Enter an urban fantasy world where elves, vampires, weres, djinn, and others maintain a precarious balance of power in North Carolina. Welcome to Otherside.
Elemental by Whitney Hill is an urban fantasy based in North Carolina with an elemental sylph private eye main character, filled with supernatural intrigue that kept me guessing. Like the spellcaster she portrays, the misdirection and sleight of hand that Hill employs along with a healthy dose of character backstory and political chaos kept me on the edge of my seat, making this one of my favorite books I’ve read on my blog to date.
Arden Finch is a private investigator in Durham, North Carolina. When a client comes to her asking for her to find his missing grandmother, her biggest concern isn’t that he doesn’t want the police involved. Neither is that he’s actually an elf, nor is it that she is an elemental. More importantly, is that if he knew what she was, he’d be asking for her head, rather than for her help.
Then again, Arden Finch was used to being in danger. Being asked for help from elves? Not her normal assignment. Despite being one of the Otherside—supernatural creatures hiding under the radar from humans—Arden has always been an outsider, only taking on mundane assignments for her own protection. But her emotionally distant mentor, Callista, has her investigating in some strange places, and this case may be more than what Arden is willing to take on.
Elves aren’t the only ones Arden has to worry about.
If you like urban fantasy, this is one-hundred percent a must-read. Hill is someone to watch out for in the genre, coming into the fold with an olympian effort right off the bat. It’s hard to believe this is her debut release. The book is action packed, with well-developed characters and a complex plotline with a web of political and character motivations to make your head spin. It’s a great start to a series that I’m excited to see through until the end.
What I Liked:
There’s an adage in writing to ‘write what you know.’ While many writers seem to scoff in the face of this piece of advice and go for the most showy of settings, Hill stuck with the place she knew by heart (coincidentally, a place I know as well, having lived there for several years myself.) Rather than trying to shy away from real-life details, Hill creates a strong sense of place based on named landmarks, climate, and other minutia. She aimed for the bleachers and was very careful to add enough particulars that made the setting come to life. It was enough to bring back fond memories for me… minus the werewolves, vampires and djinn, of course.
In Arden I found a character that was easy to empathize with and idolize. She’s been raised to be obedient and not question her role despite being a private investigator and independent in her work. Her character is nuanced and complex, and her development through the story enraptured me. I felt a kinship not just at her struggle to apply her strength to her own autonomy of place in the world, but also at her effort to balance doing what was right with what was best for her own needs. I think her conflicts are ones we can all relate to, albeit not with the advent of elemental powers and at the behest of gods and supernatural creatures.
And speaking of which, the supernatural community was unique and well developed. Rather than relying on typical tropes and stereotypes, Hill used her own research and imagination to create a mythology that was based off history and archetypes along with her own flair. Rather than go the Tru Blood route of Southern urban fantasy and using the same tried and true script, Hill created her own Appalachian and Southern fantasy world that I can’t wait to read more about.
At the end of the day, Elemental was a book that left me wanting to read more. It seems like such a simple element (pun unintended) of a good book, but it’s one of the most important to developing a series. There needs to be the balance of satisfaction and asking for more, and Hill did a fantastic job of leaving me feeling like there was enough signed, sealed and delivered at the end of this novel, with just enough to keep me wondering what it really was inside that envelope.
Trigger Warnings: Physical violence, Death, Slurs (not toward any real racial or ethnic group/identity), Threat of Sexual Violence.