Mark del Franco

Books: Fantasy

Connor Grey: Unshapely Things (2007), Unquiet Dreams (2008), Unfallen Dead (2009), Unperfect Souls (2010), Uncertain Allies (2011), Undone Deeds (2011)

Laura Blackstone: Skin Deep (2009), Face Off (2010)

Connor Grey

Unshapely Things (2007)

Connor Grey is a druid who has lost most of his powers. An attack by radical environmentalist elf has left him crippled–not physically, but magically. So in addition to his disability payments, he takes occasionally jobs helping the Boston police department in attacks involving the fey.

What I found interesting about this story is that we don't see the attack that ruins Connor's ability and leaves him crippled (so to speak). We start with him after the attack and after his recovery, when he is living the life he has built after his accident. We don't see him before the attack, we only see what he as become, and we learn about his former life as he slowly discovers the person he was before.

The characters in this story were particularly good. I really liked Connor. He was struggling through difficult changes, but he didn't become morose and sorry for himself--he did his work and what he felt to be right. And the supporting characters were also interesting and had depth. Both Stinkwort and Murdock were distinct (and interesting) personalities. There is also a good deal of development of Connor's character. He slowly discovers who he was and who he is become, and slowly comes to terms with his limited abilities and what he can accomplish with them.

As far as mysteries go, this one wasn't too bad. There were several confusing spots, but all in all it was pretty well done. Lots of twists and turns, but everything came together.

Additionally, there was no boinking. Well, okay, there was off screen boinking, and discussion of boinking, but we didn't have to read the details. Which is perfectly fine with me, since I'd rather read more about the mystery and character development.

Although the end contained an obvious set-up for a second book in the series, the story arc was completed in this book. It's not my favorite thing when a book ends with a teaser for a future book, but this teaser was such that I didn't mind too much.

The world building in this story was pretty good as well. The world is similar to, but not quite the same as, ours. But the descriptions of the Weird were interesting, and we slowly discover the differences between that world and our own.

The tone of the writing is a cross between fantasy and hard boiled mystery, with lots of sardonic comments and mental asides by the main character. There were also some interesting points made.

He stared intently at me. "Let me ask you something, Connor. If you met me here first and found out what I do at night, would you think of me as a charity volunteer who occasionally gets paid to satisfy someone's sexual needs or would you think of my simply as a prostitute?"

I shrugged. "Fine. You're more than a prostitute. I get the point."

"No, you don't."

... He did have a point. People who operate on the fringes of society do get perceived as nothing more than what they do.

But what I liked best about this book was that it worked well as a whole. The characters were strong and interesting, the plot kept me reading and made the book hard to put down, and the story came together very well. I am looking forward to more books by Mark del Franco and more stories about Connor Grey.

Published by Ace

Rating: 8/10

Unquiet Dreams (2008)

Unquiet Dreams is Mark del Franco's second book about Connor Grey, consulting detective and damaged druid. When Detective Murdock asks Connor to help him investigate the death of a teen in the Weird, they are both drawn into a mystery that stretches as low as bridge dwelling trolls and as high as the directors of the Guild.

The feel of this story is a cross between Jim Butcher's Dreseden series and Simon Green's Nightside. The center of the story is a murder mystery that Murdock and Connor need to resolve. But the story is more complex than that, as we continue to learn about the damage done to Connor's druidic abilities, and he relationships with the members of the Guild who will still speak to him now he has lost his powers.

Although this book has a self-contained story arc, we continue to learn more about the person Connor was before he lost his abilities, and what may have happened to him in the attack that caused the loss of his abilities. We also learned more about the Fey, and the two groups that ranged against each other.

The strongest part of this book, however, is Connor. He's a likable character who is trying to recover from his past–a past where he wasn't necessarily such a likable guy. It's interesting to read his insights into his own characters, and how he became the jerk he did, and he repercussions of his previous actions once he lost his power. You begin to see that he regrets who he was before, and that if he regains his power, he will keep the lessons he has learned in mind.

