Series Spotlight: Elemental Assassin by Jennifer Estep
I just finished a massive re-read of every novel, novella, and short story of the Elemental Assassin series. Actually, I listened to most of it, since all seventeen novels and one novella are available in audio. It was fabulous! I just love Gin and the gang and all the justice she brings to Ashland and beyond.
Author: Jennifer Estep
Series: Elemental Assassin
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Cover: Tony Mauro
Description (from Goodreads): The Elemental Assassin series focuses on Gin Blanco, an assassin code-named the Spider who can control the elements of Ice and Stone. When she’s not busy killing people and righting wrongs, Gin runs a barbecue restaurant called the Pork Pit in the fictional Southern metropolis of Ashland. The city is also home to giants, dwarves, vampires, and elementals – Air, Fire, Ice, and Stone.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
Invested Ivana says…
Seventeen novels and ten novellas/shorts make for a lot of time to invest in a series. But long series are perfect for a reader like me who invests heavily in the characters and their lives. Every new book is a chance to visit with my friends, and I always want to know what happens next in their lives because happily-ever-after just doesn’t happen. If you haven’t invested in the series yet, or have just dipped your toe into a book or two, here are some observations about the series that you might want to know.
Ashland is the Gotham City of the South.
By that, I mean that Gin’s world is governed by the rules, not of reality, but of graphic novels. Picture any Batman movie–Ashland, like Gotham City, is chock full of bad guys and their thugs/minions–probably more baddies than regular folk. And some of the “baddies” are actually the good guys! Though there is no Penguin, Catwoman, or Riddler, there is a mix of super-human citizens–giants, dwarves, vampires, and those with elemental magic–who, for the most part, are just as “human” as anyone else but with a few physical bonuses.
The world is highly stylized, with individuals and businesses identifying themselves via runes placed on everything from business cards to jewelry to kitchen decorations. Plus, some villains go in for a theme, dressing themselves, their minions, and their environments like Wild West cowboys, 1920-era mobsters, Renaissance-fair actors, etc. Thugs and minions are killed in droves, but their deaths are of consequence only if they drive the plot forward. Secrets are revealed from beyond the grave as though the deceased had uncanny prescience, and the elimination of each opponent brings a bigger, badder villain forward. And, of course, there are wildly wealthy people everywhere.
While the characters, their motivations, and their relationships are fully fleshed out, rich, and realistic, the sett
ing follows its own rules, similar to those of Gotham City. Understanding those rules allows your suspension-of-disbelief skills to flourish, and you’ll enjoy the story that much more.
There are three main story arcs (so far).
The other day, I was chatting with a friend who was criticizing long series for being “repetitive and formulaic.” Though I understand her point, I argue that it depends on WHICH STORY you’re focused on. As with all good TV and book series, there is the episodic story — each book or short — and there is the story arc — the events that tie a whole season together. I love story arcs. A well-written series pulls me from book to book because there is a compelling arc. Each episode fleshes out the characters, deepens relationships, introduces new players, and gives the characters new knowledge or skills that lead them toward the completion of the arc. Now, I admit that those arcs can be more obvious when you “binge” a series, like I just did. That is why I love rereading books; I get to see how all the pieces fit together toward the story arc. Some readers just don’t have that kind of patience with or invest that much in series, and that’s fine. Stand-alone novels, duologies, and trilogies are made for those kinds of readers.
From what I can see, there are three main story arcs in the Elemental Assassin series. The first five books or so deal with Gin’s back story and her nemesis. The next seven or so books explore the back stories of some of the other main characters while dealing with the consequences of the first arc, including a successor villain that turns the tables on Gin’s world view a bit. This arc may seem a bit meandering to some readers, but new characters are introduced, existing characters are fleshed out, and everything we learn about them pays off in the end. The final arc is in progress at the time of this writing, and I can already tell it’s going to be amazing. After finishing the most recent novel (Venom in the Veins), I’m on the seat of my pants to see what Gin finds out next!
Taken individually, each book is about Gin and her friends solving a mystery and fighting a bad guy, and I guess you could call that repetitive and formulaic if you want. But each episode adds something to the story arc, and that arc is what compels me.
The entire series takes place in a short amount of time.
Though the series has been in progress since 2010, far less than nine years have passed in book time. My best guess is that the whole series takes place over two to three years or so, not counting a couple of “flashback” stories. I want to say there have been two Christmas parties since the first novel — one at Owen’s and one at the Pork Pit (Jennifer–correct me if that’s wrong!) It would be interesting to see a calendar layout marked with the time frame for each book.
It can be hard for readers to keep “book time” and real time separate while reading a series, but it can often help put some things in perspective if you remember how little time has passed in Ashland since we first met Gin.
The audiobook version is fantastic.
If you’re an audiobook fan, you should know that Lauren Fortgang is superb at portraying Gin and all the characters of Ashland. I understand that the appeal of narrators’ voices can be subjective, so take that for what it’s worth, but not only do I find Fortgang fantastic, but after seventeen novels, she is SO totally ingrained in my head as the voice of the Elemental Assassin series. Unfortunately, that made listening to the only novella in audio, Nice Guys Bite, narrated by David Marantz, difficult. Marantz is a fine narrator, but he’s not “the” narrator for this series, and audiobook listeners feel strongly about the continuity of narrators.
So I want to say a huge THANK YOU to Audible for producing Venom in the Veins using Lauren Fortgang even though Pocket dropped the Elemental Assassin series (WTF, Pocket?) and Venom in the Veins was self-published (also thank you to Jennifer and to Tony Mauro for maintaining the continuity of cover art!) I also hope that someday, when publishing rights can all be arranged without breaking the bank, Jennifer can publish an anthology or two of all the shorts and novellas and that Audible will produce them with Fortgang as narrator. Because of Fortgang’s performance, Elemental Assassin is one of those series I’d rather hear than read.
Feeling like there’s no justice in this world? Gin can help!
Hopefully, my observations about the series will spark your interest in reading, re-reading, or listening to Elemental Assassin. But if not, here’s one that might: vicarious bloody justice. Right now, our world feels like Gotham City — full of wealthy, corrupt villains who too often get away with their evil deeds. Even well-adjusted, non-sociopaths need to indulge in a revenge-fantasy or two just to stay sane.
Reading the Elemental Assassin series is a socially-acceptable way to exercise your revenge fantasies. Assassin Gin Blanco goes after those wealthy, manipulating, corrupt, exploiting, entitled asshats, stabs them with her knives, and bathes in their blood. So the next time you feel oppressed by the wealthy, cheated by politicians, or angered by the news, crack open an Elemental Assassin book and let Gin take down the baddies for you.