James A. Hetley, Dragon's Teeth (Ace, 2006)

The backwoods of Maine are a breeding ground for the strange and the unusual. Case in point: the town of Stonefort, home to two uniquely powerful clans. The Haskells are witches, dedicated to protecting women and children from the dangers of the world, healing them of old wounds and hidden hurts. The Morgans are selkies, seal-blooded shapeshifters who serve an ancient entity known only as the Dragon. Applying their talents as thieves and pirates, the Morgans are almost fanatically fond of their privacy. Together, these two families, united by uneasy ties of family, loyalty and shared interests, have worked together to keep their small hometown as safe as possible. Unfortunately, not all of their problems are easily disposed of.

Some time has passed since the Morgan-Haskell alliance defeated a Peruvian sorcerer and his attempt to steal their powers. Caroline, who's both Haskell and Morgan, has gone back to grad school while she tries to figure out what she wants for her future. Gary, the most recent Morgan to come into his powers and responsibilities, has gone off to college, where his new love interest is making his life even more exciting. Dan and Ben, the elder Morgans, both officially dead to the world, pursue their own interests. Alice Haskell and her new lover Kate Rowley struggle with their relationship as they recover from wounds received months ago. And so the stage is set for a resurgence of trouble.

A dead girl is seen walking in Stonefort once again, even as plastic-wrapped corpses are left in places important to the Haskells and Morgans. Activity is spotted in the supposedly vacant Pratt home. Ancient relics stir with a life of their own. And slowly, the two clans come together to work against a common foe, even as they battle their distrust of one another. As things race towards a perilous climax, secrets will be revealed, power will be earned, and trust will be challenged. All in a day for the guardians of Stonefort.

I absolutely adore this series so far. The mixture of characters makes for a great tapestry of strained interactions against the magical backdrop of a haunted Maine and a hazy Southwest. The plot is almost secondary compared to the variety of character arcs that dominate Dragon's Teeth, and in truth, I was more interested in how the assorted characters dealt with one another than with how they handled their common foe. Hetley really shines in how well he makes me believe in his protagonists. 

As much fun as it is to watch the paranoid, ever-cautious Morgans go to work with their doctrines of "overwhelming force" and "cover your ass," and to watch Alice Haskell get her way through the subtlest of threats and goodwill, I was captivated by a new character: Jane White. Gary's new girlfriend is a fascinating, multi-dimensional person whose backstory unfolds to review all sorts of mundane horrors. To put it bluntly, though, she's a trip, and easily one of the most interesting and sympathetic characters I've seen in a while. I found myself paging ahead just to see what would happen with her and Gary, to find out more about her. I certainly hope we see more of her in future books in this series.

Dragon's Teeth, like Dragon's Eye before it, is urban fantasy infused with a certain "anything goes" small-town, backwoods atmosphere. I can very easily believe that strange things and magical clans inhabit places off the beaten path, such as the wilds of Maine, and Hetley brings that feeling to life here. It's clear to me that he's improving with each new book, and in this series, he really shines. I'll admit that, as mentioned, the "antagonist" plot does seem a little weak in comparison to the character arcs, and the climax comes off as a little rushed and over before you realize it, but those are relatively minor quibbles when placed in relation to the book's other strengths. I'd happily recommend this series to urban fantasy readers.

[Michael M. Jones]