Before I get into my review, I should be up front about something . . . okay, two things. Number one, I don't generally read a lot of urban fantasy. Not sure why, but I guess I prefer a more complete escape or disconnect from reality. Second, I don't generally read too many books that cross over onto the paranormal romance shelves. It's not that I have anything against romance, just that I'd rather it not be the dominant focus of the story.
So, with all of that in mind, it's a bit of a surprise that I agreed to give B.R. Kingsolver's The Succubus Gift a read, and even more surprising that I quite enjoyed it.
This is a book that wastes no time in getting down to business. We barely even know the main character's name yet, and suddenly we're smack-dab in the middle of an unexpected family reunion made awkward by supernatural secrets and secret society politics. It's a little bewildering, but it certainly serves to keep you off-balance, unsure as to what's coming next. Fortunately, Brenna is a strong, colourful, likeable character who serves to keep the reader grounded. Even though she's been a telepath all her life, the revelations of a wider supernatural world (and her place in it) are as new to her as it is to us.
There were two elements of the book that initially kept me reading, and ultimately kept me entertained. The first is the mythology behind the book, which incorporates an ancient Goddess, gifts of telepathy and telekinesis, and an actual succubus. I liked the way Kingsolver played with out expectations of the various elements, twisting them to create a mythological background all her own. It's quite varied and strong, and really holds the novel together.
The second element, the one that kept me entertained, is the strength of her characters. Strong, vibrant, and colourful, they all seem larger than life, the kind of people you really wish could exist off the page. More than that, though, they are characters that grow and evolve. In some cases, that growth simply comes from us learning more about them. In the case of Brenna, however, she really does develop over the course of the story, maturing from this nervous, insecure young woman into someone far more confident, powerful, and capable.
If I were to have one complaint, it would be that the pacing is somewhat uneven. That frantic, headlong rush into the story gives way to several drawn out scenes that seem a little too carefully crafted to create drama, as opposed to moving the story along. It's not a huge issue, and nothing that impacted my enjoyment of the read, just an observation looking back. For the most part, the storytelling is solid and both the action and the romantic sequences work well.
All-in-all, a pleasant surprise.