Next up: “Heart of Stone”, “House of Cards”, “Hands of Flame”, and “Baba Yaga’s Daughter and Other Tales of the Old Races” by C.E. Murphy.
This is a series of three main books, and a fourth one that is a collection of short stories set in the world.
This is an urban fantasy series that, like many others, takes a minor cop-drama route to telling its story. The main character, Margrit Knight, is a lawyer who more or less finds herself abruptly involved in an ongoing investigation of a rash of murders when she stumbles across the apparent murderer red-handed. But the man she saw was not quite human… and now she’s involved in an entire new world tucked into the shadows of this one. What’s more, she begins to find herself drawn to the strange man, who insists that he wasn’t the murder, that he has been trying to protect the women who had been targeted by the real murderer.
The first book kind of starts with the tone of a ‘new crime every book’ sort of series, but that isn’t really what it is. Instead, the overarching main plot unfolds over the course of the three books and deals mainly with the Old Races and the complicated politics and histories that surround them.
I feel like the first book isn’t a great introduction to the series as a whole because it doesn’t have the best hook. The Old Races and their history is really the best part of the series, I think, but it’s a gradual unfurling. Taken as a whole, I like the series. Taken book by book, and my regard wanes a little. They are greater than the sum of their parts. The book of short stories was amazing for all the history it gave about the Old Races; it’s not required reading for the series but it might be my favorite part.
The first book is kind of messy, though I think I can understand why it is the way it is. The concept of an urban fantasy series where each book has the main character(s) solving some new supernaturally-spiced crime is very common. Probably Murphy first conceived of Margrit and Alban in such a setting, but as the characters and world developed through her writing, they began to suggest a different path. Unfortunately, there’s a little meandering before it hits its stride.
I do like that Margrit is a woman of mixed race (despite the stupid cover-art, grumble grumble) and that it is actually discussed. Particularly since there’s some discussion of ‘humanity’ (though meant in the terms of ‘personhood’ since some of the character aren’t actually human), and it means that Margrit has some interesting things to add to the conversation.
Overall, not a bad read, but not my favorite example of urban fantasy. Definitely does some things in a nice new way (I’ve never read an urban fantasy that used the mythological creatures this series did).
Some mentions of violence, what with the murders. Some general weirdness because of supernatural things that might require warning (example: vampires can thrall people).