Saturday, March 20, 2010

House of Cards by C.E. Murphy

Margrit Knight is a Legal Aid Lawyer who loves running in the park. Once, when she did that, she was pursued by some very bad men and chased into the street where she was hit by a car, Luckily, her protector rescued her, a gargoyle named Alban Korund. Though it took her some time to accept Alban for who he was, eventually, she did. And then more than to accept him. She fell in love with him. But someone was hunting Alban, and thought to hurt Alban through her. To find out who wanted to kill her, Margrit was introduced to some of the other Old races. Janx, a crimelord who was also a dragon. Malik, a Djinn in his employ and Eliseo Daisani, a ruthless businessman who was also a vampire.

Margrit and Alban faced down Ausra, another gargoyle who thought that Alban was her father and yet had abandoned her. But in truth, she was half-human, and because her mother had died birthing her, she received all her mother's memories the moment she was born, twisting her mind and driving her insane. Another gargoyle, formerly Alban's friend, and now his rival, looked after her but never told her the truth of her parentage. When Ausra tried to kill Margrit, Alban leapt to her defense, and was forced to kill Ausra. But killing another of the five races is forbidden to the Gargiyles, in fact, to any of the races, because of their low numbers, so Alban could be under sentence of death if anyone finds out- especially his rival, Biali.

One of the other races that Margrit stumbled onto during this adventure was Cara, a Selkie. Cara was endangered by Janx's gang and she left her sealskin with Margrit for safekeeping. She fled, and Grit couldn't find her again, no matter how hard she tried. At the end of the last book Alban decided to keep apart from Margrit because of Ausra's death, and she's been trying to contact him, but he stays determinedly away. But Grit's friend and boyfriend Tony becomes part of a security detail for a Hawaiian businessman named Kaimana Kaaiai, and with it comes the perks of going to a number of functions as his date. And Margrit can't help but attend, even though Janx has told her he's calling in one of the favors she owes him.

After the dinner party she attends, Kaimana wants to meet with her, and Janx tells her that someone has been killing off his people- he wants her to find out who is setting assassins on his people and stop them, even though she is just a human. And he believes Malik to be next on the list, so he wants her to protect him. Unfortunately for her, Malik is not a nice guy, and he doesn't want or need a mere human watching over him. And with his Djinn ability to become a whirlwind, she isn't able to follow him when he runs, so he can lose her any time he wants to.

Her frustration with Malik adds a blot to her life, but her meeting with Kaimana brings someone back into her life that she had been worried about: Cara. It turns out that Kaimana is also a Selkie, and he and his people are not vanished from the earth as the other five races had thought. But far from being a lesser people, they want to be accepted as one of the major races, for they are now one of the most populous. They ask Margrit to approach the other people of the five races for them, because for her success in dealing with those races, she has become known as "the negotiator". Just having a name is very good for her, because she is held in high esteem, and she agrees to try.

She also asks how they become the most populous of the races, and they tell her it was by interbreeding with humans. As long as the half-breed has even half of the blood of their parent race, they have all their powers and abilities. Any lower, and the powers begin to fade as they become more and more human. But they will also need to do away with the law that says that the other races shouldn't breed with humans. And Margrit agrees with that, as well. It doesn't seem fair to let the races, to let the magic in the world, fade simply because half-breeds are considered lesser.

But when she meets up with Alban again, she tells him that Janx still wants her to repay the favors she owes him, and what she must do. He gets angry on her behalf, and still not wanting to interact with her, goes to Janx to offer his own services in keeping Maiik alive. Margrit, for her part, since, Janx believes it is his rival Daisani Eliseo's killers at work, goes to Eliseo to tell him if it's his assassins killing Janx's employees, to please back off. Eliseo is rather stunned at how confident Margrit is able to be, and since his executive assistant was killed off in the last book, offers Margrit the job- at three times the salary she makes now. He also offers to keep her safe from Janx.

