Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Badass in Beantown


Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past several years, you’re no doubt aware that Urban Fantasy fiction has virtually exploded during that time, in terms of both popularity and the number of new releases. That doesn’t mean it’s some newfangled genre, however; the fact is that there has always been a certain segment of readers devoted to the macabre, the mystical, the mythical, and the magical--and an assortment of writers more than willing to cater to such devotion. 
For those of us who like to dream of a different place--not necessarily better, mind you, just different than where we are right now--UF offers a chance to escape, to explore new worlds and new realities... while retaining at least some semblance to the world in which we live. New-to-the-genre Nancy Holzner’s Deadtown is an example of one of the best new UF series out there.    
Deadtown is set in Boston, in an uneasy world in which supernatural creatures are "out"... but not really trusted or respected. In fact, for the most part, these "Paranormal Americans" (PAs, for short) are shunned, forced to live in a cordoned-off area of the city known as "Deadtown". They need special IDs, marking their non-human/non-normal status. They can't go to other areas--let alone other states--without special passes... and that's if they're among the luckier ones, like vampires and werewolves. (Or Boston's only "active" shapeshifter, our heroine.) Things are considerably more grim for the "Previously Deceased Humans" (zombies, to you and me), a sizable segment of regular people who were unlucky enough to be congregated in a small area of town when a plague hit that area out-of-the-blue, and a super-rare virus changed their lives--and the attitudes of a city-- forevermore.
Victory Vaughn--Vicky, for short, naturally--is Cerdorrian, part of a very long line of Welsh shapeshifters (and, as already mentioned, the only "active" one registered in Boston). Vicky shares some of the same traits as werewolves--increased strength and greater regenerative powers--but unlike them, she can change into any sentient being she chooses (up to three times per moon cycle). Also unlike other paranormals, she can be killed by normal means (regular bullets, regular knife blades, etc., will do her in). So, she has to rely on her wits, as well as on skills acquired through combat training and spell-casting, in her job as Boston's (only) demon slayer-for-hire.
Um, demon-slayer? Yep. Demons, you see, are a whole 'nother matter--and a very troublesome one, indeed. There are many types of demons, all of which can only enter our world/our consciousness at night, for the sole purpose of bedeviling and making miserable the humans they attack (typically whilst the unwary humans sleep). In a city the size of Boston, there are many demons to be slain, so Vicky has a pretty good business going, ridding people of their assorted demons and allowing them to once again enjoy untroubled sleep. She has a nice apartment she shares with her vampire roommate, Juliet. She has an on-again, off-again boyfriend, a charismatic werewolf who works as a high-profile lawyer. She has an older sister, married, and a niece and nephews to spoil. Life is running pretty smoothly for Vicky... until suddenly, it isn't, any longer. 
One of her clients--a satisfied customer, as it happens--dies a mysterious death, and Vicky is hauled in for questioning. A horrible monster from her past--one which haunts her own dreams and scares the crap out of her--returns. A glory-seeking researcher wants to study Vicky and her unique DNA, to see if a "cure" can be found (despite the fact that Vicky sees nothing wrong with who and what she is). Her boyfriend is in the middle of a huge political brouhaha as the elections role around, as he campaigns for the father-of-a-zombie-daughter incumbent mayor (supportive of the PA cause), who is facing off against a very anti-PA opponent (and whose win in the mayoral race would mean very bad things for Boston's PA population). And, Vicky discovers that the fate of the world--well, her little corner of it, anyway--rests in her own small hands. (Not because she's the best, as she's quick to point out, but because she's willing to fight the fight.)
I found Deadtown to be an “unputdownable” book. The world is rich and layered, with its well-drawn "monsters", atmospheric setting, and the believable relationships between humans and PAs. (If there really were such beings in our world, I could well imagine the world being something very much like the one Holzner depicts.) Perhaps even more importantly, Vicky is a superb heroine. She's strong and smart--but not ridiculously so. She isn't a man-with-brass-balls in the guise of a gorgeous-buxom-perfect-woman (as too many over-the-top heroines are often drawn); nor is she a whiny, helpless, "woe is me" female waiting around for the guy to save her. Not at all. In fact, in one scene... no, no, you just need to read the book yourselves. Far be it from me to spoil the fun of seeing first-hand where this wildly-creative, compulsively-readable story goes.


Catnip Mousie Rating: 4 out of 5 mousies