Say what you will about Jacqueline Carey, but I will argue in her favour as a literary heavy-hitter until the cows come home and, if I’m feeling argumentative, I might argue with some cows, too. Yes, her Kushiel’s Legacy series is pretty sexy. And sure, the premise of her Phedre trilogy (the adventures of a courtesan-spy who is cursed to find sexual pleasure in pain) reaches Ed Wood levels of cheesiness. But Carey is such a master at what she does that she elevates what ought to be a guilty, smutty beach read into something more; her sophisticated prose, tightly woven plots, and incredibly intricate world-building instead create fantasy that is both brilliant and memorable.
Dark Currents is both of these things. It follows the misadventures of Daisy Johanssen, a self-described “reluctant hell-spawn” (on her father’s side) and liaison to Hel, the Norse goddess of death who rules over the functioning underworld of Daisy’s hometown of Pemkowet, Michigan. Her life is pushed into overdrive when a young man from a nearby college drowns, and the supernatural community is suspected. Daisy is asked to crack the case and teams up with her longtime crush, a sexy, in-the-closet werewolf. What follows is a rollicking, twisty ride that introduces the reader to an unnerving murder mystery, a spunky leading lady, and the unforgettable town of Pemkowet.
Carey is at her best when world-building, and Dark Currents reminds me of this again and again. Pemkowet houses the usual urban fantasy staples of vampires, werewolves and fairies, but also naiads, ice giants, brownies, ghouls, and a lamia. She even manages to throw in the great tree Yggdrasil (no easy feat on the shores of Lake Michigan). I find myself most intrigued by Carey’s depiction of ghouls, undead creatures who died at great heights of passion and were subsequently rejected from both heaven and hell. A little reminiscent of vampires, perhaps, but in a genre that is downright bloated with vampire fiction right now, I’m excited to see any fresh spin on the undead.
Daisy herself is a fun protagonist, and one I’m more than happy to share headspace with her for 358 pages. There are shades of Sookie Stackhouse to her: both are feisty, temperamental, and a little bit sweet. However, when it comes to Daisy, I think we’ve got more of a badass on our hands, here—I’m not sure that I could see Sookie strapping on a magic dagger to dispense the divine justice of Hel. Daisy also possesses near-boundless amounts of moxie, and it’s a good thing, too, since by the book’s climax she is running on little more than fumes, microwaved ramen, and a few inches of good scotch.
Dark Currents isn’t gritty, and it isn’t dark. Even when she introduces some very chilling twists, Carey maintains a mood that is sassy and fairly light. The resulting story is both well-crafted and insanely fun. This is the first book in Carey’s new Agent of Hel series, and I absolutely cannot wait to return to Pemkowet for book two.