Posted on February 8, 2011 by alanajoli
Available at Amazon.com
Not long ago, I signed up for a very cool program with Simon & Schuster called “galley grab,” which allows participants to read e-book galleys in full for a limited amount of time. I’ve loaded up several titles on my nook and am trying to get through them before my time runs out!
One of my first priorities on the list was A Brush of Darkness by Allison Pang, which I’d seen previews for over at Pocket After Dark. There are all sorts of marketing sayings about how many times you have to see something before it sticks, or if you touch something some large number of times, you’ll buy it. A Brush of Darkness was one of those books for me — I kept seeing it and thinking, “Man, I’ve got to read that.” So, there it was, ready for me to grab. The premise: Abby Sinclair is the TouchStone for the Protectorate of the CrossRoads — which is a way of saying, in a lot of capital letters, that she’s the human who has makes it possible for the local fae administrator to travel between worlds with ease. Abby’s in a contract to fulfill certain duties for the Protectorate, Moira — she has to run a book shop, which is the mortal cover for the fae activity in their area; she helps keep things running smoothly when there are conflicts that Moira would be handling; and she runs a midnight magic shop, where angels, daemons, and fae go to purchase various and sundry enchanted items. In return, Abby doesn’t age — and at the end of her term as TouchStone, she’ll be granted a wish — as long as she doesn’t leave the boundaries of Moira’s city.
But the job isn’t all its cracked up to be — aside from the perk of an enchanted iPod and an everfilling fridge. Shortly after Abby arrives, Moira, who gives her very little instruction about how to manage her responsibilities and how to keep herself safe from the perils of dealing with OtherFolk, disappears. Since Abby doesn’t know much about the fae, she figures this is just normal behavior on Moira’s part — but, when a belligerent (yet sexy) incubus, Brystion, shows up with a story about missing succubi, and when Abby’s mortal friends find themselves in danger as well, Abby realizes that she is well and truly in over her head. With help from Brystion, and Abby’s pocket-sized unicorn companion, Phineas, Abby does her best not only to survive the heightened dangers, but to triumph over fae politics, jealous ex-lovers, and her own fears.
Abby’s world of CrossRoads and TouchStones is a fantastic one, with clear rules that bind mortals and the OtherFolk in their relationships. The depiction of the way the worlds of OtherFolk and mortals intersect is fantastic, and Pang’s description of the CrossRoads is brilliant — at once appealing and frightening, just as a good fairy realm should be. Abby’s an appealing narrator — she’s terribly broken, denied her dreams of becoming a dancer by a horrible car accident that also stole her mother’s life. To say that she has issues is an understatement, but her issues are completely understandable: it’s hard to get close to people when the person she loved and trusted most died in her lap. It’s hard to extend trust to the OtherFolk when the first one she contracted with took advantage of her and caused her pain — and the second one didn’t ever offer her much in the way of help. And it’s hard for her to believe that she can succeed at anything when she’s been met with so much failure in her recent past. So if, occasionally, Abby seems to intentionally misinterpret kindnesses as manipulation, it’s understandable. Frustrating, but understandable.
The supporting cast are also well drawn and appealing. Brystion takes the old west tart with a heart archetype, usually reserved for women, and twists it brilliantly. Oh, no doubt he’s dangerous — as all of the OtherFolk should be — but he’s also something of a fallen hero. He’s a daemon, but he has a protective streak a mile wide, and he’s clearly into Abby (whether or not she realizes it). Phineas the miniature unicorn who lives in Abby’s underwear drawer has a mischievous streak that’s countered by his pint-sized wisdom — it’s clear that, in later books, Phineas will be one of Abby’s best and most trustworthy allies. Abby’s friend Melanie, the one who introduced her to the world of OtherFolk, is a brilliant portrayal of a musician who can open Doors with her magic — a trope I’ve always loved, and here also a cool and reliable friend, making her one of the few who Abby has.
Overall, this is a great new world, an excellent, stand-alone debut that leaves readers wanting to see more. Abby comes into her own over the course of the novel, and while she’s got more room to grow, the broken character at the beginning is on her way to healing when we leave her at the end. And while there’s no happily ever after… that just leaves room for more fun (and very probably more steamy sex) in future volumes. This is a great selection for urban fantasy readers who like a heavy dose of romance, or for paranormal romance readers who like a mystery plot driving the action forward. Which, of course, made it a perfect fit for me. I’m glad I got the chance to read it early — and I’m excited to see what Allison Pang comes out with next!
Review by Alana Abbott