So there is this thing called “show, don’t tell” – one of the first things you learn about good writing. In the end, it is really more about balance than anything else, but the basic idea behind it is to not have large blocks of “let me tell you about this thing that happened/is happening/will happen” with no direct integration into the story. Now that the lesson of the day is over, here’s the relevance – this story failed in the concept of balance by page 22. Luckily, it had an interesting plot and fun (and interesting and tormented) characters to keep it from failing utterly.
Nyx Ianira is a former Army, former “private security” (mercenary!), private investigator in San Francisco. Oh, and she’s also a witch. During a less-than-routine job, she finds herself being chased by the Sisters of Justice – the hit squads of the earth witch world. Turns out her grandmother has been searching for her, and asked for assistance from a Sister friend of hers. Nyx’s sister Marisol is missing, and it is up to Nyx to figure out what happened and get her back.
This leads Nyx to Duivel, Missouri and an area called the Barrows – a place protected by a ward of the Earth Mother, and generally ignored by the non-magical community. There is something there, however, that requires this protection (or prison), and Nyx has to balance finding her sister with not. . . well, not ending the world. In walks Etienne – a mercenary with a dark and mysterious past, dark and mysterious looks, and an apparent immunity to magic. Unfortunately, he has had dark dealings with witches in the past, and distrusts Nyx from the beginning. Fortunately, he is persuaded to help her figure out what is going on, in the hopes that it will lead to Marisol’s discovery. But with other witches, a fallen angel, a demon, and regular folk in the way, this may prove to be trickier than she thought.
And oh, yes, it is pretty darn tricky. One thing I really enjoyed about this book is how everything builds on top of each other to create a serious tangle our heroine has to sort out. And it certainly doesn’t help matters that she is not exactly a talented witch – she has power, but never really bothered to study, and so her abilities are like using a hammer for everything when trying to build something. With the addition of a heirloom from her mother, Nyx’s power jumps dramatically, at least when it comes to her use of fire. I actually liked Nyx a fair bit, more than I was expecting, really – she put me in mind of Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, complete with the hint-of-noir backdrop in the beginning.
Unfortunately, I had issues with the stylistic choices of this book. There are a lot of short, choppy sentences which, unfortunately, just don’t work well. Instead of giving the novel a sense of speed and movement, it gives the reader the sense that Nyx’s inner monologue is just really simple. Also, about Nyx’s inner monologue, and back to the idea of finding balance between narration and , I really disliked Nyx’s asides. The blurbs about her past, her powers, etc, were painful at times to work through. For example, the one that killed it for me:
“My only regret,” Gran said, “was that we never could find anyone to teach you about your affinity with fire.” Oh, yes. Fire. I’m really good with calling, manipulating, and throwing fire – except when I’m not. The fire thing gets out of hand occasionally, especially when I throw it. My fire sometimes acts like an out-of-control rubber ball carelessly tossed by a three-year-old. (p.22)
And the kicker is – all this information could have been given to the reader within the story, rather than through an aside. Though I have to admit I giggled at the simile.
Something else that irked was how Etienne attempted to distance himself from Nyx. We know that he had something in his background to make him dislike witches – and we can totally get behind the tortured soul bit – but his choice in how to demonstrate this distance was a bit grating. Instead of using her name, Etienne started simply calling Nyx “witch”. As in “get in the car, witch” or “don’t do that, witch”. I kept waiting for him to say “make me a sandwich, witch.” It was, quite frankly, a little too close to “b*tch” for me to be comfortable with it. And it made it harder to believe that he was attracted to her, much less falling in love with her, the whole time.
In the end, I just couldn’t get into the story as much as I wanted to. There were all these little things that just pulled me out of the plot and back into my own head, wondering what just happened. But I like the idea of the story and the idea of the characters – I’d say if you are an avid urban fantasy (witch) fan, give it a shot. It definitely isn’t the book to introduce a newbie to the genre, though.