There I am, at my first RWA® conference in Orlando, Florida, a total stranger in the line gathering for breakfast at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort Pikabu restaurant. Ahead of me is a lady wearing a conference lanyard and nametag. So, what do I do? I say g'day and strike up a conversation.
This is how I first met Kelly Gay, urban fantasy author, and double finalist for a 2010 RITA® Award. We sat together and shared a very pleasant hour or so talking about writing, publishing, the industry and a few other topic, as you do at a writers' conference -lol!
To cut a long story short, I bought her debut book, THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS, and have now found a new author to read and stalk...umm...I mean follow. I'd like to share what I enjoyed about the book and, hopefully, convince you to give it a go!
MAIN CHARACTER: Charlie Madigan, divorced mother of one. I love the fact Charlie isn't your usual single, teen or twenty-something, kick-ass heroine. She's been married, is still coming to terms with her divorce, and struggling to balance her job and home life, and raise a daughter. The entire story is written from her POV as a first person narrative.
HEROINE'S OCCUPATION: A cop who works for the Intergration Task Force, an organisation of humans and off-worlders who work together to provide law enforcement for all races.
SETTING: Earth but with alternate dimensions (called Elysia and Charbydon) and off-worlders who live among us.
Not only are there other beings existing and visiting our Earth but some humans also have supernatural abilities (like Charlie) or have a talent (like Bryn, Charlie's sister, who wields magic).
There's a bit of a Men In Black feel to the story - with humorous elements sprinkled in, but there's definitely a much grittier, darker overtone - one I REALLY enjoyed. Gray's world building is seemlessly integrated into the story and incredibly believable.
SECONDARY CHARACTERS: Hank - Charlie's off-worlder partner. He's a siren, a useful skill in police work, particularly during an interrogation when all he has to do is use his voice and the criminals are busting to tell him the truth!
Bryn - Charlie's wiccan sister who owns a magic shop with a unique security system.
Emma - Charlie's young daughter, who's as strong and brave as her mother (no spoilers, but she shines through in the last part of the story).
Mynogan - the off-worlder villain who wants to rule both worlds. You know he's a meglomaniacal bad guy but every action he takes, every twist to the plot is entirely believable. As a reader, you dread the next scene with him in it. You fear for Charlie and her friends because you know whenever he appears the stakes are raised. They're not going to be able to stop him easily, they're really going to have to work to defeat him. Gray achieves this evil/convincing villain balance very well.
Carreg - an off-worlder politican with suspect motives. He reminded me of Garrak, from Star Trek DS9. As the story progressed you never quite knew whether he was an ally or someone not to be trusted (again, no more than this or I'll spoil the story).
Will - Charlie's ex-husband. He adds a slight romantic element to the plot, until he ends up selling his soul to a spirit entity called Rex.
Rex - a Revenant, a spirit who granted Will's greatest wish in exchange for his soul. An unexpected ally who teams with Charlie & her friends. His character adds a touch of humor to the story.
Aaron - a human Mage who's in love with Bryn.
PLOT: Gray's characterisation of Charlie makes her undeniably appealing and you empathise with every step of her journey as she tries to unravel the dual mysteries of the ash-related deaths (an off-world narcotic) and her own personal conflict of dealing with her unexplained revival and evolution of strange powers after a near-death experience.
The sub-plot layering and gripping tension drags you from one chapter to the next and I found it impossible to put the book down. In fact, I resented any interruption and ended up taking the phone off the hook and ignoring the outside world just so I could keep reading to the end.
THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS has a blend of paranormal, suspense and romantic elements that satisfies any fans of the urban fantasy genre. While this is the first in a series, the resolution/ending is solid but, be warned, it does leave you wanting to know what's in store for Charlie next.