Saturday, May 16, 2009

Review of Sins & Shadows

Sins & Shadows is the first book in the Shadows Inquiries urban fantasy series by Lyn Benedict, who has also written two fantasy novels under the name Lane Robins. Soon after starting the newer of these two books, Kings and Assassins, I read about Sins & Shadows on the author's blog and was curious. I'd known the release date for Kings and Assassins since last year, and even though this book came out only a week after that one, I had heard nothing at all about it until then. So I immediately decided I must procure a copy and make it my next read after finishing her other new book since I was enjoying it and have a soft spot for her debut novel Maledicte.

Sylvie Lightner has decided to close down Shadows Inquiries, her business as a private investigator of cases involving the supernatural. Her assistant and friend was recently murdered before her eyes, she is constantly watched by government agents, and although she won't admit it aloud, her worst fear is her darker side. At this point Sylvie has only killed monsters but she worries that eventually she will end up killing people if she continues in this line of work. So she packs up the office and tells her remaining employee and good friend Alex that she is no longer employed and nothing can change her mind.

That is, until she gets a visit from the God of Justice and the Eumenides. The not-so-godly-named Kevin Dunne says he needs Sylvie's help with finding his lover, who has disappeared. At first, Sylvie resists, but after seeing ample evidence of his godhood and learning that the mortal realm will bend to the god's will until the missing man is found, she reluctantly agrees to work on his case. The deal is sweetened when Sylvie learns Dunne fully intends to compensate her for her services and can offer her more than money - vengeance against those who murdered her assistant.

Those familiar with the work of Lane Robins will find many similarities in this book, although there are some differences. The modern setting is very different from her fantasy world, but this book still has dark tendencies and the theme of godly influence. While her fantasy novels contain made-up gods, this urban fantasy revolves around a couple of different real-world mythologies and focuses on gods familiar to us - the Greek gods and the Christian one. Also, the prose style is not lush and "purple" like her fantasy books - it's more straightforward and what you'd expect from the typical paranormal mystery variety of urban fantasy.

I'm in no way well-read in urban fantasy of this variety having only read the first three Mercy Thompson books, the first Rachel Morgan, and Blue Diablo, but this one definitely stood out as different from the others I've read. There were no vampires or werewolves (the latter were referred to but did not appear) but plenty of Greek mythology - from Zeus and some of the other gods to the Furies and sphinxes. It was more serious in tone and took more risks - the ending is not 100% happy and wrapped up neatly with a nice little pink bow embroidered with smiley faces. There is actually a devastating consequence that I did not see coming. Then when it did happen, I expected there to be some sort of easy way out (there are gods involved, after all). To my surprise, there was no reversal, though, and it played out the way it should have.

This was one of those books where the plot, the supernatural characters, and mythology made the story for me because I was not particularly emotionally invested in the main character. The story was told from the third person point of view of Sylvie, who was the usual tough, mouthy heroine but she was also less likable than the others I've read about - her fears about giving in to her darker side are not unfounded. She's not all bad and does truly want to protect her friend Alex, but she certainly doesn't show she cares very often. I found learning more about Sylvie's background and struggles against becoming the murderer she feared interesting, but I never grew particularly attached to her as a person. It's not that she lacked depth and believability; it's that she was often cold and pragmatic, which made her hard to relate to at times. I certainly didn't dislike her and even liked reading about someone a bit more cold-hearted, but I also can't say I loved her even though she did have some difficulty with doing what needed to be done. Her character worked, though, and I did like what Benedict ended up doing with it in the end. (Unfortunately, I can't explain more about what I mean without giving away too much.)

Fortunately, in spite of my tendency to read for the characters, I found I didn't care that much about not loving Sylvie. Some of the minor characters did appeal to me more, and I do love reading books heavy on mythology. Gods are an added bonus, too, especially if they are powerful yet flawed with some human aspects to their personalities. The gods involved do have limitations to their power and their presence does not mean they can simply make everything better. For instance, Sylvie's first request for Dunne's compensation is that he raise her assistant from the dead (but not in an animated corpse sort of way). Dunne says it might be possible, but that depends on if he was killed by another god or belongs to another god. The man was killed by humans but was very Catholic, so Dunne cannot raise him, saying "He's been taken to the light god's hands, and He is a most jealous god."

Although there is a relationship involving the main character in this book, it is not a paranormal romance. The romance is not at the forefront of the story (and the love triangle plot that comes up so often is absent, too).

This has been a hard review to write because I feel like I'm rambling on without giving many examples. There were a lot of plot twists and revelations that I don't want to spoil and much of what I liked about the book and its characterization occurred toward the end, so I don't want to say too much about that, either.

Sins & Shadows is a dark, gutsy urban fantasy filled with mythology. The main protagonist is not the most lovable character ever written, but it is still well worth the read for its story and other characters. I'm looking forward to reading the next installment.


Read more about Sins & Shadows on Lane Robins website


orannia said...

Ohh, thank you Kristen! This does sound good - I quite like Greek mythology!

I still think I'll read Maledicte first though, athough, AFTER I've finished the Doctrine of Labyrinths ;)

Memory said...

I don't think I've ever heard of a contemporary adult fantasy that looks to the Greek myths. I'll definitely be adding this to my list of books to check out. (After I've read MALEDICTE, which was already on there thanks to your comments on it).

Kristen said...

Orannia - I like Greek mythology too. Oh, how I wish I still had more Doctrine of Labyrinth books to read for the first time. ;)

Memory - I hadn't heard of any contemporary adult fantasy involving Greek myths, either, and was glad to find one that did. (Although, as I said, I actually haven't read that much contemporary fantasy.)

Hope you both enjoy Maledicte and Sins & Shadows!

Thea said...

I have a review copy of this sitting on my TBR and have to admit I was sitting back, waiting on other reviews to make up my mind on whether or not to read it...

I had no idea that Lyn Benedict was Lane Robins - and I've had Maledicte on my shelf for a shameful amount of time. I'll definitely be reading her books. Very soon. Greek mythology in an UF setting sounds pretty good to me, even if the protagonist isn't the most amiable character. So...thanks!

(Oh and you must read some Rachel Caine for more Urban Fantasy sans the usual werewolves/vamps/fey characters. Up for another guest dare?)

Kristen said...

Thea - I'm looking forward to seeing what you think of Lane Robins/Lyn Benedict when you do read either this or Maledicte. This is definitely one I liked in spite of the main character, although I could sympathize with her at least some of the time. I love Greek mythology as part of fiction, and I also liked that this book seemed somewhat more daring than the norm.

Of course I'm always up for another guest dare. ;) I still need to track down the second Kim Harrison book since I never did receive a replacement book for when they messed up my order and sent the first one instead. :( And Borders didn't have it last time I was there.