Friday, May 17, 2013

Desdaemona by Ben Macallan

Let’s think over a few keywords:

Urban fantasy. Vampires. Werewolves. Teens.

. . . Wait, hold that thought.

Hell. Bounty. Mafia. Runaways.

That’s more promising, yes?

Desdaemona is a British urban fantasy about two not-quite teens on the run from all sorts of monsters. Jordan has been one day short of his 18th birthday for the many years that he has been running and hiding because of a mysterious birthright. That, plus Hell has a bounty on him. Trouble really likes Desi and cannot stay away. Further complicating matters is Desi’s secret past and selling her soul for power and long life as a daemon (full name: Desdaemona haha). Jordan, being an experienced runaway, helps other runaways find their way home, so Desi seeks him out to find her missing sister who is hunted by this paranormal world’s own version of the mafia. Not surprisingly, their troubles combine for an interesting mess and lots of adventure.

Desi is one of the best things about this book: a girl who kicks butt, can take care of herself, and has smarts, looks, and attitude to match. Still, she is no Wonder Woman or even close to perfect. She is horribly and wonderfully flawed, very human in spite of her super abilities, making her (and her past) that much more intriguing.

Familiar urban fantasy elements and even traditional fairy tales get a fresh twist, with nothing feeling generic. There are paranormal creatures, like werewolves, vampires, harpies, undines, shapeshifters, as well as ones from mythology and folklore, like the Green Man, king of Hell, Sibyl the seer, and the Twa Corbies (in the sequel). Drawing on the darker and more ambiguous natures of these classic tales and figures, Macallan’s versions go beyond mere representations of good and evil and retain an inhuman and deadly quality, well-captured in writing.

Macallan’s prose is wonderful—nuanced, darkly poetic at times, and thoughtful, balancing between a fast-paced, action-packed narrative and a satisfyingly profound story, making it more than just a fun fluff piece. The first-person narration gives a kind of lilt to the words and character with a personal touch that makes the reading experience such a pleasure. A bit dark and bleak to be considered teen fiction despite teenaged main characters, this is a treat for urban fantasy fans yet something more literary for readers who want more.

Look for Desdaemona in the VBPL Catalog. Trouble follows Desi in the sequel, Pandaemonium. Macallan is a pseudonym for Chaz Brenchley who writes horror. Caitlin Kiernan’s Blood Oranges brings darkly lyrical prose to her urban fantasy about a junkie turned werewolf-vampire hybrid.


Roger Cornwell said...

Actually Chaz Brenchley writes more than horror: check out
(Disclosure: my company looks after this web site)

Tracy said...

Yes, you're right that Chaz Brenchley writes more than horror, quite a lot more! Thank you for sharing the website. Unfortunately, at the time I wrote the review, the library had very few of his titles (just the horror ones), but, hopefully, we can get some of his other ones.