Review: “Angel’s Ink” By Jocelynn Drake (Novel)

Well, although I’d heard about Jocelynn Drake’s “Asylum Tales” urban fantasy series soon after I finished reading Drake’s excellent “Dark Days” vampire thriller series quite a few months ago, I never got round to reading any of them at the time.

Then, a week or so before I wrote this review, I suddenly remembered this series and, to my delight, second-hand copies of the first novel in the series “Angel’s Ink” (2012) had come down in price since I last looked at them 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “Angel’s Ink”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2013 Harper Voyager (UK) paperback edition of “Angel’s Ink” that I read.

The novel is set in a city called Low Town, where magic is real and supernatural creatures exist. In the alleyway next to his tattoo parlour, ex-warlock Gage Powell is threatened by an angry customer because of a malfunctioning “good luck” potion he used in a tattoo. Although Gage wins the fight, he has to use a magic spell or two in the process.

This prompts a visit from a warlock called Gideon who reminds Gage that he is forbidden from using magic spells, except in self-defence. Luckily for Gage, his actions during the fight technically fell somewhere within that definition, but Gideon sternly warns Gage that he’ll be keeping a close eye on him.

Business at the tattoo parlour carries on as usual for a while, but then Gage is visited by a terminally ill woman called Tera who wants a pair of angel wings tattooed on her back. Moved by her situation, Gage decides to secretly help her out by mixing a strand from an angel’s wing into the ink.

However, sometime later, a grim reaper shows up at the parlour and tells him that he accidentally made Tera immortal. He has three days to rectify the problem or the reaper will take his life instead…..

One of the first things that I will say is that this is a really compelling and suspenseful noir-influenced urban fantasy thriller 🙂 Although it’s a little bit more slow-paced than Drake’s “Dark Days” series and it doesn’t have quite the same gothic atmosphere, it’s definitely one of the best urban fantasy novels I’ve read within the past couple of months. Still, it is more of a suspenseful small-scale and vaguely “film noir”-style thriller set within a relatively small number of locations than a more typical urban fantasy action-thriller novel.

Like in a lot of thrillers, this is a “bad day” novel where the main character finds himself faced with a lot of difficult situations within a relatively small space of time and this really helps to ramp up the suspense and pressure. Although this novel contains a few fight scenes (including some vaguely Harry Potter-style magic duels), it’s slightly more of a traditional suspense thriller than an action-thriller novel, since Gage often has to come up with plans or think on his feet in order to get out of the gigantic mess that he’s found himself in. All of this suspense really helps to keep the novel compelling.

Although “Angel’s Ink” isn’t a noir urban fantasy novel in the way that, say, P.N. Elrod’s “Bloodlist” is, there is certainly quite a bit of influence from the noir genre here 🙂 Whether it is the slightly complex plot, the “sleazy” tattoo parlour settings, the focus on a criminal underworld, the mysterious woman walking into the protagonist’s office at the start of the story and the good-hearted but morally-ambiguous protagonist, there are definitely a few hints of the noir genre here 🙂

The novel’s fantasy elements are handled quite well too. In addition to a lot of the usual urban fantasy stuff (eg: elves, trolls, werewolves, vampires, satyrs, succubi etc..), the novel’s magic elements feel solid enough (including some dramatic set pieces too 🙂 ) and the story even includes some intriguingly dystopian elements too. Basically, there is an uneasy truce between humanity and a strict order of powerful, cruel warlocks and witches, who treat the world in a rather colonialist fashion.

Since Gage is an ex-warlock who lives amongst humans, he finds himself under constant suspicion and threat from the order, in addition to having to keep his true nature secret from most of those around him. It’s a brilliantly inventive premise that helps to add some extra suspense and depth to the story.

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably well-written. Gage comes across as a flawed, but likeable, protagonist with a troubled past who finds himself faced with a lot of difficult situations. Likewise, his two side-kicks – Trixie and Bronx – are both interesting characters with their own motivations, backstories and personalities. The novel also contains quite a few other interesting background characters and a bit of a romantic sub-plot too.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s first-person narration is fairly well-written too. It allows for a decent amount of characterisation and is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving at a reasonable pace, whilst also being descriptive enough to add atmosphere. But, although this novel is well written, I still slightly preferred the more gothic and fast-paced narration in Drake’s “Dark Days” series though.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 338 pages, it isn’t too long – although it was very slightly slower-paced than I’d initially expected. Yes, the story certainly has a lot of fast-paced moments and is compelling enough to make you want to keep reading it, but this is one of those books that took slightly longer to read than I’d initially expected. Plus, although there is enough resolution to make the ending feel satisfying, this novel is the first part of a series. So, don’t expect literally everything to be resolved by the end of the story.

