Available Dark: Chills, in more than one sense of the word

Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAvailable Dark by Elizabeth Hand science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAvailable Dark by Elizabeth Hand

It’s been a few months since the events of Generation Loss, and Cass Neary, strapped for cash, has made a big mistake. In that previous book, she took pictures of someone’s death but told the police she wasn’t at the scene. She never meant to publish any of the photos. Whoops. So, with the police and the dead person’s son asking awkward questions, and Cass in need of money again, it seems like a great time to take a gig that will absent her from the country for a while.

Available Dark (2012) takes Cass to Helsinki, where she is tasked with examining a series of gory photographs and verifying that they are authentic and that the series is complete. The pictures show people killed in ways that evoke a group of spirits called the Yuleboys, and it’s pretty clear that if the photographer wasn’t the killer, he was at least a witness to the crimes. Cass does the job and then skips town for a side trip to Iceland, where she hopes to find a long-ago sweetheart — but soon learns that someone is willing to kill over the Yuleboys photos, and that the danger may have followed her to Reykjavik.

Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews
Like Generation Loss, Available Dark isn’t exactly fantasy, but falls into the “of interest to fantasy fans” category. It involves mythology, and people who sincerely believe in it, but the gods don’t actually show up. Hand takes us on a vividly described trip through bleak, icy landscapes and the weird world of pagan black metal. The sense of menace is palpable, and one scene in which Cass battles the elements is truly harrowing. There’s also a great moment at the climax when several Chekhov’s guns and Cass’s unusual skill set come together in a really clever way.

In hindsight, I felt like the book could have been longer, with a bit more exposition. The connections between some of the mythological elements seemed a little tenuous. I wanted to know more about who the Yuleboys were, and how they connected to the Odin cult, and what the Yuleboy-themed ritual murders were supposed to accomplish. There’s enough information for the central mystery to make sense, but I do love Hand’s mythological deep-dives, and wished for more of one here.

Still, Available Dark is a suspenseful, gory thriller that delivers chills in more than one sense of the word. Read it around the winter solstice for a very un-hygge holiday treat.

Published in 2012. Elizabeth Hand’s writing honors include the Shirley Jackson Award, the James Tiptree Award, the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award, the International Horror Guild Award, and many others. Now, this uniquely gifted storyteller brings us a searing and iconoclastic crime novel, in which photographer Cass Neary, introduced in the underground classic Generation Loss, finds herself drawn into the shadowy world of crime in Scandinavia’s coldest corners. As this riveting tour-de-force opens, the police already want to talk to Cass about a mysterious death she was involved with previously, but before they can bring her in, Cass accepts a job offer from overseas and hops on a plane. In Helsinki, she authenticates a series of disturbing but stunning images taken by a famous fashion photographer who has cut himself off from the violent Nordic music scene where he first made his reputation. Paid off by her shady employer, she buys a one-way ticket to Reykjavik, in search of a lover from her own dark past. But when the fashion photographer’s mutilated corpse is discovered back in Finland, Cass finds herself sucked into a vortex of ancient myth and betrayal, vengeance and serial murder, set against a bone-splintering soundtrack of black metal and the terrifying beauty of the sunless Icelandic wilderness. In Available Dark, the eagerly awaited sequel to the award-winning Generation Loss, Cass Neary finds her own worst fears confirmed: it’s always darkest before it turns completely black. 

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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