Guest Reviewer: Lee
Sleight of Hand follows Amber Farrell, Denver private investigator and ex-member of Army special ops. Amber is having a rough week. She solves a case that inadvertently puts her at odds with a high profile drug trafficking network and then takes on a new case from the wealthy and powerful Jenny Kingslund, who seems to have a lot of enemies – all this while spying on the Athanate community of Denver on behalf of the US Army. The Athanates seem suspiciously similar to vampires and they’re very interested in Amber. Very interested. This is an action-packed urban fantasy with a compelling new heroine. And while the novel has its flaws, it is a solid start to a new series.
This is a hard book to review. There is so much I liked about it but there is also quite a bit that didn’t work for me. Ultimately, the novel’s success centers on its heroine – Amber Farrell. She is strong, smart, and a bit of a loner. Her past is dark and shrouded in mystery. She is ex-Army special ops and while on a mission in the South American jungle, something attacks her and changes her life forever. What really worked well was how the author slowly reveals this incident. There is no information dump that spells out what happened to Amber. Instead, we get flashbacks and hints until we finally understand, not exactly what happened, but rather what Amber is slowly becoming. Because of this incident, Amber finds herself in the middle of a supernatural war, one in which there is no option for neutrality. It’s a compelling setup. You can feel the angst, stress, and, truthfully, lack of options she has when faced with the reality of her situation.
Given her training, there can be no doubt she is kick ass – ex-military and ex-police force…she knows how to take care of herself. And I absolutely loved the action scenes. She takes down vampires, biker gangs, trained killers, and a host of other bad guys. These scenes are some of the best in the book and they are packed with adrenaline. But Amber is not invincible. She comes away from these confrontations bruised and banged up. It humanizes her while also making her badassery plausible.
The pacing of the story is also well done. I enjoyed its slow reveals. The reader learns about Amber and her world in real time. I get bored when we find out too much about a character’s back story in the first five pages. There is so much we learn about Amber throughout the book, and what keeps it interesting is that we continue to learn new things almost until the very end. This made for a slowly evolving character who kept me interested and engaged.
A non-traditional love triangle emerges by the end of the story. Without revealing too much, the author made a bold choice to go this route and I appreciate the originality of it. But I also feel the romantic elements are some of the weakest points of the story. Let’s be clear – this is not an urban fantasy where the romance is center stage. Romance is secondary to the world, the plot, the mystery and the action. This doesn’t bother me. I only wish I actually felt the chemistry between the characters involved. Unfortunately, I don’t feel the attraction between Amber and her two potential romantic partners, the dialogue often felt forced and inauthentic and the romance felt tagged on as if it was added as a convention of the genre rather than being organic to the story or the character.
There’s a lot going on in Amber’s world. Too many things, in fact. We have supernatural factions, an estranged sister, an admin assistant who is not what she seems, a lost twin, a dying friend, a veteran’s benefits fraud investigator…it’s too much. If the cast were more streamlined, the overall storytelling would have been more successful and the plot would have felt a bit more cohesive.
Finally, the world building, while well-done, was not particularly original. There were a couple of new things introduced towards the end – shifters and witches – that will most likely be explored further in the series. Amber herself is revealed to be something new and unknown. I have a feeling a new phase of self-discovery is awaiting her. These twists give me hope that the world-building in book two promises unexplored surprises.
Sleight of Hand is a solid first book in a new series. I enjoyed its deliberate pacing, slow reveals, strong heroine, and kick ass action. All of this is slightly marred by weak dialogue, a lukewarm romance, and a cluttered cast of characters that weigh the plot down. That being said, I am interested in seeing where Henwick takes this series in terms of its world-building and its central star, Amber Farrell, Denver P.I.
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
- Sleight of Hand
- Hidden Trump
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