Friday, 20 June 2014

Review - Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

Dark Currents (Agent of Hel, #1)

Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey
Series: Agent of Hel #1
Published by Roc Hardcover on October 2 2012
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Adult Fiction
Pages: 356
Rating: 4/5 stars
The Midwestern resort town of Pemkowet boasts a diverse population: eccentric locals, wealthy summer people, and tourists by the busload—not to mention fairies, sprites, vampires, naiads, ogres, and a whole host of eldritch folk, presided over by Hel, a reclusive Norse goddess.    
To Daisy Johanssen, fathered by an incubus and raised by a single mother, it’s home. And as Hel’s enforcer and the designated liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, it’s up to her to ensure relations between the mundane and eldritch communities run smoothly.  
But when a young man from a nearby college drowns—and signs point to eldritch involvement—the town’s booming paranormal tourism trade is at stake. Teamed up with her childhood crush, Officer Cody Fairfax, a sexy werewolf on the down-low, Daisy must solve the crime—and keep a tight rein on the darker side of her nature. For if she’s ever tempted to invoke her demonic birthright, it could accidentally unleash nothing less than Armageddon. 

Even though Jacqueline Carey is one of my all-time favourite authors, I was fully prepared not to like Dark Currents. It isn’t a genre I venture into often nowadays – I find urban fantasy can be heavy on the romance and sex and light on the character development and concise plotting. It has a tendency to prop up the female protagonists with weapons and fighting rather than actual intelligence and decent decision making skills, and that offends my feminist sensibilities. I don’t believe that “strong female characters” can be reduced to female characters who are good at fighting. From my experience, it also tends to be a bit repetitive, but I didn’t find that to be the case with this book. Dark Currents is possibly the best urban fantasy novel I’ve ever read. It was a refreshing read, something of a palate cleanser.

The protagonist, Daisy Johanssen, is delightful. She is a very feminine character, with her preference for dresses (due to short though sometimes annoying tail), but that never defined her. She is a figure of power in her community, which is something I love to see. She is independent but knows when to ask for help, she values her friends and family highly, and she has incredible self-control (considering strong emotions tend to make things explode).

Daisy’s (platonic) relationships with women are one of the numerous bright spots in this novel. Daisy’s friendship with Jen is lovely, as is her relationship with her mother. As the daughter of a human and a lesser demon (and sometimes incubus), it would be easy for Carey to write a version of Daisy with an uneasy relationship with her mother. That is not the case. Daisy’s mom is an incredibly nice person, a good person, who happened to get caught up in something beyond her means of understanding at a young age. She and Daisy have an incredibly strong relationship, living in the same town and talking on the phone often. Daisy actually visits her mother a handful of times throughout the novel. I also loved the way that the majority of the other women in the book were written, from the beautiful lamia Lurine to Mrs. Browne, the brownie who owns the bakery beneath Daisy’s apartment.

The plot itself was a strong aspect of the book. It’s very plot heavy, and I found the mystery to be quite fascinating. Just as a warning: I’m really really bad at figuring out mysteries before they’re explained to me. I mean, REALLY BAD. So I had no clue where this one was going, but I loved the journey. I really enjoyed the integration of different types of mythologies from different countries and continents, and though the strain between the eldritch community and the humans outside of Pemkowet was difficult to read at times (just a personal issue), it was very realistic and well developed. I loved the world-building in this book. I think that Carey has more than proven her ability to create a vast and fascinating world (just look at her wonderful, marvellous Kushiel books if you need another example).

I also appreciated the lack of romance in this book – though I shouldn’t necessarily say lack. It was more that romance just wasn’t a priority. Daisy had more important things on her mind than who she wanted to sleep with. I mean, it did come up a number of times, but it was never something that was pushed in our faces. Daisy is attracted to three different men throughout the book, and does not so much as kiss any of them. Go Daisy! Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with kissing, but it’s uncommon to read about people who are willing/amiable to taking it slow in urban fantasy. I find that, in the books I’ve read, the characters tend to jump into bed ten minutes after meeting each other. Which is completely okay, but it’s nice to see something different. Also, I love that you get to see different sides of these characters because they haven’t complicated things with romance (at this point). You could definitely feel the sexual tension sometimes, though! I loved the measure of respect that was shown to Daisy throughout (most of) the novel by her love interests.

My only complaint is that there was a bit of not-so-nice treatment of some women, particularly those who were under thrall by supernatural creatures like vampires and ghouls. This is apparent in Daisy’s judgement of Jen’s sister, who believes that her vampire boyfriend will eventually grant her eternal life. The problem I had with this is that it so closely reflects attitudes I’ve seen towards women in abusive relationships – Daisy and Jen get Beverly away from the vampires temporarily, but seem to give up on her the moment she returns to her boyfriend. They proceed to act as though she is weak for not standing up to him, when it’s by no means her fault that this creature is taking advantage of her. Do you see the parallels that I see?

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