Dead on the Delta: Hard-to-put-down “rural fantasy”

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsStacey Jay Dead on the Delta urban fantasy book reviewsDead on the Delta by Stacey Jay

Stacey Jay’s fairies are tiny, beautiful… and bloodthirsty. Chemical disasters caused them to mutate, and now they swarm the bayous of the Delta region in search of human blood. Most humans die from the bite. Some expire immediately in intense agony, while others go insane first and live a few more years in containment facilities before dying.

A few humans, though, are immune. Annabelle Lee is one of them. Being immune qualifies Annabelle for all sorts of unpleasant jobs, like collecting fairy poop samples for Fairy Containment and Control. And, as Dead on the Delta begins, helping the cops ID the body of a child on fairy-infested land. Then she learns the child’s death may be related to the activities of a drug ring in the swamps. And then things get even stranger…

Annabelle’s life is a mess. She has a drinking problem and major relationship issues. In the hands of the wrong author, the drinking problem could make her unsympathetic and the presence of a love triangle could seem clichéd. We urban fantasy readers can be hard on our heroines. We don’t like it when they’re too perfect; we don’t like it when they’re too messed up; we get annoyed when they never make a mistake; we get annoyed when they make too many mistakes; and so on. Dead on the Delta confirmed my theory that the important thing is good writing. Almost anything can work if written well, and Jay writes Annabelle very well indeed. The pain that leads to Annabelle’s bad choices is made raw and real to us, and when she makes mistakes, she picks herself back up and tries again to do the right thing.

The secondary characters are interesting, too, with plenty of layers to explore here and in future installments. I have a feeling this will be one of those series where the characters are like old friends after a few books.

The plot is relentlessly tense. As Annabelle’s official work and unofficial snooping lead her closer to the heart of the mystery, Jay never misses an opportunity to throw another obstacle or twist into Annabelle’s path. It’s dangerous to read this book just before bed. Not because you’ll have nightmares — though that’s possible too — but because you’ll find yourself saying “just one more chapter” over and over until you suddenly realize it’s some ludicrous hour of the morning.

Also remarkable is the real-life grit Jay adds to Dead on the Delta by making Donaldsonville’s problems so frighteningly plausible, except for the fairy aspect. The fairies became dangerous because of pollution and terrorist attacks on chemical plants; Hurricane Katrina has its role to play in the novel’s tweaked history; and the rise of the drug Breeze, made from fairy dung, is analogous to the meth epidemic.

Stacey Jay has the start of something really special here, between the creative take on fairies, the flawed but sympathetic heroine, and the gritty sense of a disaster-ravaged Louisiana. Dead on the Delta is a hard-to-put-down “rural fantasy” that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

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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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  1. I am so there! I must read this book!

  2. I hope you like it! I really felt like it grabbed me more than most books of its type, even when it was invoking similar tropes, and then there’s some stuff that’s very original. Her style clicked really well with me.

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