Margrit refuses the job, but as her current troubles continue to weigh upon her, she keeps the job in mind. She's always wanted to make the world better, but with Daisani's wealth, she could do more of that than in her current job as a Legal Aid Lawyer. But even her mother warns her away from taking the job. She knows Daisani, and knows that something about him isn't right. It isn't until Margrit's Legal Aid boss is murdered that her mother tells her how she came to know Eliseo. Once, Rebecca, Grit's mother, and her boss, worked together for the same agency. Eliseo was one of their biggest clients, and he tested them both, giving them information that would make them millions in insider trading. Her mother refused to use the information, but Grit's boss wasn't so honest. And so Rebecca left to open her own company, an honest one. Eventually, her boss retired from finance and became the Head of Legal Aid. but he kept the money.

Grit's relationship with the Older races makes her invite them to a meeting with Kaimana one night in Central Park. But her boyfriend, Tony, a cop, sees her heading off with a group of people, Janx and Daisani among them, and asks her what she is doing. Tired of pussyfooting around the truth, she tells him, but he doesn't believe her. And when he sees how she looks at Alban, he breaks up with her. It hurts, but in a way she's relieved because she didn't want to hate him. At the meeting, the five races vote to accept the Selkies and drop the prohibition about mating with humans, but not the laws that seep humans from realizing they exist.

In the end, Margrit decides to accept Eliseo Daisani's offer of employment, and at the Halloween Ball he gives, she reconnects with Alban, leading to a bout of lovemaking in the skies. But when Alban flies her home (quite literally), her housemate, Cole, sees him, and his fear and anger make him reject Alban... and want to reject Grit for loving him and making love to him. Margrit tries to persuade him that she and Alban are like black and white, still people, but looking different, but Cole rejects that... he's not even human! This causes her much pain, as she wanted her roommates to like Alban as much as she does, but, they agree to table the discussion for a while.

And Malik is also a problem. He and the Djinn no longer wish to serve Janx, and they have banded together to unseat Janx and take over his criminal empire. But as the chaos of the criminal infighting threatens to spill over and bring in the merely human gangs, can Margrit somehow broker a peace between the warring factions, and keep her family safe as they are doing it? Or will she and Alban be forced to kill another of the five races to keep the peace, no matter the outcome? Is there any way for the merely human Margrit to bring peace before the whole city becomes unsettled?

Wow, another great book from C.E. Murphy. I'd enjoyed "Heart of Stone" and the introduction to the races, but it seems as though we're going to learn a lot more about the races and what makes them tick. So far, our impressions of the Djinn are mean bastards who don't seem to care if they kill humans, Dragons are utterly inhuman but can pretend to be really well, vampires hide what they are from everyone. But they can go out in daytime and don't seem to drink blood- even their teeth are straight and white, like human teeth. And Gargoyles are very strong, and have long memories which they only share with each other, although others can ask the gargoyles what they know, and the Gargoyles may share it, if they are so inclined. But Alban, being an exile by choice, shares nothing.

It's been a long time since I read the first book in this series, and i have to admit, I'd forgotten a lot of what happened in the interim. But the different races, and the fact that a fragile human was attempting to negotiate among them )in more ways than one) was a wonderful hook, and the races, and Margrit and Alban, are a great draw for the story. I liked the relationship between Alban and Margrit in the first book, and in this one, she openly admits she loves him, and he acknowledges that he returns that emotion. Getting involved with her has made him get involved with humans once again, and he's a better man for it. His people can't continue to live in the past with the way things were. They must change, evolve and grow.

The book ends on quite a cliffhanger, and I was glad I had the third book nearby to be read, as reading this without the third book would have driven me insane to find out what happened. As it is, it's the perfect middle book- answering some of the questions left at the end of the first book, yet raising more. This series is quite unusual and delicious to read. You get sucked in from the first page and can't stop until you are done. Highly recommended.

No comments: