Lauren from Violin in a Void and I are very different readers. I’m easygoing, she’s demanding. I love YA and paranormal romance, she doesn’t. She loves sci fi and dark fantasy, I just dabble. She wants good writing and interesting ideas, while I’m happy with a great story, interesting characters and a few twists. Together we’ll argue our conflicting points of view in joint reviews and you get the benefit of two perspectives instead of just one.
Title: Spiral X
Author: J.J. Westendarp
Published: October 29th 2010
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Published: October 29th 2010
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Please note: the following discussion is for those who have already read the book and contains numerous SPOILERS!
Cheryl Erickson is a sexy, wealthy 22-year old vampire hunter. She’s been staking vamps since they killed her father when she was 16 and now she’s part of an underground vampire-hunting force in Dallas with the help of her gay best-friend Virgil, who handles all the electronics. There’s a dangerous new drug on the streets called Plast, which awakens addicts’ most predatory traits, turning them into violent psychopaths. For some reason vampires are dealing Plast to humans, but no one has been able to find out why. Cheryl is determined to crack the case, but her investigation forces her to question and sometimes violate her own code of ethics.
Lauren: Spiral X has all the right ingredients for an entertaining read - a feisty heroine, blood-sucking monsters, loads of action, and a rapid pace. But unfortunately it failed to interest me. Cheryl was hypocritical and far too cocky for me to like her or empathise with her, and all the action just didn’t do it for me. Clumsy writing dragged me down, and although it’s a short book I had to push myself to finish it. Read my full review here.
Lu: Never has a book deserved the words "action-packed" more! What a roller-coaster of events! What I enjoyed about this novel was the fact that it played in my head like a movie. The characters were believable, mythology understandable and there were twists and turns around every corner.
The author being male only helped this novel. He made fight scenes and car chases believable and understandable. How many times have you read a fight scene where you were unsure of what was happening and just got through it to see the end result? I’ve read too many to mention, but not here!
Definitely a must-read if you are tired of paranormal romance and love triangles of which this book has none. Thank the heavens!
It has a kick-ass heroine that has lost some motivation along the way, which only makes her human. She makes mistakes, which is always a welcome change from the "I am the perfect heroine" scenario. Each character has depth and they are all fascinating! I can't wait to find out what happens to Cheryl and I hope we get to see more of Rev.
Lauren: Hmm, are you saying only men can write good action scenes?
Lu: Lol I’m saying that so far these were the best action scenes other than Game of Thrones and Pillars of the Earth, which were also written by men. So maybe in my case it has just been a coincidence. Or maybe a lot of women who write young adult and paranormal fiction just don’t do action scenes well for me. But as I write this I thought of J.R. Ward. So maybe I have just broken my own stereotype :)
But what I do want to say is that J.J. Westendarp really writes kick-ass action scenes!
Lu: For once the main character wasn’t my favorite. I really liked all the supporting characters! Cheryl was kick-ass and all, but she was a bit inconsistent at times.
Lauren: Yes, I thought Cheryl was a hypocrite when she dumped her boyfriend for deceiving her in the same way that she deceives (and continues to deceive) him. I also disliked the way she implied that all women were weak and silly, but she’s like a guy and that’s why she can kick vampire ass instead of sitting at home like all the other “weepy little tarts” wondering why some guy isn’t calling her.
Lu: Hahah I didn’t pick up on this. You feminist you :P
But I do agree that Cheryl is a hypocrite and a bit hasty with some of her decisions. I think Thom was just a arb character that didn’t really need to be in the book.
Lauren: Westendarp almost always opts for telling rather than showing. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s terrible here. Every time a new character shows up, or Cheryl goes to a new location, we get an infodump about it. I found it extremely irritating and disruptive. It’s like watching a movie and having to pause and read a character history every time a new person walks on-screen. Why not weave some of that information into the narrative? For example, Cheryl explains how much she loves hot sauce; instead she could be described eating a meal and putting lots of hot sauce on it. Cheryl explains that she and Tank have a casual sexual relationship, but it would be so much more interesting if we could feel some of the sexual tension between them through body language and dialogue. Characters feel so much more real if we get to know them through their speech and behaviour. Here it feels like I’m referring to a profile in the footnotes.
Lu: Strange I didn’t even notice this. I like knowing little tidbits about characters. I would rather know details than try and guess.
Lauren: I like knowing the details too; that’s what makes a character interesting. And sometimes long explanatory pieces can be absorbing, because you’re curious about the information. But here it’s badly done and clogs up the narrative, distancing you from the story. It’s like you have to stop, pull back, and access an information file.
I dislike other aspects of his writing too - repeating phrases within a short space, and misusing the term “begs the question” multiple times. He also introduces surprising bits of information that should have been mentioned earlier. For example, you don’t even know that Cheryl has a boyfriend until she sees him. At one point, Cheryl states that her relationship with fellow vampire-hunter Tank is “strained to the breaking point”, but that was the first I’d heard of it. Almost halfway through the novel, Cheryl mentions (in an infodump) that she has psychic powers that allow her to detect vampires. You think this would have come up ages ago, but instead it sounds like Westendarp made it up on the spot and didn’t bother working it in.
