Harry Connolly is the uncrowned king of the elevator pitch: After “Epic Fantasy without the boring bits” for his Epic Fantasy Trilogy The Great Way, now it’s “Pacifist Urban Fantasy” for his most recent offering, the (you guessed it) Urban Fantasy novel A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark (and he’s really good with snappy titles, too).
And finally it is here, the much-dreaded final volume of Shadow Unit: Just two long episodes and three vignettes, but to say that those packed a massive punch would be an understatement of massive proportions. This installment returns to the accustomed mixture of two episodes and a number of vignettes, but the apparent normalcy is shredded very soon, and the series emphatically goes out with a bang. A big one.
Volume 14 of this series, and I just cannot emphasize enough how much an achievement it is on part of all the individual writers involved as well as the “show runners” Emma Bull and Elizabeth Bear to have kept Shadow Unit alive and fun to read throughout over such a long stretch.
This volume comes without any bonus material at all, presenting just two long stories. I’m missing the vignettes, but not quite as much as I was expecting to, because their usual functions are either to give us background on the Abnormal Crime Task Force’s history or glimpses into the private lives and minds of the team’s members, and the latter is here done by the two regular episodes, “Dark Leader” by Elizabeth Bear, Will Shetterly, and Emma Bull, followed by “Due North” by Leah Bobet. They are both very quiet and introspective episodes, with not much outward tension but rely mostly on character and psychological tension.
“Dark Leader” is an enjoyable read, but mostly “business as usual” for the ACTF (or, as it’s often fondly called by its members, the WTF), and for me at least this volume’s highlight was “Due North”, my favourite contribution by Leah Bobet to the series. The episode mimics TV shows in having an A plot and a B plot, both of which are only thematically connected – the theme being community, what it takes to create one, and what sacrifices are made to keep one alive, and it’s hard not to see both threads as a commentary on the WTF team itself that by now has become home and family for many of its members.
All in all, this is an almost contemplative volume, but none the less impressive for that. It marks the calm before the storm which is looming on the horizon in form of the much-dreaded final Volume 15…
I know I’ll be sad when I get to the end of this series – and not just because there will be no more episodes after that, but also (and possibly even more so) because at this stage, there cannot really be any doubt that things are not going to end well for the members of the FBI’s Anomalous Crime Task Force which we readers have come to know quite intimately over four seasons of episodes and vignettes.
Volume 12 of Shadow Unit continues the fourth and last season of this mock TV-show over from the last installment. We get no less than four episodes here, which I think is a record for the e-book publications of the series, but barely any additional material – not sure whether that is a sign that the authors are getting tired of the series or of increased focus as they are nearing the finish line.
I’m leaning towards the latter, as I at least was not able to find any signs of exhaustion while reading this; to the contrary, I was impressed how the authors still managed to keep everything fresh even so many volumes into the series. The first two episodes here, “Five Autopsies” and “Hope Is Stronger Than Love” achieve this by giving us an outside perspective on the team and its work, the remaining two by furthering the main story arc and deepening relations between the protagonists, and all of them by presenting a well thought-out and excellently written crime plot which, in keeping with the rest of the series, stays as rigorously realistic in its depiction of FBI procedures as it is compellingly imaginative in the invention of the crimes that are being investigated. Good stuff, and I know I’ll be sad when I get to the end of it.
This is the first volume in a Paranormal Fantasy series – by a male author, so unsurprisingly there is not much in the way of Romance here. This is mostly in the vein of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels, except considerably trashier and even closer to the Noir roots of the genre. In fact, even though there are many supernatural elements (magicians, demons and angels, for the most part), Sandman Slim reads more like a noir pulp novel from the fifties than a paranormal fantasy from the early 21st century – there is no private detective here, and law enforcement in general is mostly absent, but the novel’s protagonist – back on earth after eleven years in Hell (literally) and out to get the people who put him there – is on a mission of vengeance and he has few, if any, scruples to remove anything out of the way that gets between him and his revenge.
This is the tenth entry in Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series, and Kitty is visiting London this time to take part in the first International Conference on Paranormal Studies where she is supposed to deliver the keynote speech. To sum it up in advance, it’s a solid, quite entertaining entry in the series but nowhere as good as some previous volumes.