September 5, 2009

Book Review: "Strange Angels" by Lili St. Crow

Title: Strange Angels
Author: Lili St. Crow
Publisher: Razor Bill (Penguin Young Readers Group) (2009)
Genre: Young Adult/Urban Fantasy
ISBN 978-1-59514-251-1

Hey, now. Talk about exceding my expectations. I was a little nervous, after reading Twilight, that there was a chance I could be stepping into a fictional world of brooding teens and angst-ridden vampires. Well, there was some of that in this story, but it also had a whole heap of action and taught storytelling that kept me wanting to read the next chapter.

While the story felt like a spin-off of the television series, Supernatural, the character development and relationships were drawn out enough to give the story its own vibe and value. I'm a sucker for a good demon slayer tale, so I may be more forgiving of any shortcomings this novel may have.

Dru Anderson isn't your run-of-the-mill teen girl. She's constantly moving from state to state with her father, who just so happens to be a demon slayer of sorts. She's a sidekick for her dad when he's on some of the more routine missions, keeping weapons cleaned and loaded, and other menial tasks that allow her father to focus on killing the things that go bump in the night. On top of that, she has a bit of a paranormal gift of her own--a kind of spidey sense, almost--that allows her to sense supernatural entities normal people, including her father, can't detect.

The novel goes straight into high gear with Dru's father getting killed while alone on a mission one night, only to come back home as a member of the walking dead. Dru ends up killing her zombified pops, and renders her an orphan and utterly alone. Her mother died when she was very young, and her grandmother is also passed on after years of nurturing Dru and Dru's sixth sense.

While Dru tries to piece together who killed her father and for what purpose, she ends up joined at the hip with one of the loner boys from high school, a brainy fosterkid named Graves. After making friends, they're quickly confronted by all manner of dastardly creatures, including a werewolf that bites Graves, and a half-vampire with an agenda of his own.

Dru Anderson makes for an interesting character, as I was immediately drawn in to her circumstances and curious as to how she would adapt to the traumatic events as they unfolded. She attaches herself to Graves rather quickly, despite her inner monologue constantly criticizing him and reminding her that he's not hip to the "Real World" she has come to know. And Graves, gods love 'im, comes to accept the unbelievable events that unfold at a lightening pace with relative ease. Sure, he freaks out initially, but recovers his composure at a rate I just didn't buy.

The supernatural elements and the creatures they come across are imaginative and deviate from the norm to a point that the universe has its own feel, seperate from most of the urban fantasy fare I've come to know. There is a healthy amount of conventional wisdom, but there are tweaks to the mythology that give it a nice flavor. You might think you've got the mythos of werewolves and vampiries figured out, but I think Lili St. Crow (Lilith Saintcrow to her established fanbase) does a good job at putting her own mark on it all.

This is probably the best urban fantasy novel I've read since Cassandra Clare's City of Bones--mind you, I'm not as well read in the genre as most of you. There are the odd hiccups, where characters "hiss" their dialogue, and other such tags, when a simple "said" would be better used. And the story gets so caught up in its own action, that the consequences they have on her mundane existance seem to go ignored. For example, Dru inadvertantly hexes one of her teachers at school and bolts, but that's where her association with the school ends with no real reaction or consequences.

All things considered, a pretty good read. I'm going to keep my eye out for the sequel, Betrayals, which I believe is due to be released this coming November. If you're a UF fan, or a lover of YA fantasy, and have yet to give this novel a chance, I say it's worth the read. Heck, even fervent horror fans might want to check it out, just to read something with a change of pace and tone.

You can also read reviews of this book at: Darque Reviews; SciFiGuy; Fantastic Book Review; Carrie's YA Bookshelf; KD's Library; The Story Siren

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