All in all, this is a really good urban fantasy thriller novel which is filled with suspense and some hints of the noir genre too 🙂 On it’s own merits, it is a compelling novel that fans of authors like Mike Carey and Lilith Saintcrow will probably enjoy 🙂 And, although I slightly preferred Drake’s “Dark Days” novels to this one, it’s always great to read more books by this author 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

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Review: “Vampire State Of Mind” By Jane Lovering (Novel)

Well, it has been quite a while since I last read an urban fantasy novel. And, after being given a copy of Jane Lovering’s 2012 novel “Vampire State Of Mind” by a family member who saw the mention of Hobnobs, parallel universes, vampires, Aberystwyth etc… in the first few pages and thought that I might enjoy it, I thought that I’d check it out.

So, let’s take a look at “Vampire State Of Mind”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2012 Choc Lit (UK) paperback edition of “Vampire State Of Mind” that I read.

The novel begins with a brief “Wikipedia article” that outlines the series’ backstory. In short, a gateway between Earth and a parallel universe (containing vampires, zombies, werewolves etc..) opened in Aberystwyth in 1910. This led to quite a few years of strife, which ended when a peace treaty was signed in 1988. These days, humans and otherworlders live in relative peace, with the treaty being enforced by authorities for both groups.

In the city of York, Jessica Grant works for an under-funded department of the local council as a liason between humanity and the otherworlders. She is one of 5% of the population who can sense otherworlders and, as such, her job is mostly to give presentations at local schools and respond to otherworld-related incidents. Which is why she ends up in the city centre at night trying to tranquilise a slightly pathetic vampire called Daim who has strayed outside of a designated vampire area.

However, after she tranquilises Daim, a demonic symbiote called Tez emerges from his chest and reveals that he led Daim to this part of the city so that he could deliver an urgent warning to Jessica. Unfortunately, the warning is a fairly cryptic one and Jessica is more puzzled than frightened by it. However, after a number of incidents, it quickly becomes clear that something is out to get Jessica…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly compelling urban fantasy thriller and, even though I prefer vampire novels with vampire protagonists, this novel is a fairly decent vampire novel too.

In addition to a fairly good narrative voice, this novel also contains a good mixture of thrills, comedy, drama, romance, mystery and supernatural fantasy too.

In terms of the novel’s fantasy elements, they’re quite well-developed. The story has enough mythos and backstory to make the events feel natural, whilst also avoiding bogging the reader down with reams of lore. Although there are a number of paranormal creatures in the novel (eg: ghouls, wights, zombies, werewolves etc..) and some scenes involving magic, the story mostly focuses on vampires.

In the novel, vampires are vampires because they live in a symbiotic relationships with demonic creatures who feed on their hormones, endorphins etc… They mostly drink synthetic blood (but prefer the real stuff), they aren’t harmed by sunlight and they are all stunningly handsome in a gothic kind of way. However, the life of a vampire also has certain psychological effects – which I won’t spoil, but they really help to add an extra level of drama to the story.

Whilst this novel doesn’t really contain that much in the way of horror, this is made up for by the inclusion of several thrillingly suspenseful scenes that have a really good balance between action and comedy. Likewise, the novel also contains a couple of dramatic plot twists and other such things that help to keep the story compelling too. Still, this novel is more of a thriller than a horror novel.

The novel’s romantic elements are really good too. Initially, these aren’t focused on too much and then they gradually build as the story progresses, which prevents them from feeling cheesy or contrived. There’s a good mixture of unrequited love, compelling drama and passion too. Likewise, since this is a vampire novel, there are also a few wonderfully sensual moments too 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. Jessica is a mostly likeable and fairly realistic protagonist, who has a fairly cynical sense of humour and is something of a reluctant hero (rather than the usual heavily-armed badasses found in the urban fantasy genre). The leaders of the city’s vampires, Sil and Zan, initially come across as rather stylised hedonistic ultra-handsome goth/geek characters, but gain a lot more depth as the story progresses. The novel’s main villain is also suitably dramatic and mysterious too. Plus, some of the background characters get a decent amount of characterisation too.

