Many people read to escape from the reality of the modern world, a lot of them pick Urban Fantasy as their preferred genre of escape, the appeal and lure of a mythical and mystical world manifesting itself alongside our mundane world is one to understand easily. Wouldn't it be fabulous if a fantasy land lived just at the corner of our eye, or hiding behind the Wainscot borrowing the things we leave behind, or lurking at the end of the dark alleyway that you will only ever find if it wants you to. Over the years there have been hundreds of authors dabbling in this idea of the fantastical living side beside or world, Gaiman, Butcher, Miéville and even Rowling have all entertained us with wonderful tales of gods, faeries and goblins mixing with telephone boxes, pubs, and laundromats. While they are all wildly different in style, most of them had one thing in common, in that they had a real sense of fantasy and wonder, where the denizens of The Land Beyond the West shine like a beacon in the darkness of our world.
Only when a book that treats these beings in a more grounded manner and incorporates them in a dare I say it, a more mundane fashion, that you realise that just how drab and homogenised, the genre has become.
Vigil by Angela Slatter is one such book, her handling of the denizens of the Land Beyond The West and the way in which they have incorporated themselves into Australian life is, and this is meant as the highest compliment rather mundane. The shapechangers, vampires, werewolves, sirens and all other manners of boggins have come to Australia as a last ditch attempt to escape the burning ways of the old world. Hounded out of places like Europe, these creatures have seen more than their fair share of pitchforks and burning torches. Where other books focus more on the sense of wonder and glamour of being of the weyrd, Vigil takes a more gritty approach to a world where the supernatural rubs shoulder with the mundane.
Children are going missing, and illegal wine distilled from their tears is being sold on the black market. Which is bad enough, but when someone starts murdering the sirens, and a terrifying force of nature is released to wreck havoc on the streets of Brisbane, the only course of action left to the ruling council of the weyrd is to call in their top investigator Verity Fassbinder. Verity has the ability to walk both worlds, thanks to having a human for a mother and a weyrd monster for a father. it is as much a curse as a blessing as she is the one charged with keeping the peace between the two worlds. As Verity investigates the missing children and the siren murders she soon discovers a plot that will bring the horror right to her owndoor, and conspiracy that threatens to crack the sky.
While the way in which the characters have been integrated into the novel may be "mundane" there is nothing mundane about Vigil. Angela Slatter has created one of the most refreshing and original Urban Fantasy novels of recent years. Tightly plotted, with a gripping narrative, that is as much a Lawrence Bloch thriller as it is a fantasy Vigil breaks new ground in the genre.
Having a protagonist, who despite being half supernatural, that is just so normal is a bold move. Rather than saddling Verity with any number of personality disorders, or cliches that are so beloved of these books is a bold move. For once it is great to read about someone who isn't a recovering alcoholic, divorced sex addict or ex disgraced cop. Verity is just Verity, a young Australian women who wishes that her past and her duties would just leave her alone for five minutes so that she can get on with her life. She doesn't possess Sherlock Holmes like powers of deduction, or some special skill that comes in handy at the right moment, she gets results by being just normal, well as normal as a mouthy, angry woman can be. Verity is an excellent lead character, she is instantly likeable with just enough sass to keep you smiling at her inability to "tow the company line" she doesn't care who she annoys, all she cares about is getting the job done.
The gritty, realistic, gritty backdrop of the novel allows the fantastical elements to shine through when the weyrd make their appearance, the sense of otherworldliness is heightened by the the almost matter of fact way in which the co-exist. For example "the winemaker" is made all that more chilling by her apparent normality. She could very well be your neighbour or that friendly lady two streets down.
Vigil, is an excellent supernatural mystery, Slatter engages the reader with prose that is both gritty and elegant, and a plot that manages to spring a few surprises on the reader, thanks to the clever and natural use of plot twists and reveals. The multiple threads of her investigations all lead to the same place and when the truth of the story is revealed, and motivations of their actions are made clear it makes for a revelation of epic proportions. This where the juxtaposition of the mundane and the supernatural comes to the fore. The grandeur and splendour of the villains of the novel are spectacular; they are totally otherworldly, enigmatic and hell-bent on getting their way despite the cost to the rest of us.
In a genre filled with generic books, Vigil dares to be different, eloquent, emotive, and exciting in equal measures; it marks the start of what will become the new must-read urban fantasy series. You will be eagerly awaiting the next trip down under with baited breath; such is the brilliance of this novel.