Living in the walled city of Santeria, one of the caged Supernatural denizens within, Cameo scratches a living as a reviled mixed-breed, but one with a unique power: she can change her shape to look like anyone.
Working with Wiz, her partner and long term crush, she manages to make considerable cash with this skill, especially for a homeless street kid; but as her reputation becomes known, the risks grow ever harder
Especially when a person from Wiz’s past appears – old debts become due and there’s far more to their history than ever Cameo guessed.
This is set in the same world setting as the Santeria Habitat series and I love that series. I love the world building. I love the concept of the various kind of supernaturals living in their caged cities and the different societies and cultures they have had to bring together and build. It’s intriguing to see a word where everyone is a supernatural of one kind or other and what that means, as well as the closed in setting caused by the closed city. It’s a really excellent and truly original world setting that I have never see anything close to it anywhere else.
I also love that the foundation of this book is Santeria. Each of the Habitat walled cites are designed around a particular faith and the supernaturals within are either adherents or sympathetic to that fait (or recognise that their particular supernatural nature will be tolerated within that faith). So the buildings, the districts the rituals, the expressions and the customs of this city all evolved around Santeria. It’s a rich and diverse element of the story and world that I love.
The plot itself is gloriously twisty but not that focused on the Habitat as much as the main series is. This draws on a lot of the history and believe of the fae
Cameo’s shapeshifting powers are also excellent as there’s a lot of imagination gone into exploring how this would be marketable and useful beyond the obvious. But this also mixes into this series’ excellent class analysis and the treatment of Mixedbreed supernaturals like Cameo. Exploited and shunned, her useful talents make her in demand, but being mixedbreed also makes her vulnerable. She can be easily used or scapegoated with little consequence which makes accepting jobs fraught
Cameo herself is a very fragile character. Her nature has left her physically very different and her abusive mother filled her with a vast amount of self-loathing. Her body image issues re interestingly confused still further with her ability to change her appearance so completely. It’s hard to tell her appearance doesn’t matter when her whole livelihood centres aound imitating other’s. It’s hard when she can assume the form of beautiful people for her not to notice how people treat he differently and how they react to her real form. It’s hard to tell her to love herself when she can change her appearance and set change as some kind of permanent goal. Why learn to see the beauty in herself when she can imitate the beauty in others?
I have a couple of stand out criticisms about this book
First of all the mystery goes on for far too long. There is a lot of investigating which I appreciate because too many urban fantasy protagonists interpret “investigation” as hanging around and doing nothing until someone hands them all the answers they want on a platter. So I do appreciate that Cameo always investigated, kept hammering at the answers, kept trying to find the answer. And she’s creative ad intelligent and capable in finding those answers
But, at the same time, I do think she may have seized on clues that appeared only a little relevant or coincidental. They turned out to be super-duper relevant, certainly – but don’t see entirely how Cameo could have known that when she seized on them as something vital to investigate.