Premise (and cover image from Indiebound)
Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night… The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity-and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren’t for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family’s old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone’s spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city…
Check out that cover. I was looking for a cheesy and fun read when I picked up this paperback. But I still was unsure what type of story that pink short-skitted and kitten-heeled cover affair would hold. All things indicated this story was going to be a funny and action-filled guilty pleasure.
Needless to say, Verity surpassed all possible expectations.
Accessible, Fun Premise
I loved this story’s premise. The Prices help keep an ecological balance between humans and Cryptids. The catch? Most of the Cryptid community hasn’t forgotten her family used to hunt them and is reluctant to trust her. And to top it all off, Verity wants to leave behind the family business and become a professional ballroom dancer. The Cryptid premise serves as a great introduction for first time or reluctant readers to the fantasy genre and for those looking for a more scientific basis to their monsters. Though our protagonist is obviously caught between worlds and passions, the setup is an excellent, inventive take on urban fantasy. Verity’s different roles as investigator/scientist/witty demon slayer create different ways to approach the book. These distinct approaches reminded me strongly of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and tv series Sanctuary and Buffy.
Well-Crafted Supporting Characters
Like Verity, her family is wonderfully straightforward about their duty and brings humor toward their highly specialized talents. The quotes prefacing each chapter and subsequent phone appearances and family stories illustrate the Prices’ dedication to their job and the love, care, character and strength they possess for each other. Though extensive, McGuire expertly executes their reveal and family details never feel like an info dump. Families rely on each other and their family legacy takes this reliance to a whole new level. Her family members’ various specialties – Cryptid genetics, history, Hell dimensions – is telling about their personality and open lots of plot possibilities in future series installments.
Believable Love Interest
Dominic De Luca is a nicely crafted love-interest with the right amount of growth over the course of the novel. He starts out as a hilariously stuffy and socially awkward Covenant agent. (Think Giles agent the first season of Buffy.) Utterly horrified by Verity’s modern attitude to her work, De Luca is a company man and a rather naïve one at that. His gob is smacked by her dancing aspirations and willingness to discuss Cryptid business in – horror of horrors – a coffee shop. He works wonderfully as constant source of comic relief. Their first real interaction in the café made me smile wide. Verity and De Luca’s pairing charms and sparks. He doesn’t immediately fall for her or her ecological protection view of Cryptids. Their interactions are full of combat – verbal, physical, ideological – without feeling hollow or forced. While skeptic about her viewpoint, he realistically comes to understand and appreciate her POV even if he doesn’t fully agree with it. I can’t wait to see him again in the next book and find out what other adventures and romantic times they’ve gotten into.
Rich, Fun World Building
If it wasn’t clear from my earlier posts, world-building is a huge factor in my enjoyment of the fantasy genre. McGuire crafts a unique spin on the supernatural and each facet feels intriguing and real. One hugely enjoyable – and adorable – world-building facet is the Aeslin mice. Virtually indistinguishable from normal field mice, these mice crave religion and structure their entire existence around it. Their reluctant high priestess? Verity, who keeps them stocked in baked goods and cheese. They’re adorable cheerleaders /troublemakers for Verity and add another dash humor to the story. Besides the constant fêting and worshipping, not much is known about the mice’s origins. Personally, I hope these mice turnout to be total badasses or have some super secret power that’s been lost to memory and time.
The creature features keep the surprises coming and McGuire’s creations have all sorts of mythical origins and personalities. Personality-wise, members of the Cryptid community range from friendly to skeptical downright hostile to Verity and her family history. Her boss, Dave the Bogeyman, leeringly runs the strip club she waitresses at and prefers the inkiest of darks. Metaphorically shady as well, his reluctance to share vital information makes a dangerous player. Dragon princess Candice is as socially cold as she is beautiful. Evolved as companions to the long dead dragons, she displays the subsequent attraction to money and shinies. The friendlier end of the Cryptid spectrum comprise of lower level gorgons with poisonous snakes for hair and an adoptive Cuckoo cousin. McGuire creates her own set of cool monsters while drawing influence from mythologies around the world.
