‘Vigil’ – Verity Fassbinder #1 by Angela Slatter – a great start to an Urban Fantasy trilogy

Angela Slatter is one of those How did I not know about her earlier? writers that it’s always a pleasure to find because I now have her whole back catalogue to feast on.

Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.

A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.

I looked Angela Slatter up after reading Wanda Pedersen’s review of Slatter’s All The Murmuring Bones. I saw that Angela Slatter’s debut novel Vigil was nominated for the 2017 Locus Award for Best First Novel and I decided to start there. I’m glad I did because now I have new Urban Fantasy trilogy to dive into this summer.

Vigil introduces us to the Weyrd community of modern-day Brisbane, all those creatures of myth and nightmare from around the world who gave humans a reason to be afraid of the dark, who, over the past two centuries, sought refuge in Brisbane to escape the threats of whatever ‘old country’ they’d left behind. They stay mostly hidden from human eyes by disguising their physical shape behind a glamour (humans tend to find claws, wings, tails and fangs tend disturbing in creatures that talk, especially when the creatures view humans as snack food) and by giving up some of the old ways, like hunting and killing the humans who they share the city with. The Council enforces the suppression of the old ways, with limited unofficial cooperation from the local authorities.

If things start to get out of hand, they call in Verity Fassbinder. Half Weyrd, half human, Verity is best placed to walk the line between the Wyrd and the Human communities without being fully accepted by either She has no special powers beyond being extraordinarily strong but she is an obsessive, tenacious investigator/enforcer who will do whatever it takes to find and stop the bad guys. Not surprisingly, she has almost no friends, has lots and lots of enemies and she gets injured a lot.

‘Vigil’ is structured around Verity’s investigations of several problems that may or may not be related: street kids going missing in large numbers, winged beings with crushed hearts falling from the sky, a strange swirling entity sweeping through the streets and swallowing anyone it touches and rumours of a supernatural plot to ‘Break The Sky’. As Verity investigates these problems, we get a tour of Weyrd Brisbane and come to understand Verity’s backstory.

The pace is fast, the violence is frequent and the body count is high but there’s more to this book than action. There’s a lot about difference and exclusion and privilege and what it takes to make a new start. Verity is not soft and fluffy but she’s not a stormtrooper either. She’s a sort of PI to the Wyrd who is also willing to mete out justice to those she thinks deserve it.

I had a lot of fun with this book. The mysteries were well-crafted and skilfully revealed. The Weyrd, while not being entirely new, felt both fresh and plausible and Verity was an appealing mix of grit, sass, compassion and vulnerability. The supporting cast was well-drawn and the foundations have been laid for a good series. I’m already looking forward to the next book, Corpselight.

Angela Slatter is an Australian Speculative Fiction writer based out of Brisbane.

She has published five novels: The Verity Fassbinder trilogy Vigil (2016), Corpselight (2017) and Restoration (2018) plus two gothic novels All The Murmuring Bones (2021) and The Path Of Thorns (2022)

She has also published ten collections of short stories.

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