FORMAT/INFO: Eyes to See is 320 pages long divided over 56 numbered chapters. Each chapter is subtitled either ‘Now’ to represent the present, or ‘Then’ to represent the past. For the most part, narration is in the first person via Jeremiah Hunt, but the narrative switches to various third-person POVs (hedge witch Denise Clearwater, an unnamed creature, etc.) throughout the novel. Eyes to See wraps up some of the book’s main storylines, but it is the first volume in the Jeremiah Hunt Chronicle and will be followed by King of the Dead in 2012. October 11, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Eyes to See via Tor. Cover art is provided by Cliff Nielsen.
ANALYSIS: Urban fantasy is a genre I’ve almost completely sworn off due to reasons vented elsewhere. That said, I’m always on the lookout for titles that might bring something new to the table. In the case of Joseph Nassise’s Eyes to See, readers are promised an urban fantasy novel that “charts daring new territory in the field” if the synopsis and author blurbs are anything to go by, but does the book really deliver on that promise? The answer is yes… and no.
For the most part, Eyes to See is a typical urban fantasy novel. Between Jeremiah Hunt’s first-person narrative; his supernatural gifts, including the ability to see and communicate with ghosts; the contemporary urban setting where vampires, demons, angels, witches and the like all exist; and a story that mixes mystery and police procedural with the paranormal, Eyes to See offers very few surprises for anyone familiar with the genre. In fact, I was constantly reminded of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files as I was reading the book, although there are a couple of neat ideas in the novel like Jeremiah’s ability to borrow attributes (sight and strength) from a ghost.
What separates Eyes to See from its competition is the disappearance of the protagonist’s daughter five years earlier, which not only precipitated the chain of events that resulted in Jeremiah Hunt developing supernatural abilities, but also acts as the driving element behind his current actions in the novel, whether it’s performing exorcisms or doing consulting work for the Boston PD. As a father of two young children, I was really moved by Jeremiah’s loss, which is relived in painful detail through gut-wrenching flashbacks that cover his daughter’s disappearance, the despairing search for the missing girl, Hunt’s descent into madness, and the Faustian deal that made him blind, while granting him ‘ghostsight.’ It’s heartbreaking stuff, infusing Eyes to See with an emotional punch that is unusual for the genre, but refreshing.
Unfortunately, Joseph Nassise is unable to maintain this emotional impact for the entire novel. After the secondary characters have been fully introduced and the story kicks into high gear, the disappearance of Jeremiah’s daughter becomes overshadowed by more conventional urban fantasy fare, including a murder mystery, an attraction developing between Hunt and the hedge witch Denise Clearwater, and dealing with a supernatural threat. To make matters worse, the author’s execution is hit-and-miss over the last two-thirds of the novel, punctuated by third-person POVs that pale in comparison to Jeremiah Hunt’s first-person narrative while at the same time failing to flesh out any of the secondary characters, and a narrative plagued by inconsistencies (Why is the creature trying to frame Jeremiah, which seems at odds with its original plan?), characters acting out of turn (Dmitri giving up on Denise so easily), improbable scenarios (Hunt’s effortless escape from the police, Detective Miles Stanton’s timely intervention, etc.), and a climax that feels rushed.
Nassise does redeem himself at the end of the novel when the fate of Jeremiah’s daughter is unveiled, but the revelation lacks the impact it could have had if the book hadn’t become sidetracked by murder mysteries, romantic developments and supernatural drama.
Writing-wise, apart from weak supporting characters and issues with the narrative, Eyes to See is a polished urban fantasy novel, highlighted by Jeremiah Hunt’s compelling first-person narrative and skilled prose:
- A sudden, overwhelming sense of despair washed over us. One moment we were perfectly fine and the next, drowning in a sea of emotion. It was the helplessness of a young child lost at the county fair without a familiar face in sight, the horror of a prisoner facing a life sentence in a six-by-eight box of a cell, the utter hopelessness of watching your family slaughtered horribly before your eyes while you lay bound on the floor, unable to do anything to stop it, all rolled up into one neat little package.
- Parents experience a unique kind of fear. It is at once more visceral and more paralyzing than any other fear, a cold, clammy hand that squeezes your heart until your very blood starts to drip from between its fingers. It invades your mind like an alien presence, disrupts your thought processes and ratchets your emotions right off the scale, until you can’t possibly think straight and every second is an eternity, an eternity where all you can do is think about all of the terrible things that could have happened to your precious child.
CONCLUSION: Because of the emotional punches landed by Jeremiah Hunt’s missing daughter, Joseph Nassise’s Eyes to See is partially successful in bringing something new to the genre, but in other areas, the novel doesn’t measure up to its peers due to one-dimensional supporting characters, narrative shortcomings, and too much reliance on familiar urban fantasy trappings. Still, as far as the genre is concerned, Eyes to See is solidly entertaining, and I’m curious to see what happens in the next Jeremiah Hunt Chronicle, King of the Dead.
This urban fantasy is darker than many, featuring a character who has mined the dark side following the loss of his wife and daughter. Those who like some horror mixed into their urban noir will find it here.