Ilona Andrews, $10.99, ISBN 978-1494388584
Clean Sweep is the first book in Ilona Andrews’s Innkeeper Chronicles series. It was previously published in installments at the free-to-read section of the author’s website, and once the whole thing was completed, Clean Sweep was polished up and released as a self-published effort via Amazon’s Kindle and Createspace platforms. No, it’s no longer free to read now, too bad if you’ve missed out, but the second “book” is currently being posted – in installments, of course – at the time of writing, so take a look there if you are interested.
As per the title of this series, Dina Demille is an innkeeper. Not in the way you think, however, as she is more like Prue Halliwell than Martha Stewart. In this setting, innkeepers like Dina run and manage neutral refuges for beings from all over the galaxy. These guests can be good or evil – Dina’s current guest Caldenia ka ret Magren is a deposed aristocrat from a distant planet wanted by many for being a tyrant that killed millions of people just because. Innkeepers are overseen by the Innkeeper Assembly who basically maintains a database showing how many stars your inn gets. The more stars your inn gets, the more guests you will have. Naturally, ordinary people on Earth have no clue about the true nature of such inns or the otherworldly nature of the owner or the guests, and secrecy is always important. Blow away the cover, and the inn is pretty much out of business.
Being a popular inn is important because the inn is actually sentient, and there is a symbiotic relationship between the inn and the innkeeper that enhances one another’s powers. Dina’s powers are at their most powerful within the perimeters of the inn, for instance. When Dina comes to take over Gertrude Hunt Bed-and-Breakfast, it had been neglected for so long that it went into hibernation and entered a state of disrepair. Dina’s efforts to restore to the inn to its current two-star status allows Gertrude Hunt to become alive again. Dina is doing this because, you see, her parents were innkeepers and, a while back, they and their inn just vanished without a trace. Dina hopes, that by having her own flourishing inn, she would have guests from all corners of the galaxy coming over, and surely one of them would recognize the portraits of her parents and drop a clue to help her search for them. Of course, with Gertrude Hunt having only two stars – for now – she still has some way to go.
In Clean Sweep, someone – something? – is killing the neighborhood dogs and leaving behind bloody carcasses for all to find. There’s a werewolf in the neighborhood, Sean Evans, and Dina is somewhat annoyed that he isn’t doing more to protect his turf other than urinating on trees and fences late at night to mark his territory. While she is reluctant to get involved in things that may threaten the secrecy of her inn and downgrade its rating, she decides to do something since Sean isn’t willing to cooperate. Sean’s reluctance actually stems from him not knowing what Dina is – he’s actually clueless about other types of woo-woo in this world – and once he realizes that Dina can pack a powerful blow with her magic, he decides that he’d be gracious and accept the help she is offering. And then into the picture come the vampires, including the pretty boy Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr.
If you’re like me, you’re probably ready to groan when werewolves and vampires come into the picture. Still, things aren’t so predictable – these are intergalactic versions of the usual werewolves and vampires. Sean is part of a generation of super-soldiers bred by his people to be the final line of defense against a race of feline invaders. Their planet is now gone and the werewolves are now scattered all over the galaxy. Sean’s parents ended up on Earth and gave birth to him, so Sean always assumed that he was a native of this planet. Sean is more of a lone wolf, so the whole boring pack politics stuff is not here for the moment, thank goodness. The vampires like Arland are actually carnivores rather than blood-sucking aliens, and their race is steeped in a culture of chivalry and gallantry even as warring Houses tear into one another for power and such.
Reading Clean Sweep is like reading the first Kate Daniels book – the world building is always fascinating and it is a delightful experience to discover how this setting is constructed. The setting here is a melting pot of popular urban fantasy tropes, but everything comes together and fits perfectly. Dina is just adorable as this innkeeper who can transform her broom into a spear of massive destruction, and she really kicks rear ends here. Sean and Arland are basically Team Vampire and Team Werewolf redux, nothing too new there, but they are amusing characters, especially Sean who is a mix of bumbling earnestness and deadly violence (this combo works, believe it or not). Reading this book is like stumbling into a wonderfully entertaining new world, and that’s an experience in itself.
The story is fast-paced and gripping, and it’s also very funny. If this book is anything to go by, this series is meant to be less dark, more of a lighthearted fun romp. The authors behind the Ilona Andrews pen name can be really funny when they want to, and here, it’s violence and comedy served up in one addictive brew.
Reading this book is also, on my part, a most welcome experience. I’m bored by the way the Kate Daniels books are at the moment, and Clean Sweep reminds me that there is still an alternative series for me to enjoy the author’s brand of urban fantasy. This is a clean new start. There is no annoying power creep that turns Kate and her too-many hangers-on into suspense-free overpowered good guys, no tedious and boring over-emphasis on werewolf stuff at the expense of other fascinating elements (the werewolves are the most boring and unimaginative aspect of the Kate Daniels books, so of course the whole series end up focusing on these played-out furballs), no contrived reasons to keep Kate’s father from not showing up and stomp Kate to curb in order for the series to continue.
For now, Clean Sweep is a nice little introduction to a new series that has not been bogged down by the “too many books in a series” disease that eventually cripples every other urban fantasy series out there. I’m swept away, and I’m reserving a room in this one.