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REVIEW: Night Child by Jes Battis

Dear Mr. Battis,

book review 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-

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells. No ebook format currently.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

5 Comments

  1. Keishon
    May 27, 2008 @ 13:02:25

    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

    I had started this book over the Memorial Day weekend and had to stop. The in depth details about “materia” and other sci-fi gadgets and the physics behind it bored me. Interesting stuff but it really slowed down the first couple of chapters for me, too. I had to stop reading or go insane. Overall, for me, this felt like an ambitious novel that was poorly executed. Glad someone reviewed this book. I agree, the cover is nice and will draw attention like it should but too bad that what’s between those covers didn’t work.

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  2. loonigrrl
    May 27, 2008 @ 13:16:08

    I’m about halfway through this book, and although I’m going to finish it, I don’t exactly love it either. I agree, the story is slow-there’s too much background about forensics- but my problem is really with Tess. She’s got this one chance to make or break her career and she keeps deliberately doing things that she knows will get her in trouble. And they are simple things like calling for back up, or not taking the victim to her apartment. Ugh! It’s really aggravating. I’ve felt absolutely no sympathy for her each time her boss calls her on it.

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  3. orannia
    May 27, 2008 @ 15:16:56

    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

    My best friend calls it techno-dumping. Some authors have whole paragraphs detailing various technical aspects, most of which aren’t necessary. Watching CSI New York last night brought to my attention something I’ve also noticed occurring in books as well as in TV shows: certain characters make very obvious statements about a situation that they wouldn’t otherwise say to a colleague because said colleague is also an expert. So, it is only being said for the reader/viewer, but it is so obvious it is clunky.

    Out of interest, is it just me or are a lot of urban fantasy books being written in the first person at the present? I almost forgot, with heroines who are headstrong and upon whom the fate of the whole world rests?

    orannia

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  4. Jia
    May 27, 2008 @ 15:28:56

    Keishon: Actually, the use of “materia” distracted me a lot because I associate that word with the Final Fantasy videogames. I know it’s not a proprietary usage but it was one of those things that kept kicking me out of the book.

    loonigrrl: Tess does seem like she skipped Investigation Tactics 101, doesn’t she? Even if those “tactics” are really just common sense.

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  5. Jes Battis
    May 28, 2008 @ 11:36:16

    Jia,

    Thanks for the crit. I always appreciate info that will help me revise my writing and make it better. I do agree that Tess makes mistakes, although that’s mostly because she’s human (well, sort of), and if she did everything according to procedure, there’d be no story. But I think you make some valid points, and I appreciate that you took the time to read my book. I hope you like Hextacy, the sequel, and I look forward to reading your review. I like that you’re honest and you don’t pull punches.

    All best

    Jes

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