SHADOWS OF FAERIE by Martin Owton. Book review

SHADOWS OF FAERIE by Martin Owton, Crossroad Press digital edition £3.96, Mystique Press print edition £11.91. 2019, 254 pages

Reviewed by Ritchie Valentine Smith

‘Shadows of Faerie’ is a very readable short fantasy novel very much in the English tradition. In some ways it can be seen as a mash-up between police procedural (there are several murders and plenty of police, though it’s tricky to investigate the ‘other side’) and the work of writers like Robert Holdstock. The protagonist Charlie is a young Ph.D student doing chemistry. He’s intelligent, refreshingly unheroic (there’s constant use of public transport and nervous backing away from tattooed muscle guys) – and a virgin. His father is ‘Otherkin’, living on ‘the other side’, in faerieland, and though Charlie has hardly ever seen his father he has inherited magical abilities from him. (Charlie and his mother especially are believable, affecting characters.)

The ‘magic’ is a well-handled aspect, and another is the string of violent murders. This introduces Charlie to Sharon, a tough-talking Detective Sergeant who drinks, smokes, and has casual sex. (I wasn’t expecting her to end well, but surprise is a good thing…) She gets Charlie to go to hospital morgues and touch fresh corpses for information. She also introduces him, quite casually, to serious criminals.

The tension ratchets up nicely. Charlie is attacked by an Otherkin creature like a vicious ape, but fortunately his mother is there to club the monster away. There are other murders and disappearances, implicating this creature or others like it. Of course the police don’t believe in the other side or in Otherkin at all – except for D.S. Sharon. When Charlie and Michelle, the daughter of a woman murdered by a creature, decide to kidnap the monster responsible, it all goes wrong. In revenge for their presumption, ‘Lord Faniel’, a prince from the other side, captures the tattooed gym toughs Michelle and Charlie have recruited. To help them, if he can, Charlie investigates, bravely crossing to the other side, and finds out from his father that Lord Faniel (the nasty son of an ill king) intends to sacrifice the captured humans as a Midsummer offering.

What to do? What else but stage a rescue bid? This is exciting and works well, as does the novel as a whole.

Any quibbles? Only a few. The prose is very straightforward and clear, but perhaps a little colour and atmosphere is lacking. I was expecting something striking when the characters visit the other side, for example, but the landscape there is not much more interesting than a suburban garden. Just occasionally credibility might be slightly strained, too. But they are small things. The story works. This really is an entertaining devour-at-one-go read, which kept me up late to finish – a recommendation in itself.