I’ve been increasingly impressed at the quality of writing coming out of Baen – so when I noticed this book on the library shelves, I immediately picked it up.
The hidden world lurking in the shadows of coastal Maine outside the tourist season, is where Black Dogs hunt the night and selkies toss unpleasant truths over their shoulders before diving into the next wave. In the center of this, Kate Archer tends and guards one of the spookiest carousels this side of Ray Bradbury and wonders what has happened to her grandmother. The old woman sent her a letter, left papers deeding over the carousel, house and Land (meaning much more than property), and vanished, telling the spirits of the land and sea that she expected to be back before the turning of the year. Now March has come and gone and Kate must return from self-exile to take up powers and responsibilities she has renounced, or dying will be the least of her problems.
Whether this is magic realism, or contemporary fantasy is a call for someone else – what it definitely isn’t – is a crime/thriller set in a modern city where the protagonist is ranged against vamps/weres while fighting an undeniable physical attraction with said supernatural beasties… In other words – it is different from the general run of modern fantasy – to the extent that I would be very reluctant to park it on a shelf labelled Urban Fantasy.
Kate Archer relinquished her responsibilities to the Land and walked away, believing that it was her duty to do so. She has returned with reluctance, ailing and angry, to find that everything is not as it should be. Right from the start, Lee plunges us into the action in this atmospheric corner of Maine and has us completely identifying with her protagonist as Kate has to confront a range of enemies, some human and some definitely not…
The world is beautifully conveyed with cinematic sharpness without any loss of narrative pace – not an easy thing to pull off. However, it all appears effortless in the capable, talented hands of Lee. From the first page, I realised that I was in for an enjoyable ride in an engrossing world, peopled with a cast of interesting, eccentrically different people. The mention of Ray Bradbury isn’t as random as it might appear – I was reminded of the Great Man in the characterisation and feel of this story – the batwing horse is definitely one I’m going to remember for a while… Lee is clearly thoroughly familiar with this area of Maine, although the actual town of Archers Beach is a conglomeration of a number of similar places. Not only does she know this part of the world – she loves it. That affection resonates throughout the book, giving her writing an extra depth and grounding.
The plot whisks along at just the right pace – not so much that we lose out on the wonderful setting and interesting characters, but providing plenty of impetus to turn the pages… I should have stopped reading and settled down for an early night – but I read on until the small hours to discover what happened. And these days, I don’t do that very often.
This enjoyable gem will linger in the mind for a long time with a grin of pleasure to accompany it – and let’s face it, with the constant bad news crowding our papers and tv screens – anything that can achieve that is worth reading.