November 03, 2018

Edward Aubry: "Balance of Mayhem" (ARC Review)

Title: Balance of Mayhem [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Mayhem Wave (4th of 5 books)
Author: Edward Aubry [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy (the usual sci-fi angle is virtually nonexistent in this one)
Year: 2018
Age: 14+ (note: Book 1 was marketed as a YA/NA crossover. The series has progressively become more mature, and all the main characters have crossed from NA to adult by now - but the whole thing is absolutely teen-friendly)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Action, cool magic, surprises, moral dilemmas, and kick-ass heroines with a sense of humour.
Cons: Amidst the action, there are patches of telling-not-showing.
WARNING! Some gore and mature themes (but nothing overwhelming).
Will appeal to: Those who like imaginative worlds, lots of twists and turns, strong female characters and F/F romances. Those who are looking for a fresh approach to post-apocalypse.

Blurb: For five years, Dorothy O’Neill has had someone else living in her brain. Strontium, the witch who sacrificed herself to save Dorothy and the two children in her care, saved her own consciousness by fleeing into Dorothy’s mind, a tactic she thought would be temporary. Despite the best efforts of the Council of Mages to regenerate Strontium’s body and restore her to it, that state of affairs is starting to look permanent. So, when an opportunity presents itself to Dorothy to free Strontium and have her own mind to herself again, it sorely tempts her. All she has to do is embark on a quest with Felicia Kestrel, an assassin who has been until this point Dorothy’s mortal enemy. Felicia seeks a scale from the armor of the legendary dragon Hypatia. She needs a witch to help her employ its magic, and claims it has the power to restore Strontium to her own body. Enlisting the aid of a pixie to protect her, and armed with a magical sword, Dorothy leaves her home, trusting that the woman who tried to kill her once won’t do so again. The quest for the Scale proves trickier than expected, with dangers beyond Dorothy’s experience, and the threat of an unknown enemy who apparently desires very badly for her to fail. Each step along the journey brings her closer to getting her life back and freeing her friend, but also brings new and contradictory information about the object they seek, and Felicia’s reasons for seeking it may be far more sinister than she has revealed. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I have been talking to the author on a few occasions since reviewing his previous titles (that is, all the books he's released so far). Moreover, I am a semi-regular reviewer of Curiosity Quills titles (like this one), but if you look back at my ratings, this never prevented me from being unbiased.

There's no blaming Edward Aubry for not trying new things, or not spicing up a series even when it's got to its 4th (and penultimate) installment. Dorothy O'Neill - who we met as a child in Book 1, and through the series has grown up to become a 28 y.o. woman - leads an all-female cast here, except for some brief male cameo. Nothing as impressive as the female character amount in Mayhem's Children (the previous installment), but in that case, there was at least a male protagonist, and most of the girls weren't given more than a handful of lines (for plot reasons). This time, we follow a cast of women (and, huh, other female specimens, for lack of another non-spoilery term) in an adventure that starts off a tad slowly, but soon pics pace and thrusts us into a whirlwind of danger and secrets (and no, not your usual you-could-have-told-me-in-chapter-one secrets. Felicia has got her agenda, of course. And Dorothy is afraid that the matter will be taken out of her hands, so of course she doesn't tell anybody. Questionable, but understandable). I love how these women can kick ass and have soft spots/vulnerable angles at the same time, because it's real. It's not like they kick less ass because of that 😉.
(Mind you, this is not a "girl" book/series. We all know by now that "girl books" and "boy books" are a malicious fabrication of dust-covered, mold-smelling evil wizards, right?). [...]


Balance of Mayhem is, on its surface, a quest - or better, a double one - but if you barely scratch past that, you'll find that the themes of redemption and trust sit at its core, along with finding your real self and being careful what you wish for. I can't get more specific, but what I can say is, the moral (and philosophical, you might say) dilemmas/debates don't stand in the way of the action - on the contrary, they complement the story nicely, and near the end, they MAKE the story. A lot of twists I didn't see coming (one of them despite the GIANT clue hidden in plain sight), or should I say, ALL of them? Of course, I'm not a fantasy expert, but even if I were, I suppose that being engrossed in the story would have prevented me from foreseeing them. Then again, none of them felt cheap, though of course some are built on classic tropes - but which narrative can totally and completely disregard them? Also, did I mention that those kickass, yet somehow vulnerable ladies I introduced to you earlier can also do humour? So you have action/danger + quests + moral dilemmas + funny moments. Honestly, you can't get bored.


The only perk I have about this one (and it happened with the previous installments as well, but this time it hit me with more force) is a tendency of "telling-not-showing", particularly when it comes to Dorothy and Claudia's relationship. Its genesis even gets recapped not once, but twice in the book (though in a slightly different manner), and we get told how Dorothy feels about her and why, which ends up sounding a bit heavy-handed. I didn't spot such issue in the dialogue(s), but somewhere in the third-person narrative (especially in the first chapters), I got the impression that some things were - for lack of a better term - forced upon us. As I said, the dialogue mostly makes up for that, being far more natural and witty than those few third-person sentences I mentioned where we are told a bunch of things - which we were already privy to anyway, having read the rest of the series. OK, I understand that there's always the tiniest possibility that someone would stumble on this later installment and need to be brought up-to-date, but even then, it was a bit too info-dumpy at times. Nevertheless, the book as a whole was exciting and fun, which largely made up for those issues. And since Balance of Mayhem was a bit of a detour from the story this series is telling, now I'm even more curious about how things will get wrapped up in the fifth and final installment, Mayhem's Reign (wait, is the title a prophecy? 😱).

For my "Prelude to Mayhem" review (first installment in the series) click here.
For my "Static Mayhem" review (second installment in the series) click here.

For my "Mayhem's Children" review (third installment in the series) click here
For my review of Edward Aubry's book "Unhappenings" click here.
For my interview with Edward Aubry click here.
For more books that defy categories click here.

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