Series: Annabelle Lee, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 389 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
A Dark, Dank, Dangerous Delight
A bayou in the Mississippi River Delta isn't the place for a casual explorer. You don't just hike there. Not even with hip waders and industrial-strength bug repellent. There are things there that can hurt you. That can make you bleed. That see you as nothing more than prey on two legs. In fact, there are things there that will tear through a human body like tissue paper and leave it just as broken and tattered as a result.
Oh yeah, fairies are real. They're just not the sort you want to believe in. Surely not the sort Disney could make money on marketing. They're the piranhas of the Deep South. The Great Whites of the Delta. They are the top predators in the land, people.
And they're very, very hungry.
Living in the south has been complicated since the mutations turned the Fey into human blood-craving buzz saws, the people there sputtering and struggling to hold on in their iron-enclosed cities and towns. Almost everyone with money...who isn't dead yet...has fled to safer territory up north. Annabelle Lee isn't one of them. She makes good money doing as little as possible, working for Fairy Containment and Control in the small, stubborn, proud little town of Donaldsonville, Louisiana. It's not much of a career, certainly doesn't take much energy to do it. And that's exactly how Annabelle prefers it. Plus, she's uniquely qualified for every dirty task her job entails.
Annabelle Lee is one of only five percent of humanity who is immune to the bite of a Fairy. If one were stupid enough or desperate enough to try to bite her, she wouldn't be the one driven insane or killed instantly. Not like almost everyone else.
On the bright side, if you can call it that, the feral fairy population has taken a serious bite, pun intended, out of "normal" crime in D'ville. It's a relatively safe place, even for the brave tourists who can make it inside its protected walls. If someone can't, or doesn't, Annabelle helps out the police when needed, heading into the Bayou to keep the cops who aren't immune from risking their lives unnecessarily.
That's why she's out there that morning sweating in the August heat and humidity. There was a report that someone saw a body in the bayou. That report wasn't enough to prepare Annabelle for what she finds, though. It's just too damn...wrong...tragic...horrifying. Even in this dangerous, scary world, it's just too much.
A little girl. Dead. Her face already a feast for bugs and animals.
It doesn't make sense. Nothing about finding the tiny, broken body makes any sense. The six-year-old shouldn't be dead. And certainly not this kind of dead. See, fairies didn't kill the child. In fact, she doesn't have a fairy bite on her. That means a human did this...this...heinous thing.
And Annabelle Lee, slacker extraordinaire, over-the-borderline alcoholic, emotional wasteland, fairy feces collector...is going to have to help find out who did it.
In Dead on the Delta, Stacey Jay kicks off a new series with a debut about a coarse, unrefined heroine who could be the poster child for self destruction and her struggles to survive in an edgy, imaginative world with an almost post-apocalyptic feel. I'm a huge fan of dark, fantasy fiction (the fact it's set in the south is an added bonus) and flawed characters, and I'm glad I finally snatched this one off my TBR pile and dove in. It garnered the most excitement I've felt towards a new urban fantasy series in quite some time.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing. As much as I like flawed heroines in particular, Annabelle's character falls a bit more towards the damaged end of the spectrum. And she seems to wallow in it, as if wrapping herself in low expectations, lack of ambition, and remembered misery will shield her from any and all of the truly scary stuff in the world. Like emotional maturity, pride, commitment, and caring. It was difficult - more than difficult - to feel very sympathetic towards her.
It wasn't so much the flagrant boozing, of which there is a lot, but the emotional retardation and the blatant self destruction that wore on me, especially in the first half of the book. Annabelle chooses being irresponsible, irreverent, and shiftless. So long as she can get a drink, take some drugs to sleep, and get a fair amount of sex, she's all good. This is a woman of no ambition and little self interest. Flawed doesn't begin to cover it. And frankly, until readers are given bits and pieces of her past, and we find out more about why she is the way she is, I found her fairly intolerable.
Even after the pieces start to fall into place, it was difficult to like her. If I'm completely honest, I probably would have put the book down if the surrounding story and the world building had not been so strong and gritty, so fascinatingly macabre.
There's a lot going on in the story. The investigation into the little girl's death, an FBI investigation of a huge drug ring (Breeze...made from dried fairy excrement - ICK!), the resultant relationship angst when Annabelle's first love comes to town sporting a shiny-clean FBI badge, and some mysterious and freaky - more freaky than killer fairies, imagine that - encounters with some bad people...who have the disturbing tendency to be invisible. Yup. A lot going on in the story.
And once those elements start to take more of a front-and-center in the narrative, I was able to forget how much I disliked the woman in the middle of it all. Eventually, I stopped disliking her entirely. I still wouldn't say we're bosom buddies at this point, but when the plot-driven story elements started to...well...drive the plot, there were far fewer I'm-a-loser-and-I-like-it vibes from Annabelle. Readers were finally given several solid glimpses of the things she does actually care about. Her friends, the town, they matter to the woman. And that makes her human.
And not for nothing, but Jay can write a hell of a tale. For all my issues with Annabelle, she was pretty damn believable, and the story surrounding her, as well as the many secondary characters, were extremely well-developed and utilized with aplomb. There's much angst, a boatload of regret and pain, more than a little guilt, and a hell of a good time all rolled up with some mind-bending story. It made for a mentally and emotionally raucous read.
By the end of the book, I was so caught up in everything that was going on, the last page actually came as a shock. It couldn't be over! I need answers to all those pesky questions left unanswered! But they're the good kind of unanswered questions. The ones that make for a gut-deep burn to read what happens next, a slow yearning for the next book release. They're the best kinds of questions to have at the end of a book, especially a series debut. It means Jay did it exactly right. I'm hooked on this series, and on Annabelle Lee. I want more.