Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Battling Baddies in Bruges

A fascinating and beautiful medieval city. A young American woman on temporary foreign assignment, coping with the unknowns of working in a strange land and with the hassle of trying to avoid her misogynistic new supervisor. A host of vampires, witches, ghosts, and assorted other fae creatures. What could be more entertaining? 

Well, a lot of things, actually—although there are, fortunately, a few high points—in E.J. Stevens’ urban fantasy, Hunting in Bruges


Jenna Lehane is a young—check that, very young—member of the American order of a worldwide organization known as the Hunters’ Guild, whose mission it is to keep humans safe from all manner of dangers… especially those of the supernatural variety.

It seems nefarious paranormal activity has recently picked up in the ancient city of Bruges, and the Guild there—woefully understaffed—has put out a call for assistance. Fresh off a job that had kinda gone sideways, Jenna’s boss knows an opportunity when he sees it, and packs her off to Belgium to help out (and hopefully, to avoid any censure from the State-side higher-ups).

Turns out it’s a matter of walking from one hairy situation into another, though, when Jenna learns just how many people (several dozen) have died in the city recently… and when she meets the somewhat-sketchy skeleton crew left working in the Bruges branch of the Guild.

Her fellow Hunters consist of the aforementioned sexist (human) ape who turns out to be her supervisor; an addlepated witch (made so by her addiction to a witchy drug); the extremely-grouchy (and quite possibly, incompetent) coroner; a crazy Russian demolitions expert (who just wants to blow everything up, of course); the blind archivist who mans (surprisingly well) the Guild’s massive library; and the quirky ghost of a former Hunter (who, curiously, only manifests in mostly-corporeal form around Jenna). 

Set against the wonders and charms of beautiful Bruges, it’s up to Jenna and her motley crew to save the city’s innocent populace—as well as its most prized relic—by eradicating the violent (but well-organized) group of bloodsuckers, and assorted other supernatural baddies, that are up to no good. But, with both an eclipse and a massive city-wide celebration imminent, the clock is ticking down far too quickly for Jenna’s comfort… 

In truth, Hunting in Bruges isn’t a bad book; the problem is, it’s not really that good of a book, either.

The problems start with Jenna, and how Stevens depicts her. I can forgive the common urban fantasy trope of making her an orphan. I can grit my teeth—but go along with—her being ridiculously skilled at handling all weaponry. And she’s young, fine… although 20?? To have so many kills under her belt (or strung on her necklace, in the case of the vamp teeth she wears), when she’s only just entered her third decade on earth? That’s asking for the reader to swallow an awful lot.  

Jenna’s inner monologues may actually go along with her being so impossibly young—after all, who, just out of her/his teens, tends to have deeply-meaningful thoughts?—but that doesn’t change how monotonous and repetitious they quickly become. (It’s like being in the mind of a teenager. Ugh.)

Like I said, Hunting in Bruges isn’t entirely without redeeming qualities. A couple of the supporting characters—particularly the witch and the ghost—are given some substance, which raises the bar during their scenes. The historical tie-ins aren’t vast, but add a little interest to the proceedings. And the confrontations Jenna has with the vampires, as well as with a couple of water fae, are full of action (and free of any sparkly-pretty gussying-up of the baddies, thankfully).

By far the best part about Hunting in Bruges, though, is, well, Bruges. I may not remember the characters in this book past the end of the year (nor is it likely I’ll ever read more in the series), but I will certainly still very much want to visit this fascinating city… in which case Stevens has done me a small favor, by bringing it to the forefront of my mind once more.