When I picked up Dark Currants last year, I had never read anything by Jacqueline Carey. Upon finishing the first adventure of Daisy Johanssen, Agent of Hel, I set about the radically alter that fact. Binge reading a new found author always seems like a good idea at the time, but when I sat down to read Autumn Bones, I suddenly regretted my mass reading of all Carey’s books. After all, when I found Dark Currants, I had no expectations other than a fun urban fantasy story. Maybe I had only liked it out of ignorance. Now that I’d been exposed to the grace and grandeur of Carey’s other works, would I still enjoy the quaint though modern feel of the town of Pemkowet?
To my surprise, the answer wasn’t only yes, but I felt that a better understanding of the author’s style improved the story. It definitely improved my appreciation of what a change of pace the Agent of Hel series was for Carey, and of the internet’s response to the announcement of the new series. Going from massive epics to a supernatural town in the Midwest ruled by a minor Norse godess is a bit of leap. However, as I’ve said before, I’m a character driven person, and Daisy and her compatriots latch on to the heartstrings just like Carey’s previous characters.
Probably the best demonstration of this occurred in this newest installment. Much of the first book fulfilled the needed introductions to the character and the town. With those in place, the same amount of time previously used for introductions was diverted to character growth. As a result, a whole host of minor characters I more or less glossed over in the first book came popping out of the pages of Autumn Bones vibrate and completely captivating. Last book we caught glimpses into the life of Daisy’s best friend. In this book, not only that friend, but also her older sister grabbed the limelight with some truly amazing twists and revelations. And for me, a significant amount of the feels in this book went to a common little fairy who turned out to be so much more.
But people being more than they seem or more than society assumes is a prevalent theme in the Agent of Hel series. I read very little urban fantasy, finding much of it repetitive, but I think part of what draws me to this series is the fact Carey turns the general trope of the genre on its head. So often, urban fantasy focuses on taking what we think we know, what we see as ordinary and mundane, and turning it into something “other” and strange. It’s about believing in monsters and magic. In this series, Carey doesn’t so much ask us to believe in monsters and in weirdness. Instead, she seems to ask us to believe that everything we’ve ever loved about these stories is already here in the real world. What makes a ghoul a monster isn’t his status as undead, but in the choices he makes. What makes Daisy a good lesion for the supernatural world isn’t a magical dagger and a mark on her hand. It’s how she uses that power…it’s the same thing that makes her a good police officer. A computer whiz can have unparalleled courage. A tour guide might be being a tour guide because he enjoys it. And your best friend’s loser sister might be made of stronger stuff than you realized.
If you don’t share my love for character driven narrative, I do think these books can appeal to many different audiences. There’s more than enough magic, mayhem, and monsters for those so inclined. And there’s witty, literal laugh out loud dialog…often just from the thoughts of our first person narrator. There’s romances, and maybe romances, and plenty of emotions as Daisy finds herself drawn to several different men. The series pretty much has some of everything. Though I should probably caveat that I didn’t get the feeling Autumn Bones would stand on its own all that well. If you’re interested in the series, you should probably start with Dark Currents. But be sure to continue on because Autumn Bones is a fantastic follow up.