Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Fairyland Murders (Deadly Ever After #1) by J.A. Kazimer

Blue Reynolds is a PI at the very edge of his resources – there just doesn’t seem to be that much demand for a PI who is also a lightning rod. Needing to make rent he’s willing to take any case – even from fairies.

Even to protect the Tooth Fairy from a serial killer.

Which is even harder when it’s clear that the Tooth Fairy, Izzy, does not want to be found or protected – and then it just gets more complicated

I think the main selling point – indeed, the main point – of this book is it’s world setting. It’s like film noir meets fairy tales. We have the dark and gritty and grim that so constitutes film noir – and then we have the tooth fairy and fairy dust and trolls and princesses. It’s all blended together in a unique, sometimes hilarious and sometimes just plain weird way. From the fairies needing dentin to survive – so the tooth fairy because an essential role, to fairy dust being an actual drug to various characters with little easter-egg names like Detective Goldie Locks – it’s all very very unique and very very strange

I can’t say I’m a fan of Blue, the protagonist. His concept is interesting with him being a permanent electrode and how isolating that is. But it’s both being done (the tragic protagonist who can’t touch people without hurting them) and it has been done a lot better, especially since Blue’s angst seems to come in random waves. He’ll be walking along and then out of nowhere we’ll have this sudden mini monologue of despair, then next paragraph he’s fine – it’s almost like there’s a little note “remember tragedy!” Other than his tragic past, Blue is something of an archetype – the film noir detective who is grim and gritty and poor and hard drinking and chain smoking – honestly, he just needs to start referring to women as “dames” or “skirts” and we have it all, including the hard boiled inner monologue. I can appreciate the archetype aimed for, but it doesn’t really leave me much to invest in

Especially since there’s no real indication he’s even decent at his job. He has a big gun and a semi-lethal power her rarely, if ever, uses with any competence. He doesn’t actually investigate – he’s got three cases to pursue and he doesn’t really do anything but stumble around, get into fights and get very very drunk. This damages the pacing a lot because pages seem to go by with Blue constantly talking about how close to bankruptcy he is or generally giving a sense of urgency without actually doing anything. He’s kind of like the guy who tweets about how much work he has to do every 5 minutes but doesn’t actually do any of it

In terms of plot, it’s all a little bit confused. I think part of that is the intent – Blue is in the middle of a case with all the classic Noir elements of cross and double cross and never knowing who he can trust and every case as little loop holes and surprises within surprises. We’re meant to doubt everything, we’re meant to question everything, we’re meant to know nothing. We’re meant to flail and be suspicious and not trust anyone and realise that every assumption we make can be completely wrong. It’s a classic mystery in a classic style and in that sense it is really well done. I didn’t see any of it coming I didn’t know who the villains or allies where, I didn’t know what anyone’s motives where and I was so drowned in red herrings the whole book should smell decidedly fishy. All of this is perfect and I approve

But it’s also the first book in a brand new urban fantasy series, introducing us to a whole new world and a whole shed load of concepts to learn. This is a problem – because this combines with the mystery to leave a level of confusion that is migraine worthy. Is this spot of new interesting world building relevant or a red herring or part of the mystery? Can your brain handle learning about trolls, fae, their unique cultures and abilities while also juggling mysteries, double crossings and red herrings and other complex randomness? I admit, my brain hurt. There was just too much to absorb at once, I kind of wanted a book before this – something to introduce the world and even the characters with a more basic and understandable storyline just to let me digest this a little more.

Thematically I’m not even sure if it worked or not. We have a mix between the rather funny parody of fairy tale ideas (princesses, fairy dust being a drug) coupled with some outright weird amusing concepts (like the Hari Krishner trolls). But then we have the dark, noir elements with Blue’s sad and tortured dark past and this attempt of a gritty, grim and generally dark and dangerous city, setting and job and a general hero who is more than a little bit of an anti-hero with all the classic signs of the dark tortured grim hero with lots of chain smoking and booze and poverty and never actually eating real food but still managing to throw up a few times.

Normally, whenever I see this kind of theme combination I cringe and say it doesn’t work, not even slightly does it work. But in this case it kind of did – I won’t say there weren’t crashes and grinding gears (especially with the aforementioned confusions as well, it was a lot to swallow), but these really disparate elements worked surprisingly well (that isn’t to say it worked WELL – but it worked considerably less badly than I expected). I actually hope the strangely crashing themes continue because they’re surprisingly successful and create an entirely unique feel for the book.

Minoritywise, there’s nothing here. I don’t remember any POC and there were no LGBT people. While Blue is poor and there are rich people there as well, there’s no real attempt to develop any class messages from them (just used to create more grittiness with Blue – who is constantly cast as poor but always seems to have money for bribes). There’s also an element of Izzy being half fairy that is suggested at the beginning is a cause of conflict, ostracism and not belonging but it is equally undeveloped. The only plus point is its handling of misogyny with Blue being rather a parody of the sexist, “protective” jerk with all the patronising and over-sexualising that goes along with that being mixed with him ALWAYS being wrong. Izzy regularly runs rings around him, shows time and again how very wrong he is and is generally a gazillion times more competent than him.

So I’m left asking myself whether I like this book or not. And I honestly don’t know. There are unique and fascinating elements in the book I really enjoy and want to see more of. It has a protagonist who has potentially interesting characteristics but is sadly far too annoying for those to dominate. It has a complex and convoluted plot – but often feels distracted, confused and generally lost. It leaves me with book that I both enjoyed at many times, but found frustrating and unfun in others. The positives were not completely lost in a sea of negatives but they were dimmed. I think I’m left not exactly ENJOYING this book, but enjoying elements of it and thinking there is definite potential here.