Genre: urban paranormal
Queer Representation: cis lesbian
Warnings: child rape threats late in the book (a few lines from a baddie trying to be scary)
‘Stunningly beautiful’ attorney Artemis Andronikos is hiking with her twin brother when he falls to his knees and clutches his head, claiming to hear loud bells. Three days later her brother dies, along with a host of other people, all of whom have heard the same bells, exactly three days prior.
Nosy reporter Lucy Breem is determined to solve the mystery of the bells and tracks down Artemis. Intrigued by Lucy’s hypotheses, Artemis agrees to help her investigate the bells and their potential significance as death harbingers. Meanwhile, the bells spread, people collectively lose their minds, and strange new religions spring up. Also children become clairvoyant and there may be angels…I’m not super clear on that part.
The premise of this book was interesting, even if the execution left something to be desired. Based in the principles of continuing human evolution, the internal head-bells are discovered to be an early warning system of impending death, potentially giving people a chance to get their affairs in order. People, of course, are notoriously bad at this, and things spin wildly out of control. Cults pop up. Entrepreneurs try to make a buck. As more and more people are affected by the bells, the situation becomes exponentially worse–though timely, as the book has a lot of the same human ridiculousness that we are witnessing right now with COVID.
Thus, the plot is inventive and dynamic. The characters are alright–the two main women are moderately three-dimensional, though Lucy’s daughter is definitely the stand-out character. The main villain is an archetype but that makes him easy to hate, which is useful in a book like this. The other POV characters mostly serve to drag out what would otherwise be a tight plot, and there’s far too much head-hopping, especially early on, to really hold reader attention.
The plot technically concludes about 50 or so pages before the book does, which is always frustrating. This could have been helped by a heavier editing pen, and in fact there were numerous scenes that rehashed early scenes from a different POV, which made the narrative drag. Some editorial tightening could have easily removed these issues and made for a much more dynamic book.
One of the reasons I didn’t really connect with Artemis and Lucy came from the writing of the romance/love scenes, which, to me, bordered on silly, dime-novel romance tropes (which are fine, in dime-novel romances):
It was a side of Artemis she hadn’t seen before, but she wasn’t all that surprised. She already had decided the astonishing woman had depths yet to be plumbed. And Lucy couldn’t deny a growing desire to plumb them.
Plumbing in this sense makes me think of plunging a toilet or snaking a drain (since we’re going down into depths), and I don’t really want that associated with boinking a woman. There’s also a strange combination of too many adjectives per sentence, and not very descriptive adjectives happening:
Seeing her, Lucy couldn’t turn away. Artemis was standing in a relaxed contra-post pose. She was stunningly beautiful in the slanted yellow sunlight. Her slender body was perfectly proportioned, and she looked like the product of a Michelangelo or Polyclitus.
Artemis had a similar reaction watching Lucy’s attractive body gradually emerge from her clothes. It made her juices flow and she felt an urgent need to dive into the cool water of the pool.
I’d have much preferred to ‘watch’ them get undressed and see their reactions so I could experience them too, instead of reading about them like a reporter was giving me highlights of a show I’m not allowed to see. An unfortunately, ‘beautiful’ and ‘attractive’ don’t really tell me anything about either character. It’s so much more fun in these kinds of scenes to see what the characters notice about each other, specifically, so you learn what they are into. Maybe Artemis likes tattoos. Maybe Lucy likes freckles across the bridge of a nose, or chin dimples. That’s what I want to know.
Another issue was the narrative’s reliance on telling us what was happening, instead of showing. Most of what should have been excellent action scenes were not shown, but told about in summary, which completely destroyed any potential tension. Also also Artemis sets the would-be mass murdered free at the end, who had endangered Lucy’s daughters life half a dozen times, and literally wtf with that? There’s compassion, and then there’s failure to protect.
This is another of those books that had a lot of potential, but needed a strong editorial hand to trim the fat from the meat, and really let the plot live to its potential. Still, if you’re after an f/f contemporary paranormal from an indie press, you could do far worse. I was entertained, but not enough to continue with the series.
You can see if you hear the harbinger bells by buying the book here.