by Jana Oliver, fantasy (2011)
Macmillan, £6.99, ISBN 978-0-330-51947-2
I feel like I need a cigarette after finishing Jana Oliver's big press debut effort Forsaken, and I don't smoke. This book is released in the USA as The Demon Trapper's Daughter, by the way. Back to this book, it's... wow. I mean, by the last page, I am out of breath because it has been a fabulous ride through hell and back.
Set in 2018, the story shows a near dystopic future that is comparable to the long-canceled TV series Dark Angel, where the greedy corporations are in control while the ordinary folks try to eke a living. Oh, and we have the occasional demons running amok. Fortunately, there are Trappers, people who are trained to capture these demons using a quirky mix of common household containers, Holy Water, and firepower, as well as the Hunters, more serious folks who deal with really nasty cases of demons gone wild.
Our heroine Riley Blackthorne is seventeen. She lives with her father Paul in a small but cozy apartment, just the two of them after her mother died of cancer. They struggle to make ends meet, as the medical bills for Riley's mother still need to be paid along with other bills. Fortunately, Paul Blackthorne is a Demon Trapper with a good track record and reputation, and his nightly hunts yield some money - not much, but enough to go by month by month. Riley adores her father and yearns to follow his footsteps. In fact, she's an Apprentice Trapper - she has much to learn, but she is confident that she will get there one day.
Her world comes crashing down, however, when her father dies during a hunt shortly after the story opens. Forsaken, as an introduction to Ms Oliver's series The Demon Trappers, is a bittersweet story that chronicles Riley's attempts to stay sane and afloat as everything - from bill collectors to abusive mentors to demons to necromancers hoping to steal his father's corpse and reanimate it for profit - comes pressing down on her seventeen-year old shoulders. Fortunately for Riley, she has some support network in the form of Denver Beck, his father's portégé whom Riley initially disliked due to his closeness to her father, and Simon Adler, a sweet and gallant fellow Apprentice who becomes her rock when she needs strength to deal with the worst. Don't worry, this isn't a love triangle - at least, not at this stage of the story - as Beck's feelings for Riley seem more like a protective brother trying to get his act together for a younger sister. I can't vouch that things won't change in future books, however, so don't hold me to this.
This book isn't about romantic shenanigans, though. While Riley eventually gets very close with Simon, she is more concerned with trying to keep her father's body from necromancers, showing the Trappers Guild that she has what it takes, and finding the money to pay the bills and buy groceries. While Riley is out of her depths most of time, she's a typical teenage girl in that she feels that she doesn't need anybody's help or charity. Fortunately, Riley can back up her tough talk with some realistic kick-ass action on her part. There are blatant hints that she'd be a great Trapper one day, but her progress here is pretty realistic. There is no abrupt discovery of major powers to extricate her out of sticky situation - Riley has to work to get things done her way. While Riley has her seventeen-year old brat moments here, she comes off as a pretty realistic, vulnerable yet tough kid whom I can't help rooting for.
What really makes Forsaken work fantastically are the raw emotions that singe the pages. Riley's anguish and confusion after her father's death are painful to read, and therefore, her efforts to stay strong and sane make her really shine as a tough girl with recognizably human strengths and weaknesses. In addition to the strong heroine, the pacing is fantastic and the build up of the story has me at the edge of my seat.
If I have a complaint, it's the exciting denouement late in the story. It's a gripping way to end the story and get me biting my nails in trepidation, but still, it's a turn of event that comes out of the blue with an abruptness that has me scratching my head.
Still, that's a minor nitpick. Forsaken is a book that simply grabs me from the first page and refuses to let go until the last page, and even then, the euphoria of having read such a fast, entertaining, and solid story lingers for a while longer. Imagine my dismay when I realize that I have to actually wait for the next book to be published. It isn't every day that a book knocks me off my feet like this, but this book is it.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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