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September 26

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Review: Nightlife (Cal Leandros, Book 1) by Rob Thurman

by Ann-Katrina

Nightlife Cover

From the Back Cover of Nightlife

There are monsters among us. There always have been and there always will be. I’ve known that since I can remember, just like I’ve always known I was one…

…Well, half of one, anyway.

Welcome to the Big Apple. There’s a troll under the Brooklyn Bridge, a boggle in Central Park, and a beautiful vampire in a penthouse on the Upper East Side—and that’s only the beginning. Of course, most humans are oblivious to the preternatural nightlife around them, but Cal Leandros is only half human.

His father’s dark lineage is the stuff of nightmares–and he and his entire otherworldly race are after Cal. Why? Cal hasn’t exactly wanted to stick around long enough to find out.

He and his half brother, Niko, have managed to stay a step ahead for four years, but now Cal’s dad has found them again. And Cal is about to learn why they want him, why they’ve always wanted him: He is the key to unleashing their hell on earth. The fate of the human world will be decided in the fight of Cal’s life….

Three Quick Points About Nightlife

  • Point 1: If you were to remove all the adjectives and adverbs from the book, it would probably shrink by about 60 pages. Being a lover of adjectives and adverbs, it pains me to say this, but there’s a limit to their use. They should be treated like a fine and potent spice–use only as much as necessary or the entire dish could be spoiled.
  • Point 2: This Cal character is a sardonically wonderful guy. The novel got heavy at times and it felt like trudging through mud, but the twisted humor injected through Cal’s voice certainly helped to balance it out.
  • Point 3: What happened to the climax? The build up is good, the tension is there, and you’re poised, ready to see what dark and ominous creatures spring forth to tear the main characters into shreds, and then…wha…that’s it?

The Full Review of Nightlife

Before reading the full review, please note that there may be some spoilers. I tried to keep it vague enough not to spoil the entire story, but be warned. If you’d rather not take any chances, skip the synopsis and go straight to the final thoughts.

Nightlife Synopsis

Two brothers, Cal (short for Caliban) and Niko Leandros, are on the run from things they call Grendels, which they later find out are actually called the Auphe. The Auphe are completely depraved creatures who enjoy the slaughter of others for simple entertainment value. At one point in history they were on top of the world–the most fearsome creatures, but when the humans came along the Auphe’s numbers dwindled and there was a massive power shift. They hatched a plan to correct the imbalance and it involved creating a human-Auphe hybrid. That hybrid was Cal.

When Cal was fourteen, he was kidnapped and dragged through a portal by the Auphe. In the process, his unloving mother was killed and it seemed his older half-brother was too. But Niko survived and waited for two days at the spot where he’d seen them take Cal. When Cal finally came back at the end of those two days, he was two years older–apparently time flowed differently in the Auphe’s realm–and he didn’t remember anything.

Cal and Niko found themselves in New York where Cal worked nights in a jerkwater bar and Niko spent some of his time helping out in a dojo and guarding bodies. The life they’d carved out for themselves took a drastic change when Niko discovers and kills a lone Auphe. After being fed some faulty information by a young, genuine psychic (who Cal has feelings for, but it’s never realized or developed in the storyline), the two are a bit more confused about whether to leave or stay in New York. Cal wanted to stay, but Niko says it’s time to leave and Niko usually wins.

Unfortunately, the car breaks down which means they won’t be going anywhere until they can get a new one. In the course of trying to find some reliable transportation, they meet Robin Fellows, used car salesman extraordinaire, also known as Robin Goodfellow aka Puck, a mischievous, egotistical and lecherous elf.

The newly formed trio find themselves on an adventure to discover the reason for the Auphe’s indefatigable pursuit of Cal. Of course, it’s because they need him to take over the world. During their adventure, the three battle a troll, some Auphe, and Cal is possessed by a Darkling on the Auphe’s payroll. All of this eventually leads up to the climax that never was.

Final Thoughts on Nightlife

Frankly, I’m still debating whether or not I liked it. Well, I did enjoy it, up until the climax that never came. As a result, I’m leery of reading the second book in the series, Moonshine, which I already have sitting on my bookshelf. There was nothing in Nightlife which shoved me into the next one. Let me try to explain as best I can without giving up any spoilers…

In Nightlife, Cal’s character was amazingly well developed. His character grows on you. Once you open yourself to his personality and his view of the world, you begin to sympathize with him. Of course, his telling you that he’s a monster every few pages does wear a bit thin, but you learn to gloss over it.

