Posted on January 12, 2009 by alanajoli
Another confession: like Dog Days, I’ve had Unshapely Things in my review pile for awhile, too–for so long that not only is the sequel, Unquiet Dreams, available, but Unfallen Dead, the third book in the Connor Gray series, is coming out on January 27th. (To be fair, I didn’t receive it for review until 2008, so it had already been in the Flames Rising review pile for awhile since its release.) Though the world of the Convergance–an event that merged the mortal world with the world of Faerie–is a complicated one, Connor Gray narrates us right through our introduction, showing the aspects of the world that he’s embraced without having to provide too much exposition. (Exposition sections do drift in throughout, but for the most part, Connor Gray is just living the life, without the need to extrapolate too much on the nature of his world, except when it relates to politics.)
The setting is an area of post-Convergance Boston known as the Weird. Having lived in Cambridge and worked in Boston, I was hoping for more sights and sounds that I would recognize, but other than the lack of complaint about traffic, the Boston that del Franco creates feels real. (The most difficult parts of the novel to believe were the sections where Connor Gray and his police detective companion Murdock were driving without any substantial effort through sections of Boston that I remember being constantly backed up.) It’s changed, mostly due to the growing population of Fae: fairies, druids, elves, and dwarves, who have bought high rises, businesses, and other city assets. (Maybe they’re one of the factors in the lack of obnoxious traffic!) The Weird is populated by the less-well-off Fae element, and while there’s good food to be had and the tourists come to experience the strangeness of being so close to the fae, it’s certainly a seedier area for clubbing than, say, Fenway. When the second fairy prostitute in so many weeks ends up dead, heart removed, police Detective Lieutenant Leo Murdock calls in Connor Gray, a druid who used to be an up-and-coming member of the Guild, the organization that polices fae crimes. The death of the third prostitute, and Gray’s investigation of the murder scene, is where we readers enter the story.
Given the unsavory element, the Guild isn’t likely to get involved–despite the fact that Connor is convinced there’s a ritual element to the murders. But no one from the Guild listens to Connor since he lost most of his abilities. And given the way they treat people in the Weird, Connor isn’t inclined to make them listen. He recognizes the organization from an outside perspective since he lost his powers: the Guild is full of people who will happily manipulate their way to the top. He also recognizes that he used to be kind of a jerk (well, maybe not kind of), and throughout the novel, I was glad that the new Connor, the one without his abilities, was the one leading me through the case. The old Connor would probably have made me throw the book.
But there are people inside the Guild who Connor still respects, if not trusts: Meryl, effectively a Guild librarian, who is by far the most competent character in the whole book (which is saying something, considering most of the characters are quite good at their jobs); and Keeva, Connor’s old partner, who investigates Fae crimes. Through a series of clues, both mysterious and mundane, and help from Murdock and Joe, a flit and Connor’s tiny cookie-eating companion, Connor begins to trace the possible outcome of the murders. The result is not only not pretty, it could mean the end of the world.
Despite the gristly nature of the crimes, the story isn’t full of cheap thrills–I acknowledge, I was looking around the corner for disaster coming out of empty houses (and one of the ending twists totally pulled the wool over my eyes), but Unshapely Things is more in the tradition of the private investigator novel than horror. One of the most refreshing things about the novel was the complete lack of romantic interlude from page one through the ending. Now, you know I love a good romance element to my novels, but it’s been so long since I read an urban fantasy that didn’t have sex or romance that it was refreshing. Connor is still trying to figure out who he is, now that his abilities are so diminished, that adding a love interest would have diluted that quest. He has to figure out for himself where he stands in the world, in relation to the Guild and the true path of the druid.
Unshapely Things is definitely worth the read, and the world of the Convergance is well worth exploring. The novel ends with a lead off into the second novel, which (based on that lead) will sadly be leaving Boston behind. Hopefully Boston, the Weird, and the residents who live there won’t be too far out of sight–though the ensemble acts primarily through their relationships with Connor, they’re all characters I want back in the series. Definitely check it out!
Review by Alana Joli Abbott