Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series can usually be found on the romance shelves, but having just finished reading the first installment, Darkfever, I’m more inclined to classify it as urban fantasy. While there are a couple of men foreshadowed as possible love interests for the heroine, and while there is some sexual content (most stemming from the mind-control powers possessed by some of the fae), the primary focus is on a murder mystery and on the magical goings-on in Moning’s Dublin. The series also follows urban fantasy tropes in another significant way: it is written in first person and follows one heroine, Mackayla (“Mac”) Lane, throughout its five books rather than featuring a different heroine and hero in each volume.
Mac is normal. Painfully so. She’s smart but unambitious, content to while away her days painting her nails and getting a tan. That is, until the day she learns her beloved sister has been murdered in Dublin. The police and her parents seem content to chalk it up to random violence, but Mac isn’t satisfied with that, and goes to Dublin to do some investigating of her own. There, she learns that her sister was mixed up in the dangerous world of the fae. She also meets the enigmatic Byronic bookstore owner Jericho Barrons, who warns her that she will share her sister’s fate if she doesn’t learn the ropes quickly.
Making Mac ubernormal was a brilliant decision on Moning’s part. Mac is probably more “mainstream” than most of Darkfever’s readers; if a fantasy fan found herself in this situation, she’d at least have “genre savvy” to help her navigate the dangers. Mac doesn’t. She’s suddenly thrust into a world full of horrible creatures she never even imagined. She’s scared witless. Because we see through Mac’s eyes, we’re scared too. And the fact that she’s willing to stand up to the fae, even though she knows she’s a pampered Yorkie snarling at wolves, makes her easy to admire. (I love some of the more seasoned, tough heroines too, but I worry less about whether they’ll make it out in one piece, which decreases the tension in the story somewhat.)
And there’s plenty to be scared of. Moning’s fae are terrifying, both the hideous monsters and the beautiful creatures whose monstrousness lurks under the surface. For me the most chilling element is the Dark Zone: taken over by devouring shadow creatures, this part of the city is simply forgotten by the human inhabitants. This works into the plot in ways that sent shivers down my spine.
Moning’s prose is transparent; it stays out of the way of the story and propels the reader quickly through the plot. You probably won’t stop reading to gawk at a stunningly poetic turn of phrase, but neither will you trip over any awkwardnesses.
Most importantly, if you’re anything like me, you’ll reach the end and think “MUST. HAVE. BOOK. TWO. NOW.” Darkfever is compulsively readable and leaves readers salivating for the next installment, Bloodfever.