When the Veil ripped open, allowing magic and magical beings entered the world. The war that followed was devastating, reducing much of the southern US to a devastated war zone – or, as it’s known now, The Zone
Now the war is over, Containment controls the Zone and tries to police the remaining free paranormals – and the Sensitives, humans with magic who are doomed to become savage wraiths.
Claire is one of those Sensitives, living in New Orleans and trying to hide her secret – but when wraiths attack she can’t resist using her power and only help from the bounty hunter Liam helps her cover it up.
Liam also knows what she can do to avoid that fate – but it means drawing further into the supernatural world and, on the way, learning of a plot that may re-ignite the war all over again
When this came up in my to read pile, I was happy to jump on it. While we’ve had a rocky ride with theChicagoland Vampires series, I’m still generally positive about them and was definitely up to seeing this new world that Chloe Neil had produced
And the world is excellent. Urban Fantasy meets dystopia and both parts are covered and blended so well. It’s not a common genre mash and when it is there’s usually a focus on the magical elements rather than the dystopian ones – so how we now use magic to do various things rather than technology. This focuses the other way: we have a large section of the American South that has been devastated by a magical invasion from across the Veil. The land is now extremely unproductive thanks to magical damage, the population has been decimated, the cities reduced to ruinous shadows of what they were before and much of it is contained and separated from the rest of the United States out of fear of magical beings that still lurk in The Zone.
The focus here is very much the dystopia. Most of the cast are ordinary people trying to survive in devastated New Orleans, clinging to a normal life, the celebrations and ceremonies and trying, slowly but surely, to rebuild on the devastation. The book covers this excellently, especially with elements like the ruinous feeling of the city, the battle between salvaging vs looting and even little things like Claire being leery to actually consume luxuries when she gets them (as a shop owner) because she doesn’t want to get used to them – and these luxuries (butter, coffee) are things that did used to be commonly available and she daren’t get back into expecting them.
On top of that we have an excellent depiction of life after the war – hatred of the enemy, the loss people have suffered and are still grieving. They have new ceremonies, new sayings, new commemorative days and monuments – there’s a real sense of completeness to this world that makes it very real. On top of that we have the ongoing threat that Wraiths represent – making the city unsafe, heavily monitored and always with that sense of fear. The themes are really well set, decayed grandeur, stubborn defiance and that edge of worry always there but all turned into a kind of gentle acceptance as well.
Then there’s the nuance of the story as well that works so well because of this rich world: the idea that magic has changed people into Sensitives and these people, innocents, could become Wraiths. Not enemy combatants but still treated as such because they could turn into monsters. Then there’s the supernaturals themselves who are hardly all evil and, in turn, makes for a lot of analysis about the way they are treated and their resistance.
And in this world setting and metaplot steps Claire, our protagonist. Well known in the area, a respect shop keeper, part of the city and its survival – and a Sensitive, desperately hiding from the powers that be that would quickly turn her in, imprison her and watch her become a monstrous Wraith, something that seems almost inevitable