The definition of “urban fantasy” has gotten somewhat garbled in recent years. Pioneered by Charles de Lint, the genre is specifically about fantasy that takes place in, and is tied to, an urban setting. Unfortunately, a lot of books sort of slide towards being urban fantasy by way of merely taking place in the present day and the “real world”. Edward Lazellari’s Awakenings is more of an urban fantasy than many of those purporting to be part of that genre.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Cal MacDonnell is a happily married New York City cop with a loving family. Seth Raincrest is a washed-up photographer who has alienated even his closest friends. The two have nothing in common—except that they both suffer from retrograde amnesia. It’s as if they just appeared out of thin air thirteen years ago, and nothing has been able to restore their memories. Now their forgotten past has caught up to them with a vengeance.
Cal’s and Seth’s lives are turned upside down as they are stalked by otherworldly beings who know about the men’s past lives. But these creatures aren’t here to help; they’re intent on killing anyone who gets in their way. In the balance hangs the life of a child who might someday restore a broken empire to peace and prosperity. With no clue why they’re being hunted, Cal and Seth must accept the aid of a strange and beautiful woman who has promised to unlock their secrets. The two must stay alive long enough to protect their loved ones, recover their true selves—and save two worlds from tyranny and destruction.”
I’m pretty impressed with the author’s ability to craft a good plot: two main characters with amnesia, one of whom is a cop; another character who has no clue who he is and is living in an abusive home; and a mystery that draws them all together. Although I normally like it when books are set in cities a little less popular than New York, setting this tale here works to its advantage. There are myriad opportunities for things to happen—and to go wrong—in such a large city.
On the other hand, reading this novel makes me think of the saying “The devil is in the details”, because Lazellari sometimes drops the ball on presenting them. For instance, Seth’s first scene includes a house pet of some kind, and all readers get is that it’s small enough to sit on his head to wake him up. We don’t get confirmation that it’s a cat until many pages later. This happens often enough that I took note of it.
The device of having the characters lose their memory mostly works well, although the inevitable finding out of the truth of their pasts causes the novel to lag a bit in the middle. While thankfully there aren’t large chunks of exposition, there’s enough that needs to be conveyed that some of the book’s middle section isn’t as snappy as the rest.
Once the characters get beyond the bounds of what’s familiar to them and begin to encounter unfamiliar places like the woods, the action picks up again. This was my favorite part of the novel, as readers get more of a sense of what’s possible with the magic that will be on tap in this series. And the novel ends with the pivotal character—Daniel, the lost child—teaming up with the one person he shouldn’t. I’ll be watching with interest to see where this tale goes next.
As gritty as the New York streets it inhabits, Awakenings is a good beginning to what looks to be an intriguing new series. I don’t think that readers will find the same predictable fare that too often crowds the shelves. There’s plenty here to pique the interest of even the most jaded fantasy reader.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on September 14, 2011.