I remember when I read the first book to this series, The Scent of Shadows, back in 2007. It was so different; it really stood out from the bookshelves filled with Buffy Vampire slayers and Werewolf lovers, or vice versa. Not that there is anything wrong with either one of those things if done right but it was so refreshing to find a brand new world. In Pettersson’s Urban Fantasy, there is not a Vampire, or a werewolf to be found, but there are all kinds of new crazy villains and screwed up heroes.
Set in the already loco world of Las Vegas, the series is mixed with two troops of supernaturally powerful people, both good and evil, whose powers came from their zodiac signs and who continuously fought each other, with the balance in Las Vegas always in jeopardy. The books also featured children who ran a comic bookstore and knew the truth about these superheroes. They provided a sanctuary of sorts for either side and created comic books that told the truth about their activities. The Comic store kid’s belief actually provided the power for the characters. The books were exciting, and while the violence and the action were extreme, in an almost Manga like way, the world of Signs of the Zodiac was refreshing in its creativity.
Joanna Archer was a seriously damaged protagonist, her entire life riddled with tragedy. A victim of a terrible assault, a stepfather never loved her and her mother abandoned her, she had two people she believed in and loved, her sister Olivia and her boyfriend. When Olivia was killed, and with Joanna coming into her powers, the troop took her in but changed her appearance to match that of her dead sister’s to hide her from the one person who wanted her dead more than anything and hated her with a passion, her true father, the Tulpa, a Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker situation. This of course caused a problem as her boyfriend couldn’t know she was her dead sister. It sounds more confusing then it was. Or maybe not. It was pretty confusing with all the identities going around.
Joanna learned her mother had been a member of the troop and had left her as a way of trying to avoid her coming to the Tulpa’s attention, to protect her. As the series continued we learned her mother had actually never really left her but had watched over her and protected her. Joanna was trained by the troop to control her newfound abilities, learned to fight her evil father, and found a new, albeit dysfunctional family and a new love, Hunter.
Then a few books ago, she lost everything she’d gained. In order to save a human child, she lost her super powers, without those her new family “the troop” kicked her out, and the man she’d given her heart to, appeared to abandon her for another. Joanna had to learn how to survive on her own and find a reason to live.
As the series progressed, a plot convention, Midheaven, slowed me down a little. Midheaven is a place between our world and the next where a former superhero Solange had become an evil goddess, trapping men and using their energy to fuel her world. Joanna’s lover Hunter got trapped in Midheaven a couple books ago, and for me at least, the series got a little as well. Action and dialogue are Pettersson’s strengths. Her action is like watching a movie and her dialogue is snappy, snarky and well….like watching a movie. Midheaven did not play to these two strengths as it was so dreamy and became, again for me….hard to visualize.
Traveling there and back was particularly hard to keep track of, with spiritual doorways, and astral traveling, cigarettes that wouldn’t kill the smoker but would destroy anyone whose smoke they touched. There was a saloon with men gambling away pieces of their souls, and people’s eyes were getting turned into gems. I really struggled to keep track of what was happening, and just gave up on why. There was one room where a lot of the action took place that I never was able to grasp how it looked in my mind, which kept throwing me out of the scene. I actually got out a paper and pen and tried to draw it and gave up. Of course, I’ve never been much of an artist!
Back in Las Vegas, on solid ground the books would always pick right back up and be exciting and easy to visualize, with wonderful snappy, snarky dialogue, crosses and double crosses, and explosive showdowns.
In this, the final installment Joanna reminds me of the Lynda Hamilton’s character, the mother in Terminator 2. She’s human, but she’s a total badass. Tried in the fire , Joanna makes better choices in this book and will not give up, she will not leave Hunter to be tortured by the evil Solange. She goes back and back and back. There in lay the strength and the weakness for me. Despite the risks (which were higher now than ever) Joanna must try to rescue Hunter/overcome Solange, try to keep her new troop of other outcast troop members, “the Grey’s” together, must protect her secret and finally kill her evil father.
Despite my frustration with the plot device of Midheaven, this was a very enjoyable series finale. She did a great job of wrapping up all the pieces and providing a solid ending to the Signs of the Zodiac series. It’s been a fun ride, and while I am sorry to see it end, I’m so glad to see the way it ended.