Thursday, 5 January 2012

Review | Dead Harvest - Chris F. Holm

That cover embodies nostalgia. Cover aside, Dead Harvest is an urban fantasy of a very particular kind: dealing largely with angels, demons, and the afterlife. Which, as it turns out, is pretty much here. When Sam Thornton died, he became a Collector for Hell - taking the souls of the damned. But now he's been asked to take the soul of someone who seems - well, innocent. Unable to take the soul, which would lead to war between Heaven and Hell, but pursued by both sides (and the police), Sam goes on the run with Kate. With angels and demons skirmishing in the streets, Sam needs to find the real culprit. Fast.

What I like about Dead Harvest is its willingness not to go overboard with the supernatural side: to run with the 'urban' side of the urban fantasy, if you like. It means that the powers aren't extreme (though they are dangerous): and that wit plays far more of a role than magic. This fits with the novel's structure. It's plotted as a lean crime novel, and that it's written from the perspective of Sam, who would typically be a minor villain - well, that just makes it cooler.

I also like Kate, the accused. She's not the typical victim. She's a character in her own right, and most of all, makes mistakes. Doesn't sound a good thing, does it? But these sorts of characters can often become passive, their only flaws being imposed on them, and that Kate escapes this trap is definitely an advantage. A scene with one particular demon comes to mind... Sam, however, is the real star (along with Merihem - but you'll meet him later). An unconventional hero with an unusual motive, he has more qualms than his adversaries - and is at a corresponding disadvantage. Which, of course, adds to the tension, and his likeability (already scored high).

This isn't high fantasy, though. The angels and demons are more human than divine, and while that adds to the urban, non-deus-ex-machina feel of things, fans of high magic, glorious quests and the usual trapping won't be getting much of that here. But if you're expecting those, you probably haven't read much urban fantasy either... The mystery is less enticing  than the chase of the novel, however. Thinking, it's not enormously difficult to work out the culprit: it's the actions which provide the excitement.

This is a short, action-packed urban fantasy with the style of crime fiction and a few of its elements. A talented debut; this will keep you reading late into the night - and possibly beyond. I highly recommend this for fans of more intelligent resolutions than magical firestorms - so any Felix Castor or Dresden Files readers, look no further. There are a few problems (when aren't there?) - the mystery isn't as engaging as it could be, for one - but as a whole, this is a fun, fun read. And I'm looking forward to the sequel.