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Deadtown by Nancy Holzner
Cover Artist: Don Sipley
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441018130
Date: 29 December 2009 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Victory Vaughn is a shapeshifter and demon hunter, working in Boston's Deadtown. The job is dangerous enough, but now Vicky faces a monster that has battled her family for generations--and it is trapped inside a magical shield around Boston.

Worse yet, she has to deal with an amoral scientist and a political firestorm, all erupting around Halloween.

In Deadtown, author Nancy Holzner creates a heroine and setting that are both instantly memorable and packed with story potential for years to come. Victory Vaughn is a Cerdorrion--descended from a line of female Welsh shapeshifters (who lose their ability after having a child). But her job is that of hunting down and killing demons, from the dream-haunting Drudes and devastating Eidolons up to the horrifying Hellions themselves.

One such Hellion, Difethwr the Destroyer, has come to Boston. Difethwr is the bane of Vicky's family, having killed a beloved family member and scarred Vicky with his hellfire. Now, it seems that the Hellion is tracking down those Vicky has helped--but why?

Things might be simpler for Vicky if her love life weren't suddenly complicated. Although she has a steady boyfriend in Kane, a werewolf who's also an activist on behalf of Paranormal Americans (PAs), she's strongly attracted to police detective Costello. Considering he's investigating the murder of some of Vicky's clients, that might be a conflict of interest for both of them...

On top of it all, Vicky is troubled by her sister Gwen's fear that the Cerdorrion legacy will pass to her own teenage daughter--fears that an amoral biogeneticist intends to exploit.

To solve her problems, Vicky will have to deal with a scar-faced criminal, a small army of gun-toting thugs, a mysterious sorcerer who's pulling demonic strings, and a reckless zombie apprentice. She's going to need all the skills her iron-willed Aunt Mab drilled into her, 'cause this will be the challenge of a lifetime.

Deadtown has some new and interesting things to bring to the urban fantasy table. As a heroine, Vicky fits the storytelling frame: she's strong, resourceful, romantically conflicted and a bit anti-authoritarian. Her shapeshifting is handled in an intriguing manner--we get to experience her thoughts while shifted, which is well written by Holzner--though it is less important to the story than others wherein the heroine has unusual abilities.

Her supporting cast in this story is good as well. Not many stories deal with political activism in as bare-knuckles a fashion as this tale, wherein Kane (who's also an attorney) works to create a commercial in opposition to a PA-hating gubernatorial candidate...only to have it backfire spectacularly. In the age of YouTube, this sort of fiasco (especially when it involves zombies, vampires and hapless bystanders) is black comedy gold.

Vicky's friend and roommate Juliet is likewise interesting, with a claim to a very different kind of immortality, and her sister Gwen's family offers some downtime with a family whose lives don't revolve around demons and killing. This makes for a nice contrast, even when they do get involved (too deeply) in Vicky's world.

Deadtown will appeal to urban fantasy readers who like a taste of the new. Here's to sequels that explore Vicky's Welsh folklore origins, as well as expanding the cosmology of her world. Holzner has created a big canvas for adventures, so it'll be rewarding to see that canvas filled in, book by book.

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