Title: Vigil (Verity Fassbinder Book One)

Publisher: Quercus Publishing

Author: Angela Slatter

Pages: 384pp

Price: $15.99 / $1.99

Verity Fassbinder is a child of two worlds. Her human mother having died when Verity was an infant, she was raised by her Weyrd father — a creature of myth and fairy tale who could pass for human when he chose to do so. Verity’s father may have been (mostly) kind to her, but he was also the kinderfresser, the hunter who stole children off the streets to feed the Weyrd’s ancient and forbidden appetites. With her father caught and imprisoned when Verity was ten, she was sent to live with human grandparents she had never known; but they loved her, and raised her right. And now that Verity is grown, it turns out that she has an unusual place and unique role in the world: she can help keep the Weyrd hidden, keep the humans safe, and atone for her father’s crimes by keeping vigil over the city of Brisbane ….

Vigil popped up as a recommendation on a FaceBook group dedicated to occult detectives and paranormal mystery series. I liked the description, so I downloaded the sample. I had already decided to buy it even before I finished the sample, it was that good.

Let’s face it: urban fantasy stories with hidden communities of supernatural beings are thick on the shelves. The originality comes in how the story is told, in the relationships between the characters, in the new twists given to very old beings and their tales. Slatter has done an excellent job of taking a tried and true formula and making it completely her own. In Slatter’s Vigil, Brisbane (or Brisbeyland as the locals have nicknamed it) is a city filled with secrets and shadows and beings who are not what they appear to be: the horns on that goth waitress may not be prosthetic, that harmless little old lady down the street might actually be a child-eating witch straight out of the Brothers Grimm, and that amateur choir that likes to gather under the full moon might be sporting wings and clawed feet hidden by glamours and custom boots. And — no spoilers — Slatter’s take on these creatures of yore draws on established mythology, but tweaks it just enough to make it fresh and unusual.

Verity is also a terrific protagonist. She’s tough and ethical and fiercely protective of her loved ones. She recognizes the dangers that the Weyrd and human populations pose to one another, and is determined to maintain the mostly-peaceful status quo by doing whatever she has to do to keep the Weyrd hidden. In her experience, humans and Weyrd alike are equally capable of love and kindness and cruelty. Many of the elder Weyrd may look down upon humans and consider themselves superior, but Verity knows better.

Verity is surrounded by a great supporting cast, not to mention some nasty villains. There’s Bela Tepes, her boss and ex-boyfriend, who always has her back even when he’s not telling her everything. Ziggi, her surrogate father and chauffeur, who drives the gaudiest purple taxi in Brisbane (and who sports a third eye in the back of his head). Mel and Lizzie, the single mum and her daughter who adore Verity and count on her to come to the rescue when the Weyrd invades their lives. Rhonda McIntyre, the acerbic, prematurely grey police detective who is In The Know and helps Verity keep any Weird-Related cases off the evening news. And sweet, normal David, Verity’s very human boyfriend, who takes to the truth of her life better than she had expected.

Slatter has a definite gift for setting a scene, for filling it with sensual, tactile details. As, for example, when Verity has to investigate the sewer tunnels beneath Brisbane:

The tide was coming in, deceptively slowly. The circle of sky at my back was a late afternoon dark blue. [….] Down here were things that had been around for too long [….] Further in, other unidentifiables splashed and plopped. Liquified household debris whooshed from holes high in the walls and with it came another rush of stench.

Or when she and Ziggi pay a visit to an ultra-rich gated community.

The iron barrier rose silently and we slid through, feeling rather like a shark entering someone’s nice, well-appointed pool.

Again, without spoilers, I should offer this warning: child endangerment, and the violent deaths of children, play an important role in the story. These are never explicitly depicted, but they are alluded to frequently. It is the deaths of so many children at the hands of her father, and her determination to prevent any more deaths, that drive Verity to do the work she does. The story could not exist without that component.

Vigil is an excellent urban fantasy/mystery filled with danger, excitement, terrifying monsters, and noble heroes of all ages, sizes, and species. It is dark and melancholic and funny and lovely. Highly recommended to fans of the Driftwood Mystery series by AL Tyler, The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark, Indexing by Seanan McGuire, and Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey.

[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]

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