In anticipation of Strange Fate FINALLY coming out, I’ve been re-reading the Nightworld series by LJ Smith. Initially I was disappointed. I remembered the series as populated by strong, vaguely feminist female narrators. While this remains true, I didn’t remember the way sexuality is policed (the dangerous female characters are all slinkily sexy, and the goodies are all pretty in less sexy ways — prettiness and sexy are used to demarcate the differences between innocence/goodness and immorality/badness) and the fetishization of whiteness (that comes up a lot in urban fantasy).
This last omnibus, which collects Huntress, Black Dawn, and Witchlight, handily addressed all these issues. First, each of the narrators emerges as an adult female character in a leadership position. These are not coming of age stories, which I found delightfully refreshing. They are falling in love/learning to trust stories, all facilitated by the soulmate principle, the idea that there’s one true love for each individual. The soulmate principle had disappeared for a while, but like the other old powers, including the various goddesses, bloodlines, and the dragons, it’s come back. The soulmate principle’s revitilization has created a series of unlikely couples who have been meeting across the boundaries between the Night World and the human world.These couples’ destinies are bound to the outcome of the upcoming apocalyptic battle between these two worlds.
The earlier books mostly did set up work. Through the various couples’ struggles to stay together, the reader learned about the rules of the Nightworld, the prophecies associated with the Apocalypse, and the existence of Circle Daybreak, the motley crew preparing the defend the world against the massed forces of darkness.
It’s in these last three novels that the pay off begins. We finally meet some of the movers and shakers of Circle Daybreak, learn who and what the Wild Powers are, and begin to get a sense of the baddies’ forces. Moreover, we meet the foot-soldiers of the side of Light. The young women described in these stories all powerful leaders in Circle Daybreak, with a sense of their own capabilities, but are not necessarily destined to save the world. Also, they’re not presented as being innately awesome — they struggle to problem solve, and to use their talents as effectively as possible.
Huntress focuses on Jez, the half-vampire/half-human descendant of Hunter Redfern (the biggest baddie of the bad ass vampires). Upon discovering her half-human heritage, she struggles to make up for the crimes she committed against humanity as a vampire, and to find and protect the little human girl who could very well be the first Wild Power. Along the way, she’s forced to confront her feelings about her mixed heritage, her human family, and Morgead, the full vampire who has been like a brother to her.
Black Dawn focuses on Maggie, whose brother falls in love with a witch and needs some rescuing. Maggie, in trying to confront that witch, gets kidnapped and taken to a stronghold of vampires. There, she discovers that she’s been spoken of in prophecy — she might be able to save the human slaves. What I especially liked about this story is that the soulmate Maggie finds in this land of vampires is fairly irrelevant to the story. While he’s crucial to the plot (like the biblical Esther, Maggie needs his power to save her people) the story is mostly centered on the hard work Maggie does to earn the trust of her friends and the other humans in the valley. Also: I like that one of the rulers of the good witches is black.
Witchlight includes my favorite character, Raksha, a panther shapeshifter whose sense of obligation to Circle Daybreak is actually tied up into her own self-hatred. This is actually a really complex, realistic construction of the kind of loyalties at play within this world, since both Raksha and Jez are tied to Circle Daybreak out of guilt, a sense of justice and honor, and fear of their “predatory” natures. What’s cool about this is that Raksha does not let her intense feelings of self-disgust towards her animalistic self cloud her to its usefulness. She uses her panther self and her augmented shapeshifter senses to guard the girl who may be the most powerful Wild Power of them all, even though she’s fallen in love with that girl’s betrothed.
I cannot WAIT to read Strange Fate. The short stories archived on LJ Smith’s website are a cruel tease.