Dreams can be a tricky sort of magic. So much of their power is plugged directly into the disorientation and internal logic of the dreamer, reading any sort of narrative built on top of that fluid and arbitrary base can be alienating. Kerry Schafer, however, takes the best of the mystery and humor of a dream state to enrich the mechanics of magic in her world. I laughed, my heart raced, and I finished BETWEEN more than a little bit in love with Schafer, Vivian, and a penguin named Poe.
I spent awhile looking for Schafer's other pen names or prior books, it's hard to believe BETWEEN is a debut effort. This story is rock solid. Action flows beautifully, characters are introduced and grow in believable ways. Vivian and Zee are wonderfully believable as they try to reconcile their "real life" with the influences that seep in from their dreams. There were several surprises for me as the story progressed, as hints of past events and dreams were matched with present day characters, and all of these revelations felt well structured and natural.
And it is that natural flow that was the most impressive element of BETWEEN. This is a familiar Urban Fantasy structure. The main character discovers a hidden heritage, there's a beautiful man who has loved long before they met, she has a preternaturally smart pet, a crazy mother and mysterious grandfather. None of these elements on their own are entirely new, but the elegance and magic with which Schafer writes them is a welcome surprise. And nothing in this story is included "just because", each piece is tied together mindfully and specifically. Take Poe, Vivian's penguin side-kick. While he certainly brought most of the comic relief, he was also integral to bringing those splashes of dreaming disorientation to a fantasy plot. Schafer is a comedic genius to realize that nothing says "This is a weird dream" like having a silent, deadpan penguin overseeing a scene.
I never expect a series to sweep me off my feet in the first book, which makes it all the sweeter when it happens. BETWEEN is the best of what Urban Fantasy can offer. Adventure, danger, and our familiar world threaded with dreams, magic, and unlikely penguins. BETWEEN has already found it's way to my favorites shelf, with room for anything else Schafer has to offer.
Full review to follow.
Sexual Content: Violent sexual assault and rape.