Length: 399 pages, standard paperback page/font size
Before I get into talking about this book, let me give a bit of background.
Some time in either 2006 or 2007, I was lounging around in a bookstore to kill some time when I saw Kushiel's Dart. I read a couple of pages, and it caught my interest enough for me to buy it. Fast-forward a little bit, and I'd had an absolute blast reading the whole trilogy. It was an instant favorite of mine, no doubt. There were certainly elements that I wasn't completely happy with, but overall, I thought they were wonderful books.
Funnily enough, they came to such a natural conclusion by the end of Kushiel's Avatar that I never thought they'd continue until I stumbled across Kushiel's Scion some years later. To say that I didn't like that one would be an understatement, but I'd always written that off as being in large part because of the protagonist change, along with the possibility that continuing the series beyond its end point was forced on Jacqueline Carey by the publishers after the success of the trilogy, since it just didn't have the same emotional strength as the first three books. Be that as it may, though, I still had such good memories of the original trilogy that I was willing to give Carey a pass on that.
'Lo and behold, she came out with a new series in 2012, which I didn't get around to checking out until a few months ago. Going in, I was feeling pretty optimistic. Aside from having been written by an author that I held in high regard, it was a modern day urban fantasy novel, which happens to be one of my favorite genres. Add to that what seemed to be an interesting premise of a demi-demonic liaison trying to keep the peace between the mundane and eldritch communities in some otherwise Podunk little town, and I saw no reason to have any doubts about it. Even if it wasn't as great as those first three books, it should at least be good, right?
Yeah, as the rating shows, not so much.
First, let's take our protagonist, Daisy. Her whole big thing is that her father's Belphegor, reskinned from his usual role of tempting people into indolence to instead be an incubus. Okay, fine, at least he's still a type of tempter, so I can forgive that. The thing is, though, that being the daughter of Belphegor barely does anything for Daisy. There would've been almost no difference in the story if her tail was just a mutation from being conceived too close to Chernobyl. Okay, maybe not quite to that degree, since she causes some minor effects when her emotions run out of control (food goes stale, animals get antsy, and so forth), but that's really such a minor thing that it's hard to care about it. The big hook is supposed to be that giving in to her demonic side would break the barriers between dimensions and unleash Armageddon, but since the story's written from a first person past tense narrative perspective, the format more or less spoils that that doesn't happen. Beyond that, I suppose it's refreshing that Daisy's actually not a competent combatant, but when the best thing you can say about a character is that she isn't a total badass, that's a neutral point at best.
The supporting cast almost makes up for it, except that the most interesting characters tended to be marginalized. Sorry, but Cody is about as boring as a werewolf can be, and the only thing remotely appealing about Stefan was the admittedly stylish take on ghouls as a whole as emotion eaters. The whole intraspecies power struggle subplots that both of them have going on are handled so far in the background that all the reader can do is take it on faith that they make sense, which doesn't do either of them any favors. Daisy's mom and Lurine were both interesting, but the former does almost nothing aside from providing the requisite fortune telling that ends up being far too accurate to suspend disbelief while the latter is so far above everyone else's power level that she's essentially a plot device. That doesn't make her any less interesting as a character, but it does kill any sort of tension around scenes involving her once that disparity becomes apparent.
As for the antagonists, the same thing happens again. There are some who were legitimately interesting, but they're shoved into the background to instead focus on some rich fanatic zealots who're just annoying. Is it really so hard to understand that the facts surrounding your kid's death are being withheld because they're part of an ongoing police investigation? Or maybe I should be asking if it's so hard to just explain that as a way of diffusing what keeps being presented as a major conflict, often overshadowing the actual efforts to find the truth behind said kid's death (also known as the main plot). I feel like there must've been some element of social commentary intended that I'm just missing, because otherwise, it's a problem that only remains a problem because everyone involved is acting like an idiot.
I'll give credit where it's due, though, and point out that the interesting antagonists do come to the forefront during the story's climax. It's just unfortunate that that doesn't happen until after I've had to force myself to read through the preceding 90% of the book, initially with blind hope that it'd get better and later due to the sunken cost fallacy.
Alright, so the characters who got significant roles tended to suck, but what about the plot itself? Sadly, while it's not predictable or cliched or otherwise bad, it's buried under so much unnecessary filler from the aforementioned emphasis on the worst of the possible plot threads that it struggles to maintain any lasting interest. After the early parts of the book did their best to put me to sleep, I had to keep forcing myself to forge on even as the action started to pick up. This is a shame, really, because there actually is an interesting plot in there, but for whatever reason, Carey decided to put it on the back burner in favor of showing people being stupid.
That all having been said, as mentioned earlier, things do become enjoyable during the story's climax. It happens far later than it ought to have, though, and that climax is followed by an unnecessarily long return to dealing with people being stupid AGAIN before things finally end.
The setting of the book is yet another element that seems to push aside its best qualities. The general concept is that supernatural stuff can only exist in places near active underworlds where ancient deities are able to sustain that side of existence. Sounds interesting, right? I mean, what would happen if our protagonist were to venture too far away from the main city? Whatever consequences that might've had are by and large left to the reader's imagination, because Carey certainly didn't waste any effort filling in such details. I mean, it's clear that something has to happen given how much the characters worry about preserving their local underworld, but at the same time, a large chunk of the plot's background hinges on ignoring what that something actually is. The best explanation I can think of is that Carey painted herself into a corner, realized it, and just decided not to go into any details to avoid introducing plot holes before a sequel can handle that more cleanly. Or she could just keep ignoring it forever, I suppose, since I'm not going to actually read the sequel. In either case, that seems like a pretty big thing to just overlook.
I wasn't expecting something on the level of Carey's first three books, but I was at least expecting something reasonably enjoyable. Even allowing for it being a first foray into a new genre, this book was ultimately a disappointment. I can't say that it was outright bad, but it certainly wasn't good, and even calling it average seems too generous.
Length: 399 pages, standard paperback page/font size