Lilith Saintcrow’s blog was one of the few I read regularly, and I have fond memories of reading her Jill Kismet series Night Shift when vacationing in New Mexico. In the mood for urban fantasy, when I happened upon this at Half-Price Books, I thought I’d give it a try.
Though I generally enjoy extravagant prose (Beagle, Kay, Valente), this is awful. Layered on and stretched thin (see what I’m doing there?), Saintcrow has traded in Spartan style for Valente on crack. I knew there would be trouble with the opening line: “Summer, soft green hills and shaded dells, lay breathless under a pall of smoky apple-blossom dusk.”
Think on that a moment. Is it ‘summer soft’ with a misplaced comma? I suppose the season can lay breathless–it does get stiflingly hot–but then how does that ‘soft green hills’ clause make sense? And what is ‘smoky apple-blossom dusk? Aren’t apple blossoms white and pink shaded? I’m so confused.
“Her mantle slipped a fraction from one white shoulder, but that could have been to expose just a sliver of pale skin, fresh-velvet as a new magnolia petal. Artfully innocent, that single peeping glow could infect a mortal’s dreams, fill them with longing, drive all other thought from their busy little brains.”
There’s a lot here that tells us, but not much action. We hear a great deal about Summer’s power, but its shown only twice, once in the narrative gaze lingering on a transformed person and once with an entranced child.`
Let’s meet the main character, Jeremiah Gallow:
“A chill breeze resonated through superstructure, iron girders harpstrings plucked by invisible fingers. He was wet with sweat, exhaust-laden breeze mouthing his ruthlessly cropped black hair. Poison in the air just like poison in the singing rods and rivets, but neither troubled a Half. He had nothing to fear from cold iron.”
Here’s when Gallow sees Robin Ragged up close:
“She clutched at the brick wall, her pale hands starfish-spread as if she intended to splinter her fingernails scratching her way through. Ribs flickered under her dress as she panted, and her hair was now weighed down with dampness. The gold hoops dangling from her ears peeped at him, and the first hounds skidded behind him on the street and sent up a racket. The cry of prey cornered filled the night, turned the mist-rain drops to diamonds.”
Seriously–I got stuck on “ribs flickered” because I kept imagining parts of her body disappearing in and out like the Cheshire cat. Then I wondered where her dress was if I’m seeing her flickering ribs. Wait, is she naked? Or does she mean her dress is ill-fitted and hanging loose? Once again, completely distracted by the writing, and not in a good way.
I started to skim, but it was a challenge because there’s so little of substance beneath those words. The two main characters meeting and reflecting took a hundred pages–a hundred–and most of that is just so much filler of them each mentally bemoaning their state and generally musing on the shortcomings of the fae. The plot is very simple, classic folk tale–the Courts of Summer and Winter at war with each other–with a handmaiden of Summer trying to save a stolen mortal. Robin Goodfellow has his own agenda (and a taste for blood) and Gallow just wants to stay lost in memories of his dead wife.. There’s devious intentions, suspicions, and sleights of hand made more twisty by the over encumbered language.
I wish this had worked better for me. I wish Saintcrow the best, I truly do–particularly as I think there’s more than a little of her autobiography in some of the characters–but I’m giving the rest of this series a pass, and this book is headed back to Half-Price.