The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay

[info]mardelwanda was kind enough to forward on her copy of The Better Part of Darkness after I’d commented on wanting to try out the book in her review.

The Premise: In this urban fantasy series, the existence of races from other worlds became known when scientists discovered two parallel planes of existence called Elysia and Charbydon. The beings in them have immigrated to Earth and were named goblins, ghouls, imps, sirens, nymphs, jinn, and fae, because those were the closest words people had to describe them. Charlie Madigan works for Atlanta’s Integration Task Force (the ITF) with her siren partner, Hank, to take down any off world offenders.  When Charlie and Hank find Amanda Mott, Charlie’s daughter’s babysitter and friend in a coma-like state, they begin to investigate an off-world drug called ash which is believed to be responsible. Complications arise when the investigation unearths problems that personally involve Charlie and threaten those she loves.

My Thoughts: This is one of those urban fantasies where the heroine has a dark side. Think Dante Valentine in the series by Lilith Saintcrow. The story is in the first person POV and her personality colors the story.

There’s a healthy dose of angst in Charlie’s life. She is a divorced mother whose husband did a really bad thing to get the divorce. She lost a twin brother in a violent way when she was a teen. And she died eight months ago. The circumstances to that death are known, but her resurrection is shrouded in mystery. Charlie has nightmares and notices that she’s different than she used to be. Charlie has good reasons to be angry, but her anger can take over, and that’s where the darkness comes into the story.

To balance some of the angst and anger, Charlie has people who support her like family (her sister Bryn, and parents who are traveling), and friends ( such as her partner Hank). She’s a mom to a tween, Emma. She also meets Aaron, a powerful mage, and Rex, a demon spirit. Yet, while she has so much to protect, Charlie is a heroine who rushes headlong into trouble without a moments thought. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one thinking this: her sister and Hank and everyone else lecture her to be more cautious and to not try to solve everything on her own without letting other people in. I was glad that Charlie finally started listening to them and let them help her when things got worse, but it takes her a least half the book to get there which can give you a bad first impression of her as a main character.

I think that Charlie’s seeing reason helped me a lot with her character but I still had a problem with her. I think my issue was that I still don’t like some of her actions. It began with her impulsive running-into-danger, but I also thought she did things that were wrong and I didn’t believe in her justifications. Despite being someone who is supposed to uphold the law, she uses violence often to get what she wants. I think I expect more when a character is identified as law enforcement, rather than say, an assassin. I can accept killing in self defense for a cop, but killing a random guard in cold blood and they didn’t put up a fight? Torture and humiliation for information? Maybe being a mother trumped being a cop and that was justification. I’m not sure. It made it hard for me to enjoy the story while being uncomfortable with the heroine.

It’s too bad I couldn’t warm to Charlie in the book because I did enjoy the writing and the secondary characters a lot. The side characters all had distinct personalities and depth. I think I was particularly fond of Rex and his sarcastic comments. The world building felt unique and interesting. Justina Robson did something similar in Keeping It Real with the worlds from different dimensions meeting, but The Better Part of Darkness still put a unique spin on the idea. And the plot and pacing felt like it had the right amount of action versus downtime.

A note on the romance. I’d read in another blog that there was a love square in this book. There are quite a few men that Charlie found attractive – many are supernaturally gorgeous, but I didn’t really see anyone as a possible love interest for her. There are hints at first but I don’t think anything pans out. I am not sure where the other blogger was seeing the love square, because I certainly didn’t see it.  There may be something in a later book, but in this one it felt like an urban fantasy without a real romantic element.

Overall: There’s a lot that I liked about this book, but unfortunately I never warmed to the main character, which brought down my overall enjoyment. I would read the second book if I hear that Charlie does some learning from her mistakes.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
mardelwanda – positive review
Tez says – positive review
Scooper Speaks – “I enjoyed this story more than I thought I would.”
Fantasy Dreamer’s Ramblings – 5 out of 5 stars

3 thoughts on “The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay

  1. I too, find it very difficult to “warm up” to a story if the main character doesn’t do it for me. And the fact that it is on first person doesn’t help. And a ruthless protagonist–with no obvious justification drives me mad!

    I have TSOD on my TBR pile, I think I’ll put it on my TBR later pile now.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful written review!

    • Well, this is one of the ones where I feel like I had trouble but I see a lot of positive reviews so I wonder if I’m fixating on something that didn’t bother others at all. If you ever do read it, let me know what you think.

      • I’ll definitely let you know. I follow Kelly Gay, on and off, since before she was published–I kind of like her life story, so I want to see where it took her. But to be honest, I was kind of turned off after I read a character interview of Charlie; something about her, just didn’t click. Anyway, I better get back to my school work 😉

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