S.J. Day, Eve of Darkness (TOR, 2009)

Charlaine Harris, Katie Macalister, Kim Harrison . . . S.J. Day? There's a new chick in Urban Fantasy town, and with Eve of Darkness, she makes a provocative, compelling arrival.

Eve of Darkness is the first of the Marked series of urban fantasy novels. Though S.J. Day is fresh on the scene, her other pen names (writing in mainly the romance genre) have been around a bit longer. So it's no surprise that her experience has taught her to craft an intriguing mythology for this new series.

Eve Hollis is a gal who just wants a job. But her interview with a huge corporation gets canceled, and to top things off she ends up unexpectedly having hot stranger sex in the stairwell. The stairwell with security cameras. Oh, but that's not the worst part. The worst part is the guy she hooks up with leaves her with a brand on her arm: the mark of Cain. Yeah, like From The Bible Cain. Eve had fallen in love with "Alec" Cain years before, and his brother Adam "Reed" decides to take his revenge by catching Eve in the stairwell and, by marking her, dooming her to track down and kill demons and their ilk (called Infernals) until her sins have been atoned for. Which isn't exactly a picnic, but even worse when Eve finds out that she can't go around killing bad guys anytime she sees them, she has to wait for word from Above. But Infermals don't exactly play by the rules.

Urban fantasy gets a bad rep from many genre readers, most of whom dismiss these types of stories as romance spinoffs or erotica with a plot. I happen to like erotica when it's done well, and S.J. Day does it well. This isn't your typical "Plot, what plot?" storyline, with lots of badly written sex and no real story to speak of. The world Eve lives in is complicated, has rules that sometimes don't make sense, and people get hurt. Taking biblical stories and spinning them into even more descriptive mythology works here, and the angels, archangels and demon spawn all have their own axes to grind. The lines of good and evil are blurry, with Eve in the middle trying to figure out how to stay alive. The point-of-view shifts from Eve to Alec or Reed from time to time, and what could be pure wish fulfillment on the part of the author is instead a fascinating look at how the heavenly host all get along . . . or don't, in most instances.

Do I have some issues with this novel? Sure. While the opening chapter is a fun, rip-roaringly violent bloodbath of an introduction, I was really thankful that the second chapter backtracked and started things from the beginning. The final chapter ends in such a way that I went back to re-read the first chapter to get a better picture on how this particular part of the series ends. Once I got into things it wasn't a problem, but at first I went online to check if I'd missed a book in the series. Eve's ethnicity -- Asian by way of Japan, if Eve's mother Miyoko's name is any indication -- isn't fully disclosed until several chapters into things. The cover art shows someone of apparently mixed heritage (always a good thing, in my humble yet biased opinion), but it would be nicer if there was a fully fleshed-out character right out of the gate to hang the imagination on.

Speaking of art, this is a series that just begs for fan art. Maybe that's just because I'd love to see it, but in truth a series about angels, archangels, demon spawn and the humans fated to hunt down the bad guys even gets my all-but-nonexistent artistic juices flowing. Meanwhile, the cover art by Gordon Crabb points imaginations in the right direction with his detailed, step-off-the-page illustrations. I'd love to see more, different illustrations on the back cover, and hopefully with the finished proofs they're only a heartbeat away.

Just an urban fantasy? Well, yeah. But why does that have to be such a negative to so many readers? Eve of Darkness is an example of urban fantasy done well: characters you care about, a mythology that is easy to understand yet full of possibilities and smokin' hot erotica. Here's hoping Eve doesn't work off her Mark anytime soon.

[Denise Dutton]

For those interested in where Day is going from here, more information can be found on her Web site.