Paula R. Stiles
Glass, Seressia. Shadow Blade. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. $7.99 USD, $9.99 CDN. ISBN: 978-1-4391-5679-7.
February is Black History Month and we’re also celebrating Valentine’s Day all week, starting today. So, we’re going to kick off with some African-American paranormal romance. Today, tomorrow and Tuesday, I’ll be reviewing two novels and a short story by three different authors, including some links to other authors. There isn’t a whole lot of African-American paranormal romance out there, but the subgenre is growing and it’s even being put out by major publishers. This is good because, to be honest, I’m getting mighty tired of fiery, red-headed lassies who arrive in Glasgow from the Highlands with a sheep under each arm (sorry, just had a bad acid flashback to my foray into Scottish historical romance).
First up is Shadow Blade by Seressia Glass (with a very nice cover). Kira Solomon is an African-American Indiana-Jones-meets-Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer type. Antiquities expert by day, she actually works as a “Shadowchaser” for a group called the “Gilead Commission”. Gilead (and Kira) serves the Light against the Shadow, and a group of evil beings called “The Fallen”, in an eternal war steeped in Egyptian mythology. In the novel, Kira loses a close friend, comes into possession of a magical dagger and meets an ancient Nubian warrior named Khefar (the owner of said dagger) in short order. Khefar wants his dagger back and he’s willing to get pretty underhanded to do it. But he’s not the real enemy as one of the Fallen serving the Shadow sets into motion a plot against Kira that has been years in the making.
This is the first in a series, but it’s definitely not Glass’ first novel. Some of the plot is perhaps a little by-the-numbers, particularly toward the end, but the characters are not and Glass knows how to handle them. Kira has elements of Buffy (or Faith), Xena, Sidney Fox, and other kick-ass female fantasy TV characters. Her magic even has an effect similar to Rogue from The Uncanny X-Men‘s persona-draining power. But Glass does a nice job of bringing these elements together into her own mix. Kira is not your stereotypical Little Girl Lost, tough-chick wannabe with daddy issues, and though Kira herself is also not what you’d call a barrel of laughs, Glass infuses her scenes dealing with the Gilead bureaucracy (as exasperating as any other collection of suits) with wry irony. Kira’s an orphan, but has a great relationship with her formidable foster mother, Balm of Gilead. She’s tough, independent, well-trained, and prickly, but she’s also quite sympathetic. Yes, she has vulnerabilities, but those don’t involve her suddenly turning useless at annoying intervals. I liked her a lot and would like to see more books in the series.
Then there’s Khefar. Again, he’s a lot like Angel (the immortality and penance angle), and also like Boris Kharloff’s version of The Mummy. But he’s still an interesting character in his own right (and a mighty sexy, tall, cool, dark drink of water, too, from the way Glass describes him). No character is created out of a vacuum, but the good ones make the influences that created them their own. Both Kira and Khefar are good characters. I especially liked that, while Khefar is obviously there in the story to support Kira, he has his own mission and his own agenda. Yes, he ends up risking them for her, but he doesn’t do it lightly.
Finally, I’d like to say that the mix of Egyptian mythology with urban fantasy is quite cool. Glass vividly describes the magic and mythology of her world (especially well-drawn is that Kira’s inherent magic manifests as a blue light when she extends her “extrasense” toward someone). It’s also really nice to see an historical background (in this case, Ancient Egypt and Nubia) that doesn’t involve the Usual Default European Setting. Yes, this is paranormal romance (at any rate, the African-American romance shelf at Walmart is where I found it), but it works just fine as urban fantasy that happens to have a romance in it. If you’re looking for a tough, ass-kicking heroine and you’re tired of blonde Buffy clones, check it out.
You can find Shadow Blade on Amazon.com.