Author: Julie Kenner
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publication Date: October 2009
Paperback: 320 pages
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Blood Lily Chronicles
How did I get this book: ARC (from publicist)
Why did I read this book: When we were contacted with a review query for Julie Kenner’s debut Urban Fantasy novel, I read the synopsis for Tainted and was definitely interested – it sounded gritty, dark, and right up my Urban Fantasy alley.
Summary: (from JulieKenner.com)
Lily Carlyle has never been a good girl. She’s lied, cheated and stolen, but she did it all to protect her younger sister. To keep food on the table after their mother died. She’d made a promise, after all. A promise to take care of her sister. To keep the family together. And that’s a promise she’s determined to keep.
Even to the death…
When her younger sister is brutally attacked, a vengeful Lily determines to exact her own justice on the monster responsible. She succeeds-at the cost of her own life. As she lies dying, she is given a second chance: though what she has done is evil, she can earn her way into Paradise by fighting for the forces of good.
…and wakes in the body of Alice Purdue-a Boston barmaid who has more than a little familiarity with the battle raging between the Light and the Darkness. Each side is mustering their forces for all-out war-and Lily is going to become an assassin for the Light.
It’s a job she believes she can really get into-but she doesn’t realize that she may not be able to get out…
Lily Carlyle is dead.
Her last memory is of a the man she kills before she dies of her own fatal wounds. Even through the haze of pain and death, Lily is at peace, because she thinks she has finally killed the monster that had brutally raped and stolen the innocence from her younger sister, Rose. But Lily doesn’t stay dead. She’s rescued from the pits of Hell and given a second lease on life in another young woman’s body with one catch; she has to work as an assassin for Heaven. Turns out, Lily’s a prophesied warrior – the only one who will be able to stop the ninth gate to hell from opening and unleashing a demonic apocalypse on Earth. In exchange for working as a demon slayer and keeping the ninth gate closed, Lily has a chance to be redeemed and gain entry into Heaven. The path to redemption is even rockier than Lily ever could have expected, though, as she has to not only deal with demons hungry for her blood, but also must pretend to be the woman whose body she has taken over – one Alice Purdue, a twenty-some year old young woman. Lily masquerades as Alice, going to her job as a barmaid and improvising with Alice’s old relationships. Even more difficult than playacting at Alice’s life, however, is the growing darkness within Lily as she learns more about demons and how to kill them. And then, there’s the perplexing matter of Deacon – a preternaturally strong and terrifying man that Lily feels an inexplicable connection to; a man she cannot get out of her head, nor can she elude. As the hour draws closer for Lily to finish her task, she grows increasingly confused and angry. Who can she trust? And what can she do to protect the innocent bystanders that could be hurt – including her very own sister from her first life, Rose?
Tainted is a compelling start to a very dark new urban fantasy series. As the glittery allure of Urban Fantasy has been wearing off with the myriad copycat series’ clogging the market (all depicting some tough, hot twenty-some year old badass heroine, clad in leather with an enormous attitude problem and a tramp stamp) it’s tough for a new series to really distinguish itself in the sea of redundancy and mediocrity. Tainted employs a number of genre clichés (twenty-something badass, attitude problem, cheesy tattoo, badass fighting ability, with save-the-world-and-don’t-trust-anyone syndrome), and yet by virtue of its clever plot manages to entertain thoroughly.
In terms of characters, Tainted is nothing new or groundbreaking. Heroine Lily reads like a number of any other UF leading ladies – abrasive, headstrong, badass but with her heart in the right place (even if her methods are a little questionable, ethically). That doesn’t mean she’s boring or unsympathetic, though – even with this rather familiar, mundane characterization, Lily’s narrative is snappy and easy to read. As a heroine she’s sympathetic in that she’s so hard on herself, and for all her flaws she has a deep rooted urge to keep her word and protect those she loves – and those are admirable traits. Predictably, Lily also has a love interest in the smoldering, morally compromised Deacon. From the moment these two characters set eyes on each other, they fall into instant lust – Lily cannot control her sexual urges when Deacon’s in close proximity (which induces more than a little eye rolling). Other characters are more varied and interesting, in particular Lily’s new mentor Clarence, a lackey from heaven sent to deal especially with Lily’s prickly personality.
