A Kiss of Shadows is the first of currently eight novels that make up Laurell K Hamilton’s Merry Gentry series, and introduces us to faerie princess turned private investigator Meredith NicEssus, who fled the Unseelie Court to hide as a human, calling herself Merry.
Set in modern day Los Angeles, the faerie and humans live together, but the faerie have their courts, with Merry being a sidhe royal. However, being half human means she has little magic to defend herself from the ever-increasing attacks of her cousin and heir to the throne Cel, prompting her to escape the court and join a detective agency in Los Angeles made up of faerie and human magic practitioners.
The story begins with Merry taking on a case to investigate a powerful spell caster who is draining life energy from women with magical skill. It turns out to be far more sinister than expected, with an unknown member of the faerie illegally gathering human worshipers. As a result of this, Merry is unmasked as the missing Elven princess, and her aunt, the Queen of Air and Darkness, orders her to return back to the Unseelie Court.
With the ever-present threat of death from enemies at court, her cousin, and her violent, sadistic aunt who only sees Merry as a brood mare to keep her bloodline on the throne, Merry has to negotiate the court’s politics, stay alive, and find out who the mysterious faerie is who broke the laws between humans and faerie in order to gain more power.
This is a sumptuous book, of blood, sex and magic, which takes you on a journey from the human world of Los Angeles to the glittering, deadly world of the faerie courts where goblins, gods, brownies and the sidhe mix with a host of other magical ancient races. Merry, whose only magic is a strong skill at concealment and illusion, has little in defence except her political savvy and a gun, but she is coming into her powers, though this may put her in even more danger than before.
Every scene in the book is painted for you in sultry colours, the clothes people are wearing, the shining of the faeries’ skin, the pulse of power in the sidhe. The prose is as thick as syrup, with characters having many emotion-filled pauses or looks, or brushes of fingers down another’s arm whilst magic's flare and Merry muses on how much she loves touching another sidhe’s body. Unfortunately, this eventually starts drowning the story, as we are given back story of the sidhe and Merry’s family, introduced to many different characters - a lot of which are tall, long haired, very hot sidhe bodyguards who are all struggling to get given their own piece of personality – and the awakening of Merry’s new magic's and the influence this has on various magical items of the court whose power was waning, all on top of the investigation that she was involved with in the beginning.
This investigation of who was giving a human enough power to entrap women and supply him with forbidden faerie items is unfortunately elbowed to one side by everything else, it’s like having too much honey in a dressing and needing a good squeeze of lemon to give it some kick. Three quarters of the way through Merry can barely move from one room to the next without having several sexually-charged encounters with sidhe lords who have bottom-length hair either bright green or blue or white as cobwebs with cobblestone stomach muscles and raging needs, bleeding all over or for things, and being dragged about whilst she muses about how strapping a revolver to her ankle will catch on the hose she’s wearing. By that point she’s either tried to have sex or has managed to have sex with nearly every man she’s come across, and her sex life is now the main focus of the book as her aunt demands that she sleep with as many of the bodyguards as she can to produce a heir to the throne.
It’s frustrating and slow, and needs to stop wallowing around in how fantastically good looking everybody is and what the exact colours of their silken shirts that mould to their bodies are. A hundred pages can pass with barely a mention of the original plot and with seven more books to come you can tell Hamilton has only just gotten started. Eventually you find out what was going on back in Los Angeles but as they say, you can have too much of a good thing, and a bit of titillating sex just gets laid on too thick, and one evening can last for pages, and pages, and pages.
In conclusion, it’s a good piece of escapism and is lavishly woven, but this supposedly modern day princess is far better at being coy with her men than she is at investigating.
Review by Cat Fitzpatrick
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