Nikki Glass is a private investigator, and her latest job has her scoping out what her client tells her is a cult compound. When the job goes horribly wrong, however, she learns two things. One, the “cultists” are actually Liberi, the children of the ancient gods of mythology. And two, Nikki is herself descended (more distantly) from Artemis and has just accidentally stolen the immortality of one of the Liberi. Artemis, as you’ll recall from mythology, was far from promiscuous, so her descendants are rare and their talents much sought after. Now Nikki is caught between two rival factions of Liberi, neither of which she trusts. She’ll have to trust one of them, though, in order to protect herself and her beloved sister from the nastier of the two factions.
Dark Descendant is comparable to the origin story of a superhero. Jenna Black shows us how Nikki becomes powerful and reveals the world of the Liberi to the reader as Nikki discovers it. Infodumping is skillfully avoided; each piece of information is organically woven into the plot at the point when it becomes important.
Nikki is a refreshing heroine. Unlike some PI protagonists, Nikki actually does a ton of PI work, even the unglamorous parts such as snooping for information on the Internet. When she finds herself in danger, she takes steps to learn how to protect herself. She doesn’t become an invincible combat monster; instead she is really good at one particular thing but still vulnerable in other ways, such as her small size. Later, she reads up on mythology and uses that information to help her apply her inherited powers to her investigative work.
I was surprised by how emotionally raw Dark Descendant is. All of Nikki’s fury and frustration and sadness come right through the page. She’s been thrust into a dangerous world she never dreamed existed, terrible things happen to her and her sister, she still has some issues left over from her childhood in foster care, and there’s the incredibly frustrating lack of trust she receives from the other Liberi. By the time she’s been accused for the zillionth time of being a spy, I was ready to tear my hair out right along with Nikki — aarrrgggghhh, what would it take for some of these people to give her the benefit of the doubt?
Unusually for an urban fantasy, there is no romance for Nikki — at least not yet. She is attracted to several men, but that’s as far as it goes, and there are very good reasons why. I’m often frustrated with multiple love interests, but this time I’m genuinely curious about what Black will do with Nikki’s love life.
Dark Descendant is a really quick read; the pace is rapid and the book is not very long. Jenna Black introduces us to an interesting world and a terrific character who is strong without being over the top. The Descendant series promises to be a good one.