Ghosts & Echoes: This is what urban fantasy can be

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsUrban fantasy book reviews Lyn Benedict Ghosts & EchoesGhosts & Echoes by Lyn Benedict

I’ve never met a Lyn Benedict/Lane Robins book I didn’t like, but Ghosts & Echoes is the best of her work to date. There’s a ton of urban fantasy out there, ranging from the stellar to the egregious, but this is the kind of book I like to wave at people and say, “This is what urban fantasy can be.”

Sylvie “Shadows” Lightner is back in Miami, recovering from what she calls the “Chicago clusterf*ck” that took place in the previous novel, Sins & Shadows. Two new cases fall into her lap: a string of magically-enhanced burglaries, and a shell-shocked Chicago cop who carries the ghost of a dead man within him. Neither is as straightforward as it sounds, of course. The burglars’ trail leads Sylvie to some sinister magical transactions that threaten the life of someone close to Sylvie. And the cop’s “hitchhiker” isn’t just any dead man, but someone who knew Sylvie in life.

There are two conclusions that an attentive reader can draw pretty early on. I was briefly worried that this would be one of those books where the protagonist lets the clues fly over her head for 400 pages. Happily, this is not the case; Sylvie comes to the same two realizations pretty quickly and moves along to trying to deduce the how and the why. In the burglary-ring plot, the early revelations are just the tip of the iceberg, with a much nastier scheme lying beneath. In the ghost plot, the real issue is a moral one. Sylvie’s ethics come into conflict with her heart and with the dark voice inside her that exhorts her to look out for number one.

These two plot strands are braided together skillfully. As Sylvie investigates the thefts, she makes some discoveries about ghosts and resurrections and how they work, discoveries that raise the question of whether a satisfactory outcome is even possible in the cop’s case. Sometimes her ruminations on the haunting seem a little drawn-out, but I think that’s the point. She’s putting that case on the back burner, and the more she procrastinates, the worse it gets.

The story is wonderfully creepy. There’s plenty of action and some gore, but the psychological horror is also kept at a fever pitch throughout. The scariest thing, in the end, is just how cold some of the characters are — what depraved lengths they will go to in pursuit of their selfish desires.

Along the way, Sylvie grows as a character. She tries — with varying degrees of success — to tame her temper, to figure out when her defiant streak will serve her well and when it’ll just get in the way of her goals. And she, too, faces the question of how far she will go for what she wants.

Benedict asks the same question, to an extent, of the reader. Sins & Shadows left many fans wishing for certain plot developments. In Ghosts and Echoes, we get something from our “wish list,” but in a twisted sort of way.

With her usual beautiful prose, a clever new take on an old piece of folklore, and a plot that keeps us feverishly turning pages to learn what new revelation waits ahead, Lyn Benedict has written one of the best urban fantasies I’ve read in some time. I enthusiastically recommend Ghosts and Echoes.

Shadows Inquiries — (2009-2012) Publisher: Sylvie Lightner is a PI who specializes in… let’s say unusual cases. Or at least, she was. Sylvie has dealt with werewolves, the undead, Satanic cultists, and all manner of unspeakable things, all while being hounded by a shadowy government agency that would love to shut her down — And she has always stood her ground. Now, though, she is having doubts. It is becoming harder for her to draw the line between the real monsters and the human ones, and progressively easier to kill. If she doesn’t stop, she fears, she may become one of the monsters herself. When she is forced to watch a friend and employee murdered because of their relationship, she knows that she can’t do this anymore. She is closing Shadows Inquiries for good. The problem is that a man who claims to be the God of Justice wants Sylvie to find his missing lover. And he’s not taking no for an answer. Sylvie is used to being outgunned and outclassed, but this case will push her beyond anything she knew she was capable of, and bring up things about her own past that she never wanted to know.

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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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