Sins & Shadows: Pretty woman, big gun, bigger mouth

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsurban fantasy book review Lyn Benedict Sins & ShadowsSins & Shadows by Lyn Benedict

The only good thing about gods is that they prefer their realm to ours.

Lyn Benedict also writes political-intrigue fantasy under the name Lane Robins. I learned this before starting Sins & Shadows, and I’ve been wondering ever since whether I’d have figured it out if I hadn’t known. The setting, plot, and prose style are completely different from the Lane Robins books, but there are some echoes in the general themes: love, vengeance, and the havoc that gods wreak when they meddle in mortal affairs.

Sins & Shadows introduces us to Sylvie Lightner, nicknamed “Shadows,” who works as a sort of paranormal P.I. After a satanic cult kills one of her friends, Sylvie is about to call it quits. Just as she’s firing her assistant and packing her office, she is approached by a god in need. Kevin Dunne is the Greek god of Justice, and he’s shown up with his Furies in tow, wanting Sylvie to help him find his missing lover.

“Wait,” you might say. “There’s no male Greek god of Justice who the Furies answer to! And even if there were, he wouldn’t be named Kevin!” Sylvie’s reaction is much the same. How Kevin became a god is part of the central mystery Sylvie must unravel if she is to save the day.

I really loved the world-building here. Lyn Benedict immerses the reader in a complex setting filled with bureaucracy, gods of various pantheons, and competing agendas. The prose is great too. It’s less ornate than the style she uses in Maledicte and Kings and Assassins, but the simpler style suits the gritty modern setting, and she’s just as good at evoking beautiful or gory images with her words as she is when she’s writing as Lane Robins. The scene that stands out most to me is the novel’s (only) sex scene, in which Benedict twines together the romantic emotions with a very different kind of tension; there’s a mysterious threat in the background that adds some creepiness to the scene. When I figured out why Sylvie was so affected by certain colors in her partner’s room, I got chills.

The biggest sticking point in Sins & Shadows is Sylvie herself. I had a lot of trouble liking her. She pushes people away. She uses people. She loses her temper at the worst possible moments. The good news is, Benedict writes Sylvie’s nasty streak into the story in a realistic way. She doesn’t just go around mouthing off with no consequences. She gets called on it all the time, and her attitude often lands her and her friends in mortal danger. And once in a while, it works in her favor. Best of all, as Sins & Shadows ends, there is hope for a more-sympathetic Sylvie.

I’ll be following the Shadows Inquiries series. The complex world-building, evocative prose, and layered plot are more than enough to make up for a heroine with a whole bag of chips on her shoulder. And as for her, well, I just need to keep in mind that I didn’t like Kate Daniels much at first, either, and now she’s one of my favorite fantasy characters. I’m looking forward to seeing what Sylvie’s character arc will be.

This is a very dark urban fantasy without a lot of comic relief, but there was one line that cracked me up; I think Benedict may be giving the subgenre a little affectionate ribbing:

How many pretty women carry a big gun and an even bigger mouth?

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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