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A good start - with one big drawback
on 17 July 2009
This is an extremely good start to a series - well-structured and original, with unexpected plot developments and convincing characters who are deep and finely-drawn enough to hold the reader's interest. Rather than just presenting us with a cardboard cut-out hardboiled-but-vulnerable heroine and bad-boy anti-hero, the author slowly peels back the layers of backstory at judicious intervals throughout the book to reveal credible reasons for Pete's prickliness and Jack's damage. She also avoids overstretching the suspension of disbelief that is necessary for any fantasy story, by inserting authentically gritty touches - such as the grim realities of using heroin to numb mental pain.
The Black and its assorted denizens are comparable to Simon Green's Nightside, but only to the extent that fans of that series are likely to enjoy this one. Jack Winter's physical description is a touch reminiscent of Spike in Buffy the Vampire slayer, but a sly reference to Billy Idol (to whom Spike is an homage) in the text indicates that this is a conscious credit rather than a crib.
So why only 3 stars? Because the catch is that while the book is set in London, it is not written by an English native, and while the direct speech might be enough like that of a Brit to be accepted in the US, to an English reader it sets the teeth on edge and spoils what is otherwise a very impressive read. The mistakes are subtle, but grating - 'bugger all', for instance, is generally slang for 'nothing' in UK English and is inaccurately used here. Nor does using 'bloody' as punctuation in almost every character's dialogue (it appears at least twice on every single page) substitute for an authentic written English accent - the general effect is of something translated from another tongue by someone to whom UK English is a second language - grammatically accurate but the vocabulary use is just a bit off. If Ms Kittredge sorts out this weakness in future books, the Black London novels could become one of the best new series to hit the fantasy arena.