Good-hearted advocate of vampire rights negotiates the mean streets of 1920s Manhattan.
Johnson (Racing The Dark, 2007, etc.) takes a break from speculative fiction for young adults in this first volume of a projected series that populates an alternate world with some colorful characters and clever ideas. The author imagines jazz-age New York as a city in which vampires and other supernatural denizens stalk the same streets as entertainers like Josephine Baker or the corrupt politicians of Tammany Hall. Our narrator is feisty Zephyr Hollis, daughter of a famous monster-hunter, who has reinvented herself in the city as a social organizer and teacher. Zephyr preaches tolerance of nonhumans but carries a silver switchblade to protect herself from the nightlife, despite a natural immunity to vampires. Among her interesting companions are ambitious tabloid reporter Lily Harding, progressive activist Iris Tomkins and, most dangerously, Amir the Djinn, a genie whose interest in Zephyr sums her up nicely. “You are a bit of a contradiction, aren’t you?” he says. “A wholesome Montanan girl comes to the city, dabbles in demon hunting and then reinvents herself as a martyr to the poor and disenfranchised?” Before long Zephyr is tracking a newly turned vampire child and reluctantly helping Amir hunt down Rinaldo Sanguinetti, the vampire boss of Little Italy, whose gang of “Turn Boys” terrorizes the streets. Adding to the tension is a new phenomenon dubbed the “Faustian Nightmare,” an onslaught of vampires addicted to a vicious new street drug. Johnson’s lively narrative has some faults. Anachronistic contemporary language occasionally belies the ’20s setting. Laurell K. Hamilton’s books (Incubus Dreams, 2004, etc.) are far racier, while Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt series (Half the Blood of Brooklyn, 2007, etc.) has more grit. Nevertheless, the inventive, reasonably well-researched setting and obvious historical parallels mostly work to the novel’s advantage.
A bit jumbled, but entertaining and potentially a good start for a series offering a different take on the undead craze.