In my head I heard the song "Killing Me Softly," while reading this novel. Not the Roberta Flack version, but the Fugees' version, with Wyclef and Pras yelling over the track. Maurice Broaddus killed me softly with his words, bastard made me cry. It was like someone kept peeling onions every time I turned a page. This whole series was amazing for me, mostly because it was so relevant and resonated.
I love Urban Fantasy, it's one of my favorite genres, but the descriptor Urban Fantasy is a bit of a misnomer in most cases. The stories are seldom very "urban", at least "urban" in the way the word is used to describe anything else in modern society. Some novels don't even take place in a city at all and are called Urban Fantasy. I think a better term would probably be Modern Fantasy. Anyway, this novel is "urban". It involves city dwellers, the hood, the barrio, and the streets. It seems dark because it's so close to reality. Broaddus depicts the streets of Indianapolis in light few people ever see and does it masterfully. It's like The Wire with magic, or Menace II Society mixed with a touch of magical realism. Its misguided gangster youth bending the fabric of reality. If T.S. Elliot co-wrote the Once and Future King with David Simon this is what you have. Wights, swords, switchblades, dragons, redcaps, fey, zombies and crack dealers. What more can you ask for?
The story is the third in the trilogy, and ends as it is supposed to. If you're familiar with the Arthurian mythos then there will be no surprises for you as far as the story goes, but Broaddus does keep the plot interesting with his version. In all of the books you're told that all stories end in pain and death. King and his knights have to prepare to make a stand against Dredd and his army of gangsters. To save their neighborhood, that has to regain their trust in each other, and their faith in king. Friends are lost, love is lost and gained, and hope is given to a group of people that thought they were lost long ago.
My favorite aspects of this novel were the verisimilitude and the characterization. The language could be a problem for some, I was fearful of it while reading, like “No Maurice, people won’t read it now. You won’t get the credit you deserve. Whyyyyyyy.” I was over reacting. I was fearful that the use of the "n-word” wouldn’t lend credibility to the tale, but make readers shy away or discredit the narrative somehow. . Having assimilated into mainstream society the word makes me cringe, you never know how people will react. Some take it as an excuse to be harmful, many use it and other words as rungs on a ladder to gain position and self-assurance over others, but at the end it’s just a word like any other and I’m glad the author treats it thus. I was nervous, but thankfully Broaddus doesn't misuse it, glorify it, or shy away from it. It is what it is, just like in everyday life, people say what they want, and the combination of the rough language with Broaddus' prose is credible and tasteful. Some will be put off regardless, but this novel probably wasn't for them anyway.
The vernacular is quite hood, but the inner monologues and narration beautifully portray the hopelessness of being born into a tragic situation. These characters make mistakes or have made mistakes; they don't beg for help, they just live. The characters don't excuse their actions; they just show you their point of view.
The reason why I love fantasy as a genre is because under the layers of magic, fey, dragons, and knights you have a real story about people or politics or some other issue. Fantasy disguises novels about the human condition in a way much more palatable. This novel, this series is about how teenagers and children unprotected are forced to live by any means necessary. It's about the choices we make and how you have to live with them. And it's about standing for something, believing in something no matter if it will cost you everything to do so. Fighting losing battles because it’s about the fight, not the win. Verisimilitude, the bastard made me cry.
If you don't like the dark, turn your head from the news when it's not a fluff piece or hated the wire this probably isn't for you. If you don't mind a little reality with your fantasy, then dig in. It's worth the read.