I know, I know. I said I’d read anything the wonderful Angela Slatter writes and she warned me herself on Twitter that this was urban fantasy and thus nothing like her fairytale-esque story collections. But a great writer is a great writer and can dabble in many genres. Despite the underlying mythology, I found this to be a bit too much like my generic idea of an Urban Fantasy. It did have original ideas and was a fun read. I’ll just never love Urban Fantasy with all its tropes and clichés as much as I do other subgenres.
by Angela Slatter
Published by: Jo Fletcher Books, 2016
Paperback: 400 pages
Series: Verity Fassbinder #1
My rating: 7/10
First sentence: The ribbon was judging me, I knew it.
Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds. The daughter of one human and one Weyrd parent, she has very little power herself, but does claim unusual strength – and the ability to walk between us and the other – as a couple of her talents. As such a rarity, she is charged with keeping the peace between both races, and ensuring the Weyrd remain hidden from us.
But now Sirens are dying, illegal wine made from the tears of human children is for sale – and in the hands of those Weyrd who hold with the old ways – and someone has released an unknown and terrifyingly destructive force on the streets of Brisbane.
And Verity must investigate – or risk ancient forces carving our world apart.
I don’t read much urban fantasy and I’m probably doing the subgenre very wrong with my prejudices but every time I seem to pick up an UF book, all the tropes are there, the plot feels predictable, and I feel all the more justified in my reasons for avoiding books of that kind. I’m just not into your typical hot and sexy, yet snarky narrator girl who can kick ass despite weighing 45 kg. Please no more mysterious, dark handsome men – be they vampires or werewolves or something else entirely. I’m so tired of pecking orders in packs and covens or even the special supernatural FBI. It’s been done and done to bits, in so many books, TV shows, and movies.
Enter Angela Slatter, a woman who loves tropes. Well, she loves to play with and subvert them, so I knew I wouldn’t mind an Urban Fantasy written by her. She does fall victim to a cliché or two, but there are fresh ideas in here, definitely. It starts with Verity Fassbinder, who is an intriguing protagonist. First of all, I don’t know how old she is. Did I miss it in the book, was it never mentioned, was I just inattentive? Her tone of voice could put her anywhere from her early twenties to her fourties and that’s partly what made me like her but also annoying at times. A character that shifts so easily between “quirky badass young woman” to “seasoned and somewhat cynical adult” is difficult to identify with. It doesn’t matter much for the plot but I did notice and it kept taking me out of the reading flow.
My favorite part about Vigil was the world building and the cases Verity pursues. Those go hand in hand as it is those cases that show us more of the fascinating world. Angela Slatter has turned Brisneyland into a place with actual magic, both light and dark, but mostly dark and scary. Let me say first that the whole introduction of Verity’s past (or rather her father’s past) felt unnecessary and info-dumpy, especially right there at the beginning where we don’t even know who is who yet and what kind of world we are in. I would also like to say right now that if Verity’s (deceased) father surprisingly shows up alive in the sequel, I will throw something against a wall. It feels like that kind of setup and I really hope I’m wrong here.
But back to Verity Fassbinder’s Brisbane. Well, we are in a world with Normals (that’s us, folks) and Weyrd (all the weird shit) and some people who are in-between (Verity). The Weyrd hide from us with glamours and charms and so on and we all live happily side by side. Except when shit goes down, people go missing, or turn up dead – then Verity investigates. In Vigil she has both her hands full. Sirens – who are not what you think, by the way and I loved that twist to pieces – are dying and nobody knows what’s killing them. Turns out it’s not so easy to kill a mythological creature who is practically immortal. In addition, children are disappearing, and a terrifying whirlwind of evil is randomly killing people. Shit is hitting the proverbial fan and Verity has no clue where to start looking for answers. Her investigations are a lot of fun to follow, especially because she has a great relationship with her private taxi driver.
While Verity’s voice and character aren’t completely tropey, they did remind me a lot about the snarky, kickass, superstrong characters we see everywhere. Just make Buffy a bit older, fly her over to Australia, and there you go – it’s a Verity. However, she does have an interesting past, as her father was quite a… let’s say infamous figure in Weyrd circles. She also has a past with her hot vampire boss of course, which I found completely useless. It does absolutely nothing for the plot, and not much for anyone’s character development. They are not awkward with each other, their relationship doesn’t feel all heavy because of their past, it’s just a gimmick to give Bela more personality than he has as just “the boss”. On the bright side, the romance that comes Verity’s way throughout the book, is actually lovely. It’s not front and center, it happens naturally, there’s no big drama and I love both characters involved all the more for that.
I also loved little nods like Bela’s name. Zvezdomir Tepes – Tepes as in Vlad the Impaler, I’m guessing – and Bela as a nickname after Bela Lugosi. It’s thinking around two small corners like that to create a name that fits the character perfectly, that makes me really happy. The Sirens as well all have appropriate (and lovely) names, as do the Norns. I loved the inclusion of them precisely because they are not werewolves or the usual Urban Fantasy creature. Slatter knows the treasure chest of mythology and folklore is deep and I love her for looking beyond wolves and fanged bloodsuckers. It’s not only Greek mythology you’ll find here, however, and I suspect (and hope) that the next books will show us even more creatures from all around the world.
Plot-wise, this was an engaging read. It moves along quickly, there is barely a moment to catch your breath. I like that Verity’s life feels like a lived-in place, there are people who know her or work with her and this all makes Brisbane feel much more real, more alive.
All things considered, reading this was fun, but there was nothing overwhelming or groundbreaking in it for me. It’s urban fantasy and it does exactly what you expect. Sure, there are cooler creatures that replace werewolves and vampires, the romance is a wonderful background-plot, and Verity is just a good person so it’s nice to follow her around trying to save everyone. The twists at the end were well-executed, but because the three cases get jumbled up, I felt like there was no way for me to guess any of the solution. I always prefer when the clues are there and just so well hidden that I miss them, but technically could have guessed right. So yeah, I’ll read the next book in the series, but I much prefer Angela Slatter when she’s not trying to fit in a subgenre mold but just does her own thing.
MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good