DAW, $7.99 ISBN 978-0-7564-0713-1
In this world, spooks and humans co-exist with, of course, most humans being unaware of the existence of these spooks. I know, I’ve just described pretty much every urban fantasy series in the market at the moment. Still, Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series looks like it’s going more along the humor-and-some-violence route instead of the angst-angst-angst one, and it’s refreshingly free from werewolf boyfriends, vampire beaus, and Most Powerful and Special Queen of the Universe stuff. Of course, there’s no guarantee some time down the series that a werewolf pack lord or a vampire king won’t be parachuted in, or that the heroine won’t discover that she is carrying the magical blood of some goddess and she’s destined to bear the God Damned Baby Savior of the Universe, but I’d like to keep my hopes up and be optimistic when it comes to getting into urban fantasy series new to me.
In Discount Armageddon, we meet Verity Price. She’s “a Price girl”, part of the infamous family that broke ranks from the Covenant of St George. The Covenant was formed a long, long time ago to protect the safety of humans from spooks, and somehow their agenda had evolved to “kill all spooks, no exceptions”. Verity’s great-great-grandparents disagreed with this agenda and decamped. However, you don’t just leave the Covenant, they dump you, and usually bad things happen to you when they decide to do that. Since then, the Price family lay low. They hone their skills to protect themselves, and they also carry out a modified version of the Covenant agenda – they protect humans against cryptids, as spooks are called here, that meant to harm them, but they also protect cryptids that only want to exist peacefully with humans.
Verity is stationed in Manhattan, mostly to keep an eye on things, but also to pursue a career in dance despite the family rule that forbids any of them from getting press attention and hence attracting the attention of the Covenant folks, who are still holding a grudge. Like most people, she finds herself waiting tables more often than not. Aside from an occasional ghoul showing up to munch on people, life isn’t too exciting. That is, until a Covenant guy shows up in town, and when one shows up, the rest tend to do so later… usually to perform a brutally efficient cleansing of the town of all cryptids. And then female cryptids start disappearing, and this guy, Dominic De Luca, has the perfect alibi (his tongue is down Verity’s throat in a perfectly non-carnivorous manner). Verity knows that there is something else – or maybe some things – clearly out and about in town looking to start trouble.
I find the setting pretty fun. Sure, it’s another one where every spook from every popular legend and folklore (and some not-so-popular ones as well) tossed in to create a campy and kitschy world with manic and self-aware ridiculous overtones. But the author’s treatment of these elements manages to keep things fresh and interesting. Or maybe it’s just me. There is something about spooks playing waitresses and strippers in a club run by a boogeyman that appeals to the Tales from the Crypt fan in me – the whole thing is so cheerfully camp and absurd that I just have to love it.
The plot is interesting, both as an introduction to this world and to what kind of mayhem that people can get up in this place. Verity and Dominic can sometimes do silly things, but I’m okay with this because those two know how to shoot, hack, and pulverize their way out of any trouble they find themselves in. Verity and Dominic have some pretty amusing moments together. Unlike most urban fantasy lead male characters, Dominic is human, so there is no annoying “I feel horny for you, it’s the mate bond, and I will now howl at the moon and stalk you while readers pant and wish that they are in your shoes as I am obviously the hottest dynamite in this series, and you will read to the end of this series because all you will care about is my constant and vigorous shagging of the heroine” nonsense that tends to sink many urban fantasy series out there into a “I’m the most powerful snowflake queen of the universe and I get humped by the most powerful alpha werewolf in the universe so together, we are legion” mess. What, me, a disenchanted reader of Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels books? How can you tell? Is it my “Beast Lords can choke on my asparagus” T-shirt?
Anyway, where was I? Right now, Verity and Dominic seem to be on a somewhat equal playing field with the bad guys, so things are pretty fun. He messes up, so can she, so can the villains, and there is a genuine sense of suspense here, as if the good guys are really in danger and they can die. Also, the two darlings have an opposites attract thing going on pretty entertainingly here. He’s more methodical, but hilariously archaic in his perceptions of male-female and human-cryptid relationships, although he doesn’t at the same time become xenophobic or turn into an alpha male brute; she’s more on the impulsive side, but she’s also the one carrying the Greenpeace card when it comes to cryptids. I also like how these two don’t rush into a serious relationship by the end of the book. I like it when people take it slow and build things up across a few books.
There are some occasional moments that have me scratching my head, though. While I do appreciate the author letting these two do their thing without having the suspense ruined by an army of loyal savage werebeasts providing back-up muscle, I find it hard to believe that Verity’s family would consent to let her do her thing without sending back-up. The threat she faces is considerable – a potential genocide is looming, and cryptids are being wiped out by who knows what. And these people decide that it’s more important to go hunt basilisks elsewhere? And that her brother is willing to let her do things alone and let him know by email only if she’s in real trouble? It’s not like these Price people hate one another, so I don’t know what is going on here. The author’s effort to keep the rest of the Price folks out of the picture feels forced indeed.
Also, while I do appreciate some good lines here, the author has Verity cracking out the sarcasm so often, even during moments when some degree of sobriety would be more appropriate, that the poor dear comes off like a doll whose “ON!” mode can’t be switched off. Sure, funny lines can lighten up things, and the hilarious juxtaposition of flippant one-liners with dangerous moments never get old. But have the heroine just keep cranking the lines out and I soon think that the heroine is either hiding some serious psychological damage or is just a plain old-fashioned sociopath, or maybe the author is just overdoing her best impression of Joss Whedon. Since Verity doesn’t seem to be crazy or nursing some kind of bad trauma in her past, I can’t help but to think that the author is overdoing it.
Anyway, Discount Armageddon is a fun and easy read, all things considered, and it takes me away into an entertaining new world for a few hours. Right now, I’m staying on this train and I’m very interested to see what it’d take me.
Oh, and some points are deducted for not having any Vincent in Verity’s family. This is the right setting to make that kind of homage without coming off as too cheesy.