Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sunstruck (The Bigfoot Mysteries #1) by Polenth Blake

Ben is the new member of the Spokane Ecology Board, after his predecessor was murdered. Of course, it isn’t generally known what the full nature of the job entails – policing and investigating problems with the supernatural community of Spokane. A community Ben never knew about before – and certainly isn’t a part of.

It comes with a partner – Ari. A Bigfoot. She’s hoping this job will earn her some respect from the Bigfoot colony that has made her an outcast – she doesn’t have a great deal of experience with humans. Her predecessor has also been murdered

Both of them face something of a learning curve. But they have to learn fast – whoever killed the people before them may be targeting them next and, with the evidence heavily tampered with, the perpetrator may be one of the few people they need to trust.

Given that, Thunderbirds having a temper tantrum in town seems quite minor.

This is a neat murder mystery – it’s a story with lots of interesting little twists and tangents that unfold as the book progresses at an excellent pace. It has a few nifty red herrings that are thrown in with skill and aplomb, we have some action that’s in keeping with the characters. It’s a good plot and it has some points I really appreciated – like the action scenes not being one-on-one fights (because why going into such equal battles?) and the enemy not being so simplistic as is common place.

But the story is a far better vehicle for the world and the characters

The characters are excellent – Ari and Ben bounce off each other, flounder together, annoy each other, try not to annoy each other, fail to understand each other but keep bouncing back and coming together again trying to decide whether to sit down and figure out what happened or to Not Talk About It. They have pasts and experiences and fully realised characters that I just want to burrow through

If it weren’t for the world, the characters would be the best thing about this book. But the world, with the different supernatural groups, hefty amounts of Native American tradition, entirely newly created lore in places sprinkled with politics, tensions and strong connections to themes of colonisation – is even better.

There was a lot of Native American tradition and beliefs in this book and even without the bibliography at the end you can tell that there has been some research gone into them which is always great to see and helped contribute to the richness of this world (along with the development of the Bigfoots mentioned below). The combination and blending of well researched actual tradition and beliefs with really well founded and well made fictional worlds made for a very strong setting

I also like that Blue Jay was used. If you make a pile of Urban Fantasy books containing Native American traditions you’re probably going to run into a gazillion Coyotes, half a gazillion Ravens (and innumerable Skinwalkers and Wendigo – ALWAYS THE WENDIGO!) but this is the first Blue Jay.

I loved the world building of the different mystical creatures, in particular the Bigfoots, because there has been world building. Not just “big people with fur” but a fully developed separate species – they have their own biological differences, their own culture, their own faith, their own different families and ways of living and society and prejudices. These can be big things like the whole explanation of how Bigfoot families are structured or the problems Ari faces as a Sunstruck, but also little things like the Bigfoot needing the chew things to wear down their teeth because modern human food they largely eat is too soft. A huge amount of effort has been put into making the Bigfoots a fully developed people with all the positives and the negatives that that implies (one of my favourite elements is the way they speak English, the accent they preserve because it’s a marker of the people who bothered to teach them).

This also led to a way in which a fictional marginalisation can actually be done well. Ari is regarded with a level of fear and revulsion by her fellow Bigfoot, has her role in their society very much defined by it. At no point is there direct appropriation of actual marginalised groups in the real world while still presenting the problems a marginalised person would face – ostracism, hostility, disconnect with culture, a desire to prove oneself etc. As well as issue for her because she was raised by non-Bigfoots – which has all kinds of disconnect.

Ari’s outsider status in human society also lends some other interesting little moments where she is confused by human culture and human behaviour (there are some especially excellent moments where she and Ben tip-toe around each other, not sure how they annoyed or offended the other or how to react to it). This in turn led to some interesting little elements – like Ari’s habit of splitting the world into “locals” (Native Americans) and “migrants” (anyone not-Native American) which works for Ben – until she applies it to a Black woman and then Ben leaps in with the complexity of that.

I believe Ben is Two Spirited by a pretty strong reference that was made, it didn’t overtly use those words, but at very least it was inherently implied and with a strong edge of Ben not feeling entirely comfortable with the idea of a gender binary and connecting that with his grandmother who was very connected to Spokane (Native American not the city) traditions. Ben also has Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder and it’s nicely done – it doesn’t consume his character to the exclusion of all else, but nor is it a disability that is “turned off” when it’s useful to do so – which is something I’ve found to be a habit especially with non-physical disabilities or invisible disabilities.

There was also a Thunderbird that used ASL.

One of the protagonists, Ben, and a huge number of other characters are POC, I think most of the characters may be, in fact. Certainly I can only think of one White character in a major role and he is kept somewhat at a distance due to story based suspicion. There’s a lot of cultural connections without delving into stereotypes and Ben has some fascinating and layered experiences both within and outside the reservation he was born.

This book is a great book – and is a truly excellent first book in a series. As a stand alone book we have an interesting plot, a murder mystery/monster hunt with some completely unexpected twists and a great cast as characters. But it’s a book that is better served at introducing the characters and showcasing the world more than it is for telling a story – since the world is fascinating and I love the characters that makes for a great book. But if this is just introducing us to a whole new series using this world and characters, now they’ve been introduced, then that is absolutely ideal.