Strangeness and Charm by Mike Shevdon. Book Review

STRANGENESS AND CHARM: Book III of The Courts of the Feyre by Mike Shevdon

Angry Robot, p/b, £8.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

It is always difficult to come to a series when there are two previous volumes. Either the book will be effective as a stand-alone even though the characters have a history behind them, or the reader will be confused by references only the author and those familiar with earlier tales, will understand. This book falls part way between the two extremes. There is just enough information built into the narrative to allow the story to flow onwards without too many obscure baffles but there is also a structure between relationships that would be difficult to impart without massive info-dumps that would annoy any reader.

The structure is not straightforward as the main narrator is first person. This is probably a left-over from the previous two novels but has the constraint that only one narrative strand can be followed. To counter this a second, third person, viewpoint is introduced which has the effect of opening out the novel and allowing the deeper development of plot lines and characterisation.

Like many of the novels labeled ‘urban fantasy’ there are supernatural beings which keep themselves hidden from the majority of humanity. In this case they are the Fey. They are arrogant and immortal (almost) and consider themselves superior to the human race. Their problem is that they have trouble conceiving, so turned to humans to help reproduce their species. Then they didn’t know what to do with the half-breeds. This is not a new concept and has been considered in other novels of the genre. Half-Fey living amongst humans don’t look or behave any differently until they discover their powers. The first person narrator, Niall, is one of these. Previously he has been accepted as a Warden (a kind of security guard), had a child by Blackbird (a half-Fey raised in the Courts of the Feyre) and rescued Alex, his teenage daughter from his marriage to a full human, from an experimental facility at Porton Down.

At Porton Down, children who exhibited supernatural abilities were being tested in a way that was akin to torture. During the rescue, many of the victims escaped. In Strangeness and Charm, Niall is given the task of rounding them up and bringing them to the Courts where the Fey will decide their future. Niall begins to realize that they are not being given a chance to decide what they want and they are effectively being passed from one kind of imprisonment to another. Alex, as a typical teenager, realizes this first as she tries to return to her mother, only to discover that she no longer has a place in the human world. Instead, she falls in with a group of other escapees. Eve, the leader of the group, has her own agenda. She wants revenge on a world that has only caused her grief. To that end she is willing to risk everything.

Some characters, such as Niall, Blackbird and Alex, are given space to develop within the novel; others who deserve development in order to better understand their motivations and powers remain ciphers or symbolic stereotypes. There are some excellent set-piece scenes but the dilemmas they generate are not followed through. Probably this is an effect of concentrating on the Fey when an emphasis on the interaction between human and Fey races could make for greater tension and more interesting plot development. For example, when one of the hybrid escapees sets fire to a shopping mall, killing at least one person, we do not see the chaos which would inevitably erupt and the extensive man-hunt which would ensue. Instead, after the event it is virtually forgotten.

While the writing flows smoothly and the discussions, particularly between Niall and Blackbird, develop them as people, the novel as a whole is just a slick adventure without actually adding much to the genre of ‘urban fantasy’.