Deadtown: Holds up well against the best in the genre

urban fantasy book reviews Nancy Holzner DeadtownDeadtown by Nancy Holzner

When FanLit interviewed Nancy Holzner last month, I thought she sounded so nice, and her debut, Deadtown, sounded awesome. While shopping that night at my local Wal-Mart, I noticed Deadtown on the shelf, so, naturally, into my cart it went, and I started reading as soon as I got home.

After a mysterious plague strikes Boston, its fallout area becomes known as Deadtown. Deadtown residents are controlled by the state of Massachusetts — they have few rights and must carry identifying papers when they move about the various zones. Paranormals are segregated, creating a racially tense atmosphere that underlies the whole story.

Deadtown’s lead character is a deceptively dynamic female shapeshifter named Victory Vaughn (Vicky). Through her welsh ancestry and hard work, Vicky became a demon hunter for hire. She gets wrapped up in a series of events that has Boston’s human and non-human communities in danger. Lots of action, political intrigue, and sleuthing are required from Vicky in order to try to save the city and its people.

There is a wide cast of supporting characters in Deadtown, and they range from typical to downright awesome. Holzner’s take on demons is a fun mix of literal interpretations of abstract concepts and actual demons you’d find in typical fantasy. For example, Hellions are demons who feed off violence and destruction and can be summoned and bound by sorcerers in the typical fantasy fashion. But then there are the Eidolons — demons that manifest from an individual’s feelings of guilt. They are self-created, but not any less real than the Hellions are. It’s a cool way of imagining demons. The zombies in Deadtown are also great; Vicky’s zombie sidekick/trainee, Tina, chews gum, wears midriff-baring t-shirts, and possesses an inhuman amount of strength. Holzner regularly takes a known urban fantasy device and twists it in her unique way. Vampires, werewolves, and witches are all spun creatively. I look forward to seeing what kind of characters Ms. Holzner brings into a sequel.

Deadtown is also well-written. Holzner uses a straightforward storytelling approach that I like and is quite common in urban fantasy. I think the plot pacing was somewhat unbalanced, as I felt a little rushed during the last 1/4 of the book. I reached a point in the story where I was getting concerned that I was not going to get a satisfying ending. I kept thinking there is no way she’s going to wrap this up in the amount of pages left. The story however did get wrapped up, and ultimately I was satisfied with how Holzner pulled it all together.

I became a fan of urban fantasy when I ran out of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files books. My search for substitutes has brought me to discover several authors in that same vein who I particularly like: Patricia Briggs, Simon R. Green, and now Nancy Holzner. That’s lofty company for a debut fantasy writer, but Deadtown holds up quite well against the best in the genre. It’s really an exceptional start of a new series. I’ll be eagerly waiting for the sequel.

~Justin Blazier

urban fantasy book reviews Nancy Holzner DeadtownIn Nancy Holzner’s novel Deadtown, the supernatural is out of the closet, but not everyone is happy about it. In Boston, those classed as “Paranormal-Americans” have restricted rights and are required to live in a particular area of the city, called Deadtown. Boston is considered one of the most open-minded cities for paranormals to live in; others are more oppressive still.

Victory Vaughn lives in Deadtown with the vampires, werewolves, and zombies, but she’s something more unusual. Vicky is Cerddorion, descended from the Welsh goddess Cerridwen. Vicky’s lineage grants her the ability to shapeshift three times per month, to travel into other people’s dreams, and to kill demons. The latter two, she does for money. As Deadtown begins, Vicky is trying to exorcise some demons from a client’s dreamscape, with the bumbling help of her overly enthusiastic zombie apprentice, Tina. After a near-disaster, Vicky thinks she’s fixed the problem. There’s something worse coming to visit her client, though, and before long, Vicky realizes it’s a Hellion known as Difethwr.

Vicky and Difethwr have a history. Years ago, when Vicky was a teen, she accidentally summoned the Hellion with tragic results. Now, she’s itching for revenge, and she’ll get it any way she can. Even if it means working for a client who’s helping to bankroll an anti-paranormal-rights candidate for governor. (This causes friction in her relationship with her boyfriend, Kane; he’s a workaholic werewolf lawyer who campaigns for paranormal rights.)

Holzner has set up an intricate, well-realized world in Deadtown. The first half of the book is pretty heavy on exposition as Holzner builds her setting. It makes for a slowish pace, but it’s effective; we get a good look at the prejudices, restrictions, and threats that Victory and her fellow Paranormal-Americans have to deal with, and the groundwork for the mystery (who summoned Difethwr in the first place, and why) is laid. We also learn what it means to be Cerddorion. Holzner’s creation of the Cerddorion is one of the most original concepts I’ve seen in urban fantasy.

In the second half, the plot kicks into high gear and races toward a suspenseful climax. You can guess the solution to the mystery if you pay careful attention to the way people phrase things, but it’s fun to follow Vicky on her hunt even if you’ve figured it out. You’ll love the characters, too; especially Tina the teenage zombie (though you’ll headdesk at her more than once); Juliet (yes, that Juliet), Vicky’s vampire roommate; and Lucado, Vicky’s irascible client, who fires her more often than Mr. Spacely fired George Jetson. I didn’t really feel much for either of the men in Vicky’s life, but you can’t win ‘em all.

I recommend Deadtown to anyone looking for a well-realized urban fantasy world. There’s a message about xenophobia here if you’re looking for it; but even if you’re not looking for messages, this is an original and promising urban-fantasy debut.

~Kelly Lasiter

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JUSTIN BLAZIER (on FanLit's staff September 2009 – September 2012) Like many fantasy enthusiasts, Justin cut his teeth on Tolkien. Due to lack of space, his small public library would often give him their donated SFF books. Justin lives in a small home near the river with his wife, their baby daughter, and Norman, a mildly smelly dog. He doesn't have much time for reviewing anymore, but he still shows up here occasionally to let us know how he feels about stuff.

View all posts by Justin Blazier (RETIRED)

One comment

  1. I just finished Deadtown as well. I don’t remember where I heard about it, but it was a nice surprise. The writing was a little rough in spots–sometimes it seemed that Ms. Holzner was unsure of which direction to go in, but as the series develops, I’m sure it’ll get smoothed out.
    Looking forward to future installments.

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