Review: Grave Witch by Kalayna Price

Grave WitchGrave Witch (Alex Craft #1) by Kalayna Price

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Roc on September 5, 2010

Source: Purchased

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Grave witch Alex Craft can speak to the dead, but that doesn’t mean she likes what they have to say.

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Alex Craft is the owner – and sole employee – of Tongues for the Dead, a private investigation agency specializing in cases involving the deceased. While Alex can draw power from the Aetheirc, the energy plane that separates the mortal plane from Faerie and other lands, she also has a unique edge over her investigative competition: she’s a grave witch, a magic user who can extract poltergeists, ghosts, and shades from bodies so that they may be questioned. What’s a shade? Shades are the memories left in a body after death, incapable of lying and devoid of any agenda – in other words, they’re the perfect witnesses for crime solvers like Alex.

But when she raises a shade that proceeds to raise all hell in the Nekros City Police headquarters, Alex knows that this case is going to be a killer (ha). Alex is going to have to join forces with the surly Detective Falin Andrews if she’s going to crack this one in time, a partnership that makes some waves between our girl and her BFF, Death. Yep you read that right, Alex is friendly with Death…and he’s kind of a hottie. Who knew?

Alex lives in an efficiency apartment over the garage of her friend Caleb’s house in the Glenn, a little slice of realism since Alex barely has two cents to rub together. There’s a running joke throughout the book that Alex never has any food in her fridge because she can’t afford to go to the grocery store – when she finishes the last pickle in the jar, that’s it she’s gonna starve. Girl needs to check out a book on personal finance from the library ASAP.

Although we don’t get a glimpse of Faerie itself in Grave Witch, Alex does spend quite a bit of time at the only fae bar in Nekros City, the Eternal Bloom. The bar is one of the only places in the city where the fae let go of their glamour, let their real faces show, and let their hair down. Eternal Bloom is also the site of some pretty iconic images of Faerie, including the eternal dance and luring mortals into Faerie by feeding them fae food. Kaylana Price actually updates the standard “eating or drinking in Faerie will trap you forever” thing, shifting it so that the food doesn’t trap you in Faerie but rather makes you addicted. If a mortal takes so much as one bite of fae food, then food from the mortal realm will turn to ash on their tongue. Scary stuff.

Even the city itself has its own vibe going on, with a rich cultural milieu of witches, fae, and non-magically inclined humans (norms). It’s got the standard UF division of neighbourhoods along magical lines: there’s the Magic Quarter where people can go to buy charms, potions, and other oddities, and bordering the Quarter there’s the Glenn, where almost the entire witch population lives.

The best thing about Grave Witch far and away was the world building. Kalayna Price not only spends a considerable amount of time developing the magical system but adding subtle details to the world of Nekros City as well. There’s the local news show run by intrepid witch reporter Lusa, a young woman who literally stalks Alex in an effort to get an exclusive on the case. There’s the incorporation of slang terminology for magic users, including the derogatory “magic eye” used to describe hack private investigators that do little more than perform token rituals. There’s even a magical Hall of Fame that pays homage to Nekros City’s most illustrious magical citizens.

Grave Witch by Kaylana Price wasn’t a perfect series opener, but it was pretty close. The only strike against it in my mind was the unfortunate love triangle, but it’s fairly far in the background at the moment so I was able to mostly ignore it. If you’re looking for an urban fantasy with a unique magical system and setting, then Grave Witch is a good bet.

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