review: deadly descendant

Deadly Descendant by Jenna Black (2012)

Deadly Descendant is the second book in Jenna Black’s Nikki Glass/Immortal Huntress urban fantasy series.  I recommend reading these books in order, starting with the first in the series, Dark Descendant.  I’ll do my best not to spoil things that happen in the first book, but beware that spoilers may follow. Depending upon your point of view on serial fiction, one thing to know about this series if you’re considering giving it a try is that there are only going to be four full-length novels and one short novella.  I read on the author’s web page that the final novel in the series is going to be Divine Descendant, which is currently scheduled for a May 2016 release.  The world of Nikki Glass can be a little complicated so here’s a brief summary of what you need to know before you decide if you want to embark on the journey–Nikki is a private investigator living in Washington, D.C..  She is a descendant of the Greek goddess Artemis, and through events revealed in book one, she becomes immortal.  The books not only follow Nikki’s journey as she navigates this new world of immortals that she didn’t know existed before, but also work within the framework of a mystery/detective story, where Nikki and her supporting cast have to solve a series of murders and bring the murderer to justice.

The main plot of Deadly Descendant revolves around a group of murders that appear to be perpetrated by another immortal who seems to use a pack of wild dogs to kill his victims.  To be honest, there is a lot going on in this story in terms of exploring some overarching thematic questions.  One includes the question of what should be the fate of the murderer once he/she is apprehended? Anderson, the leader of the group of immortals that has taken Nikki into their community and is helping her learn about the new world she’s been thrust into as an immortal descendant of mythological gods and goddesses, has the power to destroy other immortals, something that other immortals do not have. One of the through-lines of the plot is whether or not Anderson should destroy the murderer, whether the culprit should be turned over to the Olympians–a sect of immortals descended specifically from the Greek gods, who view themselves being superior and able to act with impunity and whose philosophy is diametrically opposed to Anderson’s and his small group of followers–for them to carry out whatever justice they see fit, or if some other punishment is fitting. It’s an interesting question, and both Nikki and Anderson have very strong opinions about the “right” course of action to take, and it is another way in which we find Nikki viewing the world in black and white and refusing to see the shades of grey (more on that later).

Beyond the primary plot of the story are two subplots that give Black further opportunities to explore some larger thematic concerns.  One is the question of revenge and vengeance and the other is a look at the era of slavery in Civil War America.  The narrative is told through Nikki’s first-person point of view, so everything that the other characters reveal is filtered through her own consciousness, biases, and values.  In terms of vengeance, this comes into play with the character of Emma who is Anderson’s wife.  She has been a victim of violence, and throughout the story we’re invited to see how that violence has changed her and think about if it is her experiences or the core of who she is that causes her to seek vengeance, regardless of the costs that such vengeance would require.  For me, it’s difficult to draw a line with Emma’s character because on the one hand you empathize with her but on the other you can’t help thinking she’s going too far.  It’s not easy to dismiss her actions or her behavior, but it’s also not easy to accept.  She’s a character who exists in the grey, maybe even tending toward the darkness, and yet you can’t help wondering if her experiences have pushed her there and if there’s any other way she could be expected react.  In addition to the question of vengeance, Black explores the institution of slavery during the Civil War in the character of Jamaal.  During the story we learn that he was a slave and the son of his master, and as he recounts his history, Black offers a perspective on his experiences that once again make the reader think.  They show how Jamaal, like Emma, has been shaped by his experiences and all that he has endured, and when looked at side by side, readers are forced to think about how Jamaal and Emma have reacted to oppression and violence and draw whatever conclusions they will.

Another aspect of the novel that I find interesting is Nikki’s character.  She is a complicated character, and like I said above, she tends to see the world and people in black and white.  She is convinced that she knows what the “right” thing to do is when it comes to how to handle the murderer, and she refuses to see Anderson’s point of view or consider why he might hold a different opinion.  This same refusal to see the perspectives of others pops up near the end of the book with Blake, who happens to be dating Nikki’s sister.  Again, Nikki feels that she knows what’s best, and though she listens to what Blake has to say, she doesn’t ever really try to empathize or even walk a mile in his shoes.  This particular character trait isn’t the same as being conflicted–I think it’s rare that Nikki is actually conflicted.  Still, it makes her more complicated because at the same that she thinks she knows what’s best for others or what course of action they should take, she is resolutely against anyone else–Anderson, Jamaal, or her sister–giving her any advice on her own life.  Or maybe this actually just fits in perfectly with her character.  It’s arrogance, and yet it doesn’t make me like Nikki any less.  I like her as a character, but at the same time she is emotionally unavailable to the people in her life.  She doesn’t let herself make connections and these are things I can relate to.  I can even understand why she is this way, but…there’s just a part of me that wants her to learn how to bend, how to compromise, how to see someone else’s point of view, and understand that not everything is black and white, good or evil, and that no one is wholly good or evil.

I think I’m way over the 1000 word limit I try to set for myself with these book reviews, but that’s because this book is a lot more than just an empty urban fantasy/detective story.  There’s a lot to think about and I applaud Black for the effort.  I have no idea how this series ends but I’m definitely going to keep reading it. The next installment in the series is the novella, Pros and Cons, which takes place chronologically between books 2 and 3 in the series.

Have you read the Nikki Glass/Immortal Huntress series?  If so, what do you think?

 

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