I love a series that continues to grow. Just when you think a character can't go get anymore insanity thrown his or her way, something like this happens. I've been reading the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep for years, and it just keeps getting better. Every time I think Gin's journey is coming to an end, Estep throws another curve ball that leaves readers begging for more. Bitter Bite is no exception. Though it isn't my personal favourite in the series, it's jam-packed with everything I've come to love about the Elemental Assassin series– a kick-ass heroine, humour, intrigue, surprise, gritty action, and more. There's even a sexy pillow fight! Yup, you heard me, and yup, it's just about my favourite part of the book. Since this is book 14 in the series (yes, #14 with more on the way), I have to put up a spoiler warning for the whole review for all those unfamiliar with Gin and her adventures. Though if you want my recommendation, I'll say that you absolutely must start this series if any of the previous features peaked your interest.
Which is stronger: blood ties or a battle-tested friendship? That’s the question Gin Blanco is asking when a friend’s long-lost relative comes strolling back into Ashland under suspicious circumstances. The unexpected reunion is a surprise for everyone—and a big problem for Gin. Book 14 in the New York Times bestselling urban fantasy series RT Book Reviews calls “unbeatable entertainment!”
It’s not easy being queen bee of an underworld abuzz with crooks and killers. Wielding my potent Ice and Stone elemental magic will only get me so far—my real secret is my tight-knit makeshift family, a motley crew of cops and criminals, dwarves and playboys. My foster brother Finnegan Lane is my right-hand man, but when his suddenly not-dead relative comes back into the picture, I’m the one on the outside looking in.
It’s funny how life works: one minute your best friend is rock-steady, and the next he’s doe-eyed and buying into this whole loving-relative routine to the point of ignoring you. I’d like to be happy for Finn, I really would. But all of my instincts are telling me that beneath the syrupy sweet demeanor and old-fashioned charm, this sudden interloper is planning something. The whole shtick leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. This person might have avoided the grave once, but I’ll put anyone who hurts Finn in the ground—for good.
The reason that this story didn't make the top of my favourites was because I felt as though I'd read it before. In a way, I had. The crime was similar to that of Deadly Sting, while the true cause for concern was reminiscent of Widow's Web, meaning a con snaring someone Gin loves and trying to turn them against her. The target of this story was Gin's dashing foster brother, Finn, and the return of his supposedly dead mother.
This point isn't lost on the story, as there are instances where it's pointed out by other characters, including one particularly tense moment between Owen– Gin's lover– and Finn (I loved how that was finally resolved, by the way). Even though the story was familiar to me, it didn't keep me from enjoying the spike in tension throughout the book until the climax. Most of the story progressed at a steady rate until the middle of the book, since Finn's mother was definitely working hard to wrap him around her finger.
Also, there is one thing that can always be said about Estep and her work: It is never uninventive. She's one of the few authors I know that can constantly come up with absolutely insane fighting scenarios for her characters. Every action scene is different and unique. The battles never feel like they're cycled through. This is one of the reasons she's such a huge inspiration to me, and why I strive to invoke this similar trait in my own writing. Though I wished there had been more of a magical battle, I was in no way disappointed by the physical combat. There were a couple times when I wasn't sure how Gin was going to get out of her latest mess. Not that I ever doubt her.
The characters are just as I remember them, and I adored them just as much. There wasn't too much growth (which is fine because this is a series in which characters often need to grow with time, which in turn makes them more realistic), but it has to be said that we saw a different side of Finn. To be honest, I was upset at him for the way he all but disregarded Gin and his friends for most of the book, particularly when it came to his lover (and Gin's sister), Bria. His arc moved pretty quickly, and I'm interested to see where it goes in Unwanted, the upcoming novella.
All in all, this is just what I wanted from the Elemental Assassin series, and as the shocking ending has revealed, it's clear that Gin's adventures are going to continue for a good long while, and that there will be plenty of webs for her to weave for her enemies.