It would be a bit of an understatement to say I've been eagerly anticipating this novel, ever since I was lucky enough to review Sixty One Nails I've been completely hooked by Mike Shevdon's rich, dynamic prose and unique, powerful voice that helps to create this astounding urban fantasy series.
I'm not alone either, the previous novel, The Road to Bedlam was voted the SFBook of the Year back in 2010 and even more incredible, my Dad - who hasn't read a fantasy book in his life - loves it. For him it's acted as a switch and since then his reading has increased exponentially, although he mostly seems to be hooked on historical fiction at the moment.
Strangeness and Charm follows on directly from the events in The Road to Bedlam and I do urge you to read the previous novels first, it's not that you can't enjoy this book on it's own (the writing is strong enough for people to enjoy as a stand-alone) but it makes so much more sense if you know what went on before and you will enjoy it even more.
Niall's daughter Alex is now free from the fate that awaited her in Bedlam; however by freeing her others of their kind have been released into the world at large, unchecked and in most cases suffering from their time in captivity. As a Warder he must find these part-feyre and bring them into the sanctuary of the courts before they cause an incident that upsets the human-feyre treaty; or worse ends up will people being killed.
If Niall can't find them then the other Warders will and they won't be anywhere near as gentle, thinking nothing of killing them to avoid any trouble. The problem doesn't end with bringing these half-breeds into the court though as the seven Lords and Ladies who rule the seven Fayre courts must then decide what to do with them. If that wasn't enough the prophecy once again rears it's head "The sun will rise and they will fall" which could have something to do with Eve's determination to destroy the whole world.
So there is quite a bit going on here and don't forget that Niall and Blackbirds are new parents too, with all the responsibilities that entails while Niall's boss Garvin seems to be seriously on his case. Characterisation is handled brilliantly, each person manages to develop in a realistic and organic manner along with their relationship to each other while we also gain a deeper insight into the feyre magic itself.
There is a lot of focus placed on Alex, her fight to fit in after her time in Bedlam and understand her powers which ties in very nicely with the general struggle a teenager faces as they grow up, amplified by her half-fayre abilities. This coming of age message is also joined with that of parenthood and anyone who is a parent (or grand-parent) will relate to a lot of what goes on here.
Shevdon's elegant and ever-so-easy to read prose really sparkles here, the book is just so entrancing that putting it down becomes a real challenge. The story is as thought provoking and engaging as ever and the pace set just right. As with the previous novels there are some interesting historical details mixed into the fiction and it's partly this mixture of history with fable and modern day life that help to create the unique, powerful voice that permeates the pages.
The supporting cast of characters are also just as finely tuned as the protagonists and each of them are given enough space to feel complete and life-like.
The ending to the novel is a stroke of genius and I almost kicked myself that I didn't actually see it coming, I won't mention what happens (don't want to spoil it for the reader) but it sets the scene perfectly for the planned fourth novel (to be published next year).
Strangeness and Charm continues the story of Niall and Blackbird perfectly, one of the stand out novels and series of recent times, simply magical.
Written by Antony, 04 May 2012.