A long time ago I read a short story by Angela Slatter called “Brisneyland by Night” in an anthology called Sprawl. In my review, I mentioned that I felt that Slatter had just touched on a much wider world. Well, it seems I wasn’t the only person to feel that way, because Slatter has expanded the story into a full length novel.
Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds. The daughter of one human and one Weyrd parent, she has very little power herself, but does claim unusual strength – and the ability to walk between us and the other – as a couple of her talents. As such a rarity, she is charged with keeping the peace between both races, and ensuring the Weyrd remain hidden from us.
But now Sirens are dying, illegal wine made from the tears of human children is for sale – and in the hands of those Weyrd who hold with the old ways – and someone has released an unknown and terrifyingly destructive force on the streets of Brisbane.
And Verity must investigate – or risk ancient forces carving our world apart.
I really enjoyed the short story that inspired the novel, and that enjoyment has extended to the novel as a whole. I have a soft spot for urban fantasy (indeed, my own novel length manuscript borrows a lot from urban fantasy tropes), and I was very taken with the Australian setting for Vigil (even if it was Brisbane).
The protagonist, Verity, is a cranky private eye that straddles the world of normal humans (the Normal) and the supernatural community (the Weyrd). The Weyrd are portrayed as immigrants, people who have fled the old-country to find a new life on the other side of the world. I liked the matchup with the general makeup of Australian society – we are, after all, a society based around immigration. The Weyrd society seemed based primarily on European mythology, it did make me wonder about whether Asian and other influences might make their way into future books in the series.
The plot consists of a series of mysteries that are mostly interconnected. The “joins” between the original short story and the rest of the novel are mostly seamless – I don’t think you’d notice at all if the novel was your first exposure. I enjoyed the way the plot moved between the different strands, it gave a sense of the broader world and the way the supernatural elements of it work.
The pacing was good, with several set pieces that moved very quickly. While physical action isn’t Verity’s first choice of problem solving technique, there was sufficient confrontations to keep even the most die hard action fan satisfied.
The characters are very well realised for the most part and very sympathetically drawn. It was an interesting approach to the romantic subplot – the boyfriend is very much in the background, and I must admit I struggled a bit to feel the strength of the relationship (beyond Verity telling us on many occasions how much she liked him). This made the section of the novel where he was in danger slightly less impactful then it might have otherwise been.
Having said that, Slatter has a knack for drawing very substantive feeling secondary characters with a remarkable economy. Characters like the Norn sisters were quite vividly brought to life with very little page time.
Slatter has won many awards for her writing, and with good reason. On a sentence by sentence level the prose is excellent, and Slatter does a great job in creating a sense of place around Brisbane.
All up Vigil is an excellent novel, and with two more novels in the series planned, I’m looking forward to many more adventures with Verity Fassbinder. Highly recommended.
I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.
This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.