Recently I’ve been tearing through Kelley Armstrong’s books, particularly her fantasy books from the Cainsville and The Age of Legends series. Previously I’ve read her Nadia Stafford series which is detective series. I am delighted with everything I’ve read so far.
Cainsville is set in Chicago and an "imaginary" nearby small town, Cainsville (don't go looking for it on a map). Having spent more than half my life in the midwest it was a very comfortable regional read. (Those of you following me on Facebook know that I'm starting off retirement with literary tours.) The Olivia, th main character, suddenly discovers she is adopted and that her birth parents are in prison for multiple murders. She becomes acquainted with her birth mother's last attorney, a notorious attorney who does what is needed to get his often shady clients off of charges.
She ends up, accidentally, retreating to Cainsville. There she takes a job in to local diner (up to this time her adopted family is wealthy and she has lived a committed life as an advocate for homeless and abused women). There she finds what seems to be a safe and almost timeless community that supports her. There are the usual small-town characters but overall it is an idyllic retreat from Chicago and the media that has been hounding her. Here the fun begins.
Armstrong weaves a new view of the fae, the Hunt, and other mythical entities into a very modern setting. There is a perhaps a bit more sex in the book than I would normally recommend. It makes it a series that I think prevents it from being a book that teachers could recommend to even high school students. (I must be getting really old! I could easily take the sex out, leave the romance, and get on with the story.)
The four books in the series were all well crafted and enjoyable reads. I think Armstrong has left a possibility for additional books in the series which I would read immediately. Some critics have criticized the series for being "slow" to unfold the plot and setting. I did not find this problematic. As a reader who is exploring a range of mythologies I was not impatient. My own knowledge filled in the details that Armstrong does not immediately provide.
In The Age of Legends series Armstrong turns to a more traditional fantasy setting, a "medieval" village, an emperor, and magical/mythical threats. Twin sisters Ashyn and Moira are the spiritual leaders of their village, the outpost to the wilds where convicts are sent to die, or survive. If they survive the are recovered after a year having served their sentence. This series is a young adult series and will capture the attention of many readers. There is plenty of action (sword fights and evil forces) to keep the attention of male and female readers. I suspect it will be much more popular with young women. There is a strong male character, Gavril Kitsune, who will engage young men. I hope that in the second book that Armstrong develops him further to make the series more attractive to male readers (but there are many books out for them so I won't be disturbed if she does not).
What I particularly appreciate in this book is the limited knowledge of the main characters, Ashyn and Moira. In the tradition of "unreliable narrators" Armstrong helps us feel the confusion and anger of young women as they come to terms with the adult realities of their worlds.
Neither series is elevated to "four star" status because they don't rise to "universal truths" but they come close. Armstrong certainly deals with some the interpersonal tensions of adult life as well as issues of power, politics and "human" weakness.