Saturday, February 12, 2011

Indie Book Review: Chasing Tail

I'd like you to click on the image of the cover of Chasing Tail.  Look at the big version.  Notice how it's just a bit off?  There's nothing wrong with it, but there's also nothing really grabbing about it either.  Unfortunately this is a case where the cover really is a good predictor of the book inside.

I read a lot of erotic fiction.  I've read a lot of just fantastically beautiful erotic fiction that so good it makes you want to hunt down the author and kiss them for benefiting the world with these stories.   As a result this is a genre where I'm picky.   Here's what I want in erotic fiction: decent plot, character development, dialog, and red hot sex.  To add to that I'm also a firm believer that if you're going to write a fantasy set story the magic has to make sense, by which I don't mean it needs to be within the bounds of the normal world, but it has to be consistent.

So, let's start with plot.  Chasing Tail is a collection of six short stories, all bound by one central plot.  The central plot is a great idea; one I've never seen in erotic fiction before: a small community of shape shifters in northern Arkansas dealing with an unknown menace that is kidnapping shifters.  So, we've got a set up with a mystery, magic, the promise of rescue oriented heroics, and the clarity of purpose and thought that comes when your home is threatened.   But the execution of that plot didn't deliver.  It really needed an extra fifty pages to develop the ideas and spend more time on the villain.

Next up: character development.  Cox does a fine job of this.  Her characters are unique.  Playful, geeky, polished, sophisticated, comfortable, whatever the character is, he is well.  There are never any bits of this story where you find yourself thinking, "Nope, I don't buy that.  No one does that!"  Likewise if you take the names off of the characters, you won't find yourself mixing them up. 

The only weakness here is the villain.  He's basically not there.  If he had gotten his own story, this book would have been a lot stronger.  If he had spent more time in any of the other six stories, this would have been a stronger book.   Unfortunately, he's more like a character sketch than an actual character. 

Dialog:  This is probably the most uneven bit of the story.  Some of the characters sound right.  Some of them are perfect in their words.  And some of them sound wrong: it's never anything glaringly off, just bits and pieces that are a bit out of kilter.   Just like the cover of the book, when it's off, it's just not quite right, a touch too archaic or just slightly clunky, as opposed to a nun busting out a tirade of f bombs. 

Smoking hot sex:  I thought the sex was well done.  Playful when playful made sense.  Romantic when it needed to be romantic.  Rough and fast where that worked.  I've only got one quibble with it: too many characters use the same moves.  Sex is like dialog, when you have a bunch of people who live in close proximity, it makes sense that they start to talk like each other.  However, unless the majority of her characters have slept with each other, they're a little too similar in the sack.

Magic:  This is probably the aspect of the book that most disappointed me.  Let me give a little background here, I've read several of Cox's other works, so I know she can write beautiful, magical, Gaimanish fairytales.  I know she can weave magic into the real world and do it elegantly.  That came up short in this work.  All the characters are shape shifters.  But, why?  They could have been any group of not easily identifiable minorities, gays or Jews for example.  In fact, this story probably would have worked better if it had been set in a Jewish community facing a pogrom or the Nazis.  (The lack of well developed villain would have been less glaring if it had been some random Nazi.  We're all familiar enough with that concept to fill in the holes on our own.)  There's no aspect of this story that won't work if the characters are just humans doing the human analog to whatever the animals did. 
The magic also has continuity issues.  If you shift from a human into a significantly bigger animal, your clothing rips to bits.  Good, that makes sense, it's a nice detail.  Then one character shifts into a bear (listed as 8 feet tall) and is suddenly dressed again when he shifts back.  Another example, we learn that the shifters choose their animal.   But the second story is all about a horse shifter who is deeply uncomfortable with the sexual nature of horse magic.  Well, why did he choose to become a horse?  If you can't stand being part of a herd, why pick a herd animal?  (I get the bigger point, a study of a man learning how to balance his libido with his work, but still...)  That story would have made more sense if shifters were born shifters. 

So, all in all, it's not a bad work, the characters are worth getting to know, but there's better out there.  Some of it written by Cox herself. 


  1. "However, unless the majority of her characters have slept with each other.."

    Actually, since this is a small town, that is likely to be true, based on my own experiences growing up in a rural Arkansas town. Especially so if the characters have all gone to high school together.

  2. Hi Rae,

    The characters range in age over about 25 years. So I'm guessing they weren't in high school together. But, yes, small town, smaller shifter community in that town... We never learn anything about the different character's past loves, but it's not unthinkable that they've been with each other.

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