In terms of the writing, it’s also really good. Although the narration randomly switches between first and third-person perspective occasionally, this doesn’t get too confusing or annoying.

The first-person segments of the novel are written in a fairly informal way that not only helps to keep the story going at a reasonable pace, but also allows for a lot of characterisation and some humour too. The first-person narration is also a little bit like a more understated (and less eccentric/ punk) version of the excellent narration in Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this story is really good. At an efficient 288 pages in length, the story never really feels too long. Likewise, there’s a good mixture of fast-paced and moderately-paced scenes too. Plus, the story’s mixture of multiple genres (eg: romance, comedy, thriller, urban fantasy etc..) also ensures that there’s always something to hold the reader’s attention too.

All in all, this is a good urban fantasy novel. It’s good mixture of a slightly light-hearted thriller, a drama, a mystery and a romance. Whilst it didn’t quite have the edge or level of gothic-ness as my favourite series of vampire novels (Jocelynn Drake’s awesome “Dark Days” series) does, it’s still a compelling and well-written vampire novel. Plus, it’s always cool to see an urban fantasy novel set in Britain for a change.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.

Review: “Dead Man Rising” By Lilith Saintcrow (Novel)

Well, after reading Lilith Saintcrow’s “Working For The Devil” a week or two ago, I’d planned to read more books in Saintcrow’s excellent “Dante Valentine” series – especially since I found a cheap second-hand paperback omnibus online. So, I thought that I’d take a look at the next novel in the series – “Dead Man Rising” (2006).

Although this sci-fi/urban fantasy/horror/detective novel can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel (since it contains recaps), it is best read after “Working For The Devil”. Not only will some elements of the story make more sense, but this novel will also have a much greater emotional impact if you’ve read the previous one first.

So, let’s take a look at “Dead Man Rising”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2011 Orbit (UK) paperback omnibus which contained the copy of “Dead Man Rising” that I read.

Set in a futuristic cyberpunk-style city called Saint City, the novel starts with half-demon necromancer Dante Valentine and her ex-boyfriend Jace in the middle of a dangerous bounty hunting mission. After the events of the previous novel, Dante has thrown herself into her work in order to distract herself from the emotional and physical pain that she feels.

However, after the bounty has been caught, Dante gets a call from her old friend on the police force. There have been a series of grisly murders and a clue found next to one of the bodies suggests that Dante and one of the victims have a common history. Despite the fact that Dante is still deeply troubled by this distant part of her past, she agrees to help investigate the case…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is both very gripping and it also contains far more horror elements than the previous novel did 🙂 This novel is also more of a character-based drama too, with lots of emphasis placed on Dante’s emotional battles as well as more physical conflicts. So, yes, the emotional tone of this story is a lot darker and grimmer than the previous one, although this segues quite well with the ending of the previous novel in addition to emphasising the horror elements of the story too.

Talking of which, I cannot praise the horror elements of this story highly enough. Although this novel contains a decent amount of gory horror and paranormal horror, there’s also a chilling focus on the nightmarishly dystopian psychic school that Dante was forced to attend when she was younger. Whilst the reader is given enough grim details about this to make them recoil and shudder, there’s also the creeping sense that these details are just the tip of a very disturbing iceberg. So, unlike the previous “Dante Valentine” novel, this novel is actually a horror novel.

The novel’s detective elements are reasonably good too, since they lend the story a level of claustrophobic suspense and gritty tension that the previous novel lacked slightly. Although the solution to the mystery is something that you might guess about half to two-thirds of the way through the story, it includes some really clever flourishes – such as a variation on the traditional “locked room mystery” sub-genre of detective fiction.

In a lot of ways, the detective elements of this story reminded me a bit of both Mike Carey’s excellent “Felix Castor” novels and the “Blackwell” computer games (which I reviewed here, here, here, here and here). Not to mention that they help to keep the story moving at a reasonably decent pace too.

But, whilst this novel is more of a traditional detective/horror thriller, there are still a few action-packed moments too – the best of these being a really cool, if somewhat superflous, fight scene set in a vampire nightclub – which reminded me a little bit of Jocelynn Drake’s excellent “Dark Days” novels (which is never a bad thing 🙂).

