Spider: Jelvia: Not Human (#3), by T. E. Kessler [Review]

I read book #1 in the Jelvia series (Holding out for a Hero) and now have jumped to the most recent installment, Spider. T.E. Kessler has created a unique world in which Humans live alongside a super-human race of Jelvia. This installment delves into the common fetishes and motivations of both races through the eyes of a new protagonist, Beth. There are passing references here to Macy Shaw (the heroine of book #1) and her friend, Courtney (who I believe is the main character of book #2), but this is a stand-alone story that does not really intersect with the others. It is helpful for the reader to be familiar with the backstory of Humans and Jelvia from the earlier books, but it’s not essential.

“Spider” refers to the spider tattoo on the face of Yash, the chief Jelvia villain in the story, whose relationship with Beth drives the plot. Beth lives a very unhappy life, with her alcoholic father, Steven, who is tormented by the grim reality of a car accident that killed his son (Beth’s brother) and left his wife, Alison, in a permanently brain-damaged state. Beth works two jobs to try to keep the family above water, while caring for her mother and father. She’s also grief-stricken by the disappearance of her sister, Lara, whom the police believe was abducted by unknown Jelvia who were seen near Lara’s last known location. So, Beth is on the edge of despair. And just to add to her misery, she broke up with her fiancé, Harry, when all this happened five years ago so that he could have a life not encumbered by her own awful situation.  It’s no wonder that Beth welcomes death, and has little fear of Yash when he rampages through the pub where Beth works and eventually kills a man there, before turning his attention to Beth.

Thinking that the Jelvia have abducted Lara, Beth enters into a Devil’s bargain with Yash, seeking Lara’s release. Yash insists on an installment of his payment in advance, and what Yash wants from Beth is not money. Beth then deals with the aftermath, the continued struggle with her father over his drinking, and then the re-appearance into her life of Harry, who still loves her.

Even putting aside the Jelvian angle in the story, this is a heart-wrenching tale of a woman trying to keep it together as every aspect of her life falls apart around her. Beth’s anguish is the real core of the story. Now, if you were a fan of the sizzling sex scenes in book #1 (I know I was!), this story has much less “romance” and much less heat. It’s a sadder story, although there are some sexually interesting aspects that I won’t spoil for you. But, it’s not a traditional romance – it’s got far more depth. Nor is it traditional sci-fi, but it’s hybrid self is uniquely interesting.

The book is well-written and very well edited (kudos to the editor and author for giving us a very clean text). There are portions of the story that drag a bit as we experience Beth’s day-to-day life. It’s important for us to empathize with Beth, but at times it’s a bit too much “Beth’s life sucks” and not enough plot development or action. Don’t be put off by the lack of immediate action in the beginning – hang with it and it will come. Toward the end, there is a real lull leading up to the ending climax. The end is worth waiting for, but the overall pacing could have been tighter. Still, this is a complex story with well-proportioned characters whose actions and motivations are often unexpected. The plot twists keep you on your toes, and there is a tremendous anticipation of the ultimate resolution between Beth and Yash. It’s not what you expect.

Ms. Kessler has woven together another interesting piece of the Jelvian tapestry. I’ll be looking forward to the next peek into this fascinating world.

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