Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton

A Kiss of Shadows (Meredith Gentry, Book 1)I got motivated to re-read A Kiss of Shadows the other day. This is the first book in the Merry Gentry urban fantasy series by Hamilton, author of the popular Anita Blake books. Merry is actually Meredith nic Essus, a princess of the Unseelie court of the fey, who has been hiding amongst the humans in Los Angeles ever since she left the court three years before when she feared that the next assassination attempt (disguised as a duel) by her cousin, son of the Queen of Air and Darkness, Cel, would succeed.

The fey have been living somewhat openly in the United States since Thomas Jefferson offered them a home, fleeing persecution in Europe. They had to give up many of their powers as a condition of immigration, and they are also subject to some stringent laws about what they may and may not do. No more kidnapping underage humans as pets, or allowing humans to worship them as gods, and they are not allowed to use magic to influence humans in any way, other than to use their glamours to mask their unworldly beauty, so humans don't become elf-struck.

As the novel begins, Merry, working as a private investigator, discovers that one of the fey has been gathering worshipers among the humans. She goes undercover to try to find out what's going on, and is very nearly raped by one of the followers who doses her with Bronwyn's Tears - sort of a supernatural date rape drug. She kills him in self defense, with the help of some mysterious external agency.

Soon, she finds her self-imposed exile crumbling when Sholto, Lord of the Sluagh (the court of supernatural beings too deformed or depraved for even the Unseelie fey to welcome), arrives with his minions in LA to hunt her down. It turns out that Queen Andais has requested her presence back at court, and Sholto is merely the bearer of bad tidings. Doyle, the Queen's Darkness, has also been sent to find her, and he gets mixed up in the struggle as Merry resists being taken home. One of Sholto's consorts attempts to murder Merry, and she comes belatedly into her first fey Power, the Hand of Flesh, with which she can turn a fey into a nasty little ball of flesh, trapped in amorphous-ness forever.

Doyle gains Merry's trust and returns with her to her aunt's court, where she encounters all the intrigue and backstabbing she's come to expect, but some pleasant surprises, as well.

Like all of Hamilton's more recent novels, this one is packed with graphic sex and violence, so if that turns you off, I recommend avoiding the series. Hamilton has gone beyond the point of Paranormal Romance into Paranormal Porn, I believe. I wonder at times if she's done this intentionally to increase her reader base - sorta like those bloggers who gratuitously include beefcake and cheesecake pix on their sites - so as to be financially freed to explore some of her deeper themes and plots.

This novel really sets the scene quite well for the series to follow. I really love the way she fleshes out the major characters. Queen Andais is delightfully amoral and ruthless. Sholto's deformities have made him a dreadfully insecure King of the damned. Doyle is a truly honorable chief of the Queen's Guards, who is conflicted as he sees the court and its power decay and decline. One of his sidekicks, known as The Killing Frost, begins as strikingly beautiful and arrogant, but some cracks begin to appear in his armor over the course of the book. Rhys was once a death god, who lost many of his powers and all of his followers when the fey came to America, who loves film noir and Bogart.

Hamilton always twists a good yarn, especially in the early going in her series.

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