61) Ben Macallan — Desdaemona
A welcome return to dark urban fantasy for Chaz Brenchley, writing under the name of Ben Macallan. If that pen name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Brenchley previously used it for the lead character in a much earlier novel; and his usage here is more than whimsy, because this is exactly the sort of novel that the hero of Dead of Light would write. Jordan’s a runaway teenager who makes a habit of helping the lost, both other runaways and those who’ve simply strayed into the world of the supernatural. Jordan’s clinging to an existence somewhere on the border between the mundane and the magical, moving on to the next town whenever the hunters on his trail get too close. He’s doing pretty well at it, until Desdaemona tracks him down and drags him into her quest for her runaway sister Fay. Desdaemona’s something of a mystery herself — she’s a Daemon, a human who has been rewarded with occult power for contracted services to a Power, but she’s barely more than a teenager herself. How and why Desi contracted herself so young is just as much of a puzzle for Jordan to solve as is the mystery of Fay’s whereabouts.
Fay’s got good reason to have hidden herself as well as she has, and Jordan and Desi aren’t the only ones hunting her. As they search for Fay, they find all too many enemies amongst the world of the supernatural — the hunters on Fay’s trail, the hunters on Jordan’s trail, and the enemies Jordan and Desi make along the way. The result is an ever-increasing escalation of power and Powers they have to defeat or escape from, and a roller-coaster ride through a sharply crafted world where the supernatural can be found down any alley.
What makes this book so good for me is that Macallan/Brenchley takes British and Irish mythology, polishes new facets on it, and sets it to perfection in a contemporary urban English landscape. And he does it with strong characters and snappy social observation, in a story that unfolds to show rather than tell exactly who and what Jordan and Desi really are. It’s often very funny, and sometimes terrifying, and occasionally heartbreaking; all the more so because it shows how the monsters can be only too human.
The ending begs for another novel, and indeed there are the concepts for two more living inside the author’s head, though whether they see the light of day is another matter. But the book is complete in itself, a fabulous modern twist on old fables.