Page count: 512, time taken: 4 hours
Driven by visions, Meg Corbyn flees her captors and ends up stumbling into a job as a Human Liaison in an Others enclave in Lakeside. She quickly finds acceptance from the shape-shifting inhabitants, except from Simon Wolfgard, leader of the Courtyard, and his father. Fortunately, Meg manages to help Simon’s nephew through the worst of his severe PTSD, and Simon quickly becomes a fan. Which is useful when Meg’s past catches up to her.
Good things about this book: the shape-shifting stuff is really cool. The mythology of the world is interesting, well thought-out and explained, and the non-human characters actually feel like non-humans, instead of excuses to have a lot of wild sex and growling. (There is a lot of growling though. Some tropes are too stubborn to die.) I found the Sanguinati particularly interesting, because I love me some vampires and these were good ones.
Other good things: the supporting cast were all really well characterised, and the villains of the novel were great. The pacing was good, and the book was long enough that the plot never felt too rushed, allowing things to develop in a reasonable amount of time. (That particularly is rare to see in urban fantasy, in my experience.)
Okay but slightly heavy-handed thing: moralisation about humanity being the true monsters. (More on this in my as-yet-unwritten reviews of the next books.) This is another trope of the genre, and it’s a worthy message to try to get across, but it was not done with any great degree of subtlety.
Bad bits of the book: Meg was a magical special unique snowflake who made everyone love her instantly (with one or two exceptions) and she was precious and beloved and must be guarded and protected at all costs. I started calling her Meg Sue in my head pretty quickly. Even the parts where she fucks up, she does it in a really adorable and trying-to-help way which meant people forgave her really quickly.
Bit of the book which made me genuinely unhappy: there are repeated, graphic descriptions of self-harm which I personally found hit me far too close for comfort. There was also zero warning about it. (Granted, Meg being cassandra sangue, a blood prophet, is mentioned in the blurb a lot. That’s really not the same as a content warning though.)
Here are some numbers for you. 1 in 5 women in the US has self-harmed. 1 in 7 men in the US has self-harmed. Think about those numbers for a short while. That’s a lot of people. Whoever you are, you almost certainly know someone who uses or used self-harm as a means of coping. Of survival. I am one of those people. I know many others. The use and depiction of self-harm in this novel, and especially the sequels, made me uncomfortable in many, many ways.
The story was still pretty good though. If it had a content warning, I would happily give it 4 stars. But it doesn’t. So it gets 3, and a caveat: do not read this series if you are particularly sensitive to descriptions of self-harm, or are at risk of using self-harm as a means of coping or control. I would be very wary about recommending it to any teenager without first discussing the issues.
Cross-posted to my blog here.