A handsome stranger, a terrifying monster, a boy who burns and burns…
Mattawa, Washington, is usually a sleepy orchard town come December, until a murder, sightings of a fantastic beast, and the arrival of a handsome new vintner in town kindle twenty-year-old reporter Esme Ulloa’s curiosity—and maybe her passion as well. But the more she untangles the mystery, the more the world Esme knows unspools, until she finds herself navigating a place she thought existed only in storybooks, where dreams come alive, monsters walk the earth and magic is real. When tragedy strikes close to home, Esme finds she must strike back, matching wits with an ancient demon in a deadly game, where everything she values stands to be lost, including the love of her life.
Dear Ms. Edie,
Fantasy novels aren’t usually my forte but when I read your submission to our site, what caught my interest was that it’s not about the generic vampire, shifter, were-creature, European-centric characters that populate this genre. No, we’re going to get NA skinwalkers and – better still – Aztec mythology and a Latina heroine here.
Even after reading the excerpt, I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this novella. Monsters, fantasy, a handsome guy who can set things on fire and heirloom apples. It’s definitely not the usual paranormal. Finding out just what was going on was half the fun yet also frustrating at times.
This is a novella so words count. Using a compact, quick writing style to get in necessary info works well. The descriptions can neatly nail a situation such as how Esme’s suddenly chaotic life is “like an upended junk drawer.” Or the prose can gently settle around you.
Grief is a little like being in a fresh snowfall. A light, cold curtain falls between you and the rest of the world. Simple things like opening your front door, walking down your front walk are suddenly more difficult. You slide unexpectedly into hurtful places. The earth seems to shift under your feet. You find yourself wanting to stay inside, hunker down. You stare out the window at a place you no longer recognize. It used to be your world, but now it belongs to the white, bleak cold.
However at the halfway point I noted that “I’m grasping part of what the plot is but there’s enough which is hidden that intrigues me. Obviously Esme doesn’t quite get it but delicate clues are dropped along with some wowzers like the mystery man suddenly appearing but then she doesn’t know what we know.” It’s not all mysterious – like the initial funny bits with Esme’s boss Annie and their mutual hotcha reaction to their interview with Colter. And I adore Great Pyrenees so was happy to see Blob, Fluff and Fitzsimmons taking active roles in the story.
But then I’d go back to being frustrated that no one will tell her the truth. Why the secrets if – as they’re hinted at – they’re so important? Only to draw out tension and suspense over the course of the story? Okay so once the whys and wherefores are revealed it kind of makes sense in this world building but it still gets annoying over the course of the story that the people who can help her seemingly won’t.
Suddenly! she “wakes up” by visiting Tia Donna across the river? Suddenly! everything makes sense. Okay let’s go with that. Esme has made mistakes, as Tia Donna points out, which makes her real, makes her human instead of some cardboard superhero. But she also, as Donna points out, gets to be her own hero, her own savior. Xavier can help but it’s Esme who has the power to save herself and must save herself.
The final showdown with evil is enough to make me want to stay away from skinwalker stories for a while. But I do desperately want to learn more of Xilonen and could certainly use the Goddess of Corn’s help with my scraggly roses. Esme and her love might be young but after all they’ve gone through, I think they’re ready and mature enough for their HEA.
I think the strengths here are the writing style, unusual mythos, and a heroine who triumphs by her will and inner strength instead of being merely kick-ass. The main weakness is a frustrating seeming lack of clarity. Overall, glad I read it. It makes me want to taste some of these heirloom apples and read Aztec myths. B