Chloe Neill is a well established name in urban fantasy, with eleven 'Chicagoland Vampires' novels, three 'Dark Elite' books for the YA audience and a batch of novellas published before this new series began, but I have to admit that I haven't read any of them. I also have to suggest that had I judged 'The Veil' by its cover rather than its synopsis, I probably wouldn't have picked this one up either. It looks like a romance novel set in Ireland or Scotland, merely sans the topless Celtic warrior. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, so I'll be leaping into its first sequel next month and aiming to seek out the beginnings of her best known series soon after that.
I should also add that I thoroughly enjoyed this one even though it develops from a concept that I could easily argue has been done to death. That concept is that there's another world beyond our own and the thin boundary between them was breached in Louisiana. Sound familiar? Yes, I've read Charlaine Harris and Suzanne Johnson and others, so it sounds very familiar to me too. Can I cut Chloe Neill any slack for not naming this world Fairie, giving a name to the boundary instead or not calling out Hurricane Katrina for specific comparison when exploring devastation wrought on the city of New Orleans? Not really.
What I can give her credit for is building her world and its mythology carefully and deeply. Unlike most novels with the same basic concept, she doesn't hide any of it from the public. Before the events of 'The Veil' begin, her two worlds collided hard. The world of magic and magical creatures erupted through the Veil of the title to war with mankind in an apparent attempt to take over our world; that war is now over and the Veil has been closed but the scars still remain and the New Orleans we experience is akin to what we might expect after a zombie apocalypse.
Our understanding of this future (or alternate present) evolves throughout the book, just as it does for the characters brought to life within it. I can't praise this evolution enough, because Neill introduces a series here and grows her story believably, without ever telling us or her characters everything. Many opening books in new series tell a story that promptly gets repeated over and over in each succeeding volume, perhaps with some power or other growing to ratchet up the odds; they simply don't have the potential for growth that 'The Veil' does. I knew a lot more about Claire Connolly and Liam Quinn and a host of others after reading the final chapter than I did after reading the first, but there's a vast amount still to learn about them and I look forward to discovering that (and watching the characters discover that too) in 'The Sight' and onwards.
Claire Connolly is our heroine, the windswept redhead on the cover, and she's the usual slightly special character to begin with. Here, that means that she's a Sensitive, born a human but corrupted by magic left over from the war between the worlds and so able to wield a little herself. That's dangerous in this world, because the standard view is black and white: humans are the good guys and magical beings are the bad guys. Exhibit magic and you're suddenly on the wrong side. There are even cameras that catch the use of magic and trigger the authorities, here known as Containment.
So when Claire, who runs the Royal Mercantile store in New Orleans that's been in her family for many generations, suddenly finds that she can move things with her mind, she knows she has to keep that as quiet as can be. When she stumbles into a situation that requires her to fight two wraiths, animalistic shells of former Sensitives whose magic overwhelmed their humanity, she has to use her own magic to survive, in front of a magic-detecting camera, and so finds her life turned upside down.
Now, in the company of Liam Quinn, a bounty hunter who tracks wraiths because one killed his sister, she starts to learn the real truth behind the war, the Paras (or Paranormals) who fought on the other side, the Sensitives who fought on ours and the containment of all the above in what is officially known as the District but colloquially as Devil's Isle. With that growing knowledge, she finds a new grounding, a new purpose and a new war brewing that she must help to defuse. That's a lot to throw into one book, but Neill controls that growth superbly and builds magnificently to an ending that will also become a beginning.
I have precious few complaints, though I do have a few questions about the infrastructure that's left in Louisiana, which appears to be not a heck of a lot. Baton Rouge, the state capital, has been abandoned and it's mostly returned to nature, reclaimed by black bears. New Orleans has come together after the devastation of the war with a vastly decreased population; the corruption of magic means that power is inconsistent and electronics generally don't work any more. Imagine the city rebuilt after Katrina but without any means of electronic communication: no cellphones, no radio or television, no internet. It's drummed home that Royal Mercantile still sells antiques but its business is mostly done in dehydrated meals; Claire is overjoyed when she finally gets a small delivery of butter. So, in such a world, how can Tadji be studying linguistics at Tulane University? How is Tulane even open? I don't buy that. I'm not sure I blinked and missed some sort of explanation as to how those electronic magic-detecting cameras work if electronics don't?
At points, I also wondered about the originality of some of the characters. Liam Quinn, in particular, is much too mysterious, so much so that Claire states at one point that she could fill a book with what she doesn't know about him. He's clearly set up to be the gorgeous, knowledgeable man on which our tough heroine has to rely and will eventually fall into bed with. Similarly, his brother Gavin is clearly set up to be the gorgeous, knowledgeable brother to whom she'll shift her affections when Liam does something that royally pisses her off. However, even if they begin as clichés, they don't stay that way, developing appropriately and individually with the story and none of the above comes to pass. I really hope that we don't fall back into cliché in the second book.
Most of the rest are interesting beginnings to characters who will surely grow as the series runs on. The throwaway early cast members turn out to have real purpose and everyone's world grows when they all start to figure that out. I liked all that: for its mystery, for the gradual resolution of that mystery and for the fact that not everything has yet been resolved. Every one of them has their own motivation and I'm eager to see not only how they'll grow but how they'll grow apart. Motivations often clash and that's in the cards for sure; I just have no idea which characters and which motivations will do the clashing. I'm looking forward to finding out in 'The Sight'. ~~ Hal C F Astell