Not to say that the secondary characters aren't good–I quite like Murdock and Meryl and their attitudes. Though I do have to wonder how Murdock affords his clothes. I didn't think police detectives made enough money to dress like dandies.

There is one thing that bothered me about this book, however, and that's the cover. There is something very subtly wrong with the cover picture that bugs the crap out of me. I think the problem is that the light on the grass totally and completely does not match the sky and what light might be coming from the sky. The grass is obviously lit by the sun coming from the left side of the cover, but the sky is night, and has lightening that would, I believe, be casting light in the opposite direction.

I know it's a little thing, but hey, I'm a geek. What do you expect?

All in all, this looks like it is shaping up to be a very good series, and if the quality remains this good, I'll keep reading. If you have not read Unshapely Things you should be able to read Unquiet Dreams without much difficulty, but as usual, I recommend starting at the beginning and working your way forward.

Published by Ace

Rating: 7.5/10

Unfallen Dead (2009)

Connor Grey is still helping Detective Murdock of the Boston PD solve cases in the Weird, still has a crush on Meryl, and is still fighting the Darkness that stole his abilities.

Unfortunately, things have gotten even more confusing after the events of Unquiet Dreams. The Taint is wreaking havoc, and Queen Maeve fears the Taint might lead to her downfall.

Connor Grey gets more interesting with each book. He's still sorting out his life from before, and dealing with the fact he was pretty much an asshole to everyone, which makes his life now that he can no longer access his power that much more difficult. But he is coming to terms with it, and he is making amends where he can. That doesn't mean he isn't an idiot at times, but he's getting better.

As with the previous books, the secondary characters are very strong. Murdoc and Meryl and Joe are still around, but we get to meet another character from Connor's past, and in doing so begin to learn more about the person Connor was before he lost his powers.

Although each book in the series continues to raise as many questions as it answers, it doesn't raise them in a way that irritates me. The story arc of the book is concluded, and although questions remain about Connor's past, and we don't know what's going to happen with his future, they are questions that have remained throughout the series–not questions brought up at the end of the book to drag you into the next whether you want to or not.

Which of course makes me want to read the next book even more.

If you enjoy supernatural fantasy, then I highly recommend Mark Del Franco's Connor Grey series. There is some boinking, but it's part of the story, and doesn't go into lurid detail. If you have not read the previous two books, you should be able to start here and read the series. But of course I always think starting at the beginning is best.

Published by Ace

Rating: 8/10

Unperfect Souls (2010)

Finished this book several hours ago, but I still don't know how I feel about it.

Connor Grey is still fighting with the darkness in his head, and still persona non grata at Guild Headquarters. Unfortunately for him, the world won't leave him alone, and he remains involved in Guild and fae politics, even if he can't truly defend himself anymore.

What I did like is that we learned a great deal about Murdock, some of it shocking. We also learn snatches of Connor's problem, and snatches of what placed him where he is.

What I didn't like is that this story asked far more questions than it answered, and left many threads open, and didn't have a very satisfactory conclusion. Yeah, Connor got out of the mess he was in, but we're left with him in a bad state, two main characters in a coma, and a major political upheaval of the fae.

All in all, the end of the book was very unsatisfactory, which tainted how I felt about the rest of the book. Which is really too bad.

Published by Ace

Rating: 6/10

Uncertain Allies (2011)

This is the fifth book in the Connor Grey series. Boston–especially the Weird–is still reeling from the events in the past book (and seemingly doing little to recover from the destruction). Connor is now infamous for his participation in several catastrophic events, and doesn't seem to receive much of a warm welcome anywhere he goes.

His girlfriend Meryl is in a coma, the family of his friend Lou Murdock hates him, and he doesn't have many allies left, which for a man who has lost most of his druidic capabilities is not a good position to be in.

First things first, the story arc begin at the start of the book is completed, however, overarching events are starting to catch up with him, and it is quite obvious there will be another story (or several). But it was well done, with no cliff hangers, so I don't mind.

There were, however, some things that bothered me throughout the book. On several occasions I had to stop and reread sentences and paragraphs to make sense of them, something I don't remember having to do in previous books. Nothing large, just multiple cases of, “what did that say?”