In terms of the writing, Saintcrow’s first-person narration is as good as ever – and it is written in the kind of informal “matter of fact” way that you would expect in a good thriller or noir novel. Like with the previous novel in the series, the narration also includes a few mildly cyberpunk flourishes (eg: futuristic jargon like “holovids”, “plasguns”, “plasteel” etc..) in addition to including a fair amount of introspection and characterisation too.

As for the characters in this novel, they’re reasonably good and this story devotes quite a bit of time to characterisation too. However, the characterisation in this story is very much on the “gritty drama” side of things, with lots of scenes showing how traumatic effects have affected the characters. Likewise, the story’s main villian is left mysterious enough to be genuinely creepy too. So, yes, the characterisation in this novel is pretty interesting.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. Whilst the omnibus edition of “Dead Man Rising” seems to be an efficient 250-70 pages in length, this is only due to larger pages and smaller print. Looking online, the stand-alone paperback edition of this novel is about 416 pages long. Still, the novel never really felt like it was too long. Likewise, even though some of the gloomy introspection slows the story down a bit, this novel was still gripping enough for me to binge-read most of it within the space of a single day.

All in all, this is a gripping paranormal detective thriller/horror novel 🙂 Yes, the emotional tone of this story is a bit on the depressing side of things – but, despite this, it is still a creepily chilling and grippingly compelling novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Three Reasons Why “Low Fantasy” Is Better Than “High Fantasy”

[Note: Since I prepare these articles quite far in advance, it can be surprising how much my opinions can change between writing and publication. Basically, at the time of preparing this article, I was still a relatively inexperienced reader of the urban fantasy genre (and was perhaps a little less aware that it has it’s own set of tropes and cliches too) .

Since then, my attitudes towards the fantasy genre have become a bit more nuanced (especially since finding books in the dark fantasy and magical realism genres). Still, I’ll keep this article (albeit with a couple of small edits) for the sake of posterity even though it doesn’t really reflect my current opinions and seems a bit naive and simplistic when I read it these days.]

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One of the interesting things about getting back into reading regularly a few months ago is that I’ve ended up reading a lot more fantasy fiction than I initially expected. Unlike some other genres (eg: sci-fi, horror, detective fiction etc..), my relationship with the fantasy genre is a lot more of an ambiguous one.

On the one hand, it’s been a genre that I’ve loved from an early age (eg: I used to watch “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” enthusiastically, I read “Fighting Fantasy” gamebooks, I played computer games like “Heretic“, I read “Harry Potter”, I collected “Magic: The Gathering” cards and enjoyed the “Lord Of The Rings” films etc.. when I was younger).

It’s also a genre that I seem to drift away from and return to regularly (such as my “Game Of Thrones” phase a few years ago). Plus, a couple of my favourite types of music also have an association with the genre too (eg: symphonic metal, power metal etc..). Yet, I’m much more likely to derisively think of fantasy as “silly”, “over-complicated” etc… when compared to my other favourite genres.

However, a while before writing this article, I happened to read a Wikipedia article about “Low Fantasy” and it was something of a revelation to me. I suddenly realised that most of my criticisms and misgivings about the fantasy genre applied to high fantasy (swords & sorcery, Middle-Earth etc.. type fantasy) rather than low fantasy (eg: fantastical stories set in, or involving, the “real” world).

So, here are three of the reasons why low fantasy is better than high fantasy:

1) Variation and imagination: One of the really cool things about low fantasy is that it sometimes includes a lot more variation and imagination than high fantasy does.

For example, urban fantasy can include elements from other genres alongside more traditional fantasy elements – such as vampire thrillers like Jocyelnn Drake’s “Nightwalker“, horror story arcs in Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics and sci-fi elements in both novels like Lilith Saintcrow’s “Dante Valentine” series and computer games like “The Longest Journey” and “Shadowrun: Dragonfall“.

In addition to this, low fantasy will sometimes use the tropes of the fantasy genre in a much more creative and imaginative way than high fantasy traditionally does. Since these stories can’t rely on the traditions of the high fantasy genre, they have to come up with new and imaginative ways to meld the fantastical and the mundane. They can’t just rely on the old tropes of swords, castles, knights, heroic quests etc.. for their stories.

