I have a confession, I am a VPeep, yes that's right. I am a Vicki Pettersson fangirl. It's partly because she is a Vegas girl and I love that connection in her stories, but also because she writes dark urban fantasy and I love it. She isn't afraid to torture her characters or break the rules for the sake of the story. The last book in the series was shocking and turned the series upside down on its head. The main character, Joanna, was forever changed to the point that many thought the series was over with.. Yet, the series isn't over and Pettersson returns to torture us, and Joanna, in the fifth installment of the Signs of the Zodiac series, Cheat the Grave.
The Signs of the Zodiac series feature not vampires, or werewolves, or any other typical supernatural character.... but instead modern super heroes. The world is made up of Agents of Light and Shadow, battling to keep the world balanced with the events being recorded in comic books, known to the agents as manuals. Our main protagonist is Joanna, an Agent of Light, mostly. Her mother was Zoe Archer, the Sagitarrius Agent of Light while her father was the Tulpa, the evil genius in control of the Shadow Agents in Las Vegas.
Joanna Archer is tough, hard, bitter, angry, battle worn, and alone. Abandoned by her mother and practically disowned by her assumed father, she started off this series all of these things and more. When I read the first book I wondered where she could possibly go from there? Over the last 4 books she has found companionship and family through her troop and some unexpectedly inherited friends and family. She has been trained to be a deadly weapon, but she has also softened in her judgment and acceptance of those around her. She lets people into her life and get to know her and becomes a better character because of it. Yet letting people in often means getting hurt, and Joanna is no exception. Her troop has abandoned her, her lover betrayed her....she is once again alone and wondering what she has left to live for.
Cheat the Grave gives us a rare look at our super heroine weak and vulnerable. Joanna is wallowing in self pity and unsure of where she belongs. This part of the book was the hardest part for me to read, I didn't enjoy it but I know it was necessary and real. I wanted to smack Jo upside the head and tell her to snap out of it - she was a tough kick ass chick, not some mopey do nothing! As a side effect, this section was the slowest for me to read and I found myself wishing things were moving a bit faster.
Things picked up and the story shined for me as new characters were introduced to Joanna's world. Cast out of the Light and not willing to be Shadow, Jo is looking for some place to belong. Rogue agents, independents no longer light or shadow, make themselves known to her and she is forced to question her beliefs about light and dark. Can there be Gray and is she willing to be part of it? The Gray Agents are all interesting characters that will make you smile, Carlos especially. Even Zoe Archer makes an appearance, and man she kicks some serious ass.
Cheat the Grave teases us mercilessly through Jo and Hunter's relationship, bringing to light new facts and background information. The connection between the two is as strong as ever and a I can't wait to see what is in store in book 6. The end of this one left me with hope for them, but Vicki Pettersson is known for taking that hope and stomping on it while laughing maniacally.
In the end, Cheat the Grave is another great installment in the series, featuring a few "oh my god no way" moments you don't want to miss. It may have been a bit slow moving at times but the story telling and world building more than make up for it. Joanna Archer is at her limits and this book just pushes her harder, asking what will she do? What is she really made of? In this gritty dirty urban fantasy there are no happy endings, but if you are looking for great story telling and riveting character growth, this one is for you.