Reading level: Adult
Trade paperback: 384 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Release date: August 27, 2013
Series: Elemental Assassin #9
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
Reviewed by: Jenn
The hotly anticipated ninth novel in the hugely popular Elemental Assassin series finds Gin Blanco on a dangerous mission to rescue a friend.
When a terror from the past threatens Gin’s friend and body-disposer, Sophia, Gin will stop at nothing to protect her, even if it means walking straight into a killer’s trap. Meanwhile, the rocky romance between Gin and Owen reaches a turning point—can they reunite and rekindle their love? Or will the things Gin has been forced to do in her line of work as the deadly assassin the Spider keep them apart forever? Assuming, that is, she survives long enough to find out…
Wowza, was HEART OF VENOM good! It opens with a great scene with Finn, Gin, and a body dump, a scene filled with a lot of dry humour, and shortly thereafter we're off on a whirlwind adventure in the mountains. It's no secret that I am a huge Jennifer Estep fan, and with my fandom come great expectations, and I'm so happy to say that she really knocked it out of the park with this one. HEART OF VENOM is an amazing adventure with high stakes, character revelations, and crazy action scenes!
As always, I was completely engrossed by Gin's latest adventure. But this time, it wasn't just because of Gin and her adventure -- this time, I was really excited to get to know more about Sophia and Jo-Jo's past. They've always been solid support for Gin, watching her grow up, helping her with her assassination career without judgment -- but we've never really learned too much about their past and where they came from. In HEART OF VENOM, we learn exactly why they ended up in Ashland and exactly how scary things once were for them (especially Sophia). We knew that Sophia's voice was ruined by someone who made her breathe in elemental fire but now we get to meet this person and the rest of the madcap gang and it's not a pretty thing. Sophia's experiences with Harley and Hazel Grimes are singularly horrifying and you'll see that Sophia's mental strength matches -- or surpasses -- her physical strength. The things that Harley and Hazel force her to do and experience are atrocious and you will be rooting for Team Gin in ways you never have before. If you thought Mab was a crazy dame, well, she had nothing on Hazel.
(What is it about crazy elemental ladies?? It seems like we can't go one novel without running into some insane, powerful female elemental.)
This scenario also shows us just how much Sophia and Jo-Jo mean to Gin. I think it's always been clear that they are important to her both personally and professionally but the depth of her feelings and devotion to them are showcased in HEART OF VENOM. There's nothing Gin wouldn't do for these two women and it's great to see the rest of Gin's friends and family rally around the cause. (Which I won't discuss in detail here because, you know, spoilers...)
Other great stuff? There's some serious discussion between Gin and Owen about where they stand with each other. Their discussion is frank and open and I really liked it. I'm pleased that Owen wasn't 100% okay with Gin killing his ex-lover and that it took some time for him to deal with it. He wouldn't be a realistic character if that didn't force him to think about what it means to be in love with an assassin. And I like that Gin didn't back down from her actions, either in the moment or in later books. But now, in HEART OF VENOM, we get some quality scenes with the two of them discussing their past and the potential for them to have a future. The Gin/Owen stuff always pulls at my heart and their interactions in this book are really emotion-laden and well written.
Nine books in, Estep's Elemental Assassin series continues to deliver urban fantasy gold. The plots are twisty and innovative, there's always more to learn about these characters, and Estep's writing is consistently top-notch. You'll never be disappointed by one of her novels, though you may walk away hungry since there's always at least one scene in which Gin makes the most delicious food!