Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hands of Flame by C. E. Murphy

The Five Old Races are at war, and Margrit Knight is at the center of it. In this case, she is even the cause of it. When Malik tried to kill her in a fight at Janx's underworld club, the House of Cards, Margrit brought him down with a water gun filled with salt water, the one thing that could prevent him from turning into a whirlwind. and then Alban killed him. Now the humans, and a force of Selkies and Djinn are fighting over Janx's territory, and Alban has been imprisoned in iron chains by Biali, who is also summoning a convocation of Gargoyles to put him on trial.

But with morning, both have turned into statues on top of a building, and Margrit must find a way to get them down off the top of the building before the Super decides to remove them with a sledgehammer, which would mean the death of both Gargoyles.

Margrit is attempting to save him, but Alban doesn't want to be saved. He'd rather be condemned for his crimes, because he has killed two other members of the five races. First Ausra, and now Malik, But the feeling of chains in his flesh drives him mad, and he fights against them unceasingly, leading to him being imprisoned in the tunnels used by Grace O'Malley and her street kids. With the chains literally embedded in his flesh, he cannot take human form and cannot fly, and it's hard for him to do anything but fight.

Grace succeeds in calming down Alban, and after that, Margrit is allowed to visit. She does her best to stay with him and be calm, but when she isn't with him, she searches as best she can for a way to save him. At the same time, she needs to broker a peace between the Selkie and the Djinn. With Malik deadm none of the Selkies know how to run the underworld, and because of that, humans are fighting them for Janx's empire, and both sides are dying. Cara is injured and in the hospital and she asks Margrit to take her place in the negotiations.

Margrit proposes letting the Djinn head the group that takes over Janx's criminal empire. Some of the Selkies know business, but they aren't badass enough to run the criminal empire. Malik would have been the perfect choice to head the new empire, as he was one of Janx's lieutenants and knew the business, plus he had underworld cred. But with him dead, and the Selkies in charge, the underworld is dying. So she proposes the Djinn, who are badass, take over. The Djinn are fine with this, but they want something more: the name of Malik's killer. Margrit promises they will have it, if they agree, and they do. She promises to tell them after the trial of Alban.

Meanwhile Chelsea Huo, a woman who knows a lot about the Old Races, gives her some advice that could win Alban's trial for her. She thinks she will have more time to prepare, but she only has a night- and Grace manages to free the chains Alban is imprisoned in, leaving him free. But he won't flee- he wants to go through with the trial. Grace helps Margrit prepare, then takes her to the trial.

Alban declines to defend himself in the trial of three- strengrh, Wisdom and Compassion, as judged by the Gargoyles of Boston, so Margrit steps in and declares herself his second and steps in to battle Biali on his behalf. Alban says he doesn't want Margrit to fight for him, but it is too late, and he's already ducked out. Biali, however, doesn't want to fight Margrit, someone he respects, and he doesn't enjoy fighting someone who isn't in his league, so he nominates Grace to fight for him. She agrees, and the two women go at it.

But Margrit has a hidden advantage- she was given a sip of Eliseo Daisani's blood almost three months ago, and if gives her extremely fast healing. She can actually feel herself healing as she fights, and that gives her an unfair advantage, so she throws the fight in favor of Grace. The second battle is one of wisdom, and involves a game of chess. moving the pieces requires accessing Gragoyle memory, but when Grace tries, she meets a mermaid (with a dolphin tail rather than a fish tail) who takes her down under the water. Far down.

Margrit calls it "The Heart of the World", and there she meets a tremendous Sea Serpent with eyes many times larger than she is. It's so big, its tail wraps around the world and ends near its head. She offers it the pawn she is holding and it eats the pawn, then caresses her with its tongue. When she comes back to herself, she is dripping wet, which is very unexpected. The pawn she had in her hand is gone. The others ask her what happened, and when she tells them, they say she has seen Ourobouros, and is basically extremely blessed. So, she wins that contest as well.

The last contest is compassion, and the Gargoyle council asks why she threw the fight and why she is defending Alban for killing another of the five old races. She replies in both cases that it was the right thing to do, and when the council asks permission to look inside her memories, she gives it. But unlike Gargoyle memories, human memories are vivid and chaotic, and they get to see a blurring journey through her youth and then her life.

But the Gargoyles and onlookers get to see more than just proof that Alban was in the right. The Djinn see who was really responsible for Malik's death, and they aren't happy. But even worse is Janx and Eliseo Dasani, who learn that the woman they both loved, whom they thought dead in the fire of London, was saved by Alban, and worse, that she was pregnant. Now, to keep the peace, Margrit will have to stay alive and track down Sarah's children, even while the Djinn are trying to kill her for causing the Death of Malik. And Janx makes his last "favor" known to Margrit- she will have to bring down Eliseo Daisani's financial empire in the bargain. But can a merely human woman, even one with a Gargoyle on her side, be able to accomplish these things and still survive?

Wow. This third book was action-packed, and a lot happened. This book really showed up the imbalance between her personal life and her work life. She is still sort of working at Legal Aid, but she won't be working there for much longer, and her life with the Five Old Races is taking up much more of her time. So much so that at times she barely even seems to be working. But her professional life is in disarray, so what about her personal life? Well, also in disarray. Alban is on trial for his life, and even though she took a break from their relationship for a while, she is still in love with him.

But her friends Cameron and Cole must be told about her relationship with Alban, and Cole actually already knows and has rejected Alban as inhuman. Will Cam feel the same way, and how can Margrit live with it if both her best friends reject her? And what about her parents? They objected to her dating Tony because he wasn't black. How will they feel about her loving Alban, who is literally white? And how can they have a relationship when Margrit might not even survive the next few days.

I loved this book because we learned so much about the representatives of the five Old Races- secrets about them that you would never expect. But I won't even hint at them here to avoid spoiling the plot and the ending. This book does have a happy ending, but there has been enough change that a follow-up series is a definite possibility. And if there is I will definitely be looking forward to it. Margrit is a kick-ass heroine, but by the end, you can't exactly say she's much of a "normal" human, she is more extraordinary. And there will be a sequel- the ending indicates this.

I loved this series, and I can't wait to read more. I loved the unusual way C.E. Murphy characterizes the different races. So different from usual fantasy tropes, and I really loved it. The addition of the romance between Alban and Margrit was only the sauce on top of an already awesome dish. Highly recommended.

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