Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

Dark Currents

It was an idyllic summer evening in Pemkowet the night the Vanderhei kid died. No one could have guessed the town was hovering on the brink of tragedy. Well, I suppose that’s not technically true. The Sphinx might have known, and the Norns, too, come to think of it. But if they did, they kept it to themselves.

There’s some sort of Soothsayers’ Code that prevents soothsayers from soothsaying on a day-to-day basis, when it might, you know, avert this kind of ordinary, everyday tragedy. Something about the laws of causality being broken and the order of creation overturned, resulting in a world run amok, rivers running backward, the sun rising in the west, cats and dogs getting married…

I don’t know; don’t ask me.

I don’t pretend to understand, especially since it wasn’t an ordinary, everyday tragedy after all. But I guess it didn’t rise to the standard required to break the Soothsayers’ Code, since no sooth was said.

Pemkowet is a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan with an unusual heritage: the Norse goddess Hel has chosen to make it her home. As a result, the town is positively crawling with the supernatural: werewolves and ghouls roam the streets, naiads and undines swim in the river, while Hel herself inhabits a frozen underworld populated with frost-giants and dwarves. With mortals drawn by the chance of glimpsing something they shouldn’t, Pemkowet’s tourist trade is also booming.

Daisy, the narrator of Dark Currents, is the half-breed Hel has chosen to be her liaison to the mundane world. Born after her mother accidentally summoned a demon, Daisy lives in constant fear of giving in to her dark side, fearing the consequences of invoking her birthright could be as serious as Armageddon. The Seven Deadly Sins hang like the sword of Damocles above her head. It’s not quite clear how the Christian mythology of angels and demons fits in with the presence of pagan gods, but in Carey’s version of our world both are indisputably and concretely real.

When a body turns up in the river, Daisy is summoned to the scene. She usually works as a file clerk at the police department, and she’s helped out with minor supernatural problems before, but an unexplained death is rather more serious. The chief asks her to team up with Officer Fairfax — aka Cody, a werewolf she’s had a crush on since school — to investigate.

Although lust is one of the Seven Deadlies that Daisy strives to avoid, she certainly has a healthy appreciation of a good looking guy. Or a good looking woman, if they’re eldritch beings, in what she describes as a kind of orthogonal Kinsey scale. Her tastes are diverse, but tend to the supernatural: whether it’s Cody’s woodsy werewolf style, Stefan the biker ghoul, or Lurine, a lamia with the lower body of a snake, a powerful seductress whose charms Daisy resists only on the basis that the older woman used to babysit her. The chemistry between Daisy and Stefan is palpable from the moment they meet, far more so than with any of her other crushes, but the barriers between them are likewise much harder to overcome.

As much as she enjoys the view, though, Daisy hasn’t time to seriously consider hooking up with anyone — not while she’s trying to uncover the supernatural angles to the drowning, and racing against time to figure out what’s going on before the humans get scared and Pemkowet’s tourism industry implodes. And at first, that’s the primary motivation for trying to clear up the murder rather than brushing the whole affair under the carpet as a tragic accident. As the story progresses, however, the stakes get steadily higher.

Although this is a light read, in pace and tone, there are some very uncomfortable themes. In particular, the variety of magical races gives an opportunity to explore the idea of what it means to be human… and just how that impacts on concepts of human rights and responsibilities. Through Stefan, who prefers the term ‘outcast’ to ‘ghoul’, we also see a little of how it feels to be hated and feared for the group you belong to; he’s quietly determined to show the world that ghouls can be good, but he’s fighting an uphill battle against prejudice and perception.

Daisy’s friendships are crucial, both to her development as a character, and to the plot. Lurine brings the wisdom and power of an immortal being; Cody’s werewolf senses make him a good tracker; her mother gives clues through the medium of uncannily accurate card readings. Jen, one of the few humans in the cast, keeps her grounded in her humanity. Even Stefan has a crucial role, though Daisy is terrified of trusting one of his kind. All of this assistance could be seen as undermining Daisy’s heroic credentials, but I thought it worked well; I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that the final showdown is a triumph for teamwork.

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