Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Watchtower - Lee Carroll


About the book

What secrets are hidden in her past . . . ?

Jewelry designer Garet James is still coming to terms with the astounding revelation in BLACK SWAN RISING that she is the last in a long line of women sworn to protect the world from evil.  Now she has received a sign from Will Hughes, the 400-year-old vampire who once helped her defeat the evil threatening to destroy New York City.  Hughes, tortured by his own violent history which is vividly reenacted here, has asked her to join him on a quest to rid himself of his curse of vampirism.  While looking for Will in Paris, Garet encounters a number of mysterious figures-an ancient botanist metamorphosed into the oldest tree in Paris, a gnome who lives under the Labyrinth at the Jardin des Plantes, a librarian at the Institut Oceanographique, and a dryad in the Luxembourg Gardens.

Each encounter leads Garet closer to finding Will Hughes, but she realizes that she’s not the only one who’s trying to find the way to the magical world called the Summer Country. As Garet struggles to understand her family legacy, each answer she finds only leads to more questions—and to more danger.…

400 pages (paperback)
Published on: August 2, 2011
Published by: Tor
Author’s webpage

Thanks to Tor for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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I received The Watchtower in the mail last week. I will freely admit that I decided to read it purely because I liked the cover art. I didn’t realize it was part of the dreaded urban fantasy genre until I started reading it. Then I looked at the back and saw the word “vampire” and kind of rolled my eyes, wondering what I had gotten myself into. However, that being said, The Watchtower wasn’t what I expected once I put all of the pieces together. It’s a different kind of urban fantasy, and that’s probably the only reason I actually read it.

The Watchtower has a different feel than the other urban fantasy books that drive me absolutely crazy. The protagonist isn’t a tough-as-nails heroin who has been jaded by her past and is covered in amazing and mysterious tattoos. Instead, Garet is a jewelry designer and the feel of her throughout The Watchtower is that she’s an average woman trying to make it, just like everyone else in the world. That’s the benefit of the book. She’s understandable, relatable and, more importantly (and rarely for Urban fantasy), she’s realistic. She’s the woman’s woman and it doesn’t stretch the imagination to picture her walking through the streets of Paris trying to unravel her mystery and find that which she is trying to find.

Furthermore, the book is absolutely filled with fae, unique and interesting characters that seem to only be limited by the author’s imagination. For example, one fae, who really interested me the most, is a hybrid between an octopus and a mer fae. Basically, the world is interesting, and the fae just add to it. As Garet makes her way through Paris meeting new and almost impossible seeming creatures, she also learns a lot more about the history of the Summer Country and how that affects, and blends into the modern world. Carroll has managed to not only create a very interesting world filled with interesting characters, but also an impressive sense of history that adds some great depth to Garet’s story.

That being said, The Watchtower is the second book in a series. I haven’t read the first book, Black Swan Rising, and I wouldn’t have read this one except the paper that Tor sent along with the book said that this one could be read as a stand-alone. While The Watchtower does work as a stand-alone book, I did feel like I had missed some of the background, or attachment I would have had to the overall work if I had read Black Swan Rising, first. My future plans are to find Black Swan Rising, read it and then give this book a second chance to see if my opinions of it change, or my attachment to it deepens, which I think will probably be the case.

Despite the fact that I did like this book, there was a problem with it that did effect my overall enjoyment of it. The book is written with alternating chapters. Every other chapter is the story of Garet looking for the path into Summer Country. The chapters between are the stories of the vampire she’s looking for, Will Hughes, and his life story starting in the 1600’s and leading up to how he was turned into a vampire. While Will’s story is interesting, the writing of these chapters is my main complaint with the book as a whole.

I understand the author’s desire to put forward a feeling of time and place for the reader. In order to make the 1600’s stand out from modern day Paris, Carroll had to infuse Will’s chapters with unique prose and ways of speaking. However, there’s a line an author can easily cross between infusing a book with a sense of time and place and beating the reader over the head with it. I’m afraid that Will’s chapters seemed almost nauseatingly theatrical. Thus, I found myself skimming Will’s chapters so I could get back to Garet’s. This is unfortunate because Will’s story was really interesting, but the writing of his chapters really hindered my ability to enjoy them fully.

The book, overall, does lag. The plot starts out nicely paced and rather interesting, but then it quickly slips into an impressive drag. The plot stays interesting, but it just feels like it takes twice as long as it should to really get anywhere. It’s another unfortunate aspect to The Watchtower, because if the plot had been faster paced, and perhaps the book lacked a little of the overall length it would have really been an improvement. Furthermore, there are some campy plot points, like the ill fated love between the vampire and the mortal woman, and the idea of a mortal woman who has been singled out by a mysterious past for something impressive.

Overall, I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed The Watchtower. While it did have its problems, compared to about 90% of the other urban fantasy books populating the shelves, this one stands apart. The world and history is fascinating. The characters are believable and if the plot does lag and the writing between Garet and Will’s sections does seem rather unbalanced with quality, I’m sure readers following this series won’t mind. The story is solid, the plot is interesting and, overall, The Watchtower is a unique addition to urban fantasy shelves. It’s a series fantasy fans who are tired of the current urban fantasy trends should watch out for.

3/5 stars

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