Drugs, Magic, and Life After Death... Just Another Day in Atlanta

During a recent Amazon shopping extravaganza, I loaded up my cart with all manner of nifty things--a couple of new Urban Fantasy books I was looking forward to, some favorites I wasn't content to only have on Kindle, a classic, a few older/used books (friend recommendations) from outside sellers, plus a couple of DVDs and a few other gifts. My virtual cart was stuffed; at least, the real-world version would have been. 
Still, I wasn't content; I had to add "one more thing". So I browsed some more, until I came upon a new book, by a first-time author, which sounded promising. Into the cart it went. A few more mouse-clicks, and my shopping was completed. (Ah, the wonders of cyberspace.)
Only a couple days later, and I'd already received most of my goodies. I was in reader heaven. I dove into my new UFs and my classic. I lovingly stroked the new pb-versions of my Kindle favorites, promising to reread them in tactile form very soon. I cracked open the older/used books and planned which of them I'd attack first.
Meanwhile, my last selection sat unloved and unappreciated, following a cursory glance at the cover when it first arrived. For some reason, I just wasn't into it. It was another UF, but it sounded too... sci-fi, or something. Finally, though, I decided to give it a go, and, woo-hoo! It turned out to be one of those stories in which the further I read, the more absorbed I became, until it was almost unbearable to put the book down, just to go take care of Real Life!
Kelly Gay's The Better Part of Darkness is, as already mentioned, an Urban Fantasy with strong Sci-Fi leanings. (It probably delves more into Sci-Fi territory than any other UF/PR book I've read. It's also a more-complex story than most, requiring greater attention on the part of the reader; if you don't pay attention, you will miss something important that you need to know/remember later.) The story focuses on a detective duo working for the Atlanta PD--Charlie Madigan, a recently-divorced mom with an 11-yr-old daughter at home, and her partner Hank, a siren from another world. (The Atlanta setting feels pretty much like the present-day, but it's a present-day in which races from two alien worlds have come to Earth and begun to settle, becoming members of our society and finding acceptance to varying degrees.) Charlie and Hank are well-trained and well-armed; they have regular weapons to use if necessary against human baddies, and they carry specialized weapons designed to take down or incapacitate the "alien" evil-doers--and won't hesitate to use any of the weapons at their disposal. As so often happens when dealing with any special "foreign" groups, though, the detectives frequently find themselves at odds with the powers-that-be, as all their interactions with these new beings have potential political and racial/species ramifications.
Charlie and Hank soon find themselves embroiled in a very worrisome case--a new drug, known on the street as ash, has hit the city, and human victims of it are turning up every few days, comatose. Even worse, there isn't a known cure; after coming out of their comas, the victims invariably die. When a prominent city mover-and-shaker's daughter (who also happens to be Charlie's daughter's babysitter) turns up a victim of ash, Charlie and Hank are on the case full-time. From there, the story builds, as the pair confront an "alien" gang (which may or may not be supplying the drug), unhappy political leaders and campaigners in the upcoming elections (who may or may not be behind the drugs and receiving funding), and a host of other off-world beings and magic-makers (who either hinder or help the detectives in their investigations, for reasons of their own). 
As is true for women everywhere, Charlie's problems and headaches don't end at work, either. Having only been divorced for several months--after making the sudden, shocking discovery that her ex-husband was into some very bad things--she still harbors residual feelings for him (and her daughter, Emma, still adores him). So, she's trying to work through all of that. After having been hurt a few times too many on the job, she also frets that maybe she's selfishly putting herself at risk, so she contemplates switching to a desk job so that her daughter won't be in danger of losing her mother. She has family nearby, as well; her baby sis Bryn is into magic and woo-woo stuff (which Charlie hates)--and both of them are still trying, years later, to deal with their brother's tragic death and their own guilt and uncertainties.
And then there's that near-death experience Charlie underwent recently. Well, actual-death experience, really; Charlie died on the job and was brought back to life by a brilliant doctor... who just so happens to be the uncle of the ash-comatose babysitter, who is the daughter of a nasty, mean super-rich guy currently running for office, who hobnobs with some of the off-world higher-ups, including a very scary man also campaigning for a higher office... who, coincidentally, moonlights as a feature player in Charlie's daily nightmares, which are interrupting her sleep to the point that she's starting to come undone. There's also this strange new rage she feels inside, which keeps trying to burst free and take over. (See? I told you you'd have to keep up... ;))
Although I definitely felt a little unsure of everything for the first few pages, it didn't take long at all till I was able to let go, settle in, and just go with the flow. I enjoyed the complexity of the story and the many levels on which it worked; it's a fascinating and creative spin on UF. (And definitely not PR, for anyone trying to avoid that.) There was a lot of realism, which really helped to make it more accessible, with themes of addiction, race relations, political intrigues, and family dramas. The off-world characters turned out to be absolutely fascinating to me, and I reveled in how different they were... while in other ways, being quite similar. There were no vampires or shapeshifters here, but there were mages and jinns and seers, all of which made for really interesting reading. I don't believe this book will be appealing to everyone; it requires both a little more effort (to keep things straight) and a certain degree of patience on the part of the reader, as well as at least a smidgeon of interest in sci-fi. For anyone who likes the sound of things as described above, I'm giving it a very high recommendation! 
I'll be reading this again in the next few months; I know there are little details I missed, and I'll want to have them all worked out in my mind before the sequel, The Darkest Edge of Dawn comes out on Aug. 31, 2010. I am really excited to see where this story goes next... :)
GlamKitty rating: 4.25 catnip mice (out of 5 possible)


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