Thursday, January 09, 2014

Review: The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin

Only fitting that the first review of 2014 is the first book I've read in 2014, don't you think? I didn't end 2013 with a bang as I wished, but so far, 2014 is already shaping up like a good year :) I guess it was lucky for me that December 31 was a Tuesday which means I had new releases for the new year. Of course, I hope I haven't jinxed myself just now ^_^;

Curious to know what was my first read of 2014 and what did I think of it? Well read on :)

The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin
published by Berkley (Ace) in December 2013
We’re Supernatural Protection & Investigations, known as SPI. Things that go bump in the night, the monsters you thought didn’t exist? We battle them and keep you safe. But some supernatural baddies are just too big to contain, even for us…

When I moved to New York to become a world famous journalist, I never imagined that snagging a job at a seedy tabloid would change my career path from trashy reporter to undercover agent. I’m Makenna Fraser, a Seer for SPI. I can see through any disguise, shield, or spell that a paranormal pest can come up with. I track down creatures and my partner, Ian Byrne, takes them out—usually saving my skin in the process.

Our cases are generally pretty routine, but a sickle-wielding serial killer has been prowling the city’s subway tunnels. And the murderer’s not human. The fiend in question, a descendant of Grendel—yes, that Grendel—shares his ancestor’s hatred of parties, revelry, and drunkards. And with New Year’s Eve in Times Square only two days away, we need to bag him quickly. Because if we don’t find him—and the organization behind him—by midnight, our secret’s out and everyone’s time is up.
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: SPI Files, Book #1

The Story: Makenna Fraser comes from a family of Seers. As such, she is able to see through veils, wards, shields, glamours and/or spells and therefore detect any paranormal beings in disguise. That's why she was recruited from her job at a seedy tabloid by the SPI - Supernatural Protection & Investigation -  an organization that battles supernaturals who would harm humans and/or expose them to the general public. And that is exactly what the latest threat against the SPI intends to do by releasing a pair of monsters in Times Square on New Year's Eve.

Of course, it would be the kind of carnivorous monsters almost indestructible and whose favorite meat is human. And catching them won't be an easy task as the SPI's adversary has invented a cloaking device that renders the being wearing it visibly and audibly undetectable. As such, Mac's ability is needed and she finds herself on the front line, a fact that does not please her partner Ian Byrne because Mac is untrained.

With the clock ticking, can Mac really lead the SPI to the creatures or is she in over her head?

My Opinion: When people ask me what is my favorite genre, I always reply contemporary romance. In truth though, urban fantasy is a very, very close second. I always find myself looking for new urban fantasy series to get into and in my perpetual quest, I stumbled across The Grendel Affair :) I remember reading Ms Shearin's first book to her Raine Benares series, Magic Lost, Trouble Found. While it didn't hook me in, the story did have potential. So I was hoping that The Grendel Affair being an urban fantasy novel, it would work better for me... and it did :)

Whether a new urban fantasy series work for me or not usually depends on two elements: the characters and the world building. LOL, I know, not very original, but what can I say, they really are  the basis ^_^; In The Grendel Affair, I thought that Ms Shearin did a good job with both. I liked the world building because it was straightforward: supernaturals of all kinds exist and live in relative secrecy. Some are friendly with humans, some don't care and others are really bad news. The SPI is a world-wide company with offices in different locations and whose goal is to fight the bad supernaturals and keep the general public ignorant. And Mac being a Seer is an asset, even if she's untrained and therefore vulnerable. By keeping it simple, Ms Shearin made it easy to follow, avoided the dreaded information dump and kept her options for the future of the series open, all of which work in the best interest of The Grendel Affair :)

I also very much enjoyed the heroine of the book, Mac. First, it was refreshing not to have a kick-ass heroine LOL. Also, Mac was not as cynical and sarcastic as them, but still managed to be funny which is something I really liked about her and made reading the book in her POV enjoyed. In a way, Mac was more down-to-earth and grounded than most heroines, probably because she's normal. I mean, I haven't seen many urban fantasy heroines worry about their health insurance and 401k! The only ability that makes her different so far is that she is a Seer and unfortunately for her, it doesn't come with super strength or faster reflexes. Instead, she has to rely on her mind, her investigative skills honed when she was a reporter. What I also liked about Mac was her eagerness in her work and the desire to protect herself. She's conscious that her new job is dangerous and that she's untrained, but she wants to remedy the situation and that's definitively a point in her favor :) I have to say though, I would have liked a bit more background on Mac. It's fine to keep the world building to a minimum, but I think it's important to develop the protagonist as much as possible. Even if Mac is a pretty uncomplicated character - no dark past, no big secret (at least so far) - getting to know her is important and so information such as her age and family situation would have been welcomed. The other characters in The Grendel Affair  that made up Mac's entourage were varied - a human, a werewolf, an elf, a vampire and a dragon to name a few - and all came from her work. None of them were fully fleshed, but given they were all new co-workers to Mac and the story is told from her POV, it made sense. There are some few interesting interactions going on and I'm looking forward to get to know them better as Mac does :)

Finally, the last important element of an urban fantasy series is the story/plot. Two things to consider here: the plot of the book itself and the overall storyline of the series. For both, I feel Ms Shearin did not pull it off as well as she did for the world building and the characters. The plot for The Grendel Affair was actually quite interesting with a good mix of investigation and action. However, it lacked a bit of complexity and mystery, all because the villain played his hand too early by revealing his plan. Also, the identity of the villain was too easily discovered in my opinion and then, taken in stride... so it takes away a bit of the punch. Also, throughout the story, there was a big build-up for the confrontation between the grendels and the SPI. However, it ended up being a bit anti-climatic and just a bit too easily taken care of. These are small details, but their impact on the story is huge and it's unfortunate because it takes away from the story. As for the overall storyline, it is not completely defined yet which is not a bad thing for me. I'd actually be happy if the SPI Files series was exactly just as its name says, files - i.e. each book would be a separate case with no big overall storyline. Anyway, as I said, there is still no overall storyline yet, but it seems to me there is going to be one and my problem with it is similarly to her villain, Ms Shearin seemed to have played her hand too early. With the big villain of The Grendel Affair and the bad guy from Ian's (Mac's partner) past escaping, it seems obvious they will be back in the future ^_^; Of course, I don't know what their role will be and Ms Shearin might have some twists up her sleeve... but sometimes, it's better to have a bit of mystery going on.

Oh and for those who wondered, there is no romance in The Grendel Affair except for a kiss at the end and I'm not 100% sure where it will lead. I guess there is some mystery LOL.

My Grade: Solid B. The Grendel Affair had a few flaws, but overall, it was a good start to the series and I'm pretty sure I will be picking up the next installment :)