Many thanks to Ebury for the review copy.
Everyone’s obsessed with the supernatural.
With hits such as the Twilight saga, the Southern Vampire Mysteries (True Blood), and The Vampire Diaries, it’s no surprise that the supernatural is springing up in every corner — and in such a competitive market, it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd.
But those of you fatigued of the genre may still find something of note in Carol Goodman’s Incubus, the first book in her new Fairwick Chronicles series.
Combining elements of gothic romance with the current trend for supernatural fiction, Goodman creates a unique blend of mythology and popular culture, appealing to our fascination with darkness and our hunger for lust and fear combined.
Ever since moving to Fairwick to take up a teaching post at the local college, Callie has been having vivid, erotic dreams about a man made out of moonlight and shadows. Dreams she begins to fear as as well as anticipate.
She learns that her home — a Victorian cottage at the edge of a wood — is supposedly haunted. And then her new and rather strange colleagues tell her a local legend about an incubus demon with a human past who was enchanted by a fairy queen….
The story follows Calleach (Callie) McFay, a college professor who — despite reservations — accepts a job at second-rate Fairwick College to teach a course in gothic literature and fairy tales. The reason she accepts the job? She falls in love with a Victorian house previously owned by Dahlia Lamotte, a novelist from the early twentieth century. But the moment she moves into the house the dreams begin, and quickly Callie realises that there may be truth to fairy tales after all.
Incubus is very much a character-driven romance, with the focus on exploring Callie’s new hometown and its rather peculiar residents. The initial creepiness and tension before Callie discovers the supernatural world is almost immediately addictive, offering something different to the usual paranormal romance. However, the plot does lose momentum once the supernatural becomes commonplace and the story turns into a slow release of information, setting the scene for the sequels to follow. Thankfully, the elements of dark mystery which initially intrigued me are picked up again later on.
That isn’t to say that Goodman’s supernatural world — and in particular, the residents of Fairwick — aren’t interesting to explore. As Callie discovers the supernatural world, she is quickly thrown into the power play and politics between the residents, struggling to slip into the role she is expected to take.
Callie is the typical supernatural fiction heroine: a strong-minded woman with family problems, a nice-but-not-satisfying-boyfriend, and a lifestyle in gross need of change. Needless to say, she is easy prey for the incubus haunting her house, who brings excitment — and danger — into her life. The smut between the two of them is fairly steamy (as befitting of an incubus, after all) but it is well-written; there is a good balance between plot and smut.
A couple of things niggled about Callie, however. Firstly, from having initially though that myths were solely allegories, she goes to accepting the existence of the supernatural with little to no fuss. Secondly, while I realise Callie is a teacher of folklore and has to teach her students the topic, the novel contained far too many references to popular culture (Buffy, Charlaine Harris, Stephanie Meyer, etc). These types of references are a personal pet peeve: I will not like your book more, simply because your character reads the same novels I do. It also strikes me as a fairly insecure tactic — Incubus does not need to force these comparisons, because it is a solid gothic fantasy tale worthy of its own merit.
What sets Incubus apart from others in the genre is its original use of the supernatural, with nods towards ancient mythology like satyrs, stretching beyond the normal remit of witches and vampires (although these still dominate).
The atmospheric setting only contributes to the novel’s gothic overtones, and while the prose is a little overwritten, it’s a breath of fresh air to see more verbose, descriptive writing which moves away from the simplistic, accessible style of other big hits.
Overall, this is an original novel which combines elements of gothic romance with the current trend for supernatural fiction. It’s certainly a guilty pleasure read, but despite misgivings I read all 466 pages in one sitting. What could be a better recommendation than that?