Debut Review – The Better Part of Darkness

The Better Part of Darkness

by Kelly Gay
Amazon USAUKCanada
Pocket Books – 7.99

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.

11 Thoughts to “Debut Review – The Better Part of Darkness”

  1. I have to admit, this does sound interesting. It’s not the sort of thing I generally read, but I may have to add it to the list.

  2. Every once in a while, I try to read outside my comfort zone, and this was a nice foray.

  3. Chicory

    Grit and humor. That piques my interest -mainly because I love those slightly gritty detective stories (provided they’re light on the gore). I’m really glad to know there isn’t a huge problem for Christian readers. While most of what I read is secular, and I don’t mind having my ideas occasionally challenged when it makes me think out my beliefs more clearly, I have a real problem with the way some people handle my faith. (Never made it through the last book in His Dark Materials for that reason, though I adored the first book, and was okay with the second.)

  4. Chicory

    Forgot to add, that is an amazingly beautiful front cover.

  5. It’s a Chris McGrath cover.

    There IS one gory scene in the final battle, and I pretty much winced my way through it. But one or two such scenes I can handle.

    I do agree with you about having your faith challenged. But concepts like sex with demons or angels is off-putting for me. You will not find that here. Considering the concepts in this novel, Kelly pretty much keeps her hand off Christian (or any other religion, for that matter) concepts.

    The protagonist even prays!

  6. Deborah Blake

    This review makes the book sound much more tempting than the cover blurb! And I’ve been enjoying the guest blogs by the author, so I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for the book.

    If you are interested in taking this same journey with another debut author (and maybe you’re not–but I for one found the guest blogs enjoyable and informative) you might want to check out my pal Shannon Delany, whose first book, 13 to Life: A Werewolf Tale, is coming out from St. Martin’s next year. (It’s a YA)

  7. Thanks for the review Tia! I’m really looking forward to reading this book now; it sounds like a lot of fun.

  8. Deborah, I will definitely check out Shannon, who needs to be on my debut calendar in any case. And I really think you would like THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS.

    Kristen, I will look for your review!

  9. Deborah Blake

    Email me at the debblake addy and I will give you Shannon’s contact info. Or you can DM her on Twitter 🙂

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  10. […] I reviewed The Better Part of Darkness before Thanksgiving and found it fast-paced and engrossing, with touching relationships and an intriguing mythology. The author is, of course, Kelly Gay, who has been a frequent guest on both of my blogs as my first-ever Upcoming Debut Author. Here are all her posts: […]

  11. […] many novels in those genres. I’m super-picky with urban fantasy and only got through one, The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay, which was […]

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