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Book Review & Giveaway: Tainted by Julie Kenner

Title: Tainted

Author: Julie Kenner

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Ace
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.

Lily agrees…

…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


Giveaway Details:

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!


  • Sarah
    November 25, 2009 at 5:00 am

    My weapon of choice? Hmm… Can I say magic? I’m not big on physical confrontation (I know, this kind of disqualifies me from being a badass, but I can also be sarcastic and kind of mean?) I figure magic would give me some distance…

    This looks really good, I may have to pick it up for Thanksgiving reading.

  • KMont
    November 25, 2009 at 5:43 am

    Oh, awesome question. I’ve always kind of liked the knife things (found a site that called them Sais) that Elektra used. Thought they’re not really practical. Or may be they are. They look cool when she uses them anyway. I’ve always wanted to visualize as the kind that could heft a damn good punch too though. 😉 Martial arts never hurts either!

    That all aside, I’m so glad you enjoyed this book. I will definitely be picking it up. I have to admit that I kind of enjoy the stereotypes that come with the female-centric side of Urban Fantasy. Especially when the author does as you feel Kenner has and takes them and the other elements to the next level. I think those cliches are so usable, they just have to molded in the right way.

  • Carolyn H
    November 25, 2009 at 5:55 am

    That would be a sword. I love sword. I will be putting this on my books to buy list. 😀

  • Emily
    November 25, 2009 at 6:23 am

    A pair of daggers I could keep strapped to my boots, then I’d pull them out while doing a roll, I’d learn to spin them and look really cool 😉

  • Caitlin Usignol
    November 25, 2009 at 6:30 am

    I think I would want flying daggers. They can do a lot of damage and you do not have to get to close.

  • Book Chick City
    November 25, 2009 at 6:31 am

    I don’t usually go in for comps – usually ‘cos I don’t win – but I like the sound of this one. My weapon of choice would be either a Sanduko Dagger or a semi-auto Beretta Cougar 😈

  • Diana Peterfreund
    November 25, 2009 at 6:32 am

    I always liked what Indiana Jones could do with a whip.

    I love Kenner’s books. She can write pretty much anything and I’ll read it.

  • Rachel
    November 25, 2009 at 6:38 am

    I have to go with Modesty Blaise’s favourite weapon, the Kongo – or as Wiki calls it, the Yawara stick (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yawara)

    I am all for badass female characters, but I would think that as the weaker gender an unusual weapon that knocks an opponent out cold without gore and bloods would be totally for me. And easier to pass through customs then a lovely shiny long sword…

  • RStewie
    November 25, 2009 at 7:58 am

    I’m going to come out of lurking (I was never really good at it, anyway) because this sounds like a great book.

    My weapon of choice (besides my caustic wit that would annihilate anyone around me) would be a machete. I just think it would be so bad-ass to hack bad guys to pieces with one. 😯 Also, I would have the requisite “sexy sword”–a katana. 😉

  • Amanda
    November 25, 2009 at 8:40 am

    So the series is set in Boston? (Boston barmaid?) Neat!

    My weapon of choice would be a sawed-off shotgun. Because a shotgun is just badass.

  • Marie
    November 25, 2009 at 8:51 am

    Ah, so many weapons, so little time…

    I would have to go with daggers or swords. What better way to decapitate a demon?

  • Natasha A.
    November 25, 2009 at 9:07 am

    Honestly? I think if I was the ultimate badass, I wouldn’t want a weapon. It would be all physical contact for me. 😀

    These do look pretty good. I will have to add them to my list! Thanks! 🙂

  • Teresa W.
    November 25, 2009 at 9:24 am

    My weapon of choice would be a sword!

  • Miranda
    November 25, 2009 at 9:26 am

    I would so have a set of Bagua Deerhorn Knives (as seen in Crouching TIger, Hidden Dragon) TWO scary torturous looking blades- awesome!

  • katiebabs
    November 25, 2009 at 9:30 am

    I had a strange sense of deja vu when reading this book. Been there, done that with a heroine living on the edge, a loner wanting revenge. It found it okay but didn’t rock my reading boat. I don’t think I will be reading the next 2 books in this series.

  • sherie buck
    November 25, 2009 at 9:31 am

    I would like to have a real badass gun One with a sword on the end, so you can shoot or stab. Oh that makes me sound evil.

