Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In the Land of the Dark, Evil Rules


The next time you’re having an especially crappy day at work, remind yourself that things could always be worse. You could, for instance, be doing something like toiling away in a meat processing plant (shudder) or mucking about in a sewage treatment facility (cringe)... or, you could be earning a meager income as a demon-slayer-for-hire, valiantly battling all the ooky, creepy, dangerous creatures from the underworld every night, while most people (like you and I) are slumbering comfortably in their beds. 
See? Things really could be worse... as they are for Victory “Vicky” Vaughn, who continues trying to rid Boston’s residents of their pesky personal demons (with creepily corporeal forms), in the latest installment of Nancy Holzner’s consistently-entertaining “Deadtown” series, Darklands.
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Not much has changed in Deadtown--the quarantined section of Boston which all of the city’s inhuman (supernatural) and undead (zombie) residents are forced to call home--since our last visit. (Well, not after Vicky defeated an old enemy and sent another off to rot in some eternal, underworld-y abyss, anyway.) The Goon Squad still patrols Deadtown’s borders and rounds up the unruly. Vampires still look for eager humans to feed from, werewolves still hold normal jobs but go off to get furry three nights every month, and zombies still cram junk food down their throats pretty much whenever they’re awake. 
A few things have changed, though. Vicky’s niece Maria is unhappily suffering through the awkward early stages of becoming a shapeshifter (like her aunt). Her vampire roommate, Juliet, is under house arrest and trying to help the authorities figure out what The Old Ones (evil, ancient supernatural beings, just like they sound) are secretly attempting to do. Her werewolf boyfriend, Kane, is busy working (rather more enthusiastically than Vicky would like) on a beautiful werewolf’s campaign for a seat on the city council.
And, curiously, Vicky’s clients are suddenly canceling their demon-extermination dates with her, almost every single one. 
She’s not entirely sure which of these changes she’s most worried about, but the last--the only one that directly affects her ability to put food on the table and pay her rent--is certainly the most pressing. It’s also the one she feels most qualified to deal with (given her basic lack of skill at dealing with family matters, The Old Ones, and romantic entanglements), so, it’s off to figure out where her clients’ AWOL personal demons have gone. 
Once she starts doing some digging, she realizes just how right she is to be concerned... really concerned. The demons aren’t just off playing hooky somewhere, or messing with everyone’s heads in some pesky demonic lark; they’re actually missing, vanished without a trace. 
Sure enough, a couple of personal chance encounters later--with creatures bent on putting her out of commission permanently--plus some time spent pouring over the local papers and trolling the internet, leads Vicky to a most unappealing realization: her own demi-demon cousin (and bane of her existence), Pryce, is back... trying to revive not only his own powers, but to resurrect the very life force of another evil being, too.
If he can do it, it will mean the end of everything and everyone, for the forces he’s trying to summon are the darkest there are. Vicky is the only one who stands a snowball’s chance of preventing the catastrophic loss and mayhem that would surely follow if he were to succeed... but in order to do so, she’ll have to make an unholy deal with the devil and face the worst things imaginable. Vicky will have to enter the Darklands, where all dead things live again... a place where she will have no powers, and with only her worst fears and nightmares to keep her company. 
The odds are not in her favor... 
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There’s no shortage of urban fantasy series out there right now, from a few addictive, immensely-entertaining ones, to those that I only made it through a book or two before giving up on (and in one memorable case, not even a whole book, ugh). Holzner’s “Deadtown”, happily, maintains its place among those UF series I eagerly look forward to and really enjoy with Darklands.
The world-building is well-planned, striking a nice balance by showing what we need to know without overwhelming us. Her characters continue to be interesting, occasionally surprising me (just like people sometimes do in real life). And, I find the idea of the personal demons--demons that feed on things such as guilt or grief or the 7 Deadly Sins, and which Vicky battles in the flesh, in the sufferer’s dreamscape--fascinating. (Being eaten alive by guilt takes on a whole new meaning in Darklands.)
And, with this outing, we’re treated to a visit to those eponymous Darklands... a mysterious place different enough from depictions by other authors who’ve also ventured to the realm of the dead, to keep me mesmerized throughout. 
If you’re already a Holzner fan, pick up Darklands now; if you’re a UF fan but have yet to read her, I’d recommend starting at the beginning (because while you could read these alone, it would be a shame to miss out on how we got to this point). Either way, this one’s definitely recommended. :)

GlamKitty catnip mousie rating:  As enchanting as a new 'nippy toy