REVIEW: Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
Dear Ms. St. Crow,
I’m familiar the urban fantasy novels you write under the similar name, Lilith Saintcrow. I enjoyed your Dante Valentine series but wasn’t as keen on your next venture, the Jill Kismet books. But I’m always on the hunt for new young adult novels to read so when I heard you had written one, I decided to give it a try.
Dru Anderson is used to not sticking around in one place for too long. Her father hunts monsters: vampires, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night. But despite the fact that Dru has the sixth sense — a preternatural ability to know when something bad’s about to go down — her father never brings her along on his actual hunts. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that her grandmother died, she might not even be tagging along with him at all. As you can imagine, none of this pleases Dru, who wants nothing more than to help her father hunt the nasty things that prowl the night.
Then one night her dad doesn’t come home after a hunt. Dru tries to hold out hope but she knows the worst has happened. Shortly before her father left, she spied a white owl just outside the window. For Dru, the white owl is a harbinger of death. She saw one before her grandmother died. But Dru’s problem isn’t that her father died. Her problem is that her father died and then came back as a zombie. And when he comes home in his newly reanimated, and very hungry, state, Dru has no choice but to deal with him.
Unfortunately, this leaves Dru alone and at the mercy of the person, or creature, that killed her father. Because the denizens of the Real World — as Dru calls the supernatural world — have always wondered what secrets Dru’s father has been keeping all these years. And much to her misfortune, it turns out he has been. It’s her.
This book reminded me a bit of the Supernatural television series, albeit in a genderflipped, modified sort of way. Dru is obviously an only child so the book doesn’t have the sibling dynamics of the aforementioned television series but she is a combination of the Winchester brothers: Sam’s more-than-human abilities combined with Dean’s attitude and personality. I could argue that this is an advantage. Fans of the television who want a more female-centric version wouldn’t go wrong here.
The downside is that this is a genderflipped version of Supernatural and if you’ve watched at least one season of the show, you will find nothing new here. There’s nothing wrong with that, but in this era of paranormal malaise — of which I admit I am valiantly trying to stave off but am currently losing — that strong sense of familiarity and “I’ve seen this before dozens of times” will work against it.
I do think fans of your previous books, and in particular their heroines, will like Dru. While I admit I’m weary these days of the standoffish, ultra-tough urban fantasy heroine who thinks she needs no one, I know the archetype still holds its appeal for many people. For me, though, I was pretty ambivalent about Dru and she only added to the overwhelming sense of “I’ve read this book before” I was experiencing.
This is a dark and grim book, probably more so than other young adult novels I’ve read. I actually like dark and grim so this didn’t bother me. That said, I must add the caveat that I have a very high tolerance for gore so while nothing in this book struck me as extreme, I will be the first person to admit I am not the best judge of that because my scale is very skewed compared to the average reader.
I do think the cover copy might be a little misleading because it implies there will be a love triangle involving Dru, Graves who may or may not be a werewolf, and Christophe who is a vampire. I wasn’t reading it for that — and honestly, I’m glad I didn’t read the cover copy before starting the book because that would have turned me off right away. I am really tired of the heroine who must choose between the werewolf and vampire subplot in books. So for readers who are hesitating because of that point, it doesn’t quite play out that way in the book. This is the first in a new series, however, so that can always change in future books but for now, the love triangle isn’t as dominant a point as the back copy makes it out to be.
And speaking of reader biases, what was up with all the descriptions of Graves’s Asian features? I’d be lying if I said the reference to Graves being lucky that he hadn’t drawn the “really slit-eyed card a lot of half-breeds have to play” didn’t make me frown. And when that was followed by constant references to the color of his skin, his cheekbones, and his epicanthic eyefolds, I have to be honest. I was really weirded out by the time I finished the book. I don’t know if this was deliberate, as a way to show that Dru has never encountered an Asian person before in her life. Maybe she hasn’t, in which case I suppose the first-person narrative is accurate, but it made me very uncomfortable because I really don’t like reading stories in which features similar to mine are described in this fetishized fashion. I get enough of that in my day to day life that I would vastly prefer to keep it out of my escapist reading.
But what I think is the book’s biggest weakness is that it’s really all introductory set-up for the rest of the series. An origin story, if you will. We find out about Dru’s dead mother, why she’s so special, and the secret world that her father moved through, but we don’t have much of an actual story that stands alone in this book. This won’t bother some readers but I’m sorry to say I’m not one of them. I like having stand alone storylines in my series books and what was present here was slight at best. And because of that, Strange Angels was a C- for me.