I can’t remember how I first heard of this book, but after getting a used copy, it stayed on my TBR pile until I saw a review at mardelwanda‘s livejournal. Mardel said of the main character, Sylvie: “She’s kind of mean, kind of angry. But I actually enjoyed reading her angry sarcastic comments. She’s just so damned mad and tough she doesn’t care who she’s mouthing off too, a god, an erinyes, witch, whoever. You get the feeling, from hints, that she’s killed a lot of….beings.”
So I was intrigued. A pissed off character. It can go either way. I mean, a character that rubs you the wrong way can make or break a book for the reader, if they’re just jerks, that’s no good, but if there’s depth and development to them and it gets really interesting.
The Premise: Sylvie Lightener is a a private investigator specializing in paranormal cases. She’s been through a lot, including the recent killing of one of her employees, and in an effort to protect the people around her, she’s closing up shop. Just as she does, one last customer comes in. This man tells her: “My name is Kevin Dunne. I am the god of Justice. And I need your help.” He wants Sylvie to find his missing lover, who he can’t find anywhere, but he knows that he is still alive. Since Sylvie isn’t really allowed to say no, she flies to Chicago to investigate.
This is the first in a new series called Shadows Inquires. Lyn Benedict also writes as Lane Robins (Maledicte – which I haven’t read)
My Thoughts: I thought Sins & Shadows was well-written. Good sense of place (Chicago), characters with depth, and good pacing. I’ve seen reviews who disagreed about the pacing, but for me I just picked it up to read the first chapter and then it was 2 hours later and I’d read 150 pages. It starts out as a mystery, but turns into much more. I think my favorite part was anything to do with the gods and how they worked. Actually, how magic worked. This book had some really interesting ideas that sort of made me go, “Ohhh. Cool.” because it made sense and things fit together. Most of it was about the Greek gods, but the Christian god fits into it as well, and the way Benedict brings in well-known characters associated with the deities (such as the Furies and others) was really nicely done.
The big make-it-or-break-it part of the book is definitely (as you’d guess from what I’d said about pissed off characters) Sylvie. You know how it can be really annoying when the main character is the type who just doesn’t know when to shut up? It’s a really close line here. I can see people finding Sylvie abrasive, but for me, these moments came in spurts (the more danger she’s in, the worse she is). She starts off mean to her loyal employee Alex, trying to get Alex to stay away from the job in an effort to protect her, but then after that Sylvie didn’t really seem that bad until much later on. It actually seems to work with the plot, which I was a little impressed by. There is an angry voice inside her which she hears, and I was beginning to wonder if that had deeper implications, but you have to read the whole book to see what I’m talking about. Sylvie is a dark heroine, one who is flawed in a way where I disagreed with what she was doing and saying. She’s very motivated by revenge. It clouds her judgement where others look at her in dismay but she refuses to budge in her thinking. Yet this works because she has to deal with the consequences of this, and I want to know if she can redeem herself or not. It’s truly a toss-up, because all through this book, she hasn’t done enough assure me that she can change. It makes me really want to read the next book though and find out. Weird, huh?
One issue I had with the book would probably be that I kept getting the sense that I was reading the second book of a series rather than the first. The first chapter throws you in midstream with Sylvie closing up shop and you don’t really find out why until much later. Then there’s Sylvie and Alex’s shared back story which sounds substantial but only piece together bit and pieces of it. And there’s Sylvie’s relationship with ISI agent Michael Demalion and other hints dropped here and there about Sylvie’s past. I wanted to know more information but because it wasn’t directly related to the current action, it wasn’t forthcoming. I hope this is remedied in later books.
Overall: Has a pissed off main character, so avoid if you hate that, but I think there’s so much potential there for character growth, and I’m so interested in what the author did here that I’m looking forward to the next book. (So I guess I kinda liked it).
Other reviews (a mixed bag):
Calico-reaction – rated it “give it away”
Mardelwanda – liked reading the book
Fantasy debut – a neutral review I think..