Sub-genre: Paranormal, Urban fantasy
Rating: 4 pints of blood
I'm sure it's clear by now I'm generally fond of monochromatic covers, and this is not an exception. The cityscape and full moon say "hark! Here be an urban fantasy!" and I dig the way the fog blends into the giant face. Although, if I lived in that city, I think I'd be rather terrified of the weather if I happened to look out the window and saw that the fog was partially obscuring a huge man who hovered like that. Just sayin'.
Unseen World was written by a fellow Canadian, which made sure I jumped at the chance to read it. Gotta support my fellow countryman, you know. And since I was promised an urban fantasy without the usual crop of evil creatures who really aren't so bad, you know, except that they vant to drink your blood... yeah, I'm all in.
Marshall Conrad is not a superhero. Oh sure, he can fly, has unnatural strength, can move things kinetically, and spends a lot of his time protecting the citizens of Greenfield from would-be criminals, but he's still just a stubborn and anti-social middle-aged crank. After all, it's not like he wears a costume or has a special crime-fighting name.
When a series of brutal murders start turning up dismembered bodies around Greenfield, though, Marshall is troubled. Usually he gets some premonition of a crime about to happen, giving him just enough time to show up and prevent it. Something's blocking his premonitions, though, and Marshall is just as puzzled as the police. Hanging out around the investigations and the murder scenes doesn't give him any more clues, but it does make him the prime suspect.
Unexpectedly, Marshall is approached by a large woman who runs the local odds and ends shop, who tells him she's a witch and the murders aren't being caused by anything human. Launched into a world he didn't know existed, one full of fairies and gremlins and demons is more than enough to deal with, but it also looks like the thing causing the murders is just using the deaths to gear up for something much, much bigger. With only a few days until the summer solstice, Marshall had better learn everything he needs to know about the unseen world and how to defeat it quickly, or all hell will break loose in the most literal sense of the term.
Reading the first chapter, I wasn't sure how well I'd take to the main character. Marshall is sarcastic, grumpy, and doesn't care much about what other people think or feel. While this could have made for an incredibly annoying protagonist, though, actually made him more endearing and relatable. Nearly everyone hates their job; so does Marshall, and he'll tell you all the reasons flying and crimefighting aren't what they're cracked up to be. The book is first person narrative, liberally peppered with Marshall's sarcastic thoughts and observations, and the strong voice is a big part of what makes the book so readable.
And readable it is. Fast-paced with colourful characters, Unseen World is sometimes gritty and sometimes witty but always a lot of fun. Cummings has packed a lot into only 257 pages, and every single one of them flew past at the speed of a reluctant superhero.
Since I haven't gone into the secondary characters yet, let me take a moment to mention how much I loved them. Marshall has to deal with an inquisitive upstairs neighbour/love interest, an old woman with a penchant for alcohol who just might be more sarcastic than even he is, a friendly shopkeeping witch full of interesting secrets and contacts, and an overweight cat who may or may not be a double agent. Not one of them wound up being quite what you expected upon first encountering them, and they made for some loveable complications to Marshall's life.
And just for the record, I'd like to say I'm incredibly grateful the love interest doesn't follow the predictable pattern of comic book superheroes. Thank you for not including the requisite kidnapping scene.
If I have a complaint, it's that there was a whole lot going on. Yeah, I know, usually it's a good thing, but there were so many new characters and ideas being introduced, it was at times a little overwhelming. New kinds of critters or magic from the unseen world would show up, have a little bit of explanation, and then disappear again, and I think the book might have benefited if some of these introductions were saved for future volumes. There were just enough minor loose ends to indicate this is the beginning of a series, so there's plenty of time for future worldbuilding.
Marshall's emotions were occasionally confusing to me, but then again, I happen to be a chick. He becomes angry at one of his allies for keeping a secret she wasn't directly involved in. Later he uncovers more secrets from his allies, some they were directly involved in, and meets them with understanding. Some of this could be because of everything that's going on in the later parts of the book, and the fact that Marshall uses boy logic, but it seemed enough of an inconsistency that my brain catalogued it under "bwuh?" (It's a bigger file than it should be most of the time.)
Basically, though, I enjoyed reading and have to say this is a great book to pick up if you're into urban fantasy but are over the vampires and werethings prowling around most of them. Or, y'know, if you like urban fantasy at all, really. (The tone is reminiscent of Harry Dresden, but without the overt sexism or aggressive-to-the-point-of-stupidity moments.) The superhero aspect gives just enough of a twist to keep the story from turning into the same thing we've all read a few too many times, and Cummings's writing keeps you in the world, reading "just one more chapter" until you discover you've finished the entire book.
Unseen World is available as an e-book in March and in print form in August.