  • Fiction Vixen
    November 25, 2009 at 9:46 am

    I think I’d go with something a little more unexpected like a whip or something. Max Fitzroy in Michele Hauf’s Highwayman had pretty good luck with it 🙂

  • Jen D.
    November 25, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Thanks for a great book review. As far as weapon of choice…hmm…I’d have to go with matching pearl handle 22s. Or the guns used by Kate Beckinsale in the Underworld movies. I like a weapon that puts distance between me and the creepy things I’d have to kill.


  • Thuy
    November 25, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Weapon of choice for me would be two Samurai swords…one for each hand. 🙂

  • Danielle
    November 25, 2009 at 10:59 am

    You know what sucks about being fifteen? Too young to get a job, but old enough to want things with a burning passions. Don’t let this effect your decision.


  • Danielle
    November 25, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Whoops. I’d want a jet pack so I could fly over the heads of my enemies. Oh, yeah.

  • Katee R
    November 25, 2009 at 11:07 am

    A nagamaki. It’s a Japanese weapon similar to the katana but with a longer hilt (nearly as long as the bed).

  • morganne w
    November 25, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    hhhhhmmmmmmm…. i think i’d go w/ a samurai sword. love those things………

  • Raelena
    November 25, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    definitely a sword.

  • Wanda
    November 25, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    My weapon would probably be a sword.

  • Cara Powers
    November 25, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    I’m going to go with a glave, only one with a retractable blade (hey it’s fantasy). That way it just looks like a walking stick until the blade comes out the ending and cuts a head off.

  • Fiz
    November 25, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I’d have a Keris – a Malaysian dagger/blade. Those things are beautiful AND deadly.

  • Nicole Downing
    November 25, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    A sword!

  • chin
    November 25, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    poison needles(hidden in sleeves) and a variety of poisons to .. poison people with, xD.

  • Van P.
    November 25, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    My choice of weapon would be a a magical sword. Something that is pocket size and when you need it…it transform into a life-size sword, that would be handy 🙂

  • Andrea
    November 25, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    My weapon of choice would be a sword!


  • tinachristopher
    November 25, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    I think maybe a couple of semi-automatic guns and the ability to shoot with both hands…

    Thanks for a great review.



  • Donna S
    November 25, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Sword totally. One of those super cool ones like in the Dante Valentine novels.

  • janicu
    November 25, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    I read an excerpt of this and liked what I’d read. Wouldn’t mind winning! 🙂

  • kimi
    November 26, 2009 at 12:18 am

    I would use a kitana, fast & clean cuts.

    kimi kaio @ yahoo.com (no spaces)

  • Julie Swaney
    November 26, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    A small bow and arrow like was used by Joanna Archer in Vicki Pettersson’s Signs of the Zodiac series.

    Julie S.

  • Beth (BBRB)
    November 26, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Tough one! I’d have to say a cool sword.

    BethsBookReviewBlog AT gmail DOT com

  • Calila
    November 27, 2009 at 2:38 am

    My weapon of choice would have to be a pair of Sai. They are just awesome looking.

  • Julie Swaney
    November 27, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    A bow and Arrow. Because I don’t like to hurt people up close and personal.

    Julie S.
    jellybelly82158 at gmail dot com

  • alana
    November 27, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Bow and arrow all the way.

  • Kay
    November 28, 2009 at 8:34 am

    This sounds like the beginning of a good series!
    I’m not sure what my weapon of choice would be. I love blades, and I especially like those with a curve in it, but I forget the name? Other than that, I would like a bow. I really enjoyed the few classes I had years ago!

    infiniteshelf at gmail dot com

  • Jennygirl
    November 28, 2009 at 11:57 am

    I’m quite torn abuot my choice of weapon. On one hand I would want some daggers I could fling across the room with amazing accuracy. On the other hand, magic powers would be awesome.
    I’ll go buffy like and say daggers.

    Thanks for the contest!

  • CherylS22
    November 28, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    My weapon of choice would be a sword like “The Highlander” always carried around.

  • Michelle M
    November 28, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Eek – weapon of choice? Very good question, I’m afraid I’m a little klutzy, but if I were a super badass, I think I’d carry some serious pistols like the ones Angelina Jolie carries in Laura Croft. Definitely in thigh holsters – very sexy.

  • Snow
    November 28, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I think I’d go with a slingshot. Sure, it doesn’t sound impressive, but remember that whole David vs. Goliath thing? I like the idea of kicking butt and taking names while armed with just a slingshot.

  • Beverly G
    November 28, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    humm weapon of choice a sword of tears and fire fashioned in thin metal with a fired blade made from the sweat and tears of a black smith hence the name sword of tears and fire

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