On the flip side of the coin is his older half-brother Niko. Now, it’s not difficult to like Niko except that Niko isn’t nearly as well-developed a character. Throughout, it felt as though Niko was only a slightly modified version of Cal’s alter ego. As readers, we’re told that Niko is a super intelligent jedi ninja master, but his actual character falls short of all that. The only thing that’s shown to us is that he’s a health food nut who speaks like he stepped out of the 17th century. He seems no more skilled, talented, or intelligent than Cal and overall, he seems very Cal-esque.

The novel does a good job, however, introducing (albeit fleetingly) other characters which would do especially well in future installments of the series. Off the top of my head, I’d like to see more development with Georgina, the young psychic who Cal has a romantic interest in, Promise Nottinger, a beautiful vampire who Niko has a romantic interest in, and even Robin Goodfellow.

Moving away from the characters, the prose of the novel fluctuates between being crisply written and trying too hard. Since it’s written from Cal’s point of view, sometimes it seems as though he has a touch of multiple personality disorder. Now, it’s not entirely a bad thing. It makes Cal seem much more human. It only becomes a problem when he goes overboard on the descriptions or self-deprecation. It’s one thing to paint a scene for the reader, but it’s quite another to leave no room for the reader’s own imagination to take over. At these junctures in the novel, it felt very much like I was trudging through a mud-trap. Luckily, it didn’t happen so often that it destroyed the whole novel–close, but not quite.

What shot the novel straight to hell was the anticlimactic climax. Just before the climax, the voice shifts from that of Cal to the Darkling who possessed him and that’s where it all went plummeting downhill. The sudden change of voice throws the reader off-kilter, plus that voice slowed down the pacing considerably. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if the Darkling’s narration was more believable. Sure he wanted to do really bad things, as demon creatures are wont to do, but it never quite pushed the envelope. It became stunningly predictable.

The whole novel prepares the reader for a battle to end all battles; it prepares the reader for the end of the world as she knows it and then it falls completely flat. That final battle (I feel silly even calling it a battle) read like something out of a D- horror/action movie. The climax seemed like a rushed afterthought–incomplete–and that’s a shame. I felt cheated.

Despite this minor dent in my trust, I’m still reminded that the prose was clean, Cal’s character was witty, the storyline was interesting and I actually enjoyed reading the novel (for the most part). Since this was a debut novel, I’m certainly willing to give this author another shot because it can only get better, right?

Rating: Buy it used (?)

While I wouldn’t recommend purchasing the book at the hardcover list price, it won’t hurt to grab a half-off mass market paperback (i.e. $3). If you can get the paperback with a steeper discount (even used), go for it. I personally nabbed it from Amazon as part of the 4 for 3 deal.

Comments on Review: Nightlife (Cal Leandros, Book 1) by Rob Thurman

  1. # Another Book Binge: More Vampires, Witches, Wizards, Werewolves, Elves and other Supernatural Stuff - Today, I Read… wrote on September 26, 2008 at 7:42 pm:

    [...] binge, I did manage to float my way through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Nightlife (read review), Faeries, The Fantasy Illustrator’s Technique Book, and Hell Beasts. Yeah, I’m not [...]

  2. # Brie wrote on September 26, 2008 at 10:40 pm:

    Great review. I’ve had my eye on Nightlife for a while now, but have been on the fence about getting it. Nothing has shoved me either way until now, and I think I’ll pass on it.

  3. # Ann-Kat wrote on September 27, 2008 at 10:45 pm:

    Thanks for stopping by, Brie. Glad you enjoyed the review and found it helpful enough to tip the scales.

    I’m about to start reading Moonshine (finally) will probably have a review of that up shortly. Chances are, though, if you’re passing on this you probably won’t want to hazard the second in the series. :)

  4. # Book Binge: Vampire Romance, Urban Fantasy, Faeries, The Supernatural and Other Good Stuff - Today, I Read… wrote on September 30, 2008 at 1:47 pm:

    [...] Nightlife (Cal Leandros, Book 1) by Rob Thurman (read review) [...]

  5. # Needing Moonshine (and lots of it) to Finish Moonshine (by Rob Thurman) - Today, I Read… wrote on September 30, 2008 at 1:50 pm:

    [...] So, it seems that I was slightly more affected by the let down of Nightlife than I thought. Although Moonshine, book 2 in the Cal Leandros series, had been sitting on my [...]

  6. # Moonshine is (finally) Picking Up - Today, I Read… wrote on October 7, 2008 at 9:56 am:

    [...] course I didn’t get my wish of never seeing the word Auphe (or allusions to the battle that never was) again. But, I’ve learned to skim over it; they’re now fewer and further [...]

  7. # 2008 in Books, or the Ten Books I’m Glad I Read This Year - Today, I Read… wrote on January 8, 2009 at 1:56 pm:

    [...] Nightlife by Rob Thurman (review) [...]

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