphized or otherwise. I think the pack of little predators fits in really well, and adds to my enjoyment of the story quite a bit. Ailurophobes may feel differently.

Obviously I loved the entire experience of listening to Junkyard Bargain. At the end, it definitely feels like there are more parts to this story, and I’m really, seriously, absolutely looking forward to them. But as this episode in Shining’s saga came to an end, something happened that made me sit up and have a kind of a WOW moment. (Luckily I was sitting in my garage to finish and not still on the road!)

Shining is Galadriel. No, she’s not an elf queen and this is not an epic fantasy world. But Shining IS a queen. Not just figuratively but actually literally. And she has power in some of the ways that Galadriel has power. To the point where Shining is faced with the same choice that Galadriel is faced with when Frodo asks her if he should give her the One Ring. And like Galadriel, when faced with that ultimate test, Shining is not found wanting.

At least not yet.

Review: Junkyard Cats by Faith Hunter

Review: Junkyard Cats by Faith HunterJunkyard Cats by Faith Hunter
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: dystopian, military science fiction, post apocalyptic
Series: Shining Smith #1
Published by Audible Studios on January 2nd 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

After the Final War, after the appearance of the Bug aliens and their enforced peace, Shining Smith is still alive, still doing business from the old scrapyard bequeathed to her by her father. But Shining is now something more than human. And the scrapyard is no longer just a scrapyard, but a place full of secrets that she has guarded for years.

This life she has built, while empty, is predictable and safe. Until the only friend left from her previous life shows up, dead, in the back of a scrapped Tesla warplane, a note to her clutched in his fingers - a note warning her of a coming attack.

Someone knows who she is. Someone knows what she is guarding. Will she be able to protect the scrapyard? Will she even survive? Or will she have to destroy everything she loves to keep her secrets out of the wrong hands?

My Review:

I picked up Junkyard Cats because it was one of the monthly freebies for Audible members. It looked like interesting SF, had “Cats” in the title, and I was looking for something shorter after spending a whole lot of hours sucked into an excellent but long story and needed a bit of a break.

And did I ever get one. Although Shining Smith doesn’t seem to get many. Ever. At all.

The setting for Junkyard Cats is a remote bit of post-apocalyptic West Virginia in a future that doesn’t seem that far away in time from our present. But it’s clearly one hell of distance down the road to hell.

This is not remotely one of the fun post-apocalypses. Shining Smith’s world is more like Mad Max – possibly Mad Max on steroids. Or on Devil Milk, which actually seems to be worse. Or both.

The sheer bleakness of this post-climate-seriously-changed world reminds me a bit of the world of American War. Only a whole lot worse on the environmental front. But less…awful…in a different way as this wasn’t kicked off by a civil war. At least not so far as we know – yet. And not that it hasn’t become one along the way.

But the story of Junkyard Cats is the story of how Shining’s remote, lonely and seemingly safe little junkyard gets invaded – disrupting her hard-won peace and exposing all of her many, many secrets.

Including the crashed spaceship buried in her backyard. Especially the spaceship buried in her backyard. And the secret hidden in Shining’s radically altered DNA. Her enemies have found her – and so have her friends. Shining’s biggest problem is figuring out which are which.

And letting the cats, her Cats, have the rest. After all, in a world where everything that supports life is very, very scarce, a protein source is much too good to let go to waste.

Escape Rating A-: I really, really wish there was more of this available already, because this first story is a teaser with a lot of worldbuilding, a crew of absolutely fascinating characters – whether organic, partly organic, or artificially intelligent – and a pride of sentient, semi-telepathic warrior cats with an agenda of their own. But then, don’t cats always have an agenda of their own?

Actually, she had me at the cats, but in the end I was equally beguiled by Shining Smith’s world-weary voice. The narrator does an excellent job conveying Shining’s loneliness, her hopes, her fears and especially her desperate need to keep her very motley crew safe and to keep the rest of the world safe from her.

And her complete, total and utter annoyance that the world has come to get her because she couldn’t let go of her past – no matter how much she seriously needed to.

The biggest part of this story is a gigantic battle, conducted all over the junkyard with the help of her friends – including a few that Shining didn’t even know she had – or that some of them even existed in a state that could truly help. And that’s her fault too.

But this is a battle that’s not over when it’s over. The only question is where the next front will be – and who and what Shining can bring to the fight.

As teasers go, Junkyard Cats is one hell of a tease. I just wish I could find some info on where Shining Smith and the Cats go from here. Because they are awesome.

Review: Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Review: Skinwalker by Faith HunterSkinwalker (Jane Yellowrock, #1) by Faith Hunter
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Jane Yellowrock #1
Pages: 320
Published by Ace Books on July 7, 2009
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

First in a brand new series from the author of the Rogue Mage novels

Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind—a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires and hunts vampires for a living. But now she’s been hired by Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katies’s Ladies, to hunt a powerful rogue vampire who’s killing other vamps.

Amidst a bordello full of real “ladies of the night,” and a hot Cajun biker with a panther tattoo who stirs her carnal desire, Jane must stay focused and complete her mission—or else the next skin she’ll need to save just may be her own...

