Before the tears even dried in the corners of my eyes, I thought it best to record my very first impressions of Christina Henry’s BLACK HOWL, the emotional and third installment in her Black Wings novels. It was important to me to do so considering how struck I was by the ending.
I had high expectation for this book, as the last two were stellar in character and plot development. Henry has a knack for the unique and the strange, and she has a style that carries it off effortlessly. It is matter-of-fact in presentation and thus, you believe it even more, becoming much too ingrained in the lives of people who disappear when you close the book, or app in my case.
In the matter of excellence, the third book is no different, even if it has its own particular differences and the tiniest of pitfalls in the manner of a very full plot. Synopsis below.
Something is wrong with the souls of Chicago’s dead. Ghosts are walking the streets, and Agent of Death Madeline Black’s exasperating boss wants her to figure out why. And while work is bad enough, Maddy has a plethora of personal problems too. Now that Gabriel has been assigned as her thrall, their relationship has hit an impasse. At least her sleazy ex-fiance Nathaniel is out of the picture–or so she thinks…
Let me say this up front: I’m not going to tell you the story of this book. I want you to read it and I want to tell you why I liked it so much, but the story, what happens and how–that’s up to you to find out. But I strongly recommend that you do so.
Though I found the third book to lack the attention to history and lore that I found to be one of the best qualities of Henry’s Black Wings series, what was missing in history was supplemented with racing action (fight scenes with hundreds of demons, monstrously sized arachnids and the nephilim) and heart-rendering trauma (given everything you ever wanted only to have it torn away).
The plot twists are gut-wrenching at certain points and the multitude of chips being stacked against the winning team are ever-present, but with a main character like Maddy, you can’t lose hope. Not if she doesn’t. And she doesn’t. I am in awe of her spirit and the realism with which Henry portray it.
The pace of this book is quick (like the two before it), but in this cause it may be too quick for such a multi-layered plot. I found myself thinking it certainly could have been two books or a longer book at several points. That in no way detracts from the engagement that Henry wrings from her reader in each page. It’s one of the reason I keep and will continue to come back for more of this series.
As with the earlier books, Maddy is split too many ways, spread thin by her alliances, duties and her innate need to do good. It’s this need that drags her into the convoluted schemes of the Lucifer and Amarantha’s courts again. There she finds more disaster and treachery than ever before, particularly where J.B.’s (her boss, once-a-love-interest and begrudging ally) faerie mother is concerned.
Maddy has never tred lightly, but she storms this book and in her wake, she leaves a path of destruction that at the end of it all, when you tally up the losses, wasn’t nearly as far-reaching as it should have been. She takes her amalgamation of allies with her (mostly because they refused to listen to her orders despite designating her as their leader–which I found extremely annoying): Gabriel–love of Maddy’s life, thrall* to Lucifer’s court), J.B. (prince of the Fae court, regional manager of Death), Samiel (new to the family–Gabriel’s nephilim brother who is devastatingly endearing; I just wanted to hug him), Beezle (smart-ass, food junkie Gargoyle-guardian), and Jude (hater of all things Maddy and second to Alpha werewolf Wade; reveals a crazy secret about his past).
A powerful line up. And very strong-willed. So strong-willed in fact that I spent much of the earlier half of the book grinding my teeth every few pages from their blatant disregard of the authority that they lumped upon her. I know that she is stubborn, that she completely ignores all etiquette and good sense…a lot. But if she didn’t she would’t be alive. And neither would the people she cared for.
There are a few pinpoints of brightness in the novel (and I can’t get into much in fear of spoiling), but those sunspots are washed away on the darkness that permeates this installment. I read a review of the book that said that this was a light UF. I don’t see how. Yes, there are slap-stick moments (and pretty appropriately placed along with focus on those moments that’s greatly appreciated), but those smiles don’t negate the kidnappings, abductions, violent deaths and fights, losses and steady stream of dread.
I kinda sound like I’m trying to convince you that this will drop you in a dark hole and leave you. It won’t. But you will visit a dark, gritty place that Henry makes sparkle with the most captivating of light–like diamonds in the most lightless caves.
You’ll come back for me and it will haunt you once you’ve finished. And then you’ll wish for the next one, which is why I give BLACK HOWL an A+. And I know grades–I’m a teacher and a student.
Learn more about Christina Henry and her wonderful books here.
*less than lower court, less than a slave and still used as much