The Sarah Beauhall books by J.A. Pitts are one of those few series that I will actually break down and order online when I know a new book is available. I ordered Night Terrors (Urban Fantasy 347 pages) by J.A. Pitts and it arrived yesterday. After work and homework, I finished it today.
“Magic has a cost. Sarah Beauhall, blacksmith and dragon slayer doesn’t know just how high. Her lover, Katie Cornett, elementary school teacher and bard, has finally been overwhelmed by this accumulating taint. Attempting to discover news of her long missing parents, Katie dabbles with forces beyond her reckoning and unleashes a cataclysmic shockwave of magic that ripples out across the Pacific Northwest. In the wake of this catastrophe, Sarah finds herself embarking on a quest to unravel the mysteries that plague those closest to her. Here she forays into the Sideways, a world of crystalline eaters and malevolent spirits who exist only to hunt and to consume. This barrier zone lies beyond the safety of dreams and the sanity of the waking world. Night after night Sarah finds herself succumbing to the forgetfulness of the dreamlands while delving beyond the hidden paths. Here she pierces the membrane, going from crystalline landscapes into the wild lands and lost worlds far beyond the great sea of dreams. When the spirit of a long dead murderer – known only as the Bowler Hat man – begins to gather an army in the forgotten lands, Sarah discovers that more than eaters and feeders pursue her. If only she could recall who she was and what she sought.”
I think that this series is pretty close to being my favorite urban fantasy series. None of the characters are promiscuous in the sense that they sleep with whomever they feel like just because it’s a fun thing to do. Some of the urban fantasy I’ve seen out there deals extensively with sexual triangles and the main characters especially seem to sleep with just about anyone. This book, and the books previous to it in the series, focus more on the concepts of family and caring about people because they’re part of your family, even if that family is chosen instead of born.
This series continues to do a great job of making me homesick by being completely accurate about everything in the Pacific Northwest. I keep thinking that someday I’ll be able to live back on the correct coast and have a more creative life than what I have now. Until that time comes, I will continue to relish books such as this that represent my home in such a vivid way that it makes me homesick.
The characters are human and they make human mistakes, as well as having human lives with jobs, bills, and other things that must be managed in day-to-day life. After an entire semester of reading mystery books and looking for ticking clocks, this book felt all the more realistic for having a storyline that actually made sense. This book, and the others in the series, take time. All of the events don’t take place in the span of a short amount of time. The characters are given time to grow and the lengthened time also shows more character development because it’s really hard to sit around and watch someone you love deteriorate. This book definitely addresses how hard things are when there doesn’t seem to be a quick and easy solution to something, like not having anyone or anything to fight.
I absolutely enjoy the world building. I think the settings are done fantastically and I think that the dragons and all the other different, non-human stakeholders are set up in believable ways. Black Briar adopts two baby trolls in the last book, Frick and Frack, and Sarah picks up a kobold as a smith partner. The dragons are both unique and familiar to most who read fantasy, which provides a balanced approach to introducing “standard” tropes with new twists. And the mythology is really interesting.
Oddly, one of the things that I’m finding slightly frustrating with this series is that it seems to me as though every single character has to link up with someone romantically and while the story has a number of non-standard relationships, most of the characters except for the non-human ones seem to be pairing off with other tropes. The thoughtful man raised in a monastery is intrigued by the mysterious witch who works for a dragon. The large fighter pairs off with the disturbed metalsmith so he can protect her. The woman who was abused and tortured into an evil magical relationship in the last book has two small younglings to take care of. Even the main character and her girlfriend have a small human to look after. It feels a lot like every character in this book has to have some sort of “standard” family relationship in order to be complete and whole; either a romantic/sexual partnership or a parental relationship. There are those characters who do not have a romantic/sexual relationship, but they still partially fill a parental role of sorts and are not given much time in the story, which does make sense because this isn’t their story.
So there are several ways for me to look at this, since I just spent an entire paragraph discussing how much relationships like this bother me. The first way I could look at it is that there are strong love themes throughout the series. Katie clearly loves her brother, Jimmy. Sarah clearly loves her mentor Julie. Bub and Jai Li clearly love Frick and Frack and all the other Black Briar folks. Jai Li clearly loves everyone and has some fascinating talents, including making everyone feel better. Skella and Unun clearly love Gletts. There is a lot of positive, family-style love and bonding in this series and a lot of really great examples of friendship. And I am a total proponent of all of those portrayals. I get Gunther and Anezka because that was established in the last book and made a bit of sense. I guess it just bothers me that Stuart and Qindra had to have sexual interests in this book because both of them are strong enough on their own to not have this sort of interaction. Not every book has to have a brand new sexual interest. I’m not sure if this is the asexual part of me being continuously rejected by modern views on what a relationship looks like or if this is me having some sort of underlying frustration with sexual relationships being overloaded in most entertainment venues. Honestly, I did like the book, I just felt like having Stuart and Qindra developing sexual interests in this book was just a step too far.
Overall, I’d say this book is a high three in my rating scheme. I’m glad I own it, I’m likely to read it again in the future, and I will definitely continue reading the rest of the series when new books come out.