Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Rush of Wings by Adrian Phoenix

Every once in awhile a book comes along that transcends categorization. I looked at the front and back cover of Adrian Phoenix's debut novel, A Rush of Wings, and thought, "Hmm. Another vampire novel."

(I shoulda known better. Here's the full disclosure part: we share an editor at Pocket, the brilliant and beautiful Jennifer Heddle. Adrian and I met when I heard about her book and stalked her until she agreed to send me a copy.)

Not only is A Rush of Wings not your typical vampire novel (though there is plenty here for fans of the genre to love), it's not even a typical urban fantasy. I would describe it more as a paranormal thriller, and not just because of the body count. The story is shown from the points-of-view of numerous characters, including the law enforcement officer, the victim(s), and the villain(s), which is more typical of a thriller than an urban fantasy.

I suck at story summaries, so I'm going to use Adrian's description from her interview at Darque Reviews:

A Rush of Wings is a story of betrayal, shattered beliefs, and blackest secrets as Special Agent Heather Wallace trails a serial-killing sexual sadist to New Orleans. An unexpected twist leads her to Dante, a gorgeous, talented vampire -- and the killer's next target. She tumbles into a deadly moonlit world of vampires, fallen angels and hidden experiments in sociopathology.

Caught in a web of deception stretching to the Bureau and beyond, Heather runs a desperate race – against time, against other agents, even against her own deepening feelings – to keep Dante alive, but she can't save him from his own stolen past. Or his destiny.

No mere description of plot can capture the magic of this book. I shall attempt in my pathetic way to give you a hint.

First of all, the writing is exquisite. Phoenix describes the little moments--the ones most of us fill in with an offhand gesture--with actions that convey intense emotional clarity. Each character has such distinctive motions and speech inflections, after awhile I could probably tell who was in the scene without reading their names.

But enough about why I admired it. I admire plenty of books that leave me cold. I loved it because it had heart. The characters went through a world of hurt but still had the capacity for compassion and connection. Because of this, an intense and often heartbreaking story never felt grim or bleak.

I also loved the way I felt like I was there in the scene. I could hear the wail of guitars, smell the sweat and blood, feel the shift of leather against skin, and--well, that's enough sharing. It was a vivid experience, let me tell you.

Though the story is set in modern-day New Orleans, it has an epic feel, with a complex plot and many levels of good guys and bad guys. It's not the kind of world that can be fully fleshed out with just one novel--there's a hint of a larger mythology surrounding the fallen angels and the origin of vampires, the surface of which has barely been scratched. Normally that would bother me, as I'm not much of a series reader. But A Rush of Wings both tantalized and satisfied me enough to know that I'll devour Book Two (tentatively titled In the Blood, appearing in January 2009).

And last but not least, my husband really loves the cover, which gives me some wardrobe ideas.

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