Sarah Stanton is the daughter of the Industrialist, one of the founding members of the Society of Paragons- a group of gentlemen adventurers who police New York City. Having grown up surrounded by the exploits and inventions of the Paragons Sarah has the mind and motivation to be an adventurer herself, if it weren’t for her protective father. And the at times overwhelming obstacle of her gender. She is a strong, outgoing female without seeming out of place in her setting- an unconventional woman having grown up in a very unconventional household. Her mother died when she was very young, leaving her to be raised by her wealthy father (who was busy between running his business empire and moonlighting as the Industrialist). While Sarah and her father are often in conflict with each other, there are moments throughout the book where we see how much they love each other, and it keeps the relationship from settling into the designation of being just another plot device.
From the opening, it becomes apparent that there is a traitor within the Paragons. As the deaths and disasters start to pile up, Sarah joins forces with the fascinating mechanical man known as the Automaton in an attempt expose the conspiracy. The Automaton, once a Paragon himself, charged with murder and betrayal and considered nothing more than a rogue weapon to be destroyed, will be stretched thin as he tries to defend those who are intent on destroying him, and get revenge for the death of his creator.
The Falling Machine is set in a Victorian New York City, and between the Paragons and the villains that oppose them, is peopled with characters reminiscent of the Gold Age of Comics. It is a fast, fun read. I was very fond of the old themed style of villains and heroes, and the Automaton (or Tom, as his friends call him) is a fabulous character. I was also very fond of the Sleuth, one of the Paragons and ally to both Tom and Sarah, with his habit of endless inquiry and his ever-present notebook.
There are loose ends, and the book ends rather abruptly as it sets up for the second book in the series. I can understand why the book ended when it did, but there were enough questions still hanging in the air that I worry I will lose those threads by the time book two is released. That being said, I do look forward to reading more.
Wolf at the Door opens with the return of Jan Xu’s sister, Marianne, who has been abroad studying law. There was conflict between the sisters when Marianne left, and that conflict has survived their years apart. Marianne brings with her a boyfriend who is more, and less, than he seems, and he settles into day to day life with alarming ease. Jan Xu will need to fight fiercely to protect her pack, her territory, and her friends…while trying to figure out exactly what she is protecting them against.
I had three main thoughts as I was reading Wolf at the Door.
One- This is some of the most elegant prose I have ever run across
Two- This has taken an urban fantasy element I was completely done with, the werewolf, and turned it into something feral and fierce and perfect.
Three- How hard is it going to be to beg more of this from the author?
For the first thought- Wolf at the Door reads like poetry, without running into the structure issues that plague some of the more experimental prose-aware writing out there. It always adds something to a book for me when I can enjoy the writing as much as the story itself. It didn’t feel forced- this was some innately talented word-smithing. Beyond the form itself, the writing style lends itself rather perfectly to the setting and story. It all just works. The rich setting, the regal characters, the elegant prose. It all weaves together into a wonderful whole.
For the second thought, and this is the very important one, I started reading expecting werewolves. Wow, was I wrong. Wolf at the Door takes the reader back to the stories of Animal People. The characters aren’t humans who happen to turn into wolves, or even wolves that turn into people. They are just wolves. Wolves adapting and adjusting to the modern age to ensure their survival. That having been understood, it makes all of the other myths and legends casually wandering through the book seem so much more fitting. This isn’t quite urban fantasy as we have all grown to understand it- this is something more primal. And it has made me interested again in the wolf aspect of the genre, no small feat in itself. If, like me, you have read far too many urban fantasies with werewolves thrown in, and have grown tired of the concept, please do pick up this book. It revitalizes the concept.
For the third thought, and this is the one that is hard for me to admit as I have a strong and vocal love of stand-alone novels in a genre riddled with endless epics, I want more. Granted, the book stands well as a novel. It works. But…I am enthralled by the characters, the setting, the idea itself, and I want to read more. I want to get caught up in the culture of the Lang, to spend more time with Jan Xu and her friends, and that is the greatest compliment I can pay the book.
For the little things- if you like your prose nice and linear, you may struggle a bit as Jan Xu moves through things that have happened previously in a way that alternates between daydream and night terror. Her past colors the events of the present, and every now and then the line between what is happening and what she is remembering is a bit hazy. The first time it happened, I was a bit thrown off as a reader, but it settles in and starts to make sense as you move through the book. It is also a short book. Short, but very satisfying.
All said, it is a beautifully crafted book that is so different from anything else I have run into in the urban fantasy genre I cannot recommend it highly enough. The world of the Lang is a fascinating and frightening place. I hope you choose to wander through!
The wonderful thing about reviewing books is you often get to have fascinating conversations with authors. I am especially fond of getting in touch with newer authors to talk about their work and see what I can do to signal boost their releases. I was fortunate enough to run into Ms. Damask and merrily subjected her to a handful of questions.
Me– What has it been like, trying to publish an urban fantasy book in Singapore? What sorts of walls did you run into?
Me– You have produced a good number of short stories, and now a novel, since having your daughters. How hard is it to find some good ‘writing time’ with children?
Me– Tell us about the World of the Lang
Me– Tell us a bit about Jan Xu. How does Marianne fit into the picture?
Marianne is her younger sister. As we know, there are always problems between sisters.
Me– What books or authors have influenced you the most? Are there any books you have utterly worn out from reading?
Me– Who is your favorite lycanthrope/shifter?
Wolf At the Door will be released Monday, April 4th, through Lyrical Press in digital format (.epub, .pdf, .lit, .prc)
The official book blurb-
“Being an ex-teen vigilante comes with its own set of problems.
Housewife, ex-teen vigilante…and shape-shifting wolf…Jan Xu has enough problems without adding her sister’s to the mix. Marianne is returning to Singapore and she’s filled with strange ideas. She’s also not alone. She’s coming home with a new boyfriend who has a dark agenda of his own.
With sibling rivalry threatening the inevitable: a battle-to-the-death with fang and claw, Jan and Marianne must overcome their issues if they’re ever going to find peace within their troubled relationship.”
Be sure to check out J. Damask’s blog for more updates and information about the book and her other writings!