That is precisely the question I was asking myself when I finished Natasha’s latest Kayla Steele novel, Circus of Sins. I know there is no such thing as the perfect read but this novel certainly came close. Heroine Kayla Steele is a character any reader can relate to—although she is a fledgling Hunter in an underground organization whose mission is to protect humankind from supernatural cabals, she is at heart a loner, an outsider, a searcher, seeking not only some kind of meaningful existential connection but also a place where she can be accepted for who she truly is. I love Kayla—and it’s not just because she has an aversion to wearing underwear—she’s courageous, vulnerable, smart, and has a terrific sense of humor, which I’ll talk more about later.

 

But while the character of Kayla Steele is obviously a big reason I enjoy this saga, there are so many other remarkable elements: the pacing is relentless, the writing style is concentrated yet carefully considered and darkly poetic (Circus of Sins weighs in at almost 600 pages!), many of the characters are simply unforgettable (Monster, Cyan X, Harlequin, Magnus, etc.), and Natasha’s world-building abilities fusing the superficiality of modern day Los Angeles with the fantastical darkside of supernatural beings is just priceless. Here’s how she describes West Hollywood, where Kayla lives: “a place where it was famously said they’d pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. A place where half the town was dying to be discovered, and the other half was afraid they would be.”

 

Circus of Sins begins in grand style: as wildfires burn out of control around Los Angeles, Kayla waits for the world to end. A master vampire named Harlequin is planning on committing the ultimate sin—forcing a human to kill an angel—in two days time, and the sacrifical death will trigger Heavenly retribution in the form of Avenging Angels, “the Bringers of the Apocalypse” who will wipe out humankind so that Harlequin and his genetically enhanced “children” can then rebuild a world ruled and inhabited by a new generation of vampires.

 

 

I’m not going to spoil any plot twists for those who have yet to read Circus of Sins but the final sequence is epic in every sense of the word—like something out of a blockbuster action flick. Picture the legendary chase scene from The French Connection—now add generous helpings of giant angels, armies of badass vampires, irate werewolves and general mass destruction and you’ll start getting the picture…

 

But even in the face of seemingly endless tragedy, Kayla (still grieving the murder of her boyfriend) and her friends still have an optimistic outlook on life and a twisted sense of humor, even in the most unlikeliest of situations. Here are a few examples:

 

Inside the vampire stronghold, Kayla’s werewolf friend Buck says: “It smells like vampire in here… If they eat me, you can have my Star Wars action figures.”

 

After the master vampire Harlequin waxes poetic to Kayla about love, she replies: “Let me guess. You got ‘Quote-of-the-Day’ toilet paper?”

 

While Kayla is searching for a friend: “I had to see if it really was Wylie in there, or if she’d ditched him after ten minutes—the usual amount of time it took him before he got drunk on half a glass of Jack and Coke and started explaining Nietzsche’s theories on the absurdity of Religion to the nearest waitress’s boobs.”

 

And this: “Anyone who thought their boyfriend was tough on their razor ought to try living in a werewolf household.”

 

 

The bottom line is this. Paranormal fantasy at this moment in time—the summer of 2010—is still a rapidly expanding literary universe. There are hundreds of singularly unique, utterly readable series out there, with more luminescent offerings being released every month. But in that sparkling night sky of stellar paranormal fantasy, there are inevitably going to be exceptional series that, for whatever reasons, don’t get discovered by the majority of paranormal fantasy readers. Natasha Rhodes’s Kayla Steele saga is one of those series.

 

What’s your favorite paranormal fantasy saga? After reading Natasha’s Kayla Steele sequence, I’ll bet you that you rank these novels right up there with the very best you’ve read…

 

 

 

Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.

Comments
by on ‎08-02-2010 10:31 AM

Paul,

 

I have only read the first book Dante's Girl but I will have to look for the others if the library has them.

 

Toni

by LordRuthven on ‎08-02-2010 12:48 PM

This is one of those series that has seemingly slipped through the cracks. I've seen them at the stores, but I promptly forget about them since they looked like "just another snarky supernatural huntress" series. Thanks for encouraging a closer look.

 

I'm glad that there are reviewers like you out there taking a discerning, but favorable, look at the genre.

by on ‎08-02-2010 05:32 PM

You know I'm sure there are dozens of wonderful authors out there waiting to be discovered.

 

The thing is if I never see it, no one talks about it, no one brings it up on this and other book sites, and my phonetical spelling using a search engine does randomly pop one up (this actually has happened, lucky author)... really how would I? Book stores don't stock every publisher much less every author. The "you might also like" when you buy online only pops up the big sellers as suggestions. There are just a lot big cracks for an author to fall in, out there.

 

Unless all of us start heavily talking about the smaller authors, they stay that way. Genre book sales are still heavily supported by reader word of mouth. And it's a joy when the author you've been telling everyone who listens "YOU HAVE TO READ THIS" finally makes hardcover.

 

I've never so much as seen or heard prior of Natasha Rhodes. So..... is there a justification for yet another kitchen sink mythology have to the save the world plot? Tell me is this an act of desperation for attention with this latest one, or have they all been like that? Yes the covers are soooo erotica section, no I don't care. Do you really think that's held them back?

 

by Moderator paulgoatallen on ‎08-02-2010 07:11 PM

Tig:

No desperation here at all – just great storytelling and, yes, it's a natural progression from the first two books. And you are absolutely right about the amount of great authors who fall through the cracks, for whatever reasons...

 

As you know, I read A LOT of this stuff – and have for decades – I've seen this new hybrid category go from a handful of releases per year to literary hundreds per month. This Kayla Steele saga is just as good as some of the "elite" paranormal fantasy series – it's curious to me to see it wallowing in obscurity. Not that surprising, however – I've seen plenty of brilliant series only gain mediocre success (like Adrian Phoenix's The Maker's Song novels) while other inferior series are mainstays on national bestseller lists.

 

It makes me wonder why... in this case, the only thing I can come up with is the unconventional cover art.               

by tlbx3 on ‎08-03-2010 01:06 AM

I would love to try out this series, but once again, there is no ebook option. I will add it to my check back list for the future. Thanks for the review and heads up.

by TashaRhodes on ‎08-08-2010 04:01 AM

tlbx3:

Circus of Sins is now being made into an ebook.... check back here in a few weeks for details.

 

Paul:

Thanks for the kind words! You've always written the best reviews out there, and I've picked up many a book in the past based on your recommendation (most recently, Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s excellent Loups-Garous). Regarding the issue of the book covers, I agree to a certain extent. Many a great book has found its way into my hands despite an unappealing cover, but not many. I avoided Jim Butcher for many years due to the rather campy look of his first few book covers, and the wonderful L.A. Banks only found her way onto my bookshelf due to a delayed flight at LAX and a random purchase from among the many lookalike Buffy-spawn vampire novels.

 

I believe that as a selling tool, the cover can make or break a book by a new or undiscovered author... but word of mouth is still the best way forward. On that note, check out the guy with the best book cover ever, Bitterwood by James Maxey. I just stayed up all night reading the first novel in this new series, and if you haven't heard of James Maxey yet, you have a treat in store. Fantasy at its best! 

 

Bitterwood - james Maxey



by _deb_ on ‎08-09-2010 04:49 PM

Glad to hear that we have an eBook coming....but Circus of Sins is #3 in the series, correct?  I would love to start with #1 or 2 first.  Any idea on when or if we might see those?

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