Unshapely Things by Marc Del Franco
“The wrong of unshapely things
is a wrong too great to be told;”
-William Butler Yeats, The Rose in the Deep of His Heart
Connor Gray had been on the fast track in the Druidic Ward Guild (think magic Interpol)–right up until he chased down an neo-environmentalist elf terrorist in a nuclear reactor. That day, Connor lost his magic, condo, and career. What he gained was a dark shadow in his brain on an MRI and a certain lack of job prospects.
Now he serves as a washed out consultant for the Boston PD, having gone from running high-profile investigations to an hourly, minimum rate. But what Connor still has is his instinct for the weird. And there is nothing normal about the murders in the back alley’s of Boston or the meaningless ritual markings the serial killer is leaving behind. But the Guild has more ‘important’ cases and the investigation falls to Connor.
Written from a first person POV, Unshapely Things pairs its sardonic narrator with some great world building that will tickle the fancy of lovers of alternative history and magic speculative. See, it’s a modern world out there. It’s a world in which Fey Summits are being held in Ireland, hosting talks between the Seelie Court and the Teutonic Consortium to resolve the autonomy of elfin and dwarvish colonies in Eastern Germany. It’s a world in which elves are still trying to live down their support of the Third Reich and mass produced magic wards are sold in the local grocery stores.
The book also stands out for its impressive range of fleshed-out secondary characters. There’s Murdock, a hardboiled detective from Boston PD; Stinkwort, the pixie-like flit (who may just remind you of Jinx or Toot-Toot from a couple other Urban Fantasy series); Meryl, a fiercely brilliant archivist who spends all her time in the Guild basements with the creepies; Connor’s fairy ex-partner, Keeva, who resets the wards around his apartment–something Connor can no longer do himself; and Briallen, a powerful druid and Connor’s once-upon-a-time mentor.
I was also delighted by how the main character develops over the course of the book, particularly as he tries to deal with his change in power (none, gone, zippo!) and number of allies (few). Been cursed by a long streak of static characters in your last few reads? Then this book will be a nice change of pace.
A word of warning though: do not go into this book looking for romance. In overall feel, Dresden Files (Butcher) meets the Hollows series (Harrison) and then get dunked into the real detective genres a la Agatha Christie. Me, I loved it.
But why three canaries? One canary got knocked off by Connor’s almost too-convenient cadre of friends who made his life much, much easier. Yes, the guy is dirt poor, but when it comes to having established allies, it’s almost cheating when your friend and mentor is Most-Powerful-Witch-In-The-Western-World. Another canary fell off the perch for a more ambiguous sense that I wasn’t pulled along by the story as strongly as I wanted to be. I didn’t even realize I hadn’t gotten book #2 until I started typing up this review; that’s been corrected now, of course.
All in all, Unshapely Things has mature and nuanced characterization, an intriguing world, a traditional detective story with supernatural elements and plenty of leg-work, and some satisfying angst over Connor’s nosedive into poverty and anonymity. Connor’s an ex-insider looking at his old life from the outside, and Franco builds this tension very well.
Unshapely Things is a intriguing debut novel with a solid plot and a solid series premise (and promise).
Is this on your reading list?