My Review:

I picked this because, well, I was bouncing off pretty much everything, both to read and to listen to. When you start cheering for one of the characters in the story you’re on to get eaten by an alligator – and quickly – it’s time to pick up something different. I picked up Junkyard Cats by Faith Hunter to listen to, and got sucked in enough that I also picked up Skinwalker to read. I have a friend who adores this series, and I have a thing about books set in New Orleans. So it seemed like kismet – or something like that.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sunk my teeth, pun intended, into a new-to-me urban fantasy series. I’d forgotten just how much they are. As far as the pun goes, well, there are plenty of vampires in this version of post-Katrina New Orleans – and everywhere else. This is one of those worlds where vamps not only exist but have come out of the coffin. And the witches have come out of their gingerbread houses as well.

The weres and all the other supernatural creatures are still on the down low, but that situation can’t continue in the days of the intrusive, invasive, all-encompassing internet.

But Jane Yellowrock is none of those things. She’s something else altogether, something even she isn’t completely sure about. While she isn’t exactly a were, she’s probably closer kin to them than anything else. Because she can transform into an animal, full moon or no. Technically, she can transform into ANY animal, but her most familiar form is that of a female mountain lion, a creature who exists in her head as Beast.

Except when Beast stalks the night, and Jane exists in the back of Beast’s head.

It’s an uneasy alliance, made even more fraught by Jane’s belief that Beast remembers how they merged – as well as a whole lot of other things about Jane’s past – that Jane herself doesn’t remember. And that Beast is still mad about.

As the story begins, Jane has arrived in New Orleans at the surprising behest of the local Vampire Council. It’s surprising to Jane that she’s received this invitation/job offer because the job that Jane usually performs is hunting rogue vamps. And that’s just what the local council wants her to do – hunt a rogue vamp who has managed to elude them all – and make him, her or it true dead as fast as possible.

No matter what it takes. Or what it costs.

Escape Rating B+: First, I want to say that I had a whole lot of urban fantasy fun with Jane Yellowrock. This book had everything that I read urban fantasy for, a kickass protagonist with a mysterious background and otherworldly powers, a version of our world that is close enough to be familiar while different enough to be fascinating and a supernatural puzzle to solve that is not quite what it appears on the surface. Vampire politics add just the right amount of danger, depth and color to the story. The combination is always a win.

Jane Yellowrock strikes me as a combination of Joanne Walker, C.E. Murphy’s Urban Shaman with the post-Katrina New Orleans – along with the supernaturals and their neverending political shenanigans and grudges – of Suzanne Johnson’s Royal Street and her Sentinels of New Orleans series. From my perspective, that’s damn good company to be in.

But as much as I enjoyed the story, there were a couple of things that seriously niggled at me. One is just how different the world of 2020 feels from the world of the mid-2000s. In our current climate I don’t believe that the reveal of the existence of either vampires or witches would have gone nearly as smoothly as it does – and it hasn’t been completely smooth in Jane’s world either. Or perhaps their version of backlash is yet to come. But it feels like a more hopeful version of how things might go, in spite of the rogue vamp running around killing vampires, humans and animals all over New Orleans.

And the other thing that bothered me even more was a question about the Native American protagonist, her visions and memories of her past, and whether the interpretation of the character respected her heritage or constituted cultural appropriation. I know that I don’t know. It felt respectful, but it’s not my heritage so I’m not the best judge. And it made me wonder equally about the protagonist of the Walker Papers whose powers come from her Native American heritage.

And I’m just as bothered by the idea that when both of these books were originally published those questions might not have even been asked. And I’m not sure what to do with all of those thoughts.

But I liked Jane as a character, especially with the addition of Beast. The story is told from their first-person perspective, so we are inside both of their heads. That first person perspective takes on a different flavor when Beast is in the ascendant, and we experience the world through her not-completely animal nature. Beast sees the world differently from Jane – or from the reader – and there are plenty of times when Beast’s more direct approach feels like the right one. The push-pull between the two personalities has oodles of dramatic possibilities for future stories.

As does the intense level of vampire politicking. Their hierarchical structure feels positively Byzantine – and may well date back at least that far. The sheer level of convolution and posturing is reminiscent of Goddess with a Blade by Lauren Dane – also excellent company for an urban fantasy heroine. At the same time, the level of unfinished business that Jane has with Leo Pellisier, the vamp in control of NOLA, has a similar feel to the early Anita Blake books. The VERY early Anita Blake books.

Like much of urban fantasy, there is no romance in Skinwalker. There are possibilities hinted at for future stories, but at this beginning point, the people who have emerged as those possibilities are at the moment either too unstable, too dangerous, or too much asshole to be worth bothering with. The most likely possibilities have the longest journeys in front of them to make them remotely worthwhile so I’m happy she falls for none of them. Lusts after several, yes and rightly so from the sound of things. But none of them are relationship-worthy – at least not yet.

All things considered, I certainly had a good reading time with Jane Yellowrock. A more than good enough time that I’ll probably pick up the next book in the series, Blood Cross, when I want another urban fantasy fix.