Wednesday, August 21, 2013

TBR Challenge 2013: Widow's Web by Jennifer Estep

Look at me! Not only did I manage to write another review, but it's also my entry for the TBR Challenge! Yay me! I'd like to say that I'm on fire, but let's not push it, right? ^_^; Truth be told though, I didn't read Widow's Web specifically for this challenge. The newest installment of the Elemental Assassin series, Heart of Venom, is coming out next week and so, I was catching up on the series to be ready for its release and that meant reading Widow's Web... and it just happened to fit the criteria of a TBR book... Well my definition of a TBR book - a book I didn't buy this year LOL. It doesn't fit Wendy's suggested theme for August, but now, that'd really be pushing it :P


***Warning: There are spoilers in this review. Read at your own risk!***

Widow's Web by Jennifer Estep
published by Simon & Schuster in August 2012
I used to murder people for money, but lately it’s become more of a survival technique. Once an assassin, always an assassin. So much for being plain old Gin Blanco. With every lowlife in Ashland gunning for me, I don’t need another problem, but a new one has come to town anyway. Salina might seem like a sweet Southern belle, but she’s really a dangerous enemy whose water elemental magic can go head-to-head with my own Ice and Stone power. Salina also has an intimate history with my lover, Owen Grayson, and now that she’s back, she thinks he’s hers for the taking. Salina’s playing a mysterious game that involves a shady local casino owner with a surprising connection to Owen. But they call me the Spider for a reason. I’m going to untangle her deadly scheme, even if it leaves my love affair hanging by a thread.
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Elemental Assassin, Book #7

The Story: Widow's Web opens up with Phillip Kincaid, one of Ashland's top underworld shark, hiring Gin to cater a fund-raiser event on his luxe riverboat casino, the Delta Queen. Gin finds his a bit suspicious as everyone in the underworld has been gunning for her ever since she killed Mab. Curious, she accepts and, after an unfortunate incident and saving Kincaid's life, finds out Kincaid's real intention was for Gin to be aboard the Delta Queen to provide protection for the organizer of the fund-raiser, Eva Grayson... who also turns out to be Gin's lover's younger sister.

Gin is surprised to find out that Kincaid, Owen and Eva were friends and that they actually grew up together; although Kincaid and Owen's relationship seems to have soured. Then again, Owen has always been very quiet about his past. Unfortunately for Gin, the past has a nasty habit of always finding ways to re-surface and this time, it's in the shape of Salina Dubois, Owen's first love. A powerful water elemental and the daughter of Benedict Dubois who ran the underworld before he was assassinated by Mab, Salina is back in Ashland for revenge and to reclaim was she believes is her due... and that includes Owen.

My Opinion: Ever since the first book in the Elemental Assassin series, Spider's Bite, Ms Estep has been on my auto-buy list of authors. I like the premise, the idea of the heroine being an assassin, and I've really been enjoying the series despite some flaws. So if I like the series so much, why has Widow's Web been sitting in my TBR pile? Technically because of Ms Estep's warning which indicated the romance subplot would probably take a direction I wouldn't like much. So while I bought Widow's Web, I decided to wait for the subsequent installments to have the resolution of the romance subplot before reading it. After reading Kiss of Venom, a short novella from Owen's POV, it seems the resolution would come in Heart of Venom, so it was time to lift the ban and read Widow's Web :) Having read it now, I can tell it smart of me because I would not have liked to have had to wait for Deadly Sting ^_^; In the end, Widow's Web turned out to be an okay book for me. Basically, I think the idea was good and I liked the setting and where Ms Estep is heading; however, I really had problems with the execution :(

Widow's Web is the seventh book in the series, so by now, we pretty much know Gin inside out. As such, it was interesting that the book somewhat focused on someone else... and yes, I mean Owen LOL. I enjoyed getting to know more of his past, his connections with the underworld, his friendship with Phillip Kincaid who turns out to be quite an interesting character instead of simply being another slimy underworld boss :P Up to now, Owen had seemed a little too perfect for Gin - in the sense that he fit so well in her lifestyle and accepted her assassin identity a bit too easily. I can't really say that I liked Owen's behavior and actions in Widow's Web, but it sure was interesting and it made him more real. It just was good to see genuine emotions from Owen and to see him question himself and his relationship with Gin. I don't mean to say that their attraction or relationship were flimsy before Widow's Web, but it always felt like Owen integrated Gin's life too easily because he was a "shadowy" character... and I think there's a lot more to their relationship. And because of that, I agree with the direction Ms Estep has taken the romance between Gin and Owen, even if I was very apprehensive in the beginning. I think that Gin and Owen needed that obstacle in their relationship... because if they are going to be able to overcome it, their relationship will only be stronger for it. I feel Gin and Owen need to know how strong their bond is, that it can withhold everything. I feel that before, Gin and Owen were honest with each other, but there wasn't really anything to be honest about. Now there is, now they know that they have the capacity to hurt each other, now they are at the next level of their relationship.

To accomplish all this, I liked the idea of bringing back someone from Owen's past and who better than his first love, especially given the circumstances and the past they shared. However, as I mentioned above, I had problems with the execution. Actually, I was good with the emotional development that the plot has generated. As I said, Owen and Gin needed some conflict in their relationship and I liked the conflict it had brought in Owen. While he was dealing with Salina, I really wished he'd been more ruthless because that's the perception I had of him. After all, he's a "shadowy" man whose business has not always been all legal... but he turns out to be gentler than I expected... Not a good thing with a character like Salina because she's a villain, but when you think about it, it means he would treat Gin the same way... and that's not something to discount in my opinion. What didn't work for me though was how predictable the whole plot, the whole book was. This is an issue I've had with previous books of the series, but it was even worst with Widow's Web. First, there was the blurb! You know how readers sometimes complain of the blurbs being wrong or misleading? Well, in this case, it was too accurate and it gave the whole story away! And even if you didn't read the blurb, the story was still very predictable. The minute Salina was introduced in the story, you knew she was the villain. There was absolutely no doubt about it. As a result, when you consider that Salina was Owen's ex-fiancée and factor in Gin's profession, you knew exactly where the story was heading and the conflict it would generate. And if you weren't sure about it, well having two different characters asking Gin to kill Salina would have clued you in. There were other elements of the story that were too obvious as well. For example, the fountains. One of the first thing you learn about Salina is that she is a powerful water elemental... Yep, water elemental and fountains, hmmmm. Add two and two and it will give you four. There was no suspense in the story, no thrilling moment and no twist :( I thought the idea and the story itself were good; however, the predictability just ruined the enjoyment of it.

As a whole, I really enjoy Ms Estep's voice and writing, but this predictability is a real weakness of hers and it's not just in the Elemental Assassin series, the Mythos Academy series too. I feel she needs to be able to construct more complex storylines and be subtler in her writing in order to join the best urban fantasy authors... and I hope she does :)

My Grade: C. I believe that Widow's Web could have been a real winner if the story had been more subtle, more suspenseful because it would have combined action and conflict and created a nice emotional punch. Unfortunately, the obviousness, the predictability of the plot have dulled this emotional punch and its impact and made Widow's Web an okay book only :(