TBR Challenge Review: Series Return

This month’s challenge was to read a book in a series that I’ve gotten away from. I had to look for a while to find one of those, but when I did, it was a good one. I really liked the first few books in Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series, but I stopped reading them because the level of violence was a bit much for me at the time. I jumped back in with book four, Shadowdance. Shadowdance book cover

I found that I easily picked up the story; Callihan excels in introducing the main characters in each book during the previous book in the series. Mary Chase and Jack Talent were important characters with a clear attraction to one another in Winterblaze, and there was skillful exposition in this book to remind me of what went before.

Mary is a GIM (Ghost in the Machine), a person whose recently dead body was reanimated with a clockwork heart before her spirit left the earthly plane. GIMs are created by one person, the mysterious Adam, and they have some supernatural abilities. Jack is a shifter, a rare supernatural being who can change his physical shape into anything or anyone. Both work for the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, a group dedicated to keeping supernatural beings secret from larger human society. In the previous book, it was clear that the two had a serious lust-hate relationship. Jack seems to despise Mary, but he is also attracted to her, and she rescued him from demons who were torturing him (an event that still dominates his thinking and motivates his actions). They are assigned to work together to solve a series of murders of supernatural beings, and that turns out to be just one facet of a plot that revolves around Jack and his blood, which heals anyone who drinks it.

Jack is about as tormented as a hero can be; he endured horrible things at the hands of his demon captors, and even before that, his life was difficult. He has anger management problems, he is incredibly secretive, and he often seems selfish. He is driven by both a need for revenge and a desire for justice; as long as the two can be pursued together, he manages to keep things together.

Mary also has a pretty awful past, but she likes life as a GIM and is devoted to her work. She is smart, and she stands up for herself against Jack. She insists on being his partner and his equal, and he accepts that without too much resistance.

The relationship between these two goes beyond the usual push away-pull close dynamic of a hate-lust coupling; they are tied together through work, through friends and family, and by the fact that she rescued him from death. Neither of them has even been in love before, or had a sexual relationship, so that adds a level of fumbling and uncertainty to their courtship that I found pretty believable. Love-hate stories often make me want to scream, “Oh just admit it and move on!” But in this case, I felt that I understood their obstacles, as one and then the other pulled back from their developing intimacy. There were some surprising twists and revelations, and I thought those were handled skillfully. If memory serves, all of these books climax with a confrontation with evil where both main characters’ lives are at risk, and they have to love and trust each other enough to survive. It’s a wonderful way to convince the reader, as well as the characters, of the power of the bond between them.

The world building in Darkest London is excellent, and I was as involved in the overall plot as I was in Mary and Jack’s relationship; indeed, the two are intertwined well. “Dark” is rather a mild adjective at times; rape, dismembering, murder and slavery are all features of the supernatural world of these books. But as with many fantasy settings, the reward comes from watching good people do good things in the face of all that darkness, and ultimately triumphing over at least some of it by the end of the novel. I probably won’t be reading the next book very soon, because a little goes a long way for me. But I am confident that when I do read Evernight, I’ll be able to slip back into Darkest London with ease.