Title: The Thirteenth Shard (Section Thirteen #4)
Author: J. L. O’Faolain
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Amazon: Buy Link Genre: Fantasy/Mystery
Length: 214 pages
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Lloyd Meeker
Review Summary: An entertaining, imaginative romp with sea-hags, trolls, a shattered magical sword, a cult of vindictive half-blood fae, an exiled faerie prince, witches and more. Part of a series.
When a powerful witch is murdered by mundane means—with the killer leaving behind clues reminiscent of an old mortal folktale—the NYPD calls in Tuulois MacColewyn and the rest of Section Thirteen.
It’s been a while since Cole and his onetime partner, Corhagen, have worked together on a murder case, and sparks still linger between them despite Cole’s budding relationship with Inspector Joss Vallimun. As they struggle to put their past behind them and discover what happened to the witch, they unearth clues to similar murders. Murders that remind them of an old adversary in a case still unsolved.
When further evidence leads Cole and Corhagen to the shattered fragments of a mythical sword, it points to a cryptic clue about a prophecy involving a king. The revelation leaves Cole reeling and sets him up to make what could be the biggest mistake of his life….
Section Thirteen Series
Cole — Tuulois MacColewyn — is a full-blood fey of aristocratic lineage, banished to the mortal plane by Oberon, King of all Faerie. After working for a hundred years as a mob enforcer and more recently a consultant to NYPD on problems involving fae magic he is now a full time policeman assigned to Section Thirteen, the pariah department on which all cases involving the paranormal are dumped. He’s also recently become the lover of Inspector Joss Vallimun, Section Thirteen head, once human but elevated to immortality by the Goddess herself.
So begins The Thirteenth Shard, and what an engaging, fast-paced romp it is! J.L. O’Faolain has created a complex urban fantasy world with multiple human and non-human factions with well-orchestrated conflicting agendas. Combined they create a fine canvas for the story.
While the writing itself is uneven, O’Faolain shines when it comes to imagination and invention. His ideas animate the story, beginning with an orgy in a fae bar to the last great confrontation featuring a fairy tale house on chicken legs and all the betrayals and plot twists in between.
The characters are enjoyable to spend time with, but there was one character in the book that I wanted to get to know a lot better — under a park lies a multi-dimensional and evolving entity called the sithen, which has bonded with a sorcerer named Mal who was trapped in a book of spells for a long time. Mal is now the conscious interface of the sithen, and can create forests or kitchens in it at will. The sithen’s entrances move around, and it takes some skill to find the garage — literally and figuratively. Did I mention the writing overflows with imagination and invention?
Departmental politics add to the complexity the characters must navigate. But as complex as the story becomes, the book’s forward movement and pace is fluid and thoroughly enjoyable. O’Faolain is a natural storyteller, and his quirky, charming style shines throughout and carries the reader along regardless of speed-bumps in the writing.
A clash of moralities is a recurring theme in the book, coming to focus in Cole himself. Late in the book and with very good reason, he decides he’s become “soft” because of his long exposure to mortals: senses dulled, too complacent in his superiority that he can be duped. He decides he can’t afford to be constrained by human mores. How does that affect his future behavior? I’d read the next story just to find that out.
I enjoyed this story, and would have rated the book significantly higher but for the writing problems. POV strayed sometimes and left me confused. I hate having to go back to reread just to find out what’s actually going on. It makes me feel stupid. But my biggest complaint — and it probably isn’t as big a deal to many readers — was that the story is strewn with cliches that to my sensibilities detract from the story.
The rule I try to follow is that cliches are fine in dialogue if they reveal something about the speaker, but should be avoided in narrative. There are lots of them in the narrative description of this story. Lots. Who really can “make tracks” for an elevator, or “pour on the steam” when running after an enemy? “Watch someone like a hawk?” Enter a room, certain “the coast was clear?” My feeling is that a critique partner or an editor should have flagged those (and more) and insisted on their replacement.
As I say, cliche abuse may not be a deterrent to many readers. I hope not, because this book is truly a fun read. If you’re in the mood for an entertaining, imaginative urban fantasy with a well-developed plot, pick up The Thirteenth Shard.