Dark Currents

by Jacqueline Carey

Cover image

Series: Agent of Hel #1
Publisher: Roc
Copyright: 2012
Printing: October 2013
ISBN: 0-451-41483-7
Format: Mass market
Pages: 399

Buy at Powell's Books

This is another much-belated review. Hopefully I can remember the book well enough to do it justice.

Daisy Johanssen has normal urban fantasy problems: her father was an incubus who (somewhat unsurprisingly) didn't stick around, she has to keep careful control of her own demonic side, her father occasionally tries to tempt her to invoke demonic power, and it's possible that she could breach the walls protecting the world from demons and bring about Armageddon. The typical sort of thing. Also, there's an unexplained murder in her home town, a mid-western US resort town whose image does not go well with eldritch murders.

Daisy's only official role with the town police department is as a part-time file clerk, but this is urban fantasy, so you know the protagonist is going to be hip-deep in some sort of crime investigation. In this case, that's because the Norse goddess Hel (as distinct from the origin of Daisy's father — entirely different thing) also lives here, in a manner of speaking, and Daisy is her liaison. In this case, Hel decides she's the one who should dispense justice.

Carey previously has primarily been an epic fantasy writer, and this is her first foray into urban fantasy. (Well, arguably Santa Olivia and its sequel count, but those felt closer to superhero fiction to me.) The language and tone of her epic fantasy is far different than the conventions of either urban fantasy or superhero fiction, and I thought Santa Olivia was somewhat awkward in places. (None of the profanity quite worked, for instance.) Dark Currents felt smoother and more comfortable, aided by a charming mid-western feel. A few of Daisy's first-person narrative quirks wore poorly, such as every reference to "the Seven Deadlies," but Carey did a solid job with a typical out-of-her-depth urban fantasy protagonist.

I'm pretty tired of the standard mythology of urban fantasy, and that is a bit of a drawback here: vampires and werewolves both feature, and I think I could happily go ten years before reading another story about vampires or hunky werewolves. Carey adds her own take on ghouls, but it's still pretty similar to lots (and lots) of other series. Thankfully, there's a bit of Norse mythology, a bit of fairy, and one extremely memorable lamia (of the serpent-tail-below-the-waist variety, at least some of the time).

Lurine, a reclusive, retired starlet, a friend of Daisy's mother, and Daisy's childhood babysitter, is the lamia in question. She absolutely steals the show. The dynamic between her and Daisy is perfect: Carey resists the urge to ruin it with dark hints or falling-outs to increase tension. Instead, she lets it be a bit quirky, a bit complicated, but full of the reliability of a deep friendship. And Lurine is a wonderful character, the kind that only works as a supporting character because she's best seen through other people's eyes.

Daisy's mother just makes the dynamic better. The reader can believe she's the sort of person who would have an ill-advised fling with an incubus, but also the sort of person who could raise a daughter like Daisy without many resources other than sheer grit. She never loses her optimistic outlook on the world, but has enough backbone behind it to make Lurine's friendship with her entirely believable.

The plot here is nothing particularly special. Daisy unravels various clues, gets deeper into complicated relationships between various factions, occasionally finds herself in serious trouble, and relies on the help of friends and allies. I would have enjoyed the book more with a lot less Cody and more of the less typical mythology. But the relationships between the female characters, and the sheer persistence of mid-western normality and ordinary life challenges in the face of so much supernatural meddling, help this book stand out from the crowd.

Dark Currents is different from most of what Carey has written, and you may be a bit disappointed if you were hoping for the epic sweep of the Kushiel series. But I found myself charmed by it, and will be reading the next book of the series.

Followed by Autumn Bones.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2015-09-07

Last modified and spun 2015-09-08