Anyone who adores the Kate Daniels series or the glorious Edge books understands the phenomenon that is Ilona Andrews. A spectacular husband-and-wife author team, Ilona Andrews has a definite corner on the urban fantasy market and their latest publication, Clean Sweep, only adds to their dominance of this market.
In true urban fantasy style, Andrews begins Clean Sweep by deceptively giving us the appearance of normalcy only to strip back the layers to show us how wrong we are in our assumptions. Dina Demille runs the Gertrude Hunt Bed-and-Breakfast, a beautiful Victorian home located in a sweet suburban town in Texas. Unfortunately for her, something has been brutally killing her neighbor’s dogs in the Avalon Subdivision, and while the people around her speculate that its a mountain lion, Dina knows all too well that it’s not.
You see, it’s slowly revealed that Dina is not your normal innkeeper, or rather she’s an Innkeeper with a capital “I”, a vocation held by people with magic who bond with an inn, a place of sanctuary for all types of creatures with the understanding that the location (and the innkeepers) are neutral and can therefore offer safety. Dina’s missing parents were also Innkeepers before their mysterious disappearance and while she’s been channelling her energies into revitalizing her previously abandoned inn, she’s never stopped looking for them.
But this deadly magical creature on the loose puts her neighbors into danger, and at first Dina is highly suspicious that one of them, Sean Evans, a werewolf may be involved, but it’s a supposition she quickly discards. While he tries to deflect Dina’s imperative to figure out what’s going on in his territory (not wanting to admit that he’s a werewolf to a strange human), he quickly realizes that she’s nothing to be trifled with. That he’s never heard of or met an Innkeeper is part of his confusion, but this ex-military man is deadly and very, very territorial. He’s not thrilled about a mysterious creature on the loose and he’s definitely unhappy that Dina feels she has the right to engage it. It seems he’s feeling a territorial about her as well.
One of the realities Dina helps Sean face is that he’s not some morphed DNA but an engineered race and one of many. As Dina tells Sean, “For various reasons, Earth is a way station for many travelers. We’re the Atlanta of the galaxy: many beings stop here for a layover.” And she transmits this information none too soon. While Dina and Sean have managed to kill a few of the monstrous creatures stalking them, the corpses (or rather what’s inside them) attracts the unwelcome attention of vampires – and they are not the sparkly kind, but the instead the kickass, alien warrior knight kind with a very distinct code of honor.
When one of them is badly hurt, his relative, Arland, a Marshal of House Krahr, comes to protect his uncle and seek vengeance on and information about the assassin wielding these creatures. Sean and Dina realize that they are involved in something much bigger than just a crazed creature in the neighborhood and they put their heads and power together with Arland to flush out the perpetrator while hopefully saving their home. That is, if they can all manage to not get killed first.
Dina is a fascinating heroine, one more than capable of carrying a series on her shoulders (particularly with the help of her morphing broom). I liked how she was well-trained in both magical and physical self-defense but she’s not prone to the mind-altering violence we expect (and love) in Kate Daniels. Dina is truly the embodiment of her inn, a defender of hearth and home who provides sanctuary and protection to others, and she’ll go to any length to insure that safety. That her potential love interests are a footloose werewolf and a vampire who is the head of his clan’s military branch offers a natural source of conflict as it’s hard to imagine a successful long-term partnership with either man (although it’s very, very easy to imagine a successful mating!). The entire story is laced with Andrews’ fantastic sense of humor – those little references or popular culture moments that bring a big grin onto your face.
It’s a profound skill as a writer to reveal layer upon layer of a rich world while also building layers of a plot and make it all look effortless. The immediate story is the one of “who is sending these creatures and why?” – a question which ends up revealing a much more interesting plot with politics and otherworld power struggles. Yet the larger story arc reveals questions that the first book leaves unanswered in order for the series to progress: what happened to Dina’s parents? Where is her brother? What is Sean going to do in the other realm for the werewolves? What are Sean and Arland’s intentions toward Dina?
As is typical with Ilona Andrews, the amazing secondary characters blow you away and convince you that this world they’ve crafted actually exists. I love it that the house is truly a character – complete with emotions and reactions just like a human. Any follower of Andrews’ blog knows the troublesome but lovable role their animals provide and Beast, Dina’s dog, will be more than recognizable to any animal lover (her treeing Sean, the alpha werewolf, was one of my favorite scenes!). Even Dina’s permanent guest, Caldenia, clearly has a rich story to tell as she appears to be royalty or some type of powerful entity who may very well eat someone (but don’t try and separate her from her Mello Yello soft drink).
Doris Mantair not only did the cover art but also the interior, stunning full-color illustrations that bring Caldenia, Sean and Arland to life (ladies, please note that Sean and Arland are both available for download in the form of various wallpapers for your electronic devices via Ilona Andrews’ website). This book was an experiment for the writing duo, having been published for free in weekly serial form over several weeks and honed with the continual feedback of readers. That said, the original free format of its release has done nothing to inhibit sales of the official print version, as Andrews’ just announced on December 5th that Clean Sweep had reached the #2 and #3 slots for paranormal and urban fantasy on Amazon in just a few short days. I anticipate that fans (like me!) will be clamoring for scenes from Sean and Arland’s persepectives a la the Curran scenes that are so hugely popular. 🙂
Andrews’ website did announce that the sequel to Clean Sweep would come out in early 2014, but its unclear to me at this time whether there is a single sequel or multiple books which would fulfill the series name of “Innkeeper Chronicles” more thoroughly. Either way, this series (like every other series by Ilona Andrews) has leapt into my “pre-order it, dammit!” list rather quickly. Fans of Andrews, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance with more than a big dose of science fiction elements will want to rush out and grab Clean Sweep while they can.