Splintered (Arcane Underworld)
by Jamie Schultz
Review by Katie Carmien
Roc Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451467454
Date: 07 July 2015 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Anna Ruiz and her crew of criminals-for-hire are in big trouble. After a job stealing from a demon-worshipping cult that went wrong, they're stuck working for untrustworthy wizard Enoch Sobell, a crime lord desperate to be immortal. Not only that, but Anna's best friend Karyn has been overwhelmed by her visions of the future. Anna will do anything to bring Karyn back to reality, but she has to do Sobell's bidding, too, and the crew's soon embroiled in a nasty kidnapping case involving Sobell's search for a demon who will extend his life.
Worse, a demon prince has gotten wind of Karyn's abilities, and it really wants an oracle under its thumb. With dark magic on every side and no one to trust, Anna and her friends are going to have a hard time getting out of this one alive--or at all.
Splintered is exciting, scary, and tightly plotted, but the real fascination in the characters--Anna's crew and their close relationships to each other are the backbone of the story. Anna's loyalty to Karyn, her love for Genevieve, and her friendship with Nail are all the most engaging parts of the story. The characters feel at their most real when they interact. Enoch Sobell is also an excellent villain, clever with believable motivations.
The fresh take on magic--connected to demons, with possession the ultimate endgame regardless of how careful the mage--is interesting and creepy. The descriptions of the demons are also visceral and frightening. While I felt there were a few too many scenes from the point of the view of the cultists set against Anna and her friends, the nonchalant tone they take towards such things as blood sacrifice and death added excellently to the creepy factor. And the description of Genevieve's once-human mentor was original and disgustingly scary without being over-the-top gory. For those who like a little (or a lot) of horror in their urban fantasy, this book more than delivers, and it does so without relying on tired old tropes.
However, Karyn felt underutilized--of course, caught up in visions of the future as she is, there's not much she can do, but the glimpses the readers get of her point of view are fascinating and not nearly long enough. A precognitive who's lost in time is such and interesting concept, but the book didn't make a lot of room for her. Of course, this is a series, and there's a clear setup for the next book--so hopefully there will be more Karyn then!
The other problem is that in some places the writing can feel somewhat stilted. All of the dialogue is excellent, but some actions are described in an almost robot way--this happened, that happened, Anna did thus and so. Luckily, this disappears during most magic and action sequences, so it can easily be ignored.
Splintered is a fun read that left me wanting the next book.