Hex and the City, by Simon R. Green (Ace, 2005)

In the Nightside, London’s rotted, blackened heart, it’s always 3 a.m., and the nightmares are out to play. In the Nightside, everything has a price . . . and a cost. In the Nightside, ancient Beings play out forbidden games and blasphemous plots, while lesser creatures scheme and move in mysterious ways. In the Nightside, killers and saints share the same table in forgotten pubs, while superheroes, aliens, monsters, time-travelers, adventurers, explorers, and much, much more pursue their goals. The Nightside is home to people such as Julien Advent, the Victorian Adventurer; The Lamentation, better known as the Saint of Suicides; Eddie, Punk God of the Straight Razor; Sandra Chance, the consulting necromancer; and Deliverance Wilde, style guru to the Unseelie Court of the Fae. But no one has as varied and ominous a reputation as John Taylor.

John Taylor, private detective. Hunted since birth by the relentless nightmares known as the Harrowing. Born of a mortal man and an unknown woman, and haunted by an unspeakable destiny. Capable of finding — anything — imaginable with the power of his mind, and alternately worshipped and reviled for something that will come to pass in the future. Marked for death, yet used by everyone. Five years ago, he fled the Nightside for fear of his life, and attempted to leave a normal life in the mundane world. But the Nightside has ways of bringing a man home. Since his reluctant return, John Taylor has dealt with horrors unimaginable, and survived some major players in the game, including an assault by angels and demons alike. But now he’s about to learn that it was all the prelude to the most significant case of all.

Hired by the Transient Being known as Lady Luck to investigate the very origins of the Nightside itself, John’s payment is the one thing above all he’s always wanted to learn: the identity of his mother. Against all warnings, despite all common sense, he accepts the case. Gathering together allies in the form of a lunatic capable of altering reality, a man cast out by Heaven and Hell alike, and a succubus, John sets forth to delve into the greatest secrets of the Nightside. Secrets that people would kill to preserve or possess.

Their quest will take them to the deepest, darkest, oldest depths of the Nightside, where they’ll consult with fallen gods, ancient beings, and creatures with unthinkable power. They’ll alternately ally themselves with, and fight against, some of the Nightside’s worst killers and most dangerous guardians. The Authorities of the Nightside, as represented by their agent, Walker, want John Taylor off the case, and this time, they’re willing to kill if need be. But it takes a lot to kill John Taylor and his companions, and ultimately, the Nightside’s origins will see the light of day, and Taylor’s mother will be revealed once and for all. This may very well be the beginning of the end for the Nightside . . . .

Simon Green writes like the hooker who mugs you during sex. One minute he’s whispering sweet nothings, the next he’s kicked you in the groin and made off with your innocence and valuables. He writes with a certain over-the-top flamboyance, a hearty gusto, thoroughly embracing every visceral image and exaggeration he can think of, creating an atmosphere where imagination runs wild and nothing is too extreme. His style is unique, stylized, and addictive, every action and every scene writ larger than life. Part of the appeal for this series lies in how unashamed Green is to play with characters that anyone else would find absurd, and make them fit into the setting. Sinner. Madman. Pretty Poison. The Lord of Thorns. Count Video. Bad Penny. Larry Oblivion. In the wrong hands, these sorts of names and characters would be laughable; with Green, they’re all part of a setting that wholly embraces the extreme and the sublime. Everyone is the best / scariest / nastiest / fastest / most powerful at what they do, and there’s always someone better / scarier / nastier / faster / more powerful still waiting in the wings. In Green’s universe, the dial starts at eleven, and escalates from there.

While Simon Green is very much an acquired taste — either you love his stuff, or you hate it — there’s no denying that he brings something unique to the urban fantasy field. His Nightside series may not be the best stuff he’s done, but it possesses a powerful, entertaining charm all its own, and it’s obvious by now that Green has a master plan and is plunging towards the culmination of everything with an inexorable steadiness, much like a car with its brake lines cut.

If you happen to like urban fantasy with a splatterpunk attitude, a noir sensibility, a pulp sense of style, and a horror undercoating, this is the perfect series for you. Fans of Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Neil Gaiman, John Constantine, Laurell K. Hamilton, Rachel Caine, Glen Cook, Kim Harrison, or Fritz Leiber will all find something to enjoy in the Nightside series. While you can read Hex and the City on its own, I really suggest you read its predecessors (Something from the Nightside, Agents of Light and Darkness, and The Nightingale’s Lament ) first, just to properly appreciate the buildup of pressure and hints across the series. (Also, be sure to check out Simon Green’s Nightside story, “The Nightside, Needless to Say” in the Powers of Detection collection (Ace, 2004)).

Go on, before something eats you. Really.

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