Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland
Lori Handeland’s Any Given Doomsday is a fun urban fantasy, following the standard recipe with no real surprises. The voice of her main character, Liz Phoenix, is sharp, breezy and sarcastic. The story moves pretty briskly with only a few slack points, and there is a lot of gorgeous, dreamy, steamy sex.
Liz is a bartender at a cop bar. She used to be a cop herself, but her psychic abilities kept her an outsider and even a figure of suspicion because her “hunches” were too accurate. Those psychic senses are pinging now, though, calling Liz to the home of her foster mother, Ruthie, who she finds bleeding and savaged in her kitchen. Ruthie dies after making a startling pronouncement to Liz.
With this event, Liz’s life changes. Ruthie was a seer, and with her death, Liz has become one. Seers direct Demon Killers — or DKs — on missions to destroy evil beings like vampires, werewolves and the like. All of these evil critters are descended from fallen angels, who came to earth and mated with human women, producing Nephalim. The Nephalim theme is overexposed, but in Handeland’s book it’s just the mechanism, and she manages to give us necessary information without too much lecturing.
Liz is something more than a traditional seer. She has other abilities. Her old boyfriend from foster care, Jimmy, and a scary Navajo witch have a lot to teach her about her powers and her responsibilities, and Ruthie, even though she is dead, is not out of the picture. The story moves from Milwaukee to New Mexico and ultimately to New York as Liz tracks Ruthie’s killer, choosing to ignore the advice of Jimmy and Sawyer, the witch or skinwalker, and follow the instincts of her own heart. Liz is loyal – perhaps too loyal. That is a great strength and also a serious vulnerability in the business she’s now in.
Since Liz always knew she was psychic, it makes it easier for her to accept the other paranormal things in her life. I also like that Handeland doesn’t make it too simple; there are dozens of flavors of vampires, for instance, depending on where they evolved (so to speak) with a different way to kill each variety.
Aside from Liz herself, the best and scariest character in the book is Sawyer. Sawyer is ancient, powerful and mysterious:
He wasn’t much taller than me — perhaps five ten — but he’d seemed huge, imposing from his aura alone. His hair was long, though he always tied it back with whatever he found handy—string, ribbon, the dried intestines of his victims. I’m exaggerating. He rarely used anything as mundane as string.
Sawyer, offspring of a medicine man and a Nephalim, is centuries old and immensely powerful, but he is trapped in a remote valley in the New Mexico mountains. If he leaves the valley in human form, his mother will kill him. From this remote vantage he still manages to wield influence on the seers and DKs.
Sex with Sawyer opens up — pun intended — one of Liz’s abilities. Liz can assume the power of any magical being she has sex with, which is convenient and a little disturbing. Later in the book, sex becomes dangerous, creepy, and then repetitive enough that it verges on boring. This is always a risk when you are writing sex scenes.
The solution for how to kill the evil mastermind, a Nephalim vampire, is a bit obvious, but it still worked for me, mostly because of the risks Liz is willing to take for her friend Jimmy.
Early in the book, a character dies with very little emotional reaction from Jimmy or Liz. I found this jarring and it made Liz less sympathetic than she should be. The pace of the book didn’t leave me much time to brood over this, but it was an unpleasant niggle that never went away.
Hints and clues are well-planted for future Liz Phoenix adventures. The prose is smooth and the supernatural system is well-thought-out enough to hold together. If you like this sub-genre, Any Given Doomsday is a pleasant way to spend a few hours.
Yep, which is why I'm willing to give a sequel a shot
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