The author’s steampunk series, ‘The Emperor’s Edge’, has built up quite a following, but this is something very different, the start of an urban fantasy [*] series, set the southwestern US. The setting may be different, but the principle is the same: a collection of interesting characters, a pacy action-packed adventure with loads of unexpected twists and some great humour.
Here’s the starting point:
archaeology drop-out Delia and geek Simon are trying to get a business
off the ground discovering buried artifacts and flogging them to
collectors. Temi is a old friend of Delia’s, a former tennis pro on hard
times. There’s also another old friend who handily analyses DNA samples
when necessary, and a couple of weird guys on Harleys. Oh, and a
monster. A going-round-randomly-killing-people-in-the-dead-of-night type
monster. When Our Heroes stumble across a body in a cave, they find
themselves sucked into a bizarre monster-hunting expedition. And when I
say ‘sucked into’, I mean, of course, that they rush around following
mysterious footprints or bloodtrails or exploring underground caverns
with wilful disregard for their own safety.
For the first half
of this book, I felt like I was reading the script for one of those
cheap summer horror movies. Monster. Check. Bunch of nice, harmless
kids. Check. Lots of stalking, screaming and desperate attempts to
escape. Check. Yes, it’s all a bit cheesy but then there are some
wait-what? moments. The two Harley riders who speak no known language
(‘It’s not Klingon’, says the linguistics professor, deadpan). The
non-human blood. The magic glowing sword (I kid you not). And the
monster’s made of what? And the humour made me laugh out loud, which is
always a plus, in my book.
The characters don’t sparkle yet, but
this is the first in the series, and it’s hard to squeeze in all the
character-building background when Our Heroes are frantically trying to
escape the monster’s claws. Simon is a stock geek, more interested in
apps and gadgets and blog posts than common sense, and a bit awkward
with the ladies. Delia - well, I don’t get much of an impression of
Delia. Both of them are far too ready to go careering after monsters or
mysteriously hostile men, but then there wouldn’t be much of a story if
they weren’t. Temi is more interesting, with her falling out with her
family, her tennis and the sudden loss of that, and another mysterious
quality which I won’t reveal but it’s intriguing. She was a little
uneven, on the one hand perfectly ready to dive into whatever adventure
the other two were haring off on, but also the voice of reality: “Guys,
is this a sensible thing to do?” But if the main trio fell slightly
flat, the two men on Harleys more than made up for it. I do like
ultra-mysterious but very cool blokes. And there is one other character
now on the loose that I am very much looking forward to seeing again.
is a slightly lumpy start to the series, but that’s a very common
problem. Once the characters settle down and start to gel I’m sure a lot
of the rough edges will be smoothed away. For now, this is a
straightforward, lightweight adventure caper, easy to read and a lot of
fun, especially once the main chase begins, around the halfway point.
There are a number of implausibilities, but, for me anyway, the humour
more than makes up for it. The modern setting allows for a lot of
quick-fire jokes, which you don’t actually need to be a Trekkie to
appreciate (although maybe it helps). I wavered between three and four
stars, but I’ll be generous on the grounds that a new series always
needs time to iron out the kinks. Four stars.
[*] Look, the
author self-defines it as urban fantasy, OK? So I'll go with that. But
honestly, I don’t know what the hell it is - sci-fi or fantasy or
paranormal or some wild mash-up of all of them. And honestly, it doesn’t
really matter what you call it.