A Strong Beginning 4 Merry Gentry/Princess Meredith Nic-Ess
Reviewed in the United States on 17 April 2005
I am a major Laurell Hamilton fan. Having read her entire Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series, I truly enjoyed eleven of the twelve books, rating most of them 5 Stars. I also became extremely attached to her cast of characters, the driving forces behind many of her storylines. Few authors are able to create superb dark fantasy, complex characters, and also tell a riveting tale like Ms. Hamilton. So it was with great anticipation that I picked up "A Kiss of Shadows," the first of the Merry Gentry novels.
Princess Meredith Nic-Essus, "Child of Peace," "Princess of Flesh," "Besaba's Bane," is a member of the High Court of Faerie, the "only one ever born on American soil." She is in hiding from the fey folk - self-imposed exile, because there had been too many assassination attempts when she lived at court. When the fey originally left Europe, Thomas Jefferson invited these immortal and magical beings to the United States. He offered them land to settle and gave them the privilege to live in this country as an autonomous minority. They chose the mounds at Cahokia, in Illinois, as their home. The Princess' Aunt Andais is Queen of Air and Darkness, and has ruled over the Unseelies, (those not of pure fey blood, and some pretty creepy creatures are included in this category), for over one thousand years. Those who have pure faerie blood are the Seelies, (mostly blondes, and elitist snobs). Meredith's uncle, the King of Light and Illusion, reigns over them. Meredith is mortal, half Seelie Court and half Unseelie, (part of her heritage is Brownie), yet neither side wants to claim her. Her mortality frightens and disturbs them all. The Prince of Flame and Flesh, her father and the queen's brother, chose for her to be raised amongst humans. Meredith is second in line to the Elven throne, after the Queen's son and only heir, Cel, who is the most perverse and evil villain in this novel. Cel was, and continues to be, the driving force behind the assassination attempts, and the deadly duels Meredith had been challenged to. He obviously doesn't care for competition.
The beauteous, ruby-red-headed Princess Meredith, not about to die yet, took off one day, left her possessions behind, shielded herself well, and hopped a flight to Los Angeles. Heaven knows why she picked that city - nothing against LA, but with smog and crime, there are better places to live in the USA. Assuming the name Merry Gentry, and using glamour to pose as a human being, she has worked for the last three years, (the entire period of her exile), as a P.I. for Jeremy Grey, owner of the Grey Detective Agency, which specializes in "Supernatural Problems, Magical Solutions". She is presently living with Roane Finn, a selkie who had his seal skin destroyed and longs to return to the sea. Otherwise, they make a nice couple. Then Queen Andais sends Doyle, her right-hand male Unseelie, whom she call "Darkness," to bring her niece back to Cahokia and the High Court. Doyle is the leader of the Queen's Guard, called The Ravens, and brings the royal sword "Mortal Dread," to protect Meredith.
The detective aspects of the novel are really fun: car chases, deadly spiders, illegal sale of love potions, mucho magic and a good mystery. Merry's struggle to become a member of her beyond bizarre royal family, (talk about dysfunctional), to accept her former status as an unwanted outsider, to learn to participate in the deadly political machinations common to court life, as well as cope with an increasingly complicated sex life are fascinating. Leave it to author Hamilton. The cast of characters is strong. Of course Merry/Meredith is not feisty Anita, who would commit harikari before furnishing a room in pink and mauve. But I knew this before I began the novel and promised myself not to short-shrift our heroine because she is not Ms. Blake. I also love the supernatural creatures who people the story: faeries, ogres, trows, goblins, pixies, brownies, etc..
On the down side, the first half of the book plods at times. Faerie history, lineage, background material, cast of characters at court and in LA, are all laid out for the reader, and it can be slow going. This is a first book in a series, and there is an abundance of information to impart, most of it quite interesting. One of Laurell Hamilton's strengths, other than her fantastic imagination, is her descriptive ability. She enables the reader to visualize some extraordinary scenarios and people. But lots of description and less action took away from some of my enjoyment. I will say that there is an action-packed case Merry is on during this period, as well as some terrific scenes with her selkie. The second half of the novel picks up significantly. I definitely recommend "A Kiss Of Shadows," especially for those who love dark fantasy. A compelling, magical, and frequently erotic read.
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