(This review contains spoilers from previous books in the Cassie Palmer and Dorina Basarab series.)
"When desperate gambles work, they call them brilliance. Do it enough, and people start believing that you always can, that you always will. They follow people like that. They write legends about people like that."
This is it. This is the book that every Karen Chance fan has been waiting for. This is where you find out everything.
I'm not saying that the previous books didn't have huge reveals that advanced the plot at the same time that they complicated it. Like finding out that John Pritkin was a half-incubus formerly known as Merlin. Or finding out that Cassie is the daughter of Artemis: literally, a demigoddess.
But all those reveals were unexpected surprises. Nobody was blowing up the fan boards with the question, "Where did Cassie get her extraordinary power"
But for literally years (okay, just 2, but still, that's plural), the biggest question that all Karen Chance's readers have been asking is: Why has Mircea been courting Pythias for generations
There's been speculation on the fan boards, but there hasn't been a single compelling theory that seems obvious to everyone, mainly because Karen Chance's books have a habit of taking turns that were never obvious. There's nothing predictable about her mind.
So we've been waiting and hoping that we'd find out, because as the world stands on the precipice of war with another god, and as Cassie stands on the precipice of, well, not so much a decision between two men who she loves, but more a decision about what kind of relationship she'll have with the two men she loves, so much hinges on this question: What does Mircea want from Cassie How does his ulterior motive intersect with the relationship he's built with her, and her relationship with John Pritkin
The previous book ended with so many unanswered questions. In addition to those about why Mircea has been courting Pythias, there were lots of others (minor spoilers ahead):
1) Why was Mircea trying to lock down the Seidr spell that allowed Cassie to get into his mind
2) Will Cassie again encounter Dory, Mircea's half-vampire daughter who up until now Cassie mistakenly believes is a secret lover And will she find out who Dory actually is
3) For that matter, why has Mircea been keeping Dory secret from Cassie
4) We've been getting hints that Mircea's mental powers are far in excess of what everyone believes. Why has he been hiding those powers, and what's at stake if they're revealed
5) We know that Cassie's father was pretending to be a black mage and work with the Black Circle to siphon off power, but why
6) Will we see Caedmon again
7) And, to quote my review of Reap the Wind, "if Cassie finds her dad, will he be Team Mircea or Team Pritkin"
Okay, maybe those last two questions weren't the ones burning in everyone's mind.
Hey, I've been a sucker for Caedmon ever since Dory bit him hard enough to draw blood and he told her to do it some more. The guy is powerful, sexy, mysterious, a good dad, and he's also shifty as.
(Come to think of it, the same descriptors could apply to Mircea.)
Anyway, I'm here to tell you that every one of those questions got answered in Ride the Storm. Yes. Each and every one. It was, like, orgasmically satisfying for a long-time reader of this series.
Of course, Ride the Storm also raised a bunch of new questions. Like: Will Cassie give Mircea what he wants when she finds out what it is
And what will happen to Mircea if he gets what he wants This is a man so utterly driven, whose life, you will discover, has been one long dance toward a single obsession. What happens when his driving goal has been achieved
Let me step back and set this up a little better for those who haven't read a Karen Chance book before. These books are amazing. And I say that as someone who reads fantasy and science fiction voraciously, and who is nevertheless incredibly picky. I don't give out unqualified praise easily. I read at least 150 books a year, and I can count on the fingers of two hands the number of authors I have ever read whom I rank as highly.
I still remember when I first discovered Karen Chance. I was looking for a new book on the urban fantasy shelf in the local bookstore (back when there were still real, physical bookstores). There was this book called Touch the Dark. I thought the cover was a little dorky but not as bad as some other books. (At least the big tattoo on the main character's back was on her upper back, not a tramp stamp.) And there were some pretty glowing reviews on the cover. Charlaine Harris loves these books! So I decided to give it a try. I took it home.
The next day, I was back to buy every other book in the series.
And then I started reading the books in the Dorina Basarab series, set in the same world but only partially intersecting with Cassie's.
And then I spent the next 10 years marking the date on my calendar when each new book would come out, and re-reading the previous books in the lead up to each release.
Like I said, I'm a picky reader. I'm a university professor who finds most academic writing boring as hell. So I turn to fiction for action and face-paced stories and for plot, but then it drives me nuts when I read books that maybe are good stories but the writing is shit.
Or I find novels that are really well written, so beautifully written that every page I want to re-read a phrase several times because it's so exquisitely turned. But then after I read that phrase and marvel, I set down the book and go paint my toenails, because great writing with a mediocre storyline isn't compelling enough to keep my interest.
Then there are a whole bunch of books that are perfectly nice. They're well written and edited. There's plenty of tension to keep me reading. They have compelling plots, and even if I could find each one of them on the TV Tropes Wiki, well, they're still enjoyable reading because there's a reason why certain plotlines are common tropes. And then the minute I finish, I move on to the next book. A month later, I ask myself, "What was that one about, again" Because they're all basically interchangeable.
And then there are the books that I read and re-read over and over again, because not only are they both well-written and have compelling storylines, they're utterly unique, genre-defying, world-building, and unforgettable. Karen Chance novels are basically the Bohemian Rhapsody of urban fantasy. So many flavours of genius all woven together that you could never predict that it would work, but it does.
Ride the Storm is the 8th book in the Cassie Palmer series. You could pick it up without having read the previous books and not be completely lost. The author spends enough time recapping for first-timers or for readers returning to this series.
But if you are new to the series, I'd recommend that you try Touch the Dark or Midnight's Daughter first. Because there's a depth to these books that builds and layers over time and makes the experience of reading them so much richer.
And if you're a returning reader, just to reiterate: this book will make you happy.
Characters from the Dory books who make appearances in Ride the Storm (not including Mircea, Marlowe, and the Consul, who regularly feature in both series): At least 3!
Allusions to musical theatre: Let's just say that "for one brief, shining moment" I knew that Karen Chance and I have the same taste in musicals.
Share "a way of turning up whenever there's trouble": Dory and Cassie.
Delivers truths with so much honesty it hurts: Mircea.
We find out the most new information about: Caedmon. (Oh my god!)
We find out the sweetest bit of new information about: Marco.
So much action I could barely wrap my puny little brain around what was happening: The first third of the book.
Holy character development, Batman!: Rosier
They get to do something together that they've never done before: Cassie and Pritkin.
Delivers the best speech: It's a toss up between Cassie and Rian.
With the geis and then the Seidr spell broken, will Cassie finally be free of weird spells that link her to another person in intimate ways No! Fortunately, this new spell is delicious!
Half Renaissance bad boy, half Captain Jack Sparrow: Marlowe
Has all the best gossip, second only to Marlowe: Jules.
Gets just a little bit of comeuppance right at the end, and about time: the Consul.
Needs some more comeuppance: Jonas. Or, as Hildegarde puts it to Cassie, "You're going to have to rein him in."
Finds a new way to travel through time: Who do you think
Tarot card: the Chariot. "At its heart, it's a simple contrast: victory or defeat. Or, as it was now, a battle undecided, hovering on a knife's edge, able to tip either way."
Surprise (re)appearance from: not one, not two, but three gods.
Capable of sex that can kill: Pritkin.
You can tell where you are in the timeline based on: whether Pritkin thinks Cassie's name is "Ohshit" or not.
Possibly immortal Surprise!
I still can't believe we got to find out whether Cassie's dad is Team Mircea or Team Pritkin.
(ARC received from publisher for an honest review)