Frayed: A Madison Lark Novella by Blakely Chorpenning

Rating 3.0/10
Three stars is the same rating I would give Jim Butcher's Storm Front or GRRM's A Feast for Crows.

Fray loves being a semi-pro fighter and free spirit. However, when a deadly faction begins abducting supernatural teens in the Blue Hills of North Carolina for excruciating experiments, she quickly learns there is more to life than glitzy opponents and late night trysts. Fray and a crew of unlikely allies must rescue the children before they are dissected alive. Being a leopard shapeshifter helps. Confronting personal prejudice and traversing feelings for a tempestuous ex do not mix. But Fray is willing to go all the way to stop her world from changing. That is, until the ultimate sacrifice forces her to realize just how overdue change is.

Her most shocking discovery: Everyone’s human. At least a little…

Review by Sky Corbelli

There are two things I look for when reviewing a book: ideas and execution. A story composed of amazing ideas can capture the imagination in spite of any flaws in execution, just as a faultless execution can draw the reader in despite unimaginative ideas. Frayed: A Madison Lark Novella by Blakely Chorpenning is, in both respects, mediocre. I'm certain there are people who would enjoy this book. Unfortunately, those people are not me.

Ideas
Here's something to understand: I love animals. As in, I spent much of my young life working at the SF Zoo and writing/performing wildlife shows there-in. So when I hear about a book that is going combine animals with fantasy (two things I love), it fills me with a strange mixture of hope and fear. It's like the apprehension that comes with seeing a friend for the first time in years. Are they still the same lovable character you once knew? Have they become even more awesome than you could have imagined? Or will they they be unkempt and ask to borrow money? Let me just say, had Frayed taken time and care with the animal aspects it presented, I would have loved the book forever. Alas, any differences between the various were-creatures were reduced to strictly cosmetic. There was so much to work with! I half hoped for an African animal shifter sub-community... a suburban savanna, if you would. Some things to ponder. Leopards are solitary by nature and sneaky as hell. Lions are social and patriarchal and the males are lazy. I'm trying really hard not to go into the size differences... but let's just say that pitting a female leopard against a male lion would be like asking a chihuahua to take on a mastiff. The little dog may get really, really lucky, but only if the mastiff is sleeping.

So the zoo nerd in me will be sitting this one out, that's fine. At least it's still urban fantasy. Shifters who are the basis for ghost myths? Cool, I like it. Vampires, werewolves, curses and dark forests... all the staples were present and accounted for.. There was, however, one rather key item missing. The draw of urban fantasy is the understanding that it could be real. Supernatural beings hiding in plain sight, hidden worlds and well kept secrets, oblivious humans or a really good reason why the normal folk aren't asking questions. The unspoken assumption here is that there are normal humans. So where are they? Throughout the course of this story, we meet shifters of all shapes and sizes, vampires and werewolves popping up left and right, and a grand total of one human. And he's already clued in. Shifters tear apart the landscape, vampires explode on city streets... where my muggles at? Do they know about all this supernatural business? Are there any kinds of rules that regulate interactions? Anything? These are things that should be explored! This is less urban fantasy and more fantasy that happens to be in an urban setting.

Don't get me wrong, there are some good ideas here. Underground MMA shifter fights, which we honestly didn't see enough of. Monsters who are people too, and therefore prejudiced against anyone not like them. What this book is isn't bad, I simply lament what it could have been.

Execution
You know what I want to see in a book? Well-developed characters. To some extent, Madison Lark is such a character. Sure, she's completely one-dimensional... but by the end of the book, at least it's a different one-dimension. She progresses from being prejudiced, antagonistic and confrontational to being open-minded, compassionate and confrontational. The progression feels natural, and her journey is well thought out. Personally, I don't like her, but kudos to the author for writing a believable character who comes to terms with her own flaws in a realistic way.

Sadly, she was the only developed character. And there were a lot of characters. Every time someone new entered, they got a blurb. Name and body type. Physical description. Main character's impressions of them. File that information away... or just forget about it, since most of them made no real contribution to the story. Let me make this perfectly clear: data dumping is not character development. Show, don't tell. This applies to characters too. Is the ex-boyfriend an unrepentant womanizer? Have him leer at some women! Tell humorous stories about his exploits! Don't tell me that he has a personality, give him one! Now, I realize that this was just a novella. I understand that there just wasn't enough time to explore everything. And I wonder... why not? Take the time. Tell the story that deserves to be told, and I'll read it.

There were many out-of-character decisions, and that bothers me. I'll assume it was because I just didn't understand the characters fully and leave it at that.

So about the bad guys... you know what makes Magneto such a great villain? You can empathize with him. No matter how evil he gets, you can see where he's coming from and would most likely be there with him, in his position. Child torturing shadowy organizations of murderers that have apparently been around forever and hate everyone, including themselves, however... I know we're supposed to dislike them, but seriously? A little common ground could have gone a long way.

This brings me to the most egregious sin of the Frayed execution: the betrayal. It's a dark urban fantasy, you know there's going to be one. You anticipate it, savor the coming shock and horror, and when it happens you really shouldn't say, "Huh? Who?" and then need to search the book for references to an obscure character who only showed up once. I didn't even realize why everyone was so upset until the main character came out explicitly came out and said it.. And I went back through and looked for this, because it's important. Was there an off-scene conversation during the big fight? A heartfelt confession that we never heard? Maybe one of the ghosts saw something... I don't know, but chalking it up to magical-leopard-awareness-of-guilt doesn't sit well with me.

The book was also often quite verbose. Pot, kettle, I know, I know.

Apology
Okay, I realize that this review comes off as harsh. But I only criticize because I care. This story has potential. I would love to find out what it becomes. Three stars is the same rating I would give Jim Butcher's Storm Front or GRRM's A Feast for Crows. There's some good company there, especially for a first time author, and just because I didn't like the book doesn't mean that it isn't worth reading. So if you really like urban fantasy, enjoy giving new authors a chance (as you should), or just think that I'm a right bastard for being so nasty, give this book a try.

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