REVIEW: Night Child by Jes Battis
Dear Mr. Battis,
While it can be said we have a female author bias here at DearAuthor (and maybe that’s true to a certain extent), we have previously reviewed and enjoyed books written by male authors here. If a book interests me, it interests me regardless of who wrote it. So when your urban fantasy debut was described as Buffy meets CSI, I wanted to check it out. I was curious to see how forensic science would fit into the urban fantasy landscape. In fact, I was a little surprised this particular combination hadn’t been done before. But after finishing the novel, I think I might have a clue as to why that’s the case.
Tess Corday is a low-ranking occult special investigator with the ability to detect subtle alterations in an organism’s energy signature. It might not be flashy, but this talent comes in handy when you work for the Mystical Crime Lab unit, a group charged with solving paranormal violent crimes. Her latest case involves a dead vampire whose body was dumped in a back alleyway. The ensuing investigation leads her to a teenage girl who’s more than she appears, a power struggle within the local vampire community, and a necromancer who might be dangerous to her in more ways than one. To complicate things further, if Tess doesn’t solve this case flawlessly without any mishaps or infractions, her career as an occult special investigator is over.
The first thing that struck me about this book was how much background information about forensics was included. I realize it’s a specialized field, and one that requires technical terminology, but I have to be honest: it really slowed the story down. The first chapter was almost painful to read because every other paragraph was an explanation about the science being used. I know this is for my benefit as a reader, to clear up any confusion and bring me up to speed about Tess’s job, but I wonder if this information could have been delivered in a less obtrusive way. At times, I felt like I was reading Forensic Science 101 textbook than an actual novel.
For that matter, this novel is told in first person point of view, from the perspective of Tess. Is it realistic for her to launch into full-fledged explanations like that while telling her story? It’s similar to the dilemma faced by traditional fantasy writers. How do you introduce a completely new world to readers while setting up the story and making the characters compelling so the reader will care? In Night Child, the problem is how do you make sure your readers understand the science while also introducing the story and characters? I don’t know the answer to that but I do know the execution failed to work for me here.
Related to this, or maybe even because of it, the actual plot just didn’t hold my attention. It felt scattered, and half the time I even didn’t care what happened. I suppose Tess was not the heroine I’d been hoping for. She’s that annoying mix of headstrong and stupid that’s been appearing more often in urban fantasy lately. I simply could not work up the energy to feel sympathy for her setbacks. Frankly, the only thing that distinguishes Tess from other urban fantasy heroines is her forensic background. Tess simply failed to come to life and if you asked me about her unique personality traits, I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything.
In fact, the only thing I really found memorable in this book was the necromancer, Lucian Agrado, and the backstory of how necromancers are made. I found very original and different. On the other hand, I saw the romantic subplot between Tess and Lucian coming from a mile away and while that’s not necessarily a criticism, the fact that I thought the subplot lacked tension and fell flat on its face is. That storyline simply read like it was included because it’s an expectation of the subgenre for a heroine to have a love interest rather than an organic outgrowth of the characters.
All in all, Night Child felt very paint by numbers. Headstrong heroine who has the entire world against her? Yup. Sweeping secret conspiracy? Got it. Love interest who might be enemy or ally? Got him too. It just proves that an original conceit sometimes isn’t enough to carry a novel. Nice cover though. C-