Rookie Agent Nell Ingram and her PsyLED team start this novel in a multi-agency investigation into an attack on a political fundraiser -- with a focus on one family in particular. There's no obvious paranormal aspect to the attack, so PsyLED isn't in the lead, but there's enough to keep them hanging around the investigation. If for no other reason than the local vampires are interested in what's going on. Soon, other attacks occur, making it even clearer that one family is the target. As the team starts to investigate that family, more questions are raised and secrets are revealed. But it's a long while before the secrets and questions lead to anything useful for preventing further loss of life.
The presence of the vampires is a nice bonus -- they were present a little in Blood of the Earth, but not really in Curse on the Land. Nell's still struggling to make up for a faux pas in her initial exposure to the vampires -- and a couple of them seem to be enjoying her discomfort. I enjoy seeing Hunter's particular brand of vampires running around without Jane and her stakes, as long as she doesn't return to this particular well too much in this series, the Vamps' presence will be a plus.
The PsyLED case itself is a little on the tepid side -- it's far easier for readers to figure out what's going on than it is for the characters, and that always hurts the stories somewhat. But -- wow. What's actually going on when the team finally puts all the pieces together? Wow -- just wow. It makes putting up with their earlier slowness utterly worth it (also, the reader won't be as correct as they thought they were for a long time). Basically, if you find yourself getting annoyed with this story, your patience will be rewarded. Probably more than rewarded.
Speaking of patience, Nell needs to exercise a good deal of it with her family, who are still struggling with understanding just what's going on with her (and they don't know it all!) and her move for independence from the cult she's left. It's clearly, and understandably, difficult to continue to distance herself from the ways and practices she was raised in, while trying to strengthen the ties with the family members still in the church. Meanwhile, the church does seem to be trying to change their practice -- moving to orthopraxy, without much of a move towards orthodoxy. That kind of thing isn't really going to work in the long run -- but then again, Hunter's not writing a realistic account of a movement in a religious group -- so it's not anything to get worked up over. Anyway, Nell puts her foot down on a couple of fronts and draws on some of what she's learned in working with others, to be able handle her family in a way that hopefully gets through to them. She's also making some smart moves regarding her sister, Mud/Mindy, who seems to share a lot of abilities and inclinations with Nell. I can't wait to see what Hunter's got up her sleeve with this.
While this is really Nell's book (and series), there's a great ensemble of characters here. Particularly in the PsyLED team. I'd have preferred a better use of the team, and for the second book in a row, I wondered why Hunter didn't use some of the characters as well as she did in the first book. Maybe this is just me asking for more for Tandy to do.
There's some satisfying development on the Brother Ephriam/foreign entity in Soulwood front (that'll make sense to readers of the series), and regarding the "Vampire Tree." Which just might be the creepiest floral entity I've ever read about -- and it's creepier than a lot of fauna, too. I'm particularly glad about the Brother Ephriam development, I was afraid that things were going to go on too long with that without any real shift in the status quo.
There's also a stronger look at Nell's romantic life here -- her taking the first steps in exploring a real romantic relationship (in contrast to that marriage she was in), and maybe even getting her first "Improperly Proper Kiss." There's just enough romance story allow the reader to see her grow in this way (in addition to all the others she's growing in), just one more step towards her fulfillment -- but not so much that it's the novel's focus.
One of the pluses (and minuses) about this series all along has been how hard it is to simply say what Nell Ingram is. With most UF you can summarize things briefly: She can see dead people, he's a wizard PI, she's a skinwalker vampire hunter, he's the world's oldest living druid, she's a changeling PI, she's a ridiculously named werewolf who has a radio talk show, and so on . . . Nell's a, um. Well. There's magic, and powers over growing things, but no real spells, per se. See what I mean? This is a pain when trying to describe it to others, or even in knowing what to expect from her stories. And Hunter takes full advantage of this, she'll have Nell do whatever at any point in time, and as long as it sort of relates to what she started off doing in Book 1, you buy it. By the same token, I can imagine that might be too much of a blank slate for Hunter -- there are no well-established strengths/weaknesses/tropes to play with. There are things that Nell does here that just blows me away -- and that has a lot to do with Hunter creating this magic creature/race on her own.
When I say that Hunter takes full advantage of this -- I should say I thought she had been for the past two books -- she really lets loose with it this time.
Let me try to sum up this rambling post: this is a slow burn of a novel -- it puts down roots and grows like Nell's plants, and eventually blossoms into something that's great to look at. Be patient with it, watch the growth, and you'll be rewarded. Because when things get going -- they really get going, and it's almost too much to take in. I vacillated a lot about what to rate this -- I argued myself into 4-Stars and then into 5 and back into 4 and so on a few times. but because I really don't place too much weight on the stars, really, I just stopped and split the difference. For those who've been around for the previous two books this is a must read -- if this was going to be the last in the series, it'd be a decent way to leave (thankfully, Soulwood isn't a trilogy); for Yellowrock fans who haven't tried this series yet, you'll appreciate it; and if you've never tried either -- take a dip into this world, but I'll warn you: you'll end up reading all the others.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this. Thanks also to Let’s Talk! Promotions for the opportunity to take part in this book tour. My opinions about the book remain my own.