This was a book I won over at the lovely Book Love Affair which is one of my favorite blogs for urban fantasy recommendations.
The Premise: Ray Lilly is a newly released convict who drives around a powerful woman named Annalise. Annalise tracks down illegal spell users and other nasties associated with people using magic and fixes the problem (often without mercy and with a high bystander death rate). Ray is not fond of Annalise and her methods, and as for Annalise, she hates Ray. The only reason he’s still alive is that Annalise was instructed not to kill him by someone in the Twenty Palace Society, the community of Sorcerers that she works for, so Ray works with her in mutual dislike. Their current assignment is to track down the odd magic signature in the town of Hammer Bay.
My Thoughts: It’s nice to have a male protagonist in an urban fantasy. Ray was an interesting character — he’s a very recent ex-con and he mentions things he did in his past which go from car theft to murder, but the particulars are unclear. I got the impression that his last stint in jail was somehow related to having his new job now. Clues about his past are slowly fed to the reader, and I hope more will be explained as the series continues about what really happened. From what we see of Ray, he has a conscience and the thought of killing people horrifies him. He’s also protective of innocents around him and gets very bitter when he thinks that someone is just standing around doing nothing. Annalise calls him too sentimental for the business, but he ultimately does what he has to for survival and to do his job. I also like that he’s got little magic compared to his boss so he has to rely on his quick thinking more than on his spelled tattoos and ‘ghostknife’ made out of paper wrapped up in tape and laminate. Ray has a lot of depth. Annalise on the other hand is someone who is very hard to read. Probably because we see her through Ray’s eyes. With him, she has two facets – impenetrable, and stoic. Every so often a little bit of emotion seems to seep through her but it’s enough for Ray and the reader to know she’s one of the good guys, but I think it will take more than one book to get a real reading on her.
The townspeople in Hammer Bay on the other hand did not much as big as impression on me. They were sketched with a quick hand – prominent features like a mustache or hair color and height would give you a general impression, but it would be enough to recognize them later on in the book. There are a lot of townspeople that Annalise and Ray meet, and I don’t think the reader is supposed to really get too attached to any one of them because they’re soon fodder for the evil and corruption going on in Hammer Bay. I mostly did not like the town, because sometimes the reactions of people were so extreme, such as going from having a pleasant conversation with Ray suddenly disliking a comment he makes so much that they’d let him walk into a beating by a band of Hee-haws. It was almost a cliche about small town suspicions and prejudice against strangers, and I’m not sure how much was supposed to be natural and how much was the influence of the evil presence in the town.
There’s a lot of violence in this story. Most of the time it didn’t get past vaguely uncomfortable, I think I was able to keep myself mentally separated enough not to get squicked, but there are some sad parts, especially when you discover what has been happening to the children. I would say this book has some elements of horror in it, which becomes apparent early on. I wasn’t expecting it so I was surprised by how the book started out.
Overall: The writing is good and there is plenty of action which meant I kept picking it up and reading it when I had the chance, but it has a lot of violent bits which left me with an unsettled feeling throughout. If you like gritty tales, you will be fine I think.