Book cover: Best Left in the ShadowsAlys trades in secrets. Beholden to no-one, she’s respected by Lowside criminals and handy in a dirty fight. Her former lover Dax, a blue-blooded magistrate, is drawn back to Lowside when a noble girl is found dead on the docks. Can they set aside their past to hunt down the killer?

First things first: how awesome is that cover? I’m not big on saucy fantasy heroine art, but… damn. The detailing here is just fabulous – the over-long fringe that clearly gets in her eyes, and the little braid that draws attention to her neck. It’s not hard to see why Dax hasn’t really got over her, and that’s without the artist including the scythe she carries around.

Don’t mess with Alys. She’s every bit as capable with her weapons as Elinor, and far less likely to act with honour. My favourite scene saw her facing off against a Razor – who we’ve long-since learned to respect and fear – and she barely broke stride. The street crims know her name, and everyone gives her the time of day. She’s a great heroine, although I’d like to see her pushed to her limits.

Dax, by contrast, is a bit of a basket case. He’s repressing flickers of old passion and bruises of past hurts (which it sounds like he partly brought down on himself), but he’s got a job to do – not least because he thinks it’s his fault poor Lydia Ashdown is dead.

I enjoyed the interaction between the former lovers, but (me not being big on romance) thankfully their background is mostly an excuse for some narrative tension. The focus here is the colourful Lowside underworld. This is our first glimpse of capital city Resa, and it’s not pretty. Knife gangs, crime lords, madams, gamblers, thugs – Alys lives on the mean streets, and Lydia had no business here. I’m assuming we’ll see Highside in Faith and Moonlight, rounding out our view of Aedaron, but in the meantime we get a good sense of the second district.

The novella was good as far as it went: it’s difficult to tell a satisfying crime narrative in short form as there’s little elbow-room for twists and turns. As usual, it’s surprising in retrospect how much Gelineau & King managed to squeeze in (and the scenes with the Leather Aprons certainly made me shudder), but it all felt a little too easy. This is partly down to Alys’s competence, but I look forward to a more challenging ride in her next outing.

 

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Best Left in the Shadows and the other first instalments in the Echoes of the Ascended (A Reaper of Stone, Rend the Dark, Faith and Moonlight) are available now. Civil Blood – the sequel to Best Left in the Shadows – is due out mid April 2016.

I received a copy of Best Left in the Shadows from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

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