This so wanted to be a teenaged, feminine Dresden files...

Kill It With Magic (The Lillim Callina Chronicles Book 1) - J. A. Cipriano

I haven't posted here in ages! But I promised a review for this book, so... 


I received this audiobook free from Audiobook Blast! in exchange for an honest review; thanks. I just wish that I could honestly give it a more positive review, especially since it’s my first book through the program.




It’s a sort of odd young adult-flavored cross between [book:Gardens of the Moon] and the Dresden Files. This is not meant as a compliment. It attempts the cocky quippy fast-paced style of Dresden, and also boasts many similar features: it’s in the first person; there are vampires who are succubi, “the nether”(essentially the Never-Never), named and powerful swords, “Ethereal sight”, and main characters who go into battle with a snarky remark and get the ever-loving snot beaten out of them several times and still bounce back up with another snarky remark (or deliver said remark from the ground while still unable to get back up).


What reminded me of Malazan was an irritating refusal to info-dump. Now, <a href=“”>info-dump</a> is usually a bad thing; it’s one of the hallmarks of poor writing. But its polar opposite is, I think, in its way just as bad, where the story galumphs along and tosses out fragments of detail without any attempt to weave it together or explain much of anything at all.


The latter is what happens here. Words are tossed out, from Japanese phrases to setting-specific phrases, with no explanation. What on earth is the shield of Kongounoikutai? Why are Japanese phrases used in spells, especially when the girl’s Japanese swords are (bizarrely) named for Egyptian gods, and why is “White Sparrow” in English? The heroine lives in Southern California, we are told (it has zero bearing on the story), and it is mentioned that there’s a sort of glamor that keeps normal people from seeing creatures like demons and such. So, I thought, fairly standard contemporary urban fantasy setting. But then came this: “Now Rome was home to little more than biker gangs and street rats, a stunningly permanent reminder of the horrors of war.” It turns out that Rome, and Jerusalem, have been nuked. What war? When? Long enough ago that Lillim can wander through Rome without hazmat gear. By whom? In what context? Who knows? But there is silver dust in the air, and that is completely unexplained. It is an effective deterrent to weres – but was it done on purpose to keep weres out? Don’t know. Lillim’s story is, eventually, fairly well fleshed out, but it takes a while, and the setting in general is still up in the air by the end of the book.


And the plot? It starts off with a message calling her on a quest, but then she is sidelined by another mission, and then something else happens, and by an hour in the plot is as tangled as the proverbial bag filled with yarn and kittens.


It's a kind of a kitchen-sink story: Bears and Owls and weres and dragons and vampires (and a vampire “founder” named Bob) – only apparently the bears and owls are vampires? And succubi, who are, as in Harry Dresden, another breed of vampires. A katana and a wakazashi (with Egyptian names) (and introduced almost every time they appear – “my katana, Isis”, “my wakazashi, Set”) (and from what I can tell it ought to be wak-<b>I</b>-zashi) – a twice-kidnapped baby; demons (with souls?) and Deoscuri, ghosts, nuclear war … reincarnation and gargoyles. Talking swords. “Goblin maintenance” on the apartment. A pet hedgehog (with no meteorological awareness). And oh you have got to be kidding me, an asteroid. No – several. Or, you know, meteors; the words are used interchangeably. (They’re not interchangeable.) Wait a minute, wait a minute – a Magic Eight Ball?! Oh. Lord.


I’m sure there’s a way to incorporate this much … stuff – but this isn't it.

I seem to always say this, but there are some good things in here. That’s why I originally gave it two stars instead of one. It’s just so hard to discern the good stuff in the flurry of cliché and excess.


Take the main character, our Heroine Lillim Callina (who is usually referred to by her full name). She’s been reincarnated, sort of. She’s sixteen, but not really, being both much younger and much older. She looks just like her previous incarnation, and spends half the book protesting that she isn't Dirge (yup, Dirge. I was disappointed when I saw it in print). Her mother is terrible (Ivan the Terrible terrible), so she lives on her own – with a ghost (and a hedgehog). (How she pays for her “tiny” apartment is, I think, never explained.) Her appearance? “I had soft lavender hair. It was so pale that it was nearly white. I’d taken to dyeing it black to cut down on the stares from random people. I had to do this pretty often, because, for whatever reason, my hair would start to lighten after a couple days.” Why? To reiterate: “For whatever reason.” She has a scary ex-boyfriend (we are told he’s scary, though not why for a while), and there’s another guy who gives her tingles (no, sorry, the nauseously coy phrase actually used is the “tightening of things low in my body”), and neither can be trusted (unless they can), and frankly I never got them straight. For me they were as interchangeable as asteroids and meteors, but I might not have been paying much attention; I had just noted to myself, happily, that there was no current love interest when abruptly there appeared a rather Biblically named love triangle. Lillim isn't very big, and says several times she’s not very strong, and <i>she’s sixteen</i>, but she kicks the butt of every opponent she comes across (but still needs rescuing in the end). (Which is why I made sounds of protest when she said “You came to rescue me. …No one’s ever done something like that for me.”) At one point she says “Of all the elements ice was the one I had never quite mastered”… Aside from the fact that ice is not an element, isn't it a bit remarkable that at sixteen she has apparently mastered all of the other elements? Unless she’s including her past life/lives. Basically, she’s sixteen when it is convenient, and whatever else when that is useful.


