Draw One in the Dark by Sarah A. Hoyt

Draw One in the Dark
Sarah A. Hoyt

As soon as I could, I picked up the first book in Sarah A. Hoyt’s urban fantasy duology, Draw One In the Dark, based on my enjoyment of Darkship Thieves and on the promising blurb on the Baen website. Yeach though, this is a book cover that screams “I probably also own a howling wolf t-shirt” ..you do this on purpose Baen, you have to. 

The Premise: Kyrie Smith and Tom Ormson both work at a the Athens Diner, in Goldport, Colorado, but they don’t really interact with one another. Then one night Kyrie goes out to the back parking lot of the diner to investigate a noise. She discovers Tom in dragon form, standing over a corpse. When he changes back to human form, he has no idea what happened, and Kyrie decides to help him until she can figure out what is going on. Kyrie is a shape-shifter too (her other form is a panther), and she understands the turmoil and loss of memory sometimes caused by the inner beast. The two find out that this is not the only body in recent weeks, and that Tom’s past is catching up with him: people he stole something from are looking for him.

Read an excerpt of the first six chapters of Draw One in the Dark here

My Thoughts: Tom is confused about what’s going on at first, particularly since he can’t remember why he’s standing over a dead body and is covered in it’s blood. Kyrie is the one who has it together and tells him what to do so he’s not caught naked and covered in blood. When they realize that they’re both shifters, the whole situation creates a sort of tenous bond even though Kyrie’s initial impression of Tom hasn’t been favorable. They get to know each other along the way, although after the scene at the restaurant they find themselves leaving a dangerous situation only to find themselves in another one before they begin to figure out what’s going on.  Their two problems are the dead bodies that keep showing up, and the dangerous people chasing after Tom. Along the way, they are helped by other characters – Officer Trall, who is investigating the recent deaths, Keith, a college student who is Tom’s next door neighbor, and Tom’s father, who has connections to Tom’s pursuers.

This series has a completely different voice from the last Sarah Hoyt book I read, Darkship Thieves. Instead of first person, which is common in urban fantasy, Draw One in the Dark is in third person and jumps between Kyrie and Tom, and later, to a lesser extent, to Tom’s father, Edward Ormson. There is no kick-ass female heroine with special abilities. Instead we have a ragtag group of everyday, ordinary, people for which shifting has often been a burden. This book definitely does not romanticize the ability to shift or the shifters who can do so.

The ordinariness of the characters bring to mind the Kitty series by Carrie Vaughn so I think I’d recommend this book for readers who enjoyed that one. The world building here is much like that of Vaughn’s as well – it’s not necessarily a place where people understand magic and they react to it within what they can fathom. Kyrie and Tom for instance have no idea why they can change. It’s something that began to happen in puberty and upset their already-stressful teen lives. They’re still trying to figure out how it all works – how to tell other shifters, what affects their shifts, and how to have an ordinary life while keeping this side hidden.  I liked that there’s enough complexity in the lives of the characters (not just in Kyrie and Tom’s) that we see missteps and flaws in all of what they do, even though ultimately these are the good guys. This is particularly true of Tom’s father Edward, who comes to Goldport thinking he has to clean up after his screw-up son again, only to realize that he may have failed his son as a father in the first place.

Before Draw One in the Dark starts, Kyrie didn’t think much of Tom, and wrote him off as a junkie who will eventually disappoint everyone, even if she has never seen him act high in the six months he’s been working at Athens. When she spends more time with him, she realizes that this impression was a self-defense mechanism. She’s actually attracted to him, but years in the foster system has made her wary. As for Tom, he’s always thought Kyrie was pretty but way out of his league. These observations about each other are often peppered throughout the story, and there’s a sort of puppy-dog eying of each other throughout with neither really doing much about it. Their fledgling romance is further complicated by Rafiel Trall – police officer and lion shifter who has an interest in Kyrie, particularly since she’s another cat shifter.