As such, not only does low fantasy have a lot more variation between stories – but it also means that the fantasy elements have to be imaginatively different too. In other words, you’re much more likely to see intriguingly different variations of the fantasy genre in low fantasy than you are in high fantasy. After all, if a low fantasy writer has to come up with a plausible way to meld the fantastical and the mundane, then they’re going to have to use their imagination…

2) Shorter stories: Yes, some low fantasy novels are giant tomes (Clive Barker’s “Weaveworld” and Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” spring to mind), but this is thankfully a lot less common when compared to high fantasy.

With the possible exception of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” (which I haven’t read), I don’t think that I’ve even heard of a high fantasy novel that can’t also be used as an emergency doorstop and/or paperweight. [Edit: Surprisingly, short fantasy novels/novellas actually exist 🙂 Expect a review of Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead” in late August.]

Since low fantasy stories incorporate well-known real life settings and elements, and since they’re often melded with other genres like the thriller, horror, detective, romance etc.. genres, there’s more reason to tell gripping, shorter stories. Since they don’t have to spend lots of time building a giant, medieval-style world, they can get on with actually telling the story.

Since a good portion of low fantasy novels aren’t that much longer than the average novel (300-400 pages these days) and don’t require any extra time investment, they are a lot more accessible and easier to impulse-read when compared to giant tomes of high fantasy. Likewise, even when low fantasy novels tell longer stories, they will often be broken up into a series of shorter books rather than a series of gigantic tones. I mean, I’ve even found a low fantasy novella. A novella! In the fantasy genre 🙂

3) Themes, symbolism, meaning etc..: One of the cool things about stories that meld the fantastical and the realistic is that the fantastical elements usually have to be there for a reason. In other words, low fantasy isn’t just “fantasy for the sake of fantasy” in the way that high fantasy can often be.

As such, low fantasy stories will often be a lot deeper, more intelligent and emotionally powerful than high fantasy can be. For example, good urban fantasy vampire stories will often explore themes like belonging, subcultures, civil rights, secrecy, mortality, traditions etc.. in a way that could rival even the most literary of novels.

More fantastical low fantasy stories (eg: Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics etc..) will often use the fantastical as a lens to look at elements of humanity, in a way which often gives these stories one hell of an emotional punch when compared to the typical high fantasy stories of knights going on epic quests etc…

So, yes, since low fantasy has to find a good reason to include fantastical elements, these stories usually mean something in the way that the fantasy elements of a typical high fantasy story often don’t.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Some Girls Bite” By Chloe Neill (Novel)

Note: Due to various scheduling reasons, the next book review probably won’t appear here until the 2nd April.

Well, after reading Lilith Saintcrow’s “Working For The Devil“, I was still in the mood for urban fantasy fiction.

But, since I have a rule about reading multiple books by the same author directly after one another (after reading eight Clive Cussler novels in a row a few months ago taught me that variety is the spice of life), I decided to read a second-hand copy of Chloe Neill’s 2009 vampire novel “Some Girls Bite” that I’d ordered a few weeks earlier when I was going through a bit of a horror phase.

So, let’s take a look at “Some Girls Bite”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2010 Gollancz (UK) paperback edition of “Some Girls Bite” that I read.

The novel is set in a version of Chicago where the existence of vampires is public knowledge. The story begins when a university student called Merit is violently attacked by a vampire on campus. The vampire mortally wounds her and leaves her for dead, but she is rescued by another vampire who turns her in order to save her life.

So, Merit finds herself in the middle of the confusing world of vampires and vampire factions. Not only is she eager to find out who attacked her, but she also has her fair share of misgivings about being a vampire too. Plus, in accordance with tradition, she only has a week before she must swear fealty to her vampiric liege….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s like watching the pilot episode of a TV show. Yes, it’s well-written, the characters are good and the story is a little bit like a slightly more light-hearted version of “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (albeit without the theme of secrecy etc..). But, at the same time, it is more of a scene-setting introduction to a larger series than anything else. In other words, the story’s detective and horror elements are kind of a background detail.

So, if you’re expecting a horror novel or a detective thriller, you’re probably going to be slightly disappointed. If you’re expecting an action-thriller novel, you’ll also be disappointed. Even though the chart on the back cover describes this novel as “Action Packed“, there is very little in the way of action here – there are a couple of “friendly” martial arts sparring matches, a tense confrontation or two and a rather brief action sequence near the end, and that’s about it.

