Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Heart of Stone" by C. E. Murphy

Having read Murphy's Urban Shaman series, I was a bit interested when this book hit my stack of "to-be-read" stuff. Not enough to pick it up right away, mind you! While I enjoyed the Shaman series, I found some of the author's style a bit off-putting, namely all the exposition about the ways of the mystical, etc. Since the Negotiator series is also listed as "urban fantasy" or whatever you want to call it these days, I wasn't sure I wanted to jump right in.

I was wrong.

The book starts off strong and finishes even stronger, much like Margrit Knight on one of her late-night runs through Central Park. Margrit is a rich girl who's making good on her promise to help others; much to her parents' chagrin, she works for Legal Aid, taking on the impossible cases. For the last four years she's been trying to win clemency for an abused woman found guilty of killing her abuser. Margrit doesn't give up easily, and she's always up for a challenge.

Her tenacity has attracted the attention of Alban Korund, who's been watching her (and over her) for three of those four years. He knows that there are bad people lurking in the Park, so he watches her run to ensure her safety. One night he finally gets the courage to talk to her, but of course, Margrit being a bit cautious of strangers, she yells at him for scaring her. And then the next morning she learns of a dead woman found in the Park, and that a witness saw a man running from the scene, a man who looked just like the stranger she spoke with in the Park.

When it becomes clear that the police suspect him, Alban takes a huge leap of faith and asks Margrit to help him. He also tells her what he really is - a gargoyle, a member of one of the five Old Races. There will be other characters in the book that Margrit encounters, each members of the Old Races: dragons and djinn, gargoyles, selkies, and - of course - vampires. As Margrit learns more about Alban's world, she realizes that he's a good man (person, thing, whatever) and that she believes in his innocence. She also finds herself growing strongly attracted to him, a situation further complicated by her on-again-off-again romance with Tony, who happens to be a cop. Margrit is going to have to break some rules and do some fancy footwork if she's going to save Alban and find the real killer. But is the killer Alban's previous love? If so, she could lose a lot...

I was very impressed with this book, enough that I finished it in no time and am now anxiously trying to get my hands on the next installment. Wisely, Murphy has chosen to spend more time on character development and a bit less on the world-building, a move that really helped me enjoy this book. I thought Margrit was just about perfect, strong without being invincible, snarky without being downright rude, and romantic yet realistic about Alban. The gargoyle is equally well-written, as are some of the "bad guys"; I'm not entirely certain that one of them is as bad as he seems. Time will tell, I suppose.

If you like the alternate reality of living with vampires and other creatures of the night, then "Heart of Stone" is a good book to pick up. I hope the rest of the series is equally good.

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