by: Rob Thurman
Series: Cal Leandros
I’ve been following Rob Thurman since her debut book. In Nightlife, Thurman gave us a unique first-person narrator/protagonist and a fresh take on the then-not-quite-overrun Urban Fantasy schtick. In the past eight years, Thurman has managed to publish fourteen novels, several novellas, and a fair share of short stories. While I’m in awe of her stamina in the words-to-paper department, I do wish that she’d take a bit more time between books. (Though I do understand the need to simply publish more things in order to make a living.) Perhaps because Thurman is so prolific, there’s a lot of her work that looks, sounds, feels, and acts like several other pieces of her work. The Cal Leandros books are the most guilty of this, and more recent books in the series have made me sort of ho-hum about an author I was initially really taken with. Happily, Downfall is reviving some of my enthusiasm.
Brothers Cal and Niko Leandros know trouble when they see it—and then proceed to wipe the floor with it. But now it seems their whole world is falling to pieces. Cal’s nightmarish monster side is growing ever stronger, changing Cal physically as well as mentally. Which is exactly what Grimm—Cal’s savage doppelgänger—wants. And when a covert supernatural organization decides that it’s time to put Cal down before he threatens pretty much everything else in existence, the brothers find themselves in a fight they actually might lose. But the dark temptations Cal has denied all his life may prove to be exactly what can save them. Even if he must fall forever…
Deadfall is the first book that really starts to break the mold that Thurman has written herself into since Nightlife. For the first time we get a narrator in the series who isn’t the titular Cal, and this is a serious breath of fresh air. Cal is a character who is constantly struggling with the fact that he is a monster, and what exactly it means to be a monster. If you’ve read the early Anita Blake series you’ll be familiar with some of this struggle, although Cal and Thurman stay far, far away from the prolific sexual tension and erotica that Anita and Laurell K. Hamilton embrace. As Cal tries to figure himself out (all while he is constantly changing and shifting), he seldom comes to a point where he’s ok with himself and who he is, much less liking any of that. Add in his incredibly sarcastic nature and reading him can become a bit of a chore. Enter Robin Goodfellow.
Veteran readers of Cal Leandros will be very familiar with Robin. The immortal puck has stuck with Cal and his brother (and partner in crime) Niko through thick and thin from book one. As a trickster (he’ll tell that he’s the trickster), Robin isn’t always very upfront with his motives much less his backstory, so he’s always been a slight bit of a mystery. Why does he put up with the perpetually uncouth and unfriendly Cal? Why is he always unstintingly generous with his time and resources? In Slashback (book 8) we got some hints of that, and here in Downfall we finally get a better picture of Robin and how he sees his relationship with the Leandros brothers. While it’s not necessarily as big of a breakthrough for Cal as it should be (after all, he doesn’t know all that Robin tells the reader), it’s a huge breath of fresh air for me as a reader. It’s revitalized me in the series, and has me looking forward to the already contracted books 10 and 11.
For those who aren’t familiar with Thurman’s work, she really shines at characterization and worldbuilding. Her characters don’t follow the normal tropes, are fully fleshed out, carry detailed backstories, and are engaging. She has an interesting twist on the monsters-among-us trope that is the basis for all urban fantasy, with many of her monsters deliberately breaking from traditional mythos. She’s even managed to find room in her world for both the angel vs demon war and the Norse pantheon and have it all make sense. However, her books are frenetically paced, extremely violent, gory, and her characters have a tendency to be mildly offensive.
If you’re a fan of the early Anita Blake books, horror, urban fantasy, and like things that push the envelope, Thurman is a good author to have in your personal library. However, like any series that is nine books long, please do not start with book number nine. You will be somewhat lost.