Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Book Review: Undertow by Naomi Clark

About the author:
Naomi Clark lives in Cambridge and is a mild-mannered office worker by day, but a slightly crazed writer by night. She has a perfectly healthy obsession with giant sea creatures and a preference for vodka-based cocktails. When she's not writing, Naomi is probably either reading or watching 80's cartoon shows, and sometimes she manages to do all three at once.

My rating:
Good (7/10)

My review:

Undertow is the first novel in Naomi Clark’s Ethan Banning series, published by Ragnarok Publication. It’s a fast-paced and stylish mix of Urban Fantasy and Lovecraftian horror, with a hint of Supernatural (the show) in it. The setting is well-realised and authentic, and the characters are charming enough to win you over and keep you turning the pages. The novel’s most memorable feature? Mutt the Dog – hands down!

Undertow follows Private Investigator Ethan Banning as he struggles to find a way to rid himself of the demon possessing him. He has already tried everything from an old-fashioned exorcism through voodoo to witchcraft and nothing has helped. He’s desperate to stop the nightmares and the evil urges that fill him. 

Professor Benedict Walters thinks he can exorcise Ethan with clean living and ancient history, but he won’t do it for free. Ethan’s got to track down Heather, a missing colleague of Walters in the quaint and creepy seaside town of Beacon’s Point. It should be simple...but Heather may not want to be found.

Even if Ethan can crack the case, he’s still got to deal with a trainee necromancer, his own fading self-control, and an ancient entity that terrifies Ethan’s own demonic denizen…

To be perfectly honest, Undertow left me feeling a little conflicted. There’s a lot to enjoy in the novel – the writing, the mythology, the character interactions, all is top-notch. The main protagonist, Ethan, is a likeable character with a distinctive voice, and the relationship he shares with his dog, Mutt, is sure to make you feel all fuzzy inside, even if you’re a die-hard cats’ lover. 

Then there’s the Voice – the name Ethan uses for the demon possessing him. Naomi Clark has done a great job of making the demon both menacing and somewhat comical, with his constant taunts, insults and violent urges, all of which made me laugh on more than one occasion. (Okay, maybe I have a sadistic sense of humour, who knows?) Point is, the Voice has some of the best one-liners in the novel! In fact, at times I found myself wishing I could read a verbal sparring match between the Voice and True Blood’s Pam… Just for the giggles

Another highlight for me was the necromancer Gabriel Gravebane (not his real name, so don’t roll your eyes!) who pretty much plays Watson to Ethan’s unconventional Sherlock. The two develop a fast friendship and share a number of exciting adventures that will surely appeal to fans of Supernatural. A lot of the banter is classic Sam and Dean… Which surely is a good thing?

Characters aside, Naomi Clark has an excellent sense of humour. On more than one occasion while reading the novel, I found myself thinking, “Well, this sounds like H. P. Lovecraft” or “And here comes Cthulhu!” (My inner dialogue is lame like that, deal with it). Funnily enough, Ethan seems to think the same thing and even points it out, which I thought was brilliant. Call it a little ‘geek-out’ moment…

Two other things about Undertow I liked: the genuine description of Ethan’s struggle with his nicotine and alcohol addiction, and with trying to stay clean of both, and the fact that unlike most Urban Fantasy heroes he actually has a reason to say the dumb things he says. Let me explain: from time to time, the Voice would take over Ethan’s vocal cords and insult people, who he really shouldn't be messing with. Yes, just like Harry Dresden, and Anita Blake, and… Well, pretty much all the snarky, smartass protagonists in Urban Fantasy. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s always bothered me. Why would you deliberately provoke people into punching you? What happened with good old-fashioned self-preservation? The way I see it, Naomi Clark has found an excellent explanation: the demon did it!

Unfortunately, not everything about Undertow is perfect. For starters, the villain (or villains) is rather predictable and easy-to-guess, and some of the supporting characters could have used more ‘screen time’, so to speak. Also, I felt that the ending was somewhat rushed and came off as a bit of a letdown, after all the build-up throughout the novel.

To be perfectly honest, I have a couple of other issues with the last third of Undertow, but can’t really talk about them without giving away important plot points… Besides, since this is the first novel in a series, I'm willing to give Naomi Clark the benefit of the doubt and wait to see if some of my lingering questions won’t be answered in the second instalment. 

Bottom line is, I enjoyed reading Undertow and will definitely be checking out the next Ethan Banning novel, Descent. Naomi Clark is a talented writer and her world-building is vivid and complex, hinting at much bigger and scarier things to come. Both Ethan and Mutt are wonderful and exciting characters, and the Voice is sure to stay with you long after the final pages… Just make sure you don’t pay too much attention to whatever it is he’s whispering. It won’t end well…

Undertow by Naomi Clark is another great novel by Ragnarok Publications and a worthy edition to their ever-growing catalogue. To learn more, check out the publisher’s website and make sure to follow Naomi Clark on twitter.

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