International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (I stumbled across that fact this morning), and since I literally just finished a title that fits very well with that theme, I thought I'd do my part to show my support with a quick review.
I'm honestly not sure what compelled me to request a digital ARC when I saw Shadows & Dreams show up on NetGalley. I hadn't read the first Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator novel and knew nothing about the author, Alexis Hall, but something about the sarcastic tone of the cover blurb hooked me. I'm a sucker for a good vampire novel, and it's been a while since I dabbled in the sub-genre that Anita Blake made famous, so figured I'd give it a shot.
Damn, but I'm glad I did.
This was one hell of a fun read. Alexis Hall demonstrates more imagination and inventiveness here, in this single book, than many authors do in an entire (endless) urban fantasy series. Yes, you've got vampires and werewolves (both with an interesting mythology), but you've also got faeries and nymphs, demons, animated marble statues, angry unicorns, and even a Buffy/Batman figure. There's almost too much going on, like a superhero movie that tries to horn in one too many villains, but it actually works. This was a book that had me thinking, "Oh, that's cool" or "Hey, I like that" on a regular basis.
Much of the novel's charm, of course, rests on the weary shoulders of Kate Kane herself. She walks a fine line between parody and irony, being both a hard-drinking, heavy-smoking, hardboiled detective and an over-sexed, smart-assed urban fantasy heroine. She's also an out-and-proud lesbian, one who has left the landscape littered awkward relationships. She's currently in love/lust with a lesbian vampire prince, while being chased by a lesbian werewolf pack leader, with a lesbian ex-girlfriend (the aforementioned Buffy/Batman figure) still very much in the picture, and yet another lesbian ex-lover just having escaped from prison, where she was serving time for murdering Kate's business partner. Kate is conceited and self-assured, to the point of assuming that every woman who crosses her path is looking to flirt . . . and, you know, she's generally right.
In terms of plot, there are several interwoven stories here that not only cross paths naturally, but which each get a worthy climax. It all starts with a simple missing person's case, but ends in one of those paranormal battles upon which the fate of the entire world rests. The ways in which the stories cross paths keeps the novel moving from one scene to another, and prevents the story from ever lagging, even for a moment. It's an intense tale, full of both action and lust, but all of that is balanced with a steady dose of sarcastic humor. Again, like I mentioned earlier, there's almost too much going on, but Kate's narration keeps it all in check. She's a great character, and one I look forward to reading more about, especially with the very innocent and down-to-earth Elise as her ever-curious marble sidekick.
Comprised of equal parts urban fantasy, paranormal romance, vampire soap opera, and vigilante action heroism, this was one hell of a read. It's fun and feisty, with snappy dialogue and witty repartee, but it never cheapens the drama. There are some very large stakes here (pun intended), and while I thought Alexis Hall was writing Kate into a corner, I was entirely satisfied with the way everything came together to resolve the story. Shadows & Dreams is a book that knows very well that it's responsible for fitting into a niche, but which has a lot of fun claiming and twisting the genre tropes for its own end.
ebook, 362 pages
Expected publication: June 16th 2014 by Riptide Publishing