3 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Once Bitten Twice Shy is a standard format butt-kicking, waif-fu practicing, supernatural hunter woman urban fantasy novel. Given the strengths and weaknesses of this sub-genre as a whole, I think that this is probably one of the better examples of it. This is the first in a series, so I can’t comment on the quality (or lack of thereof) of the sequels, but I found this book to have a fairly well developed protagonist who was somewhat of a departure from the tired standard, a setting that was more imaginative than average, and a plot that was fairly coherent and didn’t suffer from a lot of progression through characters acting on willful stupidity. I wouldn’t say that this is the most inspired book I have ever read or anything, but for the genre it was fairly strong and a decent pick if you are in the mood for an uncomplicated urban fantasy.
Jaz Parks is an assassin specializing in killing supernatural creatures for the CIA. Following a traumatic event with her prior team, she is assigned to work for a legend at the agency, the ancient vampire Vayl. Their relationship is somewhat tempestuous, and things really begin to heat up when they are assigned to investigate and apprehend a Miami plastic surgeon who is involved with terrorists.
The plot isn’t really all that complicated, but it is nice that the characters mostly have a reason to be where they are and a reason for doing what they are doing that doesn’t rely on coincidence or other contrived plot devices. I wouldn’t recommend the protagonist and her boss as CIA employees of the year or anything, but they at least make a reasonable attempt to do their jobs and aren’t terrible at them. I tend to take these things for granted in other genres, but this seems to be a particular weakness in butt-kicking woman urban fantasy books, so this author deserves some praise for not failing here.
I’m not sure if the romantic undercurrent would be pleasing to some people, but I found it made me mostly uncomfortable. This stems from the fact that the protagonist is something of a female chauvinist pig, if that is actually a thing. I’ve read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi from the bad old days when the genre was very commonly offensively sexist towards women, and I was a bit surprised to see the opposite portrayed here. Every interaction the protagonist has is characterized by her lusty objectifying thoughts about the male characters. I was kind of startled to find myself reading a book and thinking “Geez, he’s just trying to do his job, stop treating him like a piece of meat.” or “He inadvertently touched your hand, quit reading all this sexy stuff into it.”
Despite the protagonist’s sexist tendencies, the characters are overall decent and the setting is fairly imaginative. There are a few stereotypes that aren’t going to hold much interest, but most of the characters diverge from the standard urban fantasy pablum enough to be engaging. The setting is mostly standard urban fantasy fare, and I wasn’t quite certain whether the existence of the supernatural was a closely guarded secret known only to a select few or general knowledge, but it seemed to work fairly well either way, as these mystical threats are actually being investigated and dealt with by a government agency.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
I wouldn’t say that this is the best urban fantasy that I have read, but it is probably a cut above the average. I would certainly recommend this over something like Lilith Saintcrow’s Night Shift or Lucy A Snyder’s Spellbent.