Jacqueline Carey is my favourite author in the epic fantasy genre; not only because the setting of her Phèdre series is unique, complicated and lacking Tolkienian cliché, but also because the characters are full and believable. So, when I heard that she was branching into my favourite genre, urban fantasy, I felt equal parts excited and apprehensive.
Being the first in a new series, Dark Currents: Agent of Hel has the unenviable task of introducing characters, locations, conflicts and an internal supernatural logic along with telling its own story. As with the beginning of any “genre” series, it must do all of these things with enough strength to sustain its successors. This is where many authors fall down – particularly in urban fantasy.
While Carey’s first novel – Kushiel’s Dart (my review of which can be found here) – was equal parts criticised and applauded for its in-depth world building, Dark Currents drip-feeds us information as the story progresses, allowing us to really get in on the action even in chapter one. The main character, Daisy, is perfectly poised between the magical and mundane to present information on either when the situation arises.
Of course (and at the risk of losing the rest of your day on TV Tropes), there is a certain element of “our monsters are different“. Each species has to be not only introduced, but also seen in action in order to make Carey’s modern monsters distinct from those on the same book store shelf. Nonetheless, this is done with care and is not overly distracting. There isn’t too much contrast with popular culture, for example.
As a caveat to that point, though, I have to admit a little smirk at the “offensive term” for the vampire nest being “Twilight Manor”.
The mystery is gripping enough that even without the supernatural elements it could make a compelling crime novel in its own right. As an element that many urban fantasy writers neglect, I found it rather pleasing that I was mentally working on the puzzle on the few occasions I wasn’t reading.
I found the mix of Christian and Norse mythology to be compelling, though the interaction between the two is not deeply explored. After the atypical theology of her Kushiel series, I would have preferred an approach more from further outside the box, as many supernatural series (including Supernatural) feel the need to use Abrahamic religion as a baseline. Nonetheless, there’s enough non-Christian stuff to sink my teeth into, and I’m sure Carey will address it more in future books, considering her protagonist’s back story.
As an introductory novel, it works well, and I’m sure it will go from strength the strength as the series progresses. It isn’t a stand-out of the genre in the same way I consider Kushiel’s Dart to be, but it is certainly deserving of a place beside Butcher, Hamilton and Harris. If this is your genre, do add Dark Currents: Agent of Hel to your collection.
(The same review on Goodreads is here)