A jaded police investigator in a Victorian setting. His star struck young partner disillusioned at finding his hero a shell of the stories told about him. Petty crimes proving to be forbearers of something more sinister. A plucky child in danger proving to be the linchpin needed to solve the mystery. Darkwalker is the type of cozy mystery I most enjoy; quick pacing, a tight plot, and just enough supernatural to keep everything off balance.
Nicolas Lenoir is the aforementioned grizzled investigator. Prepare to dislike him from the start. He seems uninterested in cases, quick to snipe at his partner, and all too ready to get back to town hang out in a cozy social club. That he is a man of legend among his own force suggests there is a backstory we are not seeing which of course comes out in due time (though when it hits it proves to be one of the few confusing aspects of an otherwise solid story). Along with his partner Kody he is looking into a grave robbery in an outlying village. Kody is his opposite in every way. Young, athletic and a dead shot with a crossbow. He is also, thankfully, quite intelligent despite a bit of youthful brashness. It is good to see partners on a bit more equal footing than the norm. Though Lenoir is obviously the alpha, and Kody despises the man he has become, Kody is still allowed to proceed right past Lenoir’s occasional objections.
A nice genre mix-up is involved in Darkwalker. There is a mystery that stands as the core of the book. Typical piece the clues together and hope we are not too late stuff, but well written. It comes complete with a bit of ‘a friend is in deep trouble,’ which conveniently kicks Lenoir out of his lethargy. But this is also very much an urban fantasy; the faux-Victorian setting here proving that steampunk is not the only one who can own the conventions of the time. The fantasy aspects from the titular Darkwalker, an original creation that deserves his own page in the great big book of awesome supernatural creatures. The Darkwalker is a legend from an outcast group called the Adali who obviously proves to have a root in fact. His tie to Lenoir is a bit hazy but takes some incredible turns that caught this jaded reader by surprise.
I really enjoyed the setting of this tale; the creation of the Five Villages and their budding legal system especially. Already, despite phenomenal success in some cases, a jaded feeling is showing. As would be expected in a land with a noble class the law is there for certain people and not others. Certain people are untouchable at this point but that is something that Lenoir seems unwilling to allow to continue. Like a more serious version of Pratchett’s city guards Darkwalker runs a sub current (beneath all the other things it is working on of course) of a police forces still trying to find itself; its limits, and its potential.
I also was a bit fan of the Adali culture; a nomadic herding culture dealing with persecution with the five cities. I especially was a fan of the unique economy they used and the social implications of it. But if I worry about anything it comes from two years of conversing about speculative fiction with others; I know there are some questions to be asked with the only magic comes from a shamanistic dark skin ‘other’ people. I just hope the people of the Five Villages eventually show that they too have magical affinities at some point. I also had a few minor points that stayed confused in my eyes dealing with Lenoir’s earlier association with the Darkwalker but they were nothing the broke the flow of the tale.
Something cozy but a bit different. Urban fantasy in a secondary world. What is not to like, right?
Copy for review provided by publisher.