Book blogger, audiobook lover and shamelessly honest reviewer. Mostly read fantasy, mystery, romance, UF and YA but all genres welcome.
Series Review (no spoilers)
The Tales of the Underlight trilogy is a romance, fairy tale retelling, modern steampunk, magic and mythology all rolled into one - I'm shelving it under UF because it's a more general shelf but it's not really. As you can imagine, something this ambitious was bound to falter and fall apart at the seams but the characters were so compelling and the narration was so well done that I listened to them back to back, something I almost never do. Jax Garren is definitely an author to watch.
The 3 books are really different parts of the same story. Although each has a different denouement, the story arc follows the relationship of Jolie, a burlesque dancer and Hauk, a scarred ex-military soldier who serves as the muscle for the Underlight. As the titles of the books imply, there’s a Beauty and the Beast aspect to the stories and let me tell you that Hauk is really beastly looking. He’s 6’7″, has beserker rages and burns in 82% of his body. His face doesn’t have one of those token deformities in only one side; except for his mouth and eyes, his whole head and most of his body burned in a fire. But his personality is so compelling with a great sense of duty, honor AND humor. Although he is physically and psychologically scarred by his ordeal, he first presents a facade that makes him almost irresistible. Hauk is one of the best heroes I’ve read in a long time.
Jolie was a really decent heroine and I loved her as a burlesque dancer. Her first act was so charming, exactly what I would imagine a burlesque act to be. Understandably, she’s not immediately taken with Hauk – she likes him but can’t get past his appearance, which I thought was very honest. But once she gets to know him, she stops seeing the scars and falls head over heels in love with him.
The books have two important concurrent aspects: the romance and the conflict between the two factions. The first was better handled even if at times both Jolie and Hauk drive you a bit nuts. In the first book, they are friends; in the second they discover they are more to each other and in the third, the romance really blooms. Both were full of insecurities and doubts, but these made sense to me, even when I wanted to strangle them. As I mentioned, Hauk is really scarred and with his bulk and other issues, he really cannot pass unnoticed. He doesn’t feel very comfortable with strangers and he cannot walk down the streets without people being disgusted by his looks. I cannot blame how difficult it was for him to really believe that a woman as gorgeous as Jolie really loved him.
The overall conflict was all over the place, cartoonish and disconnected. The author simply tried to do too much and by the last book, this aspect of the story became unraveled. The idea of evil wealthy people was too simplistic: anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of economics understands that there are more people living in prosperity today than in the history of the world, so it cannot be all so bad. If the mission of the Underlight had been less ambitious (focusing on corruption or environmental issues), it could have been more believable and made the plot tighter, but as it was, it seemed a conflict out of a cartoon, with silly fights the Underlight won in unbelievable ways (Ananke should have had them every time.) By the end, even the author had to abandon some of the plot points she spouted in the first book because they made the life of the characters more difficult (not using cell phones, etc.) The ‘final fight’ wasn’t satisfactory and very anticlimactic. Lots of questions were left unanswered and important details weren’t explained so I get the feeling there will be more books to come, maybe with other people as main characters.
Therese Plummer was superb as the narrator. She has one of the best male voices I’ve listened – the main reason why I got the first audiobook – so when Hauk spoke, I heard him. I will definitely check out other books she’s narrated.
At the end, I had fun with these books but I didn’t take the conflict very seriously. I think that as long as your expectations are not very high in that respect, you’ll be able to enjoy the romance, which is the best part of the story.