Yes, this is a good novel, but it’s more of a character-based drama (with some romance and comedy elements) than anything else. Like with the classic computer game “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines”, this is more of a story about a new vampire adapting to life as a vampire and vampire politics. Although there are a few suspenseful moments, this isn’t so much a horror/thriller novel as it is a novel about friendships, loyalties, relationships, confusion etc…

Still, it works reasonably well as a drama novel. This is mostly because the premise is intriguing and the characters are all reasonably good too. The central focus of the story is the friendship between Merit and her best friend Mallory, who – unlike in a lot of thriller/horror stories – are actually friends. Sure, they trade sarcastic dialogue and snarky pop culture references occasionally, but they are actually best friends. Likewise, the story also adds a bit of spice with Merit’s somewhat fiery/antagonistic relationship with her vampiric liege Ethan, and a vague love triangle plot with another vampire called Morgan.

One major theme of this story is that of belonging, loyalty and family, with Merit being somewhat estranged from her snobbish, rich parents and getting along a lot better with Mallory, some of the vampires and her ex-cop grandfather. She’s also somewhat cynical about the vampiric traditions that she is expected to follow, and tries to walk a fine line between rebellion and obedience too.

Likewise, the “world” of the novel is pretty interesting too. It is set in a version of Chicago where vampires are public knowledge, and maintain a respectable and orderly system of traditions and “houses”. They also usually drink pre-packaged blood instead of biting people. They also face discrimination too. The story’s detective plot, which really doesn’t get enough focus, links into this since the presence of a vampire serial killer threatens to turn humanity against the vampires. Plus, of course, being an urban fantasy novel, there are also nymphs, shapeshifters, witches etc… too.

As for the writing in this novel, it’s pretty good and it is one of the main things that keeps the novel compelling. The story is narrated by Merit, which allows for lots of characterisation (since she’s a fairly ordinary twentysomething student, who is way out of her depth) in addition to lots of sarcastic humour and numerous pop culture references (which, for a ten-year old novel, still feel reasonably modern and fresh). The novel’s narrative style is reasonably informal and fast-paced, which helps to keep the story readable and interesting. Likewise, the chapter titles are wonderfully comedic too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 339 pages, it’s relatively concise by modern standards. Likewise, although there are long “everyday life” drama segments in between the few meagre moments of suspense, horror, detection and action, these segments are kept reasonably readable and compelling thanks to the strength of the narration and the characters.

All in all, although this novel was different to what I had expected, it was still reasonably enjoyable. The story’s narration, characters, premise and humour are reasonably good and they help to keep the story compelling.

However, not only is this an introduction to a longer series, but it also skimps on the horror, action-thriller and detective elements too. Even so, it’s a fun piece of light entertainment. But, if you want a more thrilling and horror-filled vampire story, then I’d probably recommend reading Jocelynn Drake’s “Nightwalker” or playing “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” instead.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Review: “Working For The Devil” By Lilith Saintcrow (Novel)

A few weeks before I wrote this review, I was waiting for some books to arrive when I spotted a copy of Lilith Saintcrow’s 2005 novel “Working For The Devil” on one of my bookshelves. If I remember rightly, I found this book in a charity shop sometime during the late 2000s/early 2010s (probably when I was reading Mike Carey’s awesome “Felix Castor” novels, at a guess), but never quite got round to reading it back then.

So, after glancing at the first few pages and thinking “Yes, this is my kind of novel!”, I ended up ordering a second-hand anthology of all five novels in the series (it’s a giant tome of a book, so it seemed more ergonomic to read the individual paperback of this novel). I then…. got distracted by other books for several weeks, until this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Working For The Devil”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2007 Orbit (UK) paperback reprint of “Working With The Devil” that I read.

The novel begins in the fictional US city of Saint City, at some point in the distant future. A necromancer (and part-time bounty hunter) called Dante Valentine is having a quiet afternoon at home when there is a knock on the door. When she opens it, a mysterious demon points a gun at her and tells her that his boss – Lucifer- wants to hire her for an urgent job. Needless to say, it looks like Dante will be… working with the devil!

More specifically, Lucifer wants Dante to track down and kill an escaped demon who has stolen something from him. Although Dante is initially wary about this, she soon learns that the demon in question is none other than the man who murdered her best friend several years earlier. So, in true action movie fashion, this time it’s personal!