I'm also not certain about the actions of the powers that be. There was an awful lot of destruction that almost walked the edge of the perpetrator running their hands and cackling in glee. It wasn't quite that, but I wasn't sure that motivations would cause people to act quite as badly as they did.

And as a major positive, Connor STOPS hiding things from the people that are trying to help him, recognizing that he needs to share his problems if he's going to get through this alive.

But all in all I am still enjoying the series, and although I do not recommend diving in here, I do recommend going back and working your way forward. The first few pages has one of Lou Murdock's brothers almost shooting Connor, something that seems pretty inexplicable for a cop in uniform. I'm still not sure that scene wasn't a little too over the top, but with the background it makes a little more sense.

Published by Ace

Rating: 7/10

Undone Deeds (2011)

Wow. I totally wasn't expecting THAT.

This is the last book in the series.

I also had problems with the book, few of which had to do with the actual ending of the series.

Although I gobbled down earlier books in the series, I had a hard time getting into this one–the story felt like it was meandering, and didn't seem to have the pieces that I enjoyed so much in the earlier books.

In a way, it felt like he had a LOT of things he needed to work in, but wasn't ever quite sure about the best way to do so. The addition of his family members felt almost arbitrary–I didn't remember anything about them from earlier books, but suddenly they're all here and I wasn't even sure why until the story reached the point they were needed.

I also felt as if several of the important characters received short shrift–especially Leo's family.

I do like that he had the balls to actually conclusively end the series, but, I can't say I was satisfied with this final book.

Published by Ace

Rating: 6/10

Laura Blackstone

Skin Deep (2009)

Having enjoyed Mark del Franco's Connor Grey supernatural mysteries, I pre-ordered Skin Deep hoping he would do as good a job writing a female lead as he did a male lead. The book came, but then I put of reading it primarily for the blurb on the cover, “She'll need to keep up appearances–if she wants to stay alive…” That blurb belongs on the orange-red cover of a pulp with the female character showing a lot of leg and a lot of cleavage. And maybe a disembodied hand with a gun. And a lamp post. I'm pretty sure there needs to be a lamp post on that cover.

Anyway, there is a fair amount of cleavage on this cover, but the woman at least looks competent. Plus, she's curvy, which is also awesome.

But that's enough about the cover.

Laura Blackstone is secret agent for the Fey Guild intelligence services. Her cover identity is the public relations director for the Fey Guild. She has had multiple identities over the years, but her current identity is as druidess back-up for the DC SWAT.

The world in which she operates is the same world as Conner Grey–at the turn of the last century, the Fey Realms entered our world, an event that came to be known as Convergence.

One thing that bugged me initially is it she seemed like she was at the start of her career instead of an experienced agent. So I kept wondering why she had so much free reign if she was such a young agent. I realized this mistake was probably because we meet her first as the Janice identity, who is, in fact, young and not very experienced.

Regardless, the mystery was interesting, and although it did have some romance/kissy stuff, that part wasn't too overwhelming and was well done. I also liked the secondary characters.

There were some other weaknesses, but overall, I found the book to be enjoyable, and look forward to another Laura Blackstone book.

Published by Ace

Rating: 7/10

Face Off (2010)

Laura Blackstone is still living her multiple lives, and after the events in the last book, Skin Deep, relations between humans and fae, as well as between different fae groups, are making her job even harder, as she is forced to take on the persona of any already existing fae who is involved in a criminal and terrorist organization.

There were several things I liked about this story. As Laura juggles three different personas (along with the jobs associated with each) you begin to wonder how she manages (other than not having much in the way of a social life).

I especially liked the way her relationship with Jono is forcing her to look at her job in InterSec and the actions she takes in the name of security. It's interesting how in fantasy and supernatural fantasy books, politics and actions that would push my buttons in the real world are glossed over in my reading and accepted without thought. Jono forces Laura (and thus us) to consider not just the fantasy, but also the politics.

Although I like the Connor Grey series a bit more, I am definitely enjoying the Laura Blackstone series, and can't wait for the next book in the series.

Published by Ace

Rating: 8/10