Dark Currents: Agent of Hel

Dark Currents: Agent of Hel - Jacqueline Carey This would be 3 1/2 stars if Goodreads allowed half-stars. Let me just state up-front that I’m a huge Jacqueline Carey fan; I’ve read all of her other books except for The Sundering duology. I’ve been excited for this book since she first mentioned on her website that she was working on a new urban fantasy project. My wonderful husband unexpectedly brought it home for me on Tuesday, so I dove right into it. Aside from the ridiculous cover, Dark Currents is pretty good. I’ve never read urban fantasy before, and very little adult paranormal romance (I’m not even sure Dark Currents fits in this category), so I have very little to compare it to other than Carey’s other fiction.Dark Currents is far closer to Santa Olivia and Saints Astray, but retains some of the darkness of her Kusheline Legacy series. Daisy Johanssen is an agent of the Norse goddess of the dead, Hel. In Carey’s world, there are several functioning underworlds across the globe that allow members of the Eldritch (magical/mythical) community to exist in the world. The sleepy tourist town of Pemkowet’s underworld is presided over by Hel. She is the highest authority and enforcer of Eldritch law. As her agent, Daisy, who is a half-breed hell-spawn, acts as her liaison between the mundane (fully human) world and the Eldritch community and enforcer of Hel’s law. When a human boy apparently drowns in the river, Daisy must figure out the truth before things spiral out of control and the members of the mundane world take up arms and raze Pemkowet’s underworld.Working with her on the case is a closeted werewolf, Cody, who she’s had a crush on since grade-school. Together they track down those responsible for the boy’s death and uncover a plot that puts the newly-renovated image of the ghoul community at risk. There’s fairies, vampires, wood sprites, bog hags, river nymphs, and even a lamia Daisy has to deal with, all the while trying to keep a lid on her otherworldly temper. Since she’s half hell-spawn, Daisy has to potential to unleash Armageddon if she gives in to her father’s powerful temptations. This apocalyptic scenario plays less of a role than I imagine it will in later books, but sets up the probability of its occurrence nicely. As with many of Carey’s books, one of the lessons Daisy must learn is that what you were born to be isn’t necessarily what you become; it all comes down to what you chose to do with your life that matters.Even though there are some dark themes in the novel, the tone remains light. This, coupled with Daisy’s usually chipper, slightly doltish his-girl-friday personality makes the book feel rather fluffy. She’s not an idiot or airhead by any means, but neither is she a Phedre or even a Lupe. Like I said, I don’t have any other urban fantasy leading women to compare her to, so saying she’s not a Pherdre or a Lupe may not really be fair. Daisy’s perspective and voice didn’t really annoy me, and she did grow a bit over the course of the novel. As long as she continues to grow and her actions remain logical to her character, I think she could be a really good female lead.One of the things I like about Carey’s novels is that even her side-characters are developed and sometimes experience the same measure of growth as the main character. Dark Currents does less of this than I would have liked, so I was left feeling that some of the characters were just stock. There’s the pretty best friend who sets up the initial conflict and love triangle; once that gets resolved they’re back to being BFFs. There’s also the vaguely European tall, dark and handsome mystery man who could be a stand in for Bill from HBO’s True Blood (except that he’s a ghoul, not a vampire) that completes the main love triangle. Daisy is simultaneously afraid of and attracted to him. Cody is pretty stock too, and is a little too reminiscent of Sam from True Blood. At least this isn’t a human-vampire-werewolf/shapeshifter love triangle, so I should be happy about that. There’s also the magical mystery artifact shop owner who has all the latest gossip, and who’s quirky because he’s a cross-dresser.One final thing to mention about Dark Currents is the sex, or rather the lack thereof. In almost all of her other novels, sex has been included in a mostly tasteful, not over-the-top manner (Santa Olivia and Saints Astray are a bit of an exception on the over-the-top scale). There is no direct sex in Dark Currents; there’s not even any kissing. There is, however, rape, and it forms the main aspect of the crime Daisy & co. are investigating. But, there really wasn’t a need for it either, and I think that’s what I’ve always appreciated about Carey’s use of sex; she rarely includes sex just for the sake of sex. There’s always a purpose for it. I think at some point Daisy will have to cross that bridge and it will not happen just for the hell of it (I imagine it will have something to do with her learning to safely experience intense emotions and passions, which she is currently afraid of doing because of the whole hell-spawn thing).Dark Currents introduces readers to a world similar to ours, only more magical and more dangerous. Carey’s true strength lies in her world-building, and this is no exception. In Dark Currents she juggles multiple mythologies within one main cosmology, and I can’t wait to see more of both. The novel is a relatively light, quick read, but as the title suggests, there are dark currents running through the small town of Pemkowet, MI. As the series progresses, I imagine the currents will get darker yet, and the stakes will be higher. I finished the novel two days ago, yet I’m still thinking about Daisy and her little world. I will definitely come back for more, and I would recommend this book for people who may not know where to start in urban fantasy/paranormal romance, or who are looking for a slightly less sexy, less bloody entry to what’s already out there. Longtime Carey fans might be a little disappointed with the fluffiness of Dark Currents, but I would say don’t give up hope, and take this mostly light-hearted novel for the fun that it is.