VENOM (Elemental Assassin #3)
Simon & Schuster
Releases September 28, 2010
Received from author
WARNING: Review contains spoilers from Spider's Bite and Web of Lies, but NO spoilers from Venom.
Gin Blanco is an assassin, and a pretty brilliant one at that. She's trying to retire, trying to focus on running the restaurant her foster father left her with his violent passing, but people who require killing just seem to continually cross her path. And Gin can't seem to say no to someone in need of her special brand of assistance.
This newest pro-bono case hits a little closer to home for Gin than some of the previous ones. Roslyn Phillips and Gin have a difficult history. Aside from being her foster brother's "good time girl", Roslyn is also indirectly responsible for the death of Fletcher Lane, Gin's foster father. Despite her feelings about Roslyn and her role in Fletcher's death, Gin agrees to relieve her of a violent and powerful stalker.
Though Gin is the consummate professional, events leading up to the hit go awry and she and Fletcher's son Finn, her new handler, are forced to regroup repeatedly and come at him from new directions. Further complicating matters is the arrival of Gin's long-lost sister Bria Coolidge, now a detective for the Ashland Police Department. She's got a watchful eye on Gin, Finn, and their exploits though she remains ignorant of Gin's true identity.
Gin must fight with everything she's got as a Stone and Ice elemental, take hits when necessary, deal with the emotional repercussions of a failed relationship as well as the revelation of seeing her baby sister in the flesh, and put her life on the line again and again as a past returns to haunt her and a future becomes a question mark.
Gritty and completely engrossing, Venom is the best installment yet of this fantastic Urban Fantasy series. Gin is a study in contradiction. Where she is outwardly cold, hard (sometimes literally thanks to her ability with stone), and eerily free of emotional conflict when ending someone's life, she's also innately vulnerable. And nowhere is that vulnerability more apparent than in this story. Not only do we get to flashback to the night her family was murdered by Mab Monroe and come to understand how that experience shaped the person she's become, but we also have to watch her in empathetic silence as she tries to pick up the pieces of her disastrous relationship with former Ashland detective, Donovan Caine.
Gin opened herself to Caine in Web of Lies, let him see beneath her assassin exterior so that he might realize that she genuinely cared for him despite his impression of her as being an unfeeling, heartless killer. And even though he saw it, he still walked out and left her behind. She's more damaged by his exit than she cares to admit, and it's refreshing to see such naked, raw emotion from her as she is an expert at hiding it. She is truly a forced to be reckoned with, meek being a word that will never describe her, and though her profession and darkly reserved exterior might sound as though she would be a difficult character with whom to relate, Ms. Estep does a remarkable job of making her susceptible to the thoughts and opinions of those for whom she cares, turning a stone cold killer into an accessible and intriguing female lead.
Owen Grayson's augmented role is a welcome addition to the story as he becomes a much more integral figure in Gin's harrowing and ultimately lonely life. He's everything Donovan Caine wasn't, and he's a light for Gin at the end of a very dark emotional tunnel. Where Donovan resented his feelings for Gin, Owen embraces them. Where Donovan verbally knocked her down after succumbing to those feelings, Owen builds her back up with his obvious interest. And where Caine's golden eyes reflected disappointment and condemnation, Owen's violet ones shine with respect and admiration.
The storyline is expertly crafted, never lacking in action or intrigue. Though Gin wants desperately to remain off Mab Monroe's radar, the universe is conspiring against her and bringing their inevitable clash that much closer. Ms. Estep is gradually setting us up for the final blowout, and the pieces fall into place seamlessly. Sometimes in a series, the third and fourth books start to struggle in the plot department, the conflict and the character relationships becoming increasingly stale or forced, but this is most certainly not the case for this series. This installment's story is well constructed, well thought out, and sets up Tangled Threads beautifully.
If you haven't had the opportunity to read these books, get yourself to a bookstore immediately for they are not to be missed.