Lil’ Things Make Great Impression
Clever extras embedded throughout the book help establish the mood and feel of the story. Each chapter is prefaced with wonderfully pragmatic and amusing maxims from Verity’s extended Cryptid-hunting family. “A lady is never truly embarrassed. And if she is, a lady is never gauche enough to leave survivors” and “There’s nothing wrong with making a last stand. Just make sure you bring enough grenades to share with the entire class” are a few of the Price family gems delivered with just the right amount of aplomb and directness suited for each chapter. The quotes are accompanied by short sentence describing Verity’s current location and predicament. The descriptions serve as nifty reminders of action and remind me a bit of a comic book’s brief descriptors at the beginning of new chapters and story panels. The combo of the quotes and descriptions add flavor and served as nice sign posts so the reader can pick up and put down the book as necessary for food/water/etc. The pairing also adds humor to the serious detective and slaying work Verity’s performs.
Feels Real and Believable
Perhaps most importantly, Verity and her adventures feel real. The dance components of the book are convincing and give the reader a look behind curtain at glamorous and competitive world. McGuire’s Cryptids practically leap off the page with each creature sufficiently detailed. The book’s believability extends to its Manhattan location too. The NYC borough is richly portrayed. From slimy sewers and grimy bars to the flashing lights and pounding music of dance clubs, the reader can easily envision Veirty’s world. McGuire’s Manhattanis as fully realized an urban fantasy world like Harry Dresden’s Chicago or Alex Verity’s London.
That above being said (and props if you stuck with me this long), there wasn’t a lot to dislike about this book. The very short prologue hints at oddness in Verity’s upbringing but the book basically drops the reader right into the middle of the action. I am never quite comfortable with these cold introductions to a new fantasy book. More often than not, I take a while to warm up to a book’s particular mythology so this type of approach leaves me hesitant. And if I’m being picky, Dominic could have been a little more ass-kicky and equal to Verity in fighting prowess and skills. A more even footing on the combat end would have made their encounters more suspenseful and charged. But then again, his poorer abilities can be chalked up to his novice Covenant status.
Fantastic world building, accessible mythos, and believable characters make this book an awesome, fast and fun read. It works well as a standalone but how it’s difficult to finish and not want to immediately start the next book. Lots of excitement and adventure are hinted at in future books: dimension jumping, star-crossed romance, and William the dragon just to mention a few. And with all that possibility, why wouldn’t you read the next book?
Strongly recommend to new and seasoned readers of urban fantasy alike. If you like Buffy Vampire Slayer or The Dresden Files, you should definitely give this book a read.
If You Like These Series, You’ll Love This Book
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Like Buffy, Verity’s confident, smart, sassy and fiercely determined not to let her Cryptid duties get in the way of her passion. She’s also extremely loyal to those she cares about and willing to protect them at all costs. Despite her strong family ties, Verity virtually operates on her own in New York. Her Cryptid hunting makes her socially isolated and she struggles to balance who she is with who she wants to me. She’s overwhelmed by the huge problems De Luca and a rumored dragon pose to her family, her career and her city. And very aware of her vulnerability as a one-woman army. In addition to the emotional depth of a Slayer, Verity kicks serious monster and human ass. And she does it in stilettos that double as weapons. What she lacks in preternatural strength our heroine makes up for in lifelong combat prowess and a rating with every weapon imaginable.
The Dresden Files
An element of the investigative runs through Verity’s Cryptid duties in Manhattan. She makes it her business to learn as much as she can about Cryptids themselves and happenings that affect them. Verity investigates incidences and killings to keep everyone, humans and Cryptids, safe from each other. Like Harry, she’s extremely protective of her city and highly disturbed to find De Luca hunting on her turf. Like Buffy and Harry, Verity wages an age old battle – physically and ideologically – on her own terms. She struggles against the archaic of old-world views and attitudes towards Cryptids, protecting those who are peaceful or defenseless. She’s also witty and very willing to use her knowledge and combat skills to get the job done. Action sequences galore pepper this book and it’ll have the reader riveted to their seat.
Essentially, imagine the genre love child of Buffy Summers and Harry Dresden and you’ve got Verity Price.