The writing… I liked the semi-Dresden-esque quality; it was pulled off fairly well, in places. But the majority of sentences follow the same basic structure: "I (verb)", "He (verb)", "I (verb)", "It (verb)"... (see example above, re: hair). And the author leans very, <I>very</i> heavily on simile. I enjoy a good simile, and some of these are good: “The inside of the room felt like wet breath”. Most, though, are not: “The rain was coming down so hard that it was like standing in a monsoon” (the common usage of “monsoon” basically means “heavy rain”, so the heavy rain was like … heavy rain); “eyes surveying me like a prowling lioness” (her eyes were like the lioness? Or the eyes of the lioness?). A search on Google Books brings up 94 uses of the word “like”, but with current books it won’t search the whole text so I’m sure there are many more; simile is used several times <i>per page</i>. “His hand burst from the ground like a zombie… Pain, so intense that it was like rubbing lemon juice soaked sandpaper on my flesh”…


And there is a fair larding of cliché, unfortunately, including among the similes: “parting like the Red Sea”, “lit up like a Christmas tree”, “Well look what the cat dragged in”.


And repetition. Now and then it’s as though the author came up with a phrase she enjoyed so much she couldn't resist using it again. The problem with a neat phrase is that it might be memorable, and noticeable when used more than once. “The blade would be no more than a pretty sword” is used twice. The repulsive “blood and thicker things” is used at least twice. Also, repetition of cliché stands out: “not high on my bucket list” “neither of those ranked very highly on my bucket list”. There is also far too much reiteration of fact – yes, I know Maddoc the ghost will not appear in front of others. Yes, I know you’re not Dirge. Yes, I know your swords’ names. Overall, there was often a sense of <i>I just want to make sure the reader gets the point</i>: “There was a loud pop, almost like an exploding balloon as the butterflies within him exploded.” But tell me … what did it sound like? In one paragraph you find “She moved” “I couldn't move” “with one exaggerated movement”. Voices are compared with food at least twice: one voice like chocolate and cream; “voice rolled over me like warm honey”. There are not one but two edifices made of human flesh (and I could have lived without ever coming across one). I did a Google count on two words: “like”, and “so”. The latter came up 89 times. “So cold”, “so suddenly”, “so close”, “so bright”, “so hot”, “so wide”, “so loud”… “so much so” … This might not be an unusual usage of these words, but it stood out.


The profanity bothered me a bit; maybe things have changed, but no one swore this much when I was sixteen, and I found the blasphemies particularly grating. For one thing, a user of magic ought to be more careful using words of power, and the name of God is a powerful word. But then again the author/main character seems a bit unclear on some aspects of Christianity: "The nails used to impale Christ" may be technically correct, but … isn’t. Also, you’re not really allowed to accompany someone to Hell. That’s kind of part of the point.


There are a number of silly gaffes throughout the book. Mattoc the ghost goes missing – so Lillim physically searches her apartment. For a ghost. She notes to herself that the hedgehog isn't concerned about the asteroid. (Tell me true, should it be? Really?) She whips out a gun over and over in the many fights she gets into – but not a single one of the things she shoots is discommoded for more than a few minutes. (And where she gets hold of all these firearms, not to mention magical swords and other weapons, isn't really explained – but she always, always has one or more ready to hand.) She mentions having two last special bullets, but as far as I could tell she fires three. Language bloopers include - among several others - the misuse of “impales”, as above, and “grabbed me by the scruff of my collar”. “Return to me when you have gained the respect worthy of your master” – um, what? 


This might not be so much a gaffe, as (to me) evidence of poor taste: “It was like walking through one of those oil paintings that didn't focus on details quite as much as it should have.” I'm sorry, are you referring to (and dissing) Impressionism? Really?


For the most part I enjoyed the narration by Rebecca Roberts – except that, twice, the “c” in “scintillating” was pronounced, which made me twitch. There were the usual missteps in inflection here and there – emphasis on the wrong word in a sentence – but almost all narrators fall victim to that. Character voices were all right, though Lillim was a bit too little girl. I won’t avoid this reader in future, but neither will I seek her out.


Meantime, I think I rather will avoid this author. I’d rather read the actual Dresden Files. Or maybe even Malazan. I was leaving it at two stars because it didn't actually make me want to throw anything, but if I realize I'd rather read Malazan than anything else by this author... Yeah. One star it is.