February 13, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Deadtown" by Nancy Holzner

Title: Deadtown
Author: Nancy Holzner
Published: Ace (2010); a division of Penguin
Pages: 326
Genre: Urban Fantasy
ISBN 978-0-441-01813-0

Victory "Vicky" Vaughn hunts demons for a living. Extraordinary work if you can get it. The world Vicky lives in isn't quite as extraordinary as it used to be, living in a section of Boston nicknamed Deadtown. Nowadays, ever since a mysterious zombie outbreak, the things that go bump in the night are pretty common place. The extraordinary part comes from trying to resolve the tensions and prejudices between humans and the not-so-human. So far, acceptance and civil liberties aren't plentiful for the Paranormal Americans.

Vicky's a shape-shifter, her roommate's a vampire, her boyfriend's a werewolf, and her protégé is a zombie. I think that runs the gamut of common tropes, though a metamorphic protagonist is something new with me. And Nancy Holzner has managed to tweak the rules for these paranormal beings to make it all seem fresh enough not to scoff. For instance, werewolves voluntarily fence themselves in a forest retreat three days out of every moon cycle, in order to avoid any unpleasantness in civilized society ... like eating people.

The main plot deals with a mystery of sorts, as the Hellion who killed Vicky's father before her eyes when she was eighteen has come back, somehow breaking through a supernatural barrier to block such demons from Boston. Its intent isn't clear, but Vicky suspects that someone is pulling the Hellion's strings for a greater purpose beyond just cooking her from the inside out. But, while she's trying to unravel that mystery, she's also dealing with an incorrigible, teen zombie apprentice named Tina with boundary and authority issues. Then there's her casual boyfriend, Alex, who is half werewolf, half lawyer--a deadly combination--and their ever complicated relationship. On top of all that, there's also a scientist soliciting her and her sister's family in order to crack the genome for shape-shifters.

The pacing is fast in this novel, and it has to be, because there are a lot of side-plots going on. In fact, there were moments when they became more distracting than anything else, like commercial breaks from the action. Fortunately, for those of us looking for straight up action the whole way through, the "breaks" are brief and some carry over into the main plot. And as the novel neared the end, and several things had yet to be resolved, I became nervous, anticipating one of those insufferable cliffhanger endings. Thank the heavens Holzner found a way to tie up all the loose strings in what might be consider record time when the end arrives.

What may be this novel's strongest feature is the time afforded to breath life into each character featured in the story. The interactions and relationships came off as very organic and believable, especially when you consider the supernatural setting. The universe Holzner created feels plausible and I thought she's built herself a great sandbox to play in with any future books.

My main criticism would have to be with some of the dialog. While there is a great conversational tone with Vicky and the characters she's closest to, there were moments when information would be dumped in heaps in the coarse of some interactions. Those moments felt like the characters weren't speaking to each other but were speaking to the reader.

Overall, I liked this one. It felt a little rough around the edges, but the whole story felt fun and easy to get into. The approach to zombies was different from the conventional approach, and I was personally relieved to see Holzner refrain from using the kind of vampires that sparkle. I'm not sure what she's got in store for a sequel to Deadtown, but I think I'll have to check it out whenever it's published.

You can find other reviews of this title at: Bitten by Books; Debuts & Reviews


  1. Sounds wonderful! I just wonder how many more of these sort of books can make it into print with vampires, shape-shifters and werewolves all in the same stories?

  2. It does make you wonder how many urban fantasy novels can rightfully exist, but that goes for just about any genre with familiar staples.