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Water to Burn by Katharine Kerr

April 1, 2012 1 comment

Water to Burn by Katharine Kerr (Daw, 2011) is rather a strange book. First as to its delivery, the prose is somewhat stilted. When I come to think about it, “stilted” is rather an odd word. I always associate it with my youth. When not trying to whip a top into action or bowl a hoop along the local highways and byways, I used to try to walking with the aid of stilts. As various bruises, cuts and scrapes were able to testify, it’s harder than it looks, but marginally less masochistic than whipping your own legs when the top gets too close. Anyway, even those of professional standing can only strut in that rather artificial way. What we might describe as ordinary walking can have grace and, in some cases, a kind of suppressed athleticism. Stilt-walking always has that faintly precarious air of imminent loss of balance as kneeless poles describe those delicate half-circles in controlled falling as forward motion. So it is with Katharine Kerr’s prose style. I find it awkward. Instead of feeling the words are smoothly delivering the content, I find myself staggering slightly, feeling word and grammatical choices are jarring. Now, obviously, this is an entirely subjective reaction and you may find her style limpid, clear and bright. If so, I wish you well. All I will say is that I struggled to read it.

As to the story, we’re into this new subgenre the publishers want us to call urban fantasy or perhaps it’s a paranormal romance. The subtleties of these new distinctions escape me. Either way, this means we have a spunky heroine with supernatural abilities, prepared to take on a passel of beasties to keep the world, or maybe only San Francisco, safe. This time, Nola O’Grady and her sidekick, Ari Nathan, continue their fight against Chaos — he makes the mess and she tidies up after him. We first met this dynamic duo in License to Ensorcell with the psychically-endowed Nola working for a secret US government agency and Ari seconded from Interpol, Israeli intelligence and other agencies with letters rather than names. Together, they’re out to maintain Harmony with the erratic O’Grady and Houlihan families in support. Sadly, there was little to like. Mysterious “waves” appear and sweep victims out to sea, drowning them before they can be rescued. Our couple continue to track down members of the coven who were working as Chaos agents in the first outing, a figure from Ari’s past has reappeared, a treasure hunter who gives off the wrong vibes is lurking around the families, and young Michael wants to relocate a “friend” from the radioactive dimension into our own. There’s little sense of any real threat and the relationship between Nola and Ari is distinctly off-key as our possible Israeli superspy has real anger-management problems while she dresses in an increasingly weird array of clothes to distract the eyes of family and friends from her possible anorexia. Frankly, the whole enterprise just lurches along and I was bored to tears.

It may just be the lifeless prose or the story itself. I really neither know nor care. Unless you have run out of exciting stuff to read like the back of cornflake packages listing the ingredients with all those fascinating e-numbered chemicals, avoid Water to Burn like the plague.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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