Overall: Quite a solid contemporary/urban fantasy, with a rather thoughtful perspective on shape-shifting and how it may affect a person’s life. It puts to mind books by Charles de Lint or Carrie Vaughn, mostly because the characters are ordinary and unvarnished. I thought that Tom and Kyrie’s awkward steps towards a courtship was sweet but romance here is not really of the searing kind. It’s more of an everyday, two kids you like who end up liking each other kind. I’d read the next book, Gentleman Takes a Chance, to see these characters grow. It also makes me realize how versatile this author is because the voice in this story is so very different from the other book I’ve read that was written by her.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | Baen ebook

Other reviews:
I couldn’t find one through google’s social search, but I may have missed you. Let me know, and I’ll link the review!

Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt

Darkship Thieves
Sarah A. Hoyt

I’ve been lusting after this book for a while, so long in fact, that I forgot exactly where I first learned of it’s existence and my need to own it, but I vaguely remembered it was an author’s blog on my friend’s list. Turns out that was Ilona Andrews, who had a guest post by Sarah A. Hoyt about Darkship Thieves in January last year (now that’s a long time to want a book, but not really my longest stretch – sad isn’t it?) In her post she talked about this space opera where a bad-girl socialite heroine with Daddy issues meets a bio-engineered hero with calico-hair and issues on top of other issues.  Anyway, I not-so-subtly asked for it for Christmas – and lo, it is mine.

The Premise: Athena Hera Sinistra was sleeping in her father’s space cruiser in a return trip to Earth, when she wakes up to find someone in her room. Although Athena is a socialite, she’s also been put in to, and escaped from, several boarding schools and institutions, and she has the ability to sometimes move at speeds that others cannot match. One thing leads to another, and Athena flees in a life pod, her father’s goons in hot pursuit. In desperation, she flies into dangerous territory and stumbles upon Kit Klaavil, a prickly man who surprises her by having even faster reflexes than her own super-speed.

Read a three chapter excerpt of Darkship Thieves here

My Thoughts: I was pretty happy to begin this book and have it match my expectations of page-turning action and space opera goodness.  Racing through the bowels of a space ship and beating up thugs along the way, followed by a pursuit in space, and a surprising rescue — it’s good stuff. The reaction of Kit and Athena to each other was hilarious — even though Athena is over-matched, she uses all the dirty tricks at her disposal, and Kit’s reaction to this is fun to follow. Once the dust settled, I was glued to the pages, wondering where things would go next.

The story doesn’t disappoint in it’s exploration of Kit’s character, and in turn Athena’s when Kit takes Athena back to his home — an asteroid home to people very different from Earth, but whose very existence and beliefs are due to Athena’s home world.  As Athena struggles to figure out Kit’s world and it’s rules, we’re introduced to ideas about the ethics of genetic manipulation, cloning, societal laws, and bureaucracy. These ideas were very provocative, but I was most drawn to the characters in this story, and into the odd courtship that takes place between Kit and Athena. Darkship Thieves isn’t quite a science fiction romance because a lot of the story deals with things like technology and morality, and there isn’t a focus on romance, but there is a quiet progress towards a relationship.  I think that Kit, who lives with the world at arm’s length, is now a favorite hero although I also quite like Athena’s tough, unloved, rich girl voice.

Of course, being a girl who likes the falling-in-love bits, after the relationship hit a particular point and the story gets back to the conspiracy that led to why Athena had to flee her father’s spaceship, I think I lost a little interest. I don’t know if it was the pacing, or my just wanting more of Kit and Athena together, but the last part of the book didn’t have quite the zing I felt in the first. The more I think about it, the more I think it may have been the latter for me, but I think this is the only real problem I had with this book. The other was minor: when I first started reading Darkship Thieves, I thought Athena was in her mid-twenties and Kit was over thirty, when they were supposed to be 19 and 22. There was something in Athena’s been-there-seen-everything tone that made her seem older to me.

A note on the cover: Ug, I know. Half-naked women on covers does not draw in a female audience. All I can say in defense is that this scene does happen early on in the book and it does make sense in context.

Overall: Finding this space opera with a dash of romance has put me in a happy mood. Sarah Hoyt’s space opera has the edginess of Ann Aguirre’s minus (so far) the heartbreak. I’m eager to try other books by this author and I’m looking forward to the second book, Darkship Renegade, out sometime in 2011.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

The Big Idea: Sarah A. Hoyt

Other reviews:
Bookdaze – positive review (“an entertaining adventure-packed romp”)
If I missed your review, let me know and I’ll link to it!