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that is it awesome 🙂 Not only is it a totally badass horror/urban fantasy action-thriller novel (in the tradition of writers like Mike Carey, Jocelynn Drake and Laurell K. Hamilton), but it is also set in a cyberpunk-influenced future that reminded me a bit of things like “Blade Runner“, “Cowboy Bebop“, “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” and Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash“. In other words, it is a really cool novel 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the horror/urban fantasy elements of this story. Although this story isn’t really particularly scary, there’s lots of horror-themed stuff here, like necromancy, hell, demons, serial killers, evil schools etc… Plus, although there’s relatively little of the gory horror that you’d expect in a novel like this, this story still works reasonably well as a horror-themed thriller.

Likewise, the story certainly has it’s own mythos and set of rules (eg: regarding magical power, necromancy etc..) which really help to add some depth and atmosphere to the story. The story’s fantasy elements also blend in really well with the sci-fi elements of the story too – with Dante’s astral voyages into the realm of the dead, manipulation of magical power etc.. almost reading like futuristic cyberpunk computer hacking at times. Likewise, the way that society reacts to the presence of psychics, necromancers etc… allows for some chillingly dystopian background elements too.

The novel’s action-thriller elements work really well too. Although there is a fair amount of time devoted to things like investigations and characterisation/dialogue, the story remains fairly gripping throughout and there are certainly a few dramatic fight scenes too (Dante carries a katana with her everywhere. So, this is kind of a given) – although not quite as many as you might expect. Still, this is the kind of compelling novel that you’ll want to binge-read in a couple of 2-3 hour sessions 🙂

The story’s sci-fi elements are really cool too 🙂 Although this novel initially just seems like an “ordinary” urban fantasy novel with a few futuristic words (eg: “holovid”, “plasgun” etc..) dropped into it for flavour, the “world” and atmosphere of the story is gloriously cyberpunk 🙂

Whether it’s the neon-lit “Blade Runner”-like Saint City, the scenes with flying skateboards (which reminded me of Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash”), the scenes set in a futuristic version of Rio Di Janeiro (which reminded me of a low-budget 1990s cyberpunk movie called “Nemesis) or the vaguely “Shadowrun: Dragonfall”-esque blending of fantasy and cyberpunk, this novel has a really cool cyberpunk background to it. Seriously, I absolutely love the “world” of this novel 🙂

In terms of the writing, it’s reasonably good. The novel’s first-person narration is the kind of gritty, sarcastic, fast-paced narration that you’d expect to see in a good urban fantasy/thriller novel 🙂 The writing contains enough descriptions and characterisation to keep the story atmospheric, whilst also being “matter of fact” enough to keep things thrilling and intense too.

As for the characters, they’re really good. There’s certainly enough characterisation here to make you care about what happens to the characters. As you would expect, Dante Valentine gets the most characterisation – and she’s a rather interesting character. Although she clearly takes inspiration from Anita Blake (from Laurell K. Hamilton’s novels), I found Dante to be a more interesting character than Anita Blake.

In addition to being a total and utter badass (who mostly avoids the annoying “goody two-shoes” elements of Anita Blake’s character), Dante is also something of a social outcast (on account of her magical abilities) who is also grappling with both a grim past and a complex web of friendships and antagonism (especially since, amongst other things, Dante ends up being magically linked to a demon and also has to team up with her ex-boyfriend too).

And, yes, although this is one of those novels where the main characters spend quite a lot of time arguing with each other about various things, it never really becomes too obnoxious. If anything, it helps to add tension and drama to the story. This type of thing is quite difficult to get right, but this story seems to handle it pretty well.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly reasonable. Although this story is 382 pages long (in the edition I read, the version in the anthology is shorter due to larger pages/smaller print), the fast-paced story and narration means that it never really feels too long. Likewise, as I mentioned earlier, although the novel devotes quite a bit of time to characterisation etc…, it never really gets slow or boring.

All in all, this is a really cool novel 🙂 It’s always awesome to see the urban fantasy/horror genre being mixed with the cyberpunk and action-thriller genres 🙂 If you like writers like Jocelynn Drake or Mike Carey, then you’ll love this novel. Yes, it could possibly have done with a little bit more action and some scarier horror, but it’s still a wonderfully gripping and atmospheric novel nonetheless.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.