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A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark Paperback – March 10, 2015
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About the Author
Harry Connolly's debut novel, CHILD OF FIRE, was listed to Publishers Weekly's Best 100 Novels of 2009. This is his tenth book.
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It leaves me wanting more and I hope I can find more books out there like this.
So, what did I like?
The characters. Marley and Al are a blast. Marley as the seen it all former hunter of the super natural. Al as her mundane nephew back from Afghanistan on a medical discharge. Also, the opposition. Because they live up to the old saw about the villains being heroes in their own heads. And I felt sympathy for a vampire and a werewolf.
The plot. Its fairly twisty, but not outrageously so.
The concepts. A sanctuary city for the supernatural. Vampire rest homes. The challenges of vampirism. How to deal with a werewolf.
I was a little worried, with the release scheduled so close after the Great Way Trilogy, that this book would be an afterthought — prolificness often fills me with a sense of dread in that regard. However, I'm pleased to say that nothing could be further from the case here. Having had the benefit of ripping my way through Connolly's oeuvre in a relatively short time, it's apparent that what he's doing here is a natural evolution of what he's been doing all along. The result is a book that simultaneously feels very much its own thing and a natural growth of what's come before, a spiritual successor to Twenty Palaces and The Great Way that is at the same time wholly unlike either.
The book is a delight from the first page to the last. If you're worried that a pacifist urban fantasy will inevitably be boring and unengaging, rest assured that a peaceful resolution is far more challenging than a violent one. Violence is direct; it gets things done, and done quickly. Peace requires subtlety, forethought, cleverness, and a healthy dose of outright chicanery. The book is also an urban fantasy mystery that takes the "mystery" part as more than an afterthought to be resolved deus ex machina in the last few pages. If it were merely character-driven, that would be enough, because the characters are wonderful, but there really is plenty of plot here, even without the casual body count endemic to the genre. In fact, the story succeeds so well that it makes the sarcastic-antihero-coldly-wading-through-the-corpses-of-his-enemies sort of urban fantasy feel lazy and uninteresting by comparison.
The characters, however, are definitely the best part. Connolly has a real talent for making even those with the tiniest parts to play feel well-rounded, fully realized, and intriguing, an ability he puts to great use as Marley and Albert go through a whirlwind grand tour of the supernatural. There may only be snippets of any given flavor of supernatural beastie, but a snippet goes a long way when the author has interesting things to say and interesting characters to say them with. Connolly cuts through the bulls*** at the heart of the mythology with a remarkable economy, focusing on the humanity and tragedy of each creature in a way that lays bare the flaws in our thinking about them.
And Marley, of course, is our guide for all of this. She understands and empathizes because she has bothered to learn. She is a phenomenal pacifist protagonist, full of both empathy and steel resolve in equal parts, not above bribery or trickery or threats to maintain the shaky peace she's built. Demographically, Marley is such an unlikely lead that you can't help but think she's a nose-thumbing at the genre prescriptivists who "helpfully" felt the need to diagnose the perceived flaws in Connolly's early work. It would be easy for such a character to fall comfortably into some sort of wise crone super-character trope, but she never does; she's remarkably human, vulnerable, and self-aware underneath her eccentricities and skill, and the moments where that humanity peeks through are among the best in the book.
For those critical of the Twenty Palaces books for their in media res approach to worldbuilding, you'll be pleased to note that Albert serves as our ingenue tourguide, asking many of the same expository questions we would in his shoes. For those who, like me, rather appreciated Twenty Palace's Ray Lilly's discomfort in a world he didn't fully understand, rest assured that the exposition that's here doesn't slow things down and leaves plenty unanswered, often in fact raising more questions than it answers. You get a sense of a much bigger, much more complicated world, but you never feel adrift or apart from it. It's the same sort of just-in-time exposition Connolly employed in The Great Way, and it really is expertly done. It also helps that Albert is well-developed enough to stand on his own, because, let's face it, Marley is going to upstage pretty much anyone you pair her with. Albert's development, complete with the stumbles and triumphs along the way, is a delight to read.
There are a few quibbles here and there. The copyediting isn't perfect, though it's rarely more than an occasional repeated or omitted word. Marley and Albert's investigation leads them to meet an enormous cast of side characters and I sometimes had to flip back a chapter or two to remind myself who one of the smaller players was. And the climax and resolution, while certainly enjoyable and unexpected, does leave a few threads of the plot in unresolved shambles.
