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Vigil by Angela Slatter

A review by Nalini Haynes

Verity Fassbinder is a halfling: she’s half human and half Weyrd (fae). Her father was a kinderfresser, a man who killed human children to harvest them for nefarious purposes. After Verity’s father was caught, imprisoned and killed, her human grandparents raised her. The sins of the father are visited upon the children, especially when the child feels guilty; Verity keeps vigil over her hometown of Brisbane, Australia, as recompense.

Now children are going missing; another kinderfresser may be at work. Then a siren (winged woman) is murdered. Verity is called in as a consultant to the human police force in the hopes of capturing the killer and keeping the Weyrd secret.

Verity tangles with sirens, seers, Baba Yaga and many other faery creatures; Angela Slatter is, after all, a Doctor of Faery Tales. And a Master but, well, we all know who wins between the Master and the Doctor.

Slatter’s voice is unique. Many urban fantasies of this style — Jim Butcher’s the Dresden Files and Trent Jamieson’s Deathworks Trilogy to name but two — tend towards Columbo-style detective noir whereas Verity’s voice sounds more like a good friend.

Once past the prologue, the opening line of the first chapter is ‘The ribbon was judging me, I knew it.’ Verity is trying to wrap a gift and makes a mess of it. On the first page she becomes a relatable, likeable character with pre-existing relationships. However, she’s not a pretty-in-pink princess in high heels: Verity is more a James Cameron’s Dark Angel–type hero.

Descriptions in Vigil are evocative yet quirky: women in a photo wear shoulder pads that take up most of the space. 1980s anyone?

Through reading Vigil I learnt that libraries still have microfiche readers and that people living in Brisbane think it gets cold that far north. (Ha, ha, come and visit Canberra and enjoy our sub-zero winter nights.) The sprinkling of facts to be checked and the odd spelling of carcase expanded my horizons while entertaining.

Weyrd creatures hide in plain sight of humans, going to various lengths to conceal their differences. The sirens, for example, wear custom-made boots (because they’re obscenely wealthy, being the long-lived birds that they are) and they bind their wings like women’s feet were bound in China. Slatter is conscious of issues of difference: Verity ponders the sirens’ forms of concealment and the peculiar torture other Weyrd inflicted upon her father in order to conceal his boogeyman abilities. However, issues of difference and possible implications of disability aren’t a significant feature of Vigil. It’s possible these themes will be expanded upon in later Verity Fassbinder novels.

Vigil is an urban fantasy set in the here-and-now in Brisbane. It’s like Meg Mundell’s Black Glass in that there is a connection to place yet it could be anywhere. Although Mundell’s novel is definitively a future Melbourne to anyone who’s visited, Black Glass and Vigil can both be read as ‘everycity’ like Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman is ‘everyman’.

Except, of course, that Slatter mentions Brisbane’s flooding. This ‘everycity’ would need to be a place where expensive waterfront housing was flooded then abandoned, a problem that will become increasingly common in the years to come. It should be a simple matter for the US and European editions of Vigil to substitute other names for Brisbane. (International sales of books with ‘local’ settings or imagined settings are usually higher than sales of books with Australian settings.) As a reader, DIY.

Vigil melds a few storylines (because no woman ever has competing demands on her time), threading together ‘pre-existing’ relationships to establish Verity’s place in the world while taking us on a roller-coaster ride. I highly recommend Vigil for people who enjoy urban fantasy, contemporary faery tales and women telling stories.

The blurb on the back of my advanced review copy says it’s the FIRST in the Verity Fassbinder series, which is just as well. I want more. So. When is the next novel due out?


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9781784294021
Format: paperback, 400 pages
Imprint: Jo Fletcher Books (Hachette)

Vigil — a winged woman lies curled up, possibly fallen like a dead sparrow, between the title and author's name

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.



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