“New York City has always been a big fat sack of stress for Amanda Grey. From turning herself into knots to evade rubbing ass cheeks with strangers on the train, to round-housing public bathroom door handles to stave off plague contaminations, Grey has always found the simple technique of avoidance best in dealing with NYC. Luckily, the one-bedroom apartment in Queens she shares with her parents has always served as a refuge from a world that’s too loud and too bright for Amanda Grey.
Of course, that’s all about to change.
When she inadvertently rents a room to a demon, Grey goes from a woman concentrated on her own personal demons to the woman responsible for recapturing the six Shades from Hell she’s unleashed upon the city. She manages to survive by accepting the help of Barnem, an antisocial seraphim who just happens to reside in an upstairs apartment and the demon she now shares her apartment with—and who is oddly eager to help her vanquish the Shades, though she can’t be sure if he’s motivated by roommate loyalty or a secret plot to enslave humankind. Probably the latter.
Together the unlikely trio will have to face off with the (actual) devils of New York politics, break the curse of infomercial jingles, and figure out exactly how Grey has become the leader of a cult, all as Grey begins to realize that maybe the end of the world is exactly what her life needed. Now she just needs to figure out how to survive it.”
Amanda Grey is my kind of protagonist. She’s troubled, anxious, introverted and kinda snarky – think Jessica Jones without the superpowers. She lives in a small apartment in New York with her parents, who have left to go on vacation without leaving enough money to pay the bills and the rent. Broke and desperate, Amanda advertises for a roommate and gets far more than she bargained for when the prospective tenant tries to murder the shit out of her. The result of the ensuing fight is that a bunch of shades, demons in the form of crows, are released into the world, signaling the start of the apocalypse. Now, with the help of her disheveled upstairs neighbor who happens to be a Seraphim, she is tasked with hunting each shade down and destroying it before the end is well and truly nigh. The runtiest of the shades sticks around and offers Amanda the cash she needs in order to pay the rent, and she’s in no position to refuse. He’s an odd little creature, pot bellied and with a huge appetite for TV adverts and reality shows.
And that’s just for starters.
This was a fast-paced and smart novel that I found myself really enjoying, which seemed to take its influences from a lot of different sources. It felt almost like a book version of some of the urban fantasy/SF TV shows and movies that I enjoyed a great deal in the 80s and 90s – the satirical lampooning of adverts and TV wouldn’t have been out of place in Robocop or Total Recall, and had me snorting with amusement in public way too many times. Leyva’s version of The Bachelor (here it’s called The Stud) receives the lion’s share of the mocking, with the women put through such trials as having ultrasounds of their uteruses examined and rated out of 10. The humor throughout the book is a definite strength – the dialogue is clever and frequently hilarious, and some of the situations the characters found themselves were absurd without feeling contrived.
Aside from Amanda and gruff, brusque Barnem, we also meet Donaldson, who is an all round nice dude who gets caught up in events when he moves into the apartment across the hall. Then there’s Petunia, Amanda’s well-to-do, snobby younger sister who decides to barge into her life uninvited. They’re all entertaining with great chemistry and I found myself getting pretty attached to each of them in turn. Suddenly Amanda is not only dealing with demons, angels, cults, and evil politicians, but a social life she doesn’t want. It’s not always easy to tell which of these things is causing her the most distress.
The pacing is fast, shifting gear into to breakneck – at first Amanda and Barnem hunt down a couple of shades, kill them, and have her weird roommate absorb their remains, becoming more powerful (and a bit more of a handful each time), but as the story progresses the stakes increase and the shades grow more desperate and dangerous. When one of the shades possesses a celebrity with power and influence, things get turned up to 11 and it becomes a truly addictive read. All the characters get involved and each brings something different to the table, and once they do it’s hugely entertaining.
I’d also like to point out that if one of your pet peeves is male gaze (as someone who reads a metric buttload of fantasy, I admit it has become one of mine), this is one hell of a breath of fresh air – it is completely absent. There’s a little bit of romance that’s actually super cute, but I promise you at no point will Amanda look in a mirror and rate her own attractiveness or become preoccupied with her own tits or anything of the sort. In fact, it just kind of doesn’t come up at all. For me, that’s a big check in the plus column. I think the main impression I came away with was that it was a fantastically easy read, funny and comical and didn’t take itself too seriously. However, I don’t think it’s for everyone – there’s a fair bit of poking fun at religion, which some people might dislike (if you didn’t like the movie Dogma for that reason, you might want to pass on this). The way the Shades work is a little spotty, and I didn’t feel like I fully understood it until around the halfway mark, which I don’t think the author intended. The main one, however, is the graphic violence – for me this was pretty comical, Army of Darkness type over the top grimness which I didn’t mind, but it’s pretty gruesome in places and some readers might find it difficult to stomach. I’m not normally an Urban Fantasy gal, but I think it was a fantastic ride and I’ll be looking forward to the next entry.
Score: 7.9/10 (4 stars, but on the very high end)
Bingo Squares 2018
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Entirely in One City
- Published 2018
- Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings