REVIEW: Nightwalker by Jocelynn Drake
Dear Ms. Drake,
I’m afraid I’m reaching my saturation point for urban fantasy. If I never have to read about another demon, werewolf, or vampire ever again, I will be a happy woman. It’s not so much that I hate the trademark species of the paranormal subgenres; it’s the fact that lately I feel like I’ve been reading the same book over and over again, just by different authors. There are many readers who like that, and I don’t begrudge them their reading pleasure. It’s just that I sometimes wish we had more variety in plots and character types.
Mira is a six-hundred year old nightwalker, or vampire, who makes her territory in Savannah. While not on the level of an Ancient (vampires over 1,000 years old) or an Elder (the ruling vampires who govern the race), she commands an infamous reputation because she is able start fires using only her mind, earning her the nickname of the Fire Starter.
A few centuries ago, Mira was imprisoned and tortured by the naturi, or faeries, who are the enemies of the vampires. While she can remember her time in the naturi’s captivity, she can’t recall the day she was rescued except for a few details. This becomes crucial when a legendary vampire hunter named Danaus shows up in town, bringing with him the very same naturi who tortured Mira all those years ago — and whom Mira believed she’d already killed. It turns out Danaus needs her help. The naturi are seeking a way to break out of their supernatural prison and unlike previous attempts, they’re close to succeeding. Bad news for the vampires because they’re at one of their weakest points in history.
I really enjoyed the mythos introduced in this novel. The cosmology consists of two ruling races: the naturi (faeries) and the bori (angels and demons). In this hierarchy, werewolves serve the naturi, although slaves would be a more accurate description, and vampires are on the side of the bori, although they enjoy a similar status as werewolves as well. I’m not too clear on what exactly happened to the bori; all I know is that they are no longer present for one reason or another. I do know the majority of the naturi were magically sealed in another realm, and those who managed to escape imprisonment have been trying to free their queen and the rest of their people ever since.
The interesting worldbuilding is one of the reasons why the actual plot disappointed me a little. We have yet another kickbutt heroine surrounded mostly by men, many of whom adore her, hate her, or both love and hate her at the same time. I think this is rapidly becoming one of the genre’s conventions I would gladly do without. What’s wrong with a little more female presence? For that matter, what’s wrong with a little more female presence that’s not considered antagonistic to the lead heroine’s role? I refuse to believe it’s impossible for an urban fantasy heroine to be friends with another woman, but books in which this is the case seem to be the exception rather than the rule.
Mira’s quest to stop the naturi resulted in globetrotting travels that I enjoyed while reading but in retrospect, find unsatisfying. The travelling to Egypt and London, plus mentions of Spain and Machu Picchu, were a nice change from the settings we typically find in this subgenre but at the same time, they seemed more like exotic wallpaper than actual settings that impacted the characters and events.
I normally don’t comment on the prose itself but there was trait in the writing here that didn’t work for me. Ultimately, it ended up preventing me from fully enjoying the narrative. Nightwalker is told from the first person past tense point of view from Mira. I enjoy first person POV, and there is nothing I love more than a very distinctive narrative voice. On the other hand, I think it also calls attention to narrative flaws more easily than its third person counterpart. At times in the novel, we are immersed in the action-packed narrative and it proceeds at a brisk, snappy pace. But at other times, the narrative will slow as Mira lapses into telling mode and tells us things that, as readers, not only do we already know but also things that will happen in the future, sort of the opposite of a flashback. Maybe a flash forward. I personally hate that, especially when I’m more interested in the events taking place in the here and now, rather than what could or will happen in the future.
I think it’s very obvious this is the first in a series. Many of the things that bothered me — the globetrotting to various locales without much cultural immersion, the introduction of several characters with only superficial relationship development — can be attributed to setting up a world and the conflict. But then I ask myself what ever happened to books that stand well alone? I don’t think we should give passes to books just because they’re the first in a series but sometimes I think we do. All things considered, it failed to live up to its potential for me. C+