Canaries, I’m going to need your book recommendations. This is a third or fourth urban fantasy in the last couple weeks whose opening had me clutching a five-star rating only to lose it somewhere among the pages. The clock struck midnight and, lo and behold, the glittering plot turned into a pumpkin and the supporting cast into squeaky mice.
Maybe it’s time to shift genres again. Maybe I want more lit in my genre fiction. Maybe my grandmother lost patience and did some Eastern European voodoo to punish me for not becoming a doctor.
“Oh, you waste life on book blog? I make all book you read taste like bad borscht. ALL BOOK.”
Now, Wrong Side of Hell by Sonya Bateman wasn’t the literary equivalent of bad borscht, but it was definitely lukewarm by the time I got to page 288.
The book starts strong. Our tough-as-nails hero is Gideon Black. He moves bodies for the city, lives off the grid, and moonlights as a kind of unofficial consultant for his detective friend. Gideon’s weird, but it’s a human kind of weird. Until he tries to investigate a series of gruesome murders and comes face-to-face with a werewolf. Until he starts hearing dead people and is attacked by a secret cult of monster hunters.
Gideon’s sleuthing and the murder mystery was wonderfully interspaced with hints about his brutal past and tantalizing details about why exactly he chooses to live in his van and how he became so mafia-tough. Then add in a murder attempt, a cute girl with a secret, a vicious secret society, theft, torture, family revelations, a ton of magic, and, suddenly, poor Gideon is in way over his head.
The book is written in the spirit of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles with a nod and a tip of the hat to Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series. We get murder and mayhem, all sorts of magical beasties, a bunch of evil scientists in lab coats, corrupt officials, and a fairy dimension.
Remember the time you went to the theater to watch Superman vs Batman and after an hour or two there was that big scene with a car chase and people shooting and things exploding and more shooting and batman and you were bored to death but also kinda wondering what the hell was wrong with you that you could be bored to death in the middle of a high speed car chase shootout scene?
It was kinda like that.
The story gave everything up easily. I spent most of it knowing a lot more than the characters. There was no moral ambiguity about the evil guys. Gideon’s reluctant, inhuman allies were occasionally scary, but even the most homicidal actions were immediately explained or brushed aside so everyone could be bbfs again as they took on the baddies. And anytime Gideon was in trouble, the nasty plot points were quickly resolved through coincidence, convenience, or Gideon’s special powers.
Overall, a mixed bag. Large cast of characters, interesting setup and backstory, and novel that, all in all, falls neatly into its genre.
I received a copy of the book received for review.