Staying Dead, by Laura Anne Gilman (Luna, 2004)

In a world like our own, where magic works and supernatural beings (collectively called Fatae) walk the streets in secret, those who work magic lead a shadowy existence. Those with the Talent for manipulating magic, or current, either belong to the overly-restrictive Council, have gone slightly mad from the use of current, or have gone rogue, operating as independents known as lonejacks. One of the very best lonejacks is Genevieve Valere, better known as Wren. With her human partner Sergei, she operates a profitable and highly successful “retrieval” business, penetrating the best security in the world to steal back items for their rightful owners.

The problem is, when you’re the best, you end up with the worst cases. For instance, when a powerful magical artifact goes missing in the dead of the night, Wren is the one hired to find it and bring it back. Unfortunately, this is the sort of case which may end up killing her, as she’s plunged into a web of conspiracy, murder, mystery, betrayal, secrecy, and danger. With no less than three different factions involved, each wanting to use her for their own ends, Wren quickly finds her loyalties tested and her attention split. Worse still, it looks at though she has been set up to take a nasty fall, and if she can’t put the pieces of this puzzle together, her career, and certainly her independence, will be a thing of the past. All she has is her ever-faithful partner Sergei, who just happens to be hiding some secrets of his own, ones about to come back and bite them both in the rear. Can Wren retrieve the missing item, unravel the mystery, survive the attempts to use and/or kill her, and still resolve her growing feelings for her business partner?

Staying Dead, Laura Anne Gilman’s first original novel, is part of the new Harlequin Luna line, which mixes fantasy and romance with new and interesting results. And happily, it focuses much more on the fantasy than the romance, placing Wren and Sergei’s blossoming relationship on the back burner where it can simmer over the course of the storyline. No speedy courtships and marriage for these two! Rather, they work as a team, a well-oiled, much-practiced partnership born of nearly a decade together, and they’re fully as charming as any married team (Nick and Nora Charles, I’m looking at you…)

Gilman has a real knack for details, planting the fantastic elements in a New York so fully realized, you can practically feel it. At the same time, the magical society she’s created is just as strong, and bearing a fairly original feel to it. Sure, who hasn’t seen the authoritarian organization trying to control magic users and magical beings before, and secret groups dedicated to improving the world no matter what the cost are as old as society itself. Even so, there’s no mistaking Gilman’s Council for, say, Jim Butcher’s White Council; for one thing, the people Wren deals with are much scarier for their underhanded dealings and quietness. Add in the Fatae (including the charmingly disturbing P.B., who resembles nothing more than a talking polar bear with a thing for cold Chinese), and the insane Talents known as wizzarts (nuttier than fruitcakes, living solely in the moment, and as likely to help you as throw you off a cliff or turn you inside out), and you have a lot to work with for future adventures.

Staying Dead is a romantic fantasy that diehard fantasy purists don’t have to be ashamed to be seen with; Gilman delivers an exciting, fast-paced, unpredictable story that never lets up until the very end. There’s just enough twists and turns to keep even a jaded reader guessing, and plenty of setup for further Wren and Sergei stories. I eagerly anticipate seeing where Gilman will go with this. (FYI, she has a Wren and Sergei story appearing in Powers of Detection, Ace, Oct. 2004) I highly recommend this book to fans of urban fantasy, especially Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, or Laurell K. Hamilton. This is an extremely strong start, and I hope Gilman keeps it up.

Originally posted on SF Site, 2004

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