It’s been a week since I finished the first two books in Shelly Laurenston’s frothy, ridiculous, and addictive series, Call of Crows. I mention the length of time before writing this review because my brain has rather eliminated many of the plot points and details that distinguish the books from each other, so I’ll be grabbing synopses from Goodreads and asking your forgiveness for my laziness. Most relevant points of interest to this review are these:
1) If you like the idea of paranormal romance but have struggled to find an author that nails the execution, it’s worth giving Laurenston a shot
2) Corollary to the above, I personally plan on reading the rest of this series as the books roll out, and reading Laurenston’s other books.
The Unleashing 3 stars
“Kera Watson never expected to face death behind a Los Angeles coffee shop. Not after surviving two tours lugging an M16 around the Middle East. If it wasn’t for her hot Viking customer showing up too late to help, nobody would even see her die.
In uncountable years of service to the Allfather Odin, Ludvig “Vig” Rundstöm has never seen anyone kick ass with quite as much style as Kera. He knows one way to save her life—but she might not like it. Signing up with the Crows will get Kera a new set of battle buddies: cackling, gossiping, squabbling, party-hearty women. With wings. So not the Marines.
But Vig can’t give up on someone as special as Kera. With a storm of oh-crap magic speeding straight for L.A., survival will depend on combining their strengths: Kera’s discipline, Vig’s loyalty… and the Crows’ sheer love of battle. Boy, are they in trouble.”
The Undoing 4 stars
“No one would ever accuse Jace Berisha of having an easy life—considering her husband…you know…killed her. But that was then! Now she fights for mighty Viking gods with the spectacular and vicious Crows.
But things are turning very bad, very quickly because a vengeful, ancient goddess has come into the world with just one thing on her mind—ending it. And the only way they can hope to stop her is if the Crows join forces with their one-time enemies, the Protectors. A Viking Clan created to do nothing but kill every Crow they see.
Thankfully, Protector Ski Eriksen is a peace loving kind of guy. Because the woman he is desperately trying to get close to is the beautiful and not-very-chatty Jace. Battling Nordic clans? Unkillable goddesses? Jace’s mean-spirited dog? None of these things would ever get in the way of a true Viking!”
These books evoke some of PNR giant Kresley Cole’s best qualities while largely avoiding what makes her books mostly unpalatable for me. For instance, both authors delightfully don’t take themselves too seriously, and the books derive a tone of irreverence from that. Their senses of humor seem to be similar, and both have a good knack for establishing a complex in-universe mythololgy. Where Cole always falls short for me is how her books are lousy with internalized misogyny, whether it’s in overly controlling and aggressive alpha males who steamroll over the heroine’s agency, or just the constant liberal application of gender-essentialist tropes that undermine the female characters’ competence, strength, and independence.
By comparison, Laurenston has centered this series around a rock-solid sisterhood dynamic. The Crows are women who, after death, were given a second chance at life by Skuld — a Fate, basically, from Norse mythology, if you like me were unfamiliar — and they are bound by loyalty to their clan. Somewhat realistically, especially to anyone who has lived in a sorority house, there is occasional in-fighting, but Laurenston, so far, is very clear on this: the sister Crows are a united, indivisible group of women who have each others’ backs.
It’s not all perfect, especially if you are not enamored of women calling each other bitches, either endearingly or in a fight. The Crows run a little hot-tempered, encouraged by Skuld to be driven by rage in their second lives. But I still have to overall commend these books for treating the female friendships as just as important, if not moreso, than the romances. In fact, the amount of time that both books devote to the missions the women complete together and the interactions at the Bird House where they all live might even outweigh the alone time between the romantic leads. The acknowledgement that women have other women in their lives, even while they’re starting to fall in love, is refreshing.
Also refreshing? The men they fall in love with. These are alphas in the style that I can actually get on board with. They’re confident, capable, strong, very good in a fight against evil, and incredibly sexy. But also, they are considerate, respectful, and devoted without being domineering. They want what is best for heroine, but they — shockingly! — let her decide for herself what that is, trusting her intelligence and capability. As a result, the relationships had the quality of feeling effortlessly natural. There was no manufactured drama or a Big Misunderstanding, just two people getting to know each other and figuring out each others’ quirks, treating each other like equals and discovering how well they worked together. It was just… really nice to read, to be honest.
The first book, The Unleashing, suffers a bit from being somewhat overstuffed, burdened with the responsibility of world-building and exposition-dumping the whole backstory of the Crows on top of heroine Kera’s individual story. But it’s worth sticking it out, both to see Kera growing into her second life and as a foundation for the rest of the series, which I am looking forward to. Laurenston hit just the right note of fun, fantastical escapsism for me and I’m glad to have an author in this subgenre whom I feel I can trust.