If the characters were clichéd and leave readers wanting, the plot certainly makes up for them. Ms. Kenner puts a fresh spin on the Heaven versus Hell/ Good versus Evil battle by means of a gradually building mystery that turns all preconceived notions of UF plot tropes on their heads. Over the course of the book, little hints and inconsistencies begin to add up, leading to a very effective twist. I don’t want to say to much for fear of spoilers – but I will say that I loved where Ms. Kenner took Tainted. Concluding with a nail-biter of an ending, I found myself really enjoying this book almost in spite of myself. And I’m pretty thrilled that I don’t have to wait long to read the next two books in the series, as Torn and Turned come out very soon.
Notable Quotes/Parts: The Prologue:
“. . . And by her hand that which would be open may be closed . . .”
—The Prophecy of the Orb
Can I just say that dying sucks?
All that bullshit about seeing the light and having this final moment of inner peace, blah, blah, blah. It’s crap.
Dying is messy and terrifying and it hurts like hell.
I ought to know. After all, I was the one on that basement floor in a puddle of my own blood and bile. And there was no peace, no light, no anything. Nothing except the ice-cold knowledge that the sins I’d racked up in the last twelve or so hours were more than sufficient to push me through the gates of hell.
Forget everything else I’d done in my twenty-six years on this earth, good and bad. You go out planning to kill a man—even a man as vile as Lucas Johnson—and your fate is pretty much sealed.
From a practical standpoint, the moment of death is a little bit late to start getting all profound and reflective. As they say, what’s done is done. But that doesn’t matter, because even if you’re the least introspective person on the planet, you still go through the whole Psych 101 rigmarole. You tell yourself that maybe you should have said your bedtime prayers once in a while. You wonder if all those torture-porn horror movies you watched while your boyfriend copped a feel weren’t actually a sneak peek into what hell had to offer.
In other words, you get scared.
When you’re living, you might tell God to take a flying leap for putting your mother six feet under when you were only fourteen. For leaving you with a stepfather who decided to cuddle up with Jack Daniels because he no longer had a loving wife in his bed. For leaving you in charge of a pigtailed little half-sister who thought you hung the moon.
And for making you arrogant enough to swear that you’d protect that precious kid no matter what, even though that wasn’t a promise you could keep. Not when there are monsters like Lucas Johnson trolling the earth. Monsters who suck the life from little girls.
For all those reasons, you might turn your back on God, and think you’re oh-so-righteous for doing it. But you’d be wrong.
Trust me. I know.
I know, because even as my life faded, the fires of hell nipped at my toes.
In the end, I got lucky. But then again, luck is all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?
You can read the first two chapters online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: The next two titles in The Blood Lily Chronicles are already written and are scheduled for rapid-fire release! Torn, book 2 was released on November 24, and Turned will be out in stores on December 29th. This minimum waiting time between books is pretty awesome for little ol’ impatient me, so I’ll be scooping these up soon.
On a slightly critical note though, while I do like the color scheme and model for the covers, I am not crazy about Lily’s dagger. It looks like a mini-pirate sword and just…not very threatening. She looks like a halloween costume swashbuckler. Any thoughts?
Verdict: Though Ms. Kenner relies heavily on genre clichés in terms of characters and themes, Tainted has such an enjoyable plot that those shortcomings are worth overlooking. I certainly enjoyed Tainted, and am eager to pick up copies of Torn and Turned!
Reading Next: The Magicians by Lev Grossman
We are giving away a copy of Tainted to ONE lucky winner! The contest is open to residents of the US, Canada and the UK, and will run until Saturday November 28 at 11:59 pm (PST). To enter, simply leave a comment here letting us know what your badass weapon of choice would be if you were an Urban Fantasy hero/heroine. One entry per person, please! Multiple or duplicate entries will be disqualified. Good luck!