First, some caveats. This isn’t my usual genre.The author knows this. I also have come to know the author over the past year of hosting her guests posts at my previous blog, Fantasy Debut, and swapping emails. So, I’m not entirely impartial. It’s difficult to write a review from this position, so I just thought I’d let you know up front. Hopefully, the one will balance the other.
Oh, and one more thing. I just finished the novel. Just now. I usually like to let things percolate for a day or so before attempting to write a review, but as I write this, release day is tomorrow so I’ll just do the best I can. So here it goes.
The Better Part of Darkness proves to me that I should read outside my genre more often.
I admit to having some trepidation when I started reading it, mostly because of this blurb:
Atlanta: it’s the promised city for the off-worlders, foreigners from the alternate dimensions of heaven-like Elysia and hell-like Charbydon. Some bring good works and miracles. And some bring unimaginable evil….
Charlie Madigan is a divorced mother of one, and a kick-ass cop trained to take down the toughest human and off-world criminals. She’s recently returned from the dead after a brutal attack, an unexplained revival that has left her plagued by ruthless nightmares and random outbursts of strength that make doing her job for Atlanta P.D.’s Integration Task Force even harder. Since the Revelation, the criminal element in Underground Atlanta has grown, leaving Charlie and her partner Hank to keep the chaos to a dull roar. But now an insidious new danger is descending on her city with terrifying speed, threatening innocent lives: a deadly, off-world narcotic known as ash. Charlie is determined to uncover the source of ash before it targets another victim — but can she protect those she loves from a force more powerful than heaven and hell combined?
I try not to let blurbs influence me too much when I review a book, but this one had me nervous. The Revelation? A force more powerful than heaven and hell combined? Is this one of those books that will wreak havoc on my Christian faith?
But it also had some things going for it. I didn’t see any evidence of vampires. The heroine-mom concept really appealed to me. And I was very curious about what Ms. Gay did with Atlanta Underground, which I’d love to see one day.
So in the end, I decided to trust Ms. Gay more than the blurb writer, and hope it really wasn’t all that accurate. And it wasn’t. I won’t give it all away, but the Revelation in The Better Part of Darkness does not refer to that Revelation, and the force more powerful than heaven and hell combined — well, maybe the blurb writer was just trying to be provocative.
Unless that part of the blurb referred to Charlie, herself.
What I enjoyed the most about this book was the way Ms. Gay blended humor with grittiness. I would not call this a humorous novel by any means, but has some much-needed light moments. And they are perfectly woven in. Even in the darkest of moments, some bit of levity manages to creep in, and often, it made me laugh out loud. Bravo for this. I hate novels that are nothing but angst from cover to cover.
Another thing I really enjoyed is that it felt more like a science fiction novel than a fantasy. The entrance to Charbydon and Elysia were discovered through scientific means. The drug, ash, is made in a lab. There is genetic manipulation between the beings of Charbydon, Elysia and Earth. And the beings of Charbydon and Elysia are neither demonic nor angelic. This near-perfect blend of science fiction and fantasy leads me to one of my few critiques — there is some ritual magic that must take place on “unconsecrated ground” toward the end that didn’t really fit in with the mood of the rest of the book. Science and magic are blended so well together that the whole idea of consecrated and unconsecrated ground didn’t feel relevant to me as a reader. Whose power was the ritual invoking? There didn’t seem to be any way to tap into powers by means of a ritual, because those doing the ritual pretty much had all the power. Other concepts are unexplained, such as a dying moon. How does a moon die? Losing its orbit? Disintegrating? It was never made clear.
Charlie, while capable of a wry wit, was not one of those annoying snarky heroines. She is very tough and kicks ass and uses foul language. But she loves fiercely and is protective to the point of smothering — except she won’t allow herself that. She has great relationships with those she loves, her sister Bryn, her daughter Emma and even her ex-husband, Will. Her partner, Hank, and her have some of the best dialog in the novel.
The pages just flew by. It’s almost 400 pages but I managed to finish most of it over the weekend. It segues nicely into a sequel, where I hope some of these questions get answered. I think urban fantasy fans will love The Better Part of Darkness, and fence-sitters who are tired of snark and vampires will find Ms. Gay’s concepts and twists unique and refreshing.