Over a decade ago, Jaqueline Carey took the fantasy book world by storm with her dark, sexy Kushiel series about a superspy prostitute named Phedre who has masochism magic powers. And now Carey's back with a new series that is just as sexy and complex, but lighter in tone. Dark Currents is about a "reluctant hell-spawn" named Daisy, who has been appointed by the Norse god Hel to maintain eldritch law in a Michigan resort town. Yes, Daisy really is a hell-spawn — her absentee dad is a demon — and she has to keep a tight rein on her temper or risk going darkside. Plus, she has a tail. And a magic dagger. And about sixty million cute boyfriends, eldritch and otherwise.
The novel begins as a murder mystery, when a local college kid is found drowned in the lake. His frat boy friends give weird, conflicting stories about what happened, while his rich parents just want to cover everything up and call it an accident. Daisy and cute boyfriend #1, a werewolf detective named Cody, know something eldritch is going on. The more Daisy uncovers about this kid's death, the more obvious it becomes that the real victim of the crime hasn't yet been found. As things get more dangerous, and Daisy gets closer to ghoulishly cute boyfriend #2, you'll find that Carey hasn't lost her touch for darkness. She just releases it at key points, for maximum effect.
Carey is at her best when worldbuilding, and the details she offers us in this first installment of what is sure to be a trilogy (or more) are tantalizing. There are thoughtful, minor details about creepy fetish websites devoted to the eldritch. And then there's the weirdly believable backdrop to the story, where Daisy deals with small town politics in a city whose main source of income is drawn from tourists chasing legends of supernatural creatures. The eldritch are sworn to secrecy about their lives, and yet they have to make appearances once in a while to keep their local businesses afloat. After all, how could the local brownie sell all her delicious cakes if no tourists were in town looking for vampires? But it's not all goofiness here. There's a very serious side to Daisy's constant struggle with her demonic nature, as well as Hel's mysterious agenda.
Dark Currents is suburban fantasy wrapped around a crime thriller, which makes it sound like pretty much every other paranormal romance book you've ever read. But it's really not. What's great about this frothy page-turner is that Carey surprises you at every turn with smart plot twists and characters who are pleasingly complex. A gentle humor permeates the novel, bringing an entertaining honesty to Daisy's stories of tucking her tail ("just like a drag queen, only from back to front"), dealing with annoying vampire fangirls, and wearing strappy sandals to get intel from fashion-obsessed naiads. There are also eldritch identity politics to contend with. It turns out ghouls really prefer to be called Outcasts, and the local tourist bureau is driving everybody nuts by insisting that the town fairies act more stereotypically sparkly for visitors.
Oh and then there's the sex. Well, actually, mostly it's just sexual tension in this book. Carey is wisely saving the payoff for later installments. But you've got to love a character whose tail twitches when she gets horny, and who is torn between lusting after a werewolf, a ghoul (erm, I mean Outcast), and a human who has a few tricks of his own. And that's just the fun sideline to her real calling, which is keeping the peace in the eldritch community.
Dark Currents is, in a sense, deceptively lighthearted. Blending romcom magic with some truly disturbing themes is incredibly difficult, but Carey makes it look effortless. This is the perfect book to start your Halloween month, and will get you excited about Jacqueline Carey's writing all over again.
Dark Currents is the first book in the Agent of Hel series. It comes out tomorrow, and you can order it via Amazon. You can also read the first chapter on Jacqueline Carey's website.