All told, however, "A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark" is an astonishingly unique take on a genre that has a tendency to suffocate in its own formula, with novel and thoughtful takes on all of the established conventions and populated by memorable characters unlike any I've read before. It would be easy for such a book to come off like an experiment, a writer's exercise more than a reader's indulgence, but it's also a ripping good story well told. It is, by turns, smart, funny, thought-provoking, and touching, and remains engaging and fresh throughout.
I love this guy, I really do. Jim Butcher endorsed one of his books and I've been an addict ever since! Yes, he's that good and yes he deserves the praise and YES he puts a new spin on things that have been around for awhile which is why so many people have complained about THIS novel. I will note for the record that his other books, The Wooden Man Omnibus and Twenty Palaces have largely EARNED 5 star reviews, but "A Key…." is SO unique and so special that the average urban fantasy reader probably didn't really get it! In movie/TV terms think Mame (with Ros Russell) meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Because that's kind of what it really is…
What happens when Buffy finally "cleans up her town" and retires? What happens when she hits her 50's-60's and trouble pops back up again and even if she may not have the power at her disposal that she used to, she has to act like she does. Reminding EVERYONE that once dangerous is ALWAYS dangerous, but with fun and flare at the same time. No, she's not young and buff and no she's not cracking heads. But she's old enough and smart enough to use her knowledge along with what resources she has so she doesn't have to bash anything to kick some evil-ass anyway!
In this case, her sidekick is her nephew. Completely unaware of what she used to be or what is really "out there" still in the dark… or in the day as the case may be. Yes, you get vampires but even they are getting "older" and are not up to what they used to be. It doesn't make them any less dangerous but in a town (Seattle) where Buffy has forged a cease-fire, and managed to enforce it so she can pretty much retire, vampires get a pretty interesting set-up if they want to settle in "Buffy's" stomping grounds.
She may be older but she's wily and what she lacks in power she makes up for in knowledge and experience and she, along with her nephew who is getting the driver's seat to her "shotgun" (and the why's of that situation are as wildly creative as the rest of the book) who watches with increasing fascination as the world he thought he knew turns out to be something completely different. They are out to solve a murder. A murder with a dark purpose and even darker consequences should they fail to find and stop the culprit.
It's great fun, a fabulous notion to have an aging woman as a "superhero" albeit a retired one; and an ending that leaves hope for more to follow. I loved the story, the characters, the plot and mostly the notion that what you've learned over time can still be more than enough to take the fight to the bad guys and expect to win… especially when even the heroine herself has no idea how it's all going to turn out. It gives a new appreciation for "flying by the seat of your pants"!
Many who complained about the book did so because of the age of the female protagonist. I found her to be delightfully unique, incredibly observant and able to think on her feet faster than most people can rise to theirs. Make no mistake, the woman is a leader and has earned the right to command others to follow. HC is unconventional. He does UNCONVENTIONAL for a living. So if you're looking for the typical urban fantasy where the protagonist is hot, strong, tough and can take on anything… and comes with a cadre of associates who are all just as hot, tough and determined then this isn't the book for you. But if you appreciate lateral thinking and an author who likes to color outside the lines than this is a great Summer read (or Fall or Winter or Spring) and one that shouldn't be passed up because it isn't conventional. If you want conventional, there are literally thousands of other writers out there for you. HC isn't one of them and should never be compared to any of them in any case. A Key An Egg An Unfortunate Remark is fun, funny, suspenseful and just different enough to stand out in a crowd… and isn't that what we're all really looking for in our urban fantasy anyway? Besides which, what is possibly the most bizarre title in history has every single word included in the solution of the case! How cool is that?!
Read it with an open mind. But read it nonetheless. It's a quirky enough for anyone who is looking for something different from what everyone else is writing… and that may very well be what it's greatest problem is… Although why people would be unhappy with something so unique and so much fun is completely beyond me. But hey, find out for yourself. Form your own opinion… but you'll have to read the book to do it and I'm willing to bet you won't be disappointed.
Most recent customer reviews
The plot holds together so that the humor adds, rather than detracts, from the story.