In this first installment to Julie Kenner’s latest urban fantasy series, Lily Carlyle is killed after her failed attempt to murder her little sister’s rapist, but awakens in another body and with an entirely new purpose in life. She has been chosen to keep the portals to hell locked and the demons away from earth. In short, she has been chosen save the world.
Tainted is narrated from Lily’s point of view, and what with her becoming a kick-ass heroine (rough around the edges with a chip on the shoulder, smart lip and nice body), if you read a steady diet of urban fantasy, this may be like déjà vu all over again.
Thankfully, despite having surface similarities with every other urban fantasy heroine ever published, the way in which Lily fought her internal demons, and her angst over seeing to the safety of her little sister really drew me in and kept me interested. She has two handlers who are very rough around the edges for being on God’s work, and we follow Lily through extremely intense training for her newly-appointed role as well as through the times when she is left to flounder on her own in her new world (as someone else called Alice). Lily’s mandate is to secure the gates to hell and kill off the demon population existing on earth on the way there. She vacillates between getting a kick out of her new power and importance and fright and uncertainty over her ability to perform as requested.
Though I found myself skimming over the physical details to various fight scenes, I could not find anything in Tainted that I would call gratuitous. This job as savior of the world demands more than fighting from Lily and she truly has a steep growing curve to climb. Evidence of her development as a character come in all places and at all times – mid-fight, at a funeral, during training, with a new friend and via Deacon, the romantic lead.
Not that Tainted is a romance, but from Deacon we get a “you’re mine” line, which for me, is always a nice touch. Also a nice touch is that Deacon, by virtue of being a demon himself, provides Lily with yet another level of philosophical entanglement to unravel. Are people born evil or born good? Can they ascend to greater things or descend to worse by choice or are they fixed to what fate has made for them? Deacon seeks out ‘Alice’ whom he had known before, and realizes from the first time he sees her (after Lily has been reborn) that though she may look like Alice, she is in fact someone different – someone he recognises as ‘his’. For Lily’s part she feels an immediate, almost uncontrollable sexual attraction to Deacon which makes their relationship seem to be of the ‘fated & mated’ variety.
The aspects of this novel that reached great heights for me were the discussions surrounding the price various characters must pay for completing what it appears they have been divinely called to do. Working for The Good does not always mean you come up smelling of roses. Despite this, I had a hard time settling into Lily’s “voice” which was a bit too young and slang-filled for me. As I became more invested in her personal trials, particularly those involving her sister, I forgot about how annoying I thought her voice was, but it was an issue for me.
Tainted has had two follow-ups, Torn and Turned; given the extreme cliff-hanger of an ending to this first book, I’ll be looking to read the series through. If you’re the type of reader who hates being kept waiting when issues are unresolved, I suggest you secure the other two installments before beginning this one.