“Curse on the Land” by Faith Hunter is the second book in her “SoulWood” series. It’s bad, but in an interesting way. I rate it “readable”.
The main character fits the genre in an original way. She’s a former child-bride in a polygamous cult — naive, meek, inexperienced, but gaining confidence and trying to make her place in the world. This naturally gives her a large family of 1/2-siblings with problems. Nell needs to take time out as her younger sister needs guidance with her new magic powers, her sick father won’t see a doctor, her mother frets about her well-being, and an evil tree is taking over the church grounds. Side-bar: highly recommend non-fiction “Escape”, by Carolyn Jessup about growing up in a polygamous cult.
Sadly, she’s not a 1/2-vampire or 1/2-anything. But she’s a new weird thing, so it’s fine. She can interact with the woods around her house (named “SoulWood”) to sense everything for miles (yes, Harry Dresden did this 5 years earlier on his Island). Almost immediately we find her powers work on any old patch of land, but SoulWood is still special since she needs to feed it blood and human lives!?! (which she doesn’t do in this book, but did in the first one, but he was evil). Oh, she’s also immune to most magic, since Earth Power, and she senses she could tell the ground to suck in and devour people. But all she does is sense the ground, mostly saying “yup, this land also has a curse on it”.
Romance-wise there’s not much, but it’s fine. Nell was scarred by her underaged forced-marriage and is surprised when people think of her as sexual. She has a girlhood crush on her werecat partner because he’s around a lot and is nice to her. Good enough.
The required “banter” with her friend team is surreal. It’s trite, way-too-personal, way too much, and male were-creature friends hang out at her house shirtless. A few of them even turn into werecats in her driveway and when she gets home unexpectedly they almost murder her. So funny! Her boss even pulls her off the case to take her on a date to a movie. Wait, her boss? Yeah, the problem is that her “friends” are really her co-workers in an elite government X-Files division. The banter is disturbingly inappropriate here, even if it is how the real Department of Homeland Security behaves.
But another plus, she’s suitably impetuous: in chapter one she almost dies after using her ground powers to go deep and check out an unknown powerful thing. That happens again at a crime scene. The third time she’s learned her lesson, quickly gets a helpful read … and then goes too deep and is almost killed by an unknown powerful thing. She ignores her boss’s orders, but mostly since the whole team is ignored until we need them for the plot.
Yet one more plus, she solves the evil tree problem by just talking to it. Very genre-appropriate. Except this tree saved her life (in the first book, which we’re told over and over) and her first plan was to completely murder it, and she only tried talking after that hilariously failed. Oh, if you were wondering, the tree was acting evil because it was bored.
Now onto the funny parts. Her main job is to take readings with a super state-of-the-art magic detector. It has multiple dials for vampires, werecreatures, ummm, Frankensteins? The author gives a really nice explanation of calibrating to ambient levels so that we always get a reasonable result. But to raise the stakes, on every reading the meter “redlines”. Why did they explain calibration to us? After a few redlines we get a reading where one of the levels is a little shy of the top. But it was a fake-out. The next dozen reading are back to redlining. This is one of the few Urban Fantansy Detective Romances that had me laughing.
Around chapter 4 we meet a top-level agent: young, beautiful, and so important and cool that she ignores all of the agency rules. Everyone says so, and speculates about what she is and what her powers are. Two paragraphs later we’re just told she’s a dragon. Mega-girl announces to everyone that she likes our heroine for being a rule-breaker. She drops by twice later to sign their paychecks or something, and announces to everyone that she likes our heroine for being a rule-breaker. Most boring dragon character ever.
Late in the book a co-worker gains a new power after almost being killed — the power of infodump to advance the plot. I’m actually fine with it: the plot’s been very slow, I don’t have any confidence our heroine can solve it, so give me the outline.
This last funny part is hilariously summed-up in the book. After the plot is over she muses that she hasn’t followed-up on any of her family’s problems. Yes, we all noticed that and don’t know why you’re reminding us. Very little happens in this book.
Sexism is completely botched. Putting up with, mitigating, and getting around sexism is a big theme in a real Urban Fantasy Detective Romance. In this book, one guy makes one sexist remark and he’s pounced on by everyone else. The heroine doesn’t even have time to be offended before he’s apologizing. That’s just boring wish-fulfillment. She didn’t have to overcome anything.
Finally, get ready — this is a spin-off! Nell talks to the Jane YellowRock character, from that series, twice over the phone in this book, and Jane saved our life in book one. Doing that makes no sense. The Jane character is a generic bad-ass male-fantasy filth kinkster with no inner life to speak of. It’s a different genre.
Oh, geez, the plot: a spell got out-of-control, everyone who cast it is just silently waiting to die, but Nell convinces them to shut it down. I can’t believe I forgot that!