Monday 19 February 2018

Review: The Book of Secrets

The Book of Secrets The Book of Secrets by Melissa McShane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My thought process when I saw this book while browsing Netgalley went something like:

Hmm, set in a bookstore, that's a good start.

Hmm, sweet-but-competent-looking young woman on the cover, also good.

It's by Melissa McShane? Sold!

My experience so far with Melissa McShane is that she writes smooth prose with very few errors, and indeed this was the case. I'm starting to think of her as the other Lindsay Buroker, the one who, instead of ensemble casts with amusing banter, writes determined, sensible, capable young female protagonists dealing with whatever gets thrown at them (supernatural and otherwise).

I did feel with this one, though, that it was somehow lacking in intensity. It shouldn't have been: we have Lovecraftian invaders from another dimension threatening the world, after all, plus a complete n00b dealing with magical politics in the wake of the man who had just employed her hours earlier being murdered, leaving her to deal with suspicious police and a magical bookstore for which the manual has gone mysteriously missing. (Having more than once been in the position of taking on a challenging new job with no documentation, I identified with that part.) By taking over, she's stepped on the toes of another young woman who saw herself as the designated successor, and isn't being mature about it. And there's a hot, dangerous monster hunter who turns up regularly to save the heroine (though she then immediately does something sensible and effective to underline for us that this is not a damsel-in-distress scenario; I appreciated that).

The thing is, the invaders have been threatening the world for centuries, and they're not threatening it any more than usual; they're dangerous, they kill someone in front of the heroine and pursue her and attack her, but I never found them ice-in-my-veins terrifying, somehow. The magical politics is conducted relatively politely by people who are mostly nice and helpful. The hot monster hunter doesn't offer much encouragement to the heroine to suggest that he's attracted to her in turn and things could become steamy between them. The murderer is notable for absence from the plot most of the time; the urgency of solving the murder seems low, amid everything else that's going on. And a couple of sudden shifts of what had seemed like intractable positions in the rivalry subplot kind of defuse that situation.

I certainly didn't dislike it. The characters are appealing, the setting is well thought out, the infodumps are competently incorporated in educate-the-n00b conversations. I'd happily read a sequel. I just thought it could do with more urgency.

I received a copy from Netgalley for review.

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