Monday, June 4, 2012

100 Books #49 - John Urbancik's DARKWALKER

As I observed last year, John Urbancik is one Romantic, poetic motherfolklore.* He likes his gore on the picturesque side, frequents atmospheric locations like glorious old cathedrals and elegant old-fashioned theaters, and tends to feature seriously star-crossed love stories in his fiction. Horace "Castle of Otranto" Walpole had nothing on this guy!

He stays in that romantic vein for this new novel, but that exquisite sense of place Urbancik always achieves is this time gone for seedier locales: disused warehouses, back alleys, dive bars, abandoned houses. His hero this time around, Jack Harlow, is a guy who can perceive what most people cannot: he can see ghosts and spirits, penetrates the shoddy disguises of vampires and ogres, catches them in the act, often smells them before he sees them** -- but cannot interfere. Anytime he tries, things go horribly, horribly wrong. So he watches and records, collating his findings on a laptop (because memory plays tricks, and is faulty) he keeps in the car that is also his home.

When he meets the beautiful Lisa Sparrow in a heart-stopping scene of love-at-first-sight, though, and she gets attacked by some kind of horrifying beastie, he begins to want, very much, to be able to interfere. But can he? And what would be the consequences if he did?

One of those consequences is Nick Hunter, a man whose vocation is killing monsters, who comes to the aid of this ill-starred pair in the midst of that first attack on Lisa, and then begins to take a very strong interest in Jack's very comprehensive database. A monster hunter could do a lot with a tool like that. Meanwhile, as third wheels go, he's pretty much the best a couple could possibly ask for...

What sells me on this book most of all is that, though it's a very romantic book, it's not one of those irritating wish-fulfillment paranormal romances, all sexy vampires and werewolves in heat. No, the monsters are very much the bad guys, a threat, what needs killing. No one (willingly) sleeps with one or falls in love with one or anguishes over its future  as the meat on a really big shish kebab. They're deadly, vicious and scary.

Too, Jack Harlow winds up with a very unusual problem -- unusual both within and without the confines of this novel and this genre -- that I don't think I've seen before, which makes this a much more interesting read than I was expecting! And even better are the turns taken by his lovely Lisa, who embraces Jack's weird existence and runs with it, becoming an active partner in the struggle to find out what the hell is going on into the bargain. "The future stretched before her like a blank canvas, wiped clear of the mundane."

I like that.

Darkwalker thus has a great deal to offer -- horrifying imagery, a sweet love story, danger, inner turmoil, high stakes (very high!), very occasional humor -- and is very obviously something over which its author and editors have taken very great care. Every scene is minutely crafted, polished, and displayed in its best possible light. Sometimes the prose might feel a little overwhelming, but it's always revealed as exactly what was needed to convey the appearance of Jack's foes, the turbulence of Jack's, Lisa's or Nick's emotions, the almost unbearable tension through which they struggle to establish a new normal after the cataclysm of Jack's and Lisa's falling in love.

Really, the novel's only flaw is that it's not really my thing. I'm pretty over vampires and zombies and werewolves and whatnot, I'm sorry to say. Maybe if there were altogether fewer of them in the stories that keep crying for my attention, I'd still have an appreciation for them.

Or maybe if it was only writers like John Urbancik who got to play with them. Because despite this not being my thing, he ripped my heart right out my rib cage with his bare hands and then threw it on the floor and stomped on it 'til I died. Unh!

*I cannot take credit for that awesome neologism. That comes from my friend Jessie, aka @Xutraa.

**Lots of smells in this book. Very few of them good. "Jasmine, vanilla, cinnamon -- then decay... Rot like cabbage unatteded, dead rats, congealed blood." Haunted Orlando is a very stinky place.

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