Lu: Ah, I see what you mean. As if he thought of it at that point but didn’t bother going back to mention or hint at it. Maybe it’s meant to be a mystery, that at the point that you find out this information you also get the backstory. It’s a bit like real life in that way. You find out someone is allergic to milk after you have fed them milk tarts with their eyes closed. Then you find out the backstory about how it started when they were 5 etc.
I have read a few books like this where you are thrown into a story and only get info “dumps” when something happens. I don’t mind it at all, but I can see how it can be a pain.
Lauren: I can forgive Cheryl not mentioning her boyfriend, because it’s not essential at that point and you could say that it’s realistic for this to happen. But it’s unrealistic for there not to be much tension between Cheryl and Tank, just before she says that their relationship is under a lot of strain, and it’s even more unlikely that she wouldn’t mention her psychic powers in the earlier encounters with vampires.
Lu: Maybe the psychic powers were an afterthought. We’ll never know unfortunately.
Lauren: Westendarp has created his own vampire mythos. Vampires are not undead humans; instead, demons from hell break through the fabric between worlds and possess the bodies of humans who have died from vampire bites. I want to talk about that in a moment, but first, how do feel about authors reinventing the vampire mythos? So many seem to do it.
Lu: I enjoy new takes on mythos. This one was particularly interesting! To be honest I don’t mind what an author changes or adds to a myth, as long as it is clearly stated and makes sense in the realm of the novel.
Lauren: I don’t mind too much either, as long as it’s not something totally stupid like sparkling. In Spiral X I think it was an important impact for the plot and Cheryl’s morals (a theme that comes up now and then). These vampires are completely inhuman, so Cheryl can draw a clear line between vampires and humans. Vampires are evil demons and that’s that, so Cheryl doesn’t have any qualms about killing them.
However, she does profess to have strict rules about not killing humans and trying not to hurt them. Her stance is a bit shaky though - as you said earlier, she’s an inconsistent character. In the opening scene she’s trying to get information by threatening a man with a knife. He realises she won’t cut him and refuses to talk, so she decides that her ethics are of less importance than information and shoots him in the kneecap. A bit much, wouldn’t you say? But then later, she’s explaining why she won’t tolerate any violence against the drug dealers supplying Plast:
These guys probably don’t know they’re supplying vampires with the drug, if they even know the vamps exist. For them it’s business. A dirty, filthy business that hurts people, but business all the same. That doesn’t warrant violence, not from us.
Why is it ok to shoot some random guy in the kneecap just for information, but it’s not ok to use violence against drug dealers and murderers?
Lu: Hahaha sparkling.
I think we start where Cheryl has come to a point and sort of loses it and shoots the guy in the kneecap. Then she sees how upset Tank is and her morals change/strengthen. She sort of pulls herself right. We all do it, lets say you steal a salt and pepper shaker at a restaurant. Someone tells you that you shouldn’t do it, so you feel bad and sort of go in the opposite direction. From then on if you see someone eyeing the salt and pepper shakers you get defensive and preachy about how it’s bad to steal. If that makes any sense :)
Sjoe I’m full of random examples today!
Lauren: Lol, where are you getting these examples from?
My problem is that she doesn’t only adopt the moral stance about not hurting humans after Tank gets upset with her. She’s got that rule from the start, which is why she wouldn’t cut that guy in the first place. It just seems so ridiculous that she’d go from not wanting to cut him to shooting him in the kneecap. Why not just cut him a little as she was actually threatening to do? Her character just baffles me sometimes.
Lu: Probably because shooting him looks cooler? Than some random cutting...
Lauren: Haha, that or shock value, but neither is a good excuse.
Lauren: This got me a little worried as it became more pronounced. I thought it might turn into Christian fiction. The feeling of gratitude that washes over Cheryl whenever she sends a vampire back to hell was a bit silly too. How did you feel about it?
Lu: That’s the one gripe I have. I only noticed it now when you pointed it out. It was weird and unexplainable. I must add that the Christian theme didn’t bother me. Reverend and Father Harold were some of my favorite characters.
Lauren: Yeah, Rev and Father Harold were ok; there’s nothing wrong with religious characters. I just didn’t like the sense that it was becoming an overarching theme - the vampires being part of an eternal war between God and the devil, good and evil. It’s too simplistic; it lacks the moral ambiguity that made the movie Constantine so interesting.
Lu: I can only hope that the author is working towards another plot that isn’t so obvious.
Would you continue reading the series?
Lauren: No. This novel was self-contained, so there were no loose ends I want to see tied up. Cheryl is not a character I want to follow either.
Lu: Yes. Particularly because the next book is about a hunter named Erika and it’s set in New York. It’s set after the whole Cheryl saga. So this could be interesting. Maybe the characters eventually meet up!