Autumn Bones: Agent of Hel is the second book in the Agent of Hel series by Jacqueline Carey (writer of the Kushiel novels, which are amazing, p.s.).
This is my first foray into Carey’s other works since first reading her Kushiel novels. The Kushiel series are epic historical fantasy books with major romance veins throughout them. I mean, her main character is god-touched so that she experiences pain as pleasure and is trained as a courtesan spy, so there’s going to be sex. Awesome sex. Needless to say, I found her Kushiel novels genre-bending.
So if you’re expecting these books to be like the Kushiel novels, think again. The Agent of Hel books are definitely very genre-conforming, which isn’t a negative. They are firmly rooted in the urban fantasy section. If you’re not sure what urban fantasy is, it’s normally defined as a book that has fantastical or magical elements woven into (usually) present-day urban life. Carey’s tone is delightfully light and informal, a major contrast from the formal and epic writing of the Kushiel books.
The main character of the book is twenty-something Daisy Johanssen, who is half incubus, half human. The catch is, if Daisy claims her fiendish birthright, she could throw the world into Armageddon. She becomes more susceptible to this urge when she indulges in the seven deadly sins or allows her vibrant emotions free reign. She’s been controlling herself her whole life so as to not doom the whole human race – so no pressure or anything.
The town she lives in, Pemkowet, has a functioning underworld. A functioning underworld is the place an old god has set up their domain, and this domain is literally right under the town. Because the ancient Norse Goddess Hel lives here, magic functions. In the last book, Daisy became Hel’s liaison, which is basically like the supernatural police. Daisy keeps watch over the town’s fairies, ghouls, vampires, and any other eldritch beings. She also works with the human police force when a case gets “hinky.”
The second book picks up just a few weeks after the first concludes. Daisy has started dating Sinclair, the Jamaican who runs supernatural bus tours. Their relationship is going well, until Daisy finds out he has a major secret. His family turn out to be powerful obeah sorcerers and they want him back in Jamaica – and they’re willing to unleash bad magics onto the town of Pemkowet to get him back. It’s Daisy’s job to stop them.
In general, I really enjoyed the book. It’s a really fun read, and the tone is super light. Carey nails Daisy’s inner monologue. It’s almost as if the reader is Daisy’s best friend and Daisy is giving us the low-down on what’s happening in her life. Carey evokes all of her emotions perfectly, and never for a moment did any of her reactions seem out of character. Her quirky, quirky character.
For all of its light tone, Carey does manage to very subtly tackle some major issues here. For instance, one of the characters uses the word gay as an insult, and Daisy thinks, “In this day and age, that shouldn’t be a viable taunt. Especially in a town that prides itself on welcoming diversity.” Through her thoughts, we get the message that being gay is totally okay, or it should be. She also manages to tackle relationship troubles and messed up families too, all within the first seventy pages of the book! Because Carey is a masterful writer, she successfully makes every relationship in the book – even those that are messed up or confused in nature – genuine and multi-faceted. I love that all of Daisy’s relationships, good or bad, are complicated, because that’s how life is. There’s never any black or white, just shades of grey (no, not 50 Shades of Grey. Focus, people!).
I will warn you that the book is very relationship heavy. Daisy is dealing with three men in her life: Sinclaire, Officer Down-Low (Cody, the secret werewolf), and Stefan (the Outcast, also known as a ghoul, who can siphon off her strong emotions). With three potential relationships, each with their own problems, there is a ton for her to work through. But the book also touches on her friendship with Jen, her bestie, and how Daisy’s work is separating them.
While all of these relationships are really interesting and fun to read about, I was left yearning for a little more action, a little more crime solving or fighting. The hurdles Daisy dealt with all seemed decently minor, especially compared to the last book. Sure, she took care of lots of little instances of eldritch trouble, and there was a big bad at the end of the book, but it didn’t actually seem that insurmountable, and no one ever seemed to be in too much danger. Daisy doubts herself a lot, but she gets it done, with little bodily harm done to anyone.
I definitely enjoyed the character building, but in general it felt like an in-between novel. I definitely think there’s even more to the characters, and Carey has set us up for another awesome book to follow. I sincerely think the plot will thicken!
One great thing about having a book mainly devoted to the relationships between people is how awesome the characters are. Every character is distinct and super enjoyable to read. Lurine, the lamia, is one of my favorite characters. She’s sexy, confident, and hilarious. All of Carey’s characters have their own voice and seem like someone I could meet walking down the street. I mean who hasn’t encountered Stacey, the stuck-up judgmental biatch? Or Lee, the smart guy who was picked on in school, who managed to make a fortune for himself? While some of Carey’s characters start in stereotype, they blossom into unique people who are still incredibly relatable.
Oh, and did I mention she references Buffy? She even calls the group of normal people helping her “the Scooby gang.” Clever, Carey. Very clever. Getting me right in the heartstrings of nostalgia and geeky love. Dare I say, Carey is probably a Buffy fan herself! I will say that none of the pop-culture references were jarring. They were almost like a nice little tidbit, a bonus. I smiled every time they came up, and it drew me closer to the characters.
So to sum up, I really enjoyed reading the book, but was left wanting a little more, which is probably not the worst thing that could happen. I will definitely be reading the third book, whenever that comes out!
If you’re now hankering to get your own copy, Autumn Bones: Agent of Hel comes out October 1st, 2014.
[Disclaimer: A review copy was provided for me to review this book.]
I haven’t read this book or the one before it but I have read all of the Kushiel’s Universe books as well as The Sundering Series. That said, I find Ms. Carey’s foray into this field rather disappointing. It’s an overly crowded field and the cynic in me thinks she’s dumbing down her wonderful prose to write this genre. Urban Fantasy, Supernatural romance, however you want to call it, really seems to me to be nothing more than a cynical ploy by publishers desperate for the next Harry Potter. Does anyone think that pedestrian fair like Twilight would have seen the light of day in a pre-Potter publishing world? I was equally as disappointed to see Michelle Sagara West write this kind of book (Silence) as her fantasy novels (Chronicles of Elantra, House War, the Sun Sword series) rank amongst the best written books I’ve ever read in my 40+ years of reading. Maybe I’m being to hard and, not having read the series, a bit uninformed, but all in all this genre is simply saturated with forgettable series that would probably get anyone interested in writing them published.
Oh no! I can tell you feel strongly, but I think there are a lot of really good urban fantasy novels. I mean the Dresden Files are absolutely awesome.
Also if you think about it, Neverwhere, American Gods, and Ocean at the End of the Lane (all Neil Gaimen) are actually urban fantasy novels. And so is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel (Susanna Clarke)!
While I understand your skepticism, I’d definitely recommend trying these books out. They are lots of fun, and sometimes we all need a little fun in our lives. I freaking love epic, high language novels myself, but sometimes when I’m stressed, I just need something a little lighter and fun. And these books are fun!