The Yorkshire city of Willingsley is full of straight-shooting, gobby northern folk going about their day to day lives, with their love affairs, their health problems and all of life’s other nonsense grinding on day after day. And then suddenly, monsters come to town and people start dying. At the center of it all is Eric Mayfair, a twenty-something who a year ago was facing imminent heart failure. Fatal. Terminal. That’s what the doctors said. And then, miraculously, Eric got better. He doesn’t know how. No one does. All he knows is he has a new heart, a great black leech of a thing embedded in his chest that no one else seems to see. Then someone close to Eric is murdered and, in his search for answers, Eric uncovers an unseen world of monsters, dark powers and deadly secrets.
I love a good urban fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy of all kinds, but there is something immensely satisfying about seeing places and situations you know transformed into dark corners full of magic and monsters, and characters that remind you of people from your life plagued with surprising powers and treacherous secrets. I’m fairly used to seeing dark urban fantasy set in the South of England, but the North still seems ripe for exploration – and author Steven B Williams is the man to do it.
The setting is a huge part of this story – the Northern town that the Yorkshire dwelling author creates is so fantastically drawn that any one who has been a town like it will instantly feel both at home an uneasy – this is that run down town you know, just with added monsters. It’s fitting too then that the characters are instantly recognisable – as someone who grew up gay in a Northern town, Eric’s experiences are immensely familiar. The other characters too, feel incredibly real – they never slip into stereotype or caricature, but remain fleshed out throughout. In fact, the characterisation is a huge strong point here – even the smaller characters are developed enough to make the reader feel that when these bit players leave the pages they head straight into fully fleshed out lives. Dee in particular was my favourite of these – a job centre worker planning for a wedding, who is swept into the chaos that is Eric’s life.
Plot wise, the strong characters are thankfully complimented by an equally strong plot, with themes of grief, acceptance and romance carefully threaded together. Eric slowly discovers that he is part of a strange new world – and the rules and mythology of this new world are seeded well here – there is a lot to take in, but it never overwhelms, and I’m eager to see it expanded in future books. Characters and concepts are seeded for the future, but the arc for this book still remains a satisfying one with a thrilling climax. It’s also an adult tale – nothing too explicit, but it’s a brave book that combines fantasy with characters who grapple with grief, loss, and depression – and yet still maintains a light and pacey tone that keeps one turning the pages over and over again.
As a new voice in fantasy, Steven B Williams is one to watch out for, as “Heartsnare” is an enthralling ride of a read. In this brave new world where fantasy can be found taking up increasingly more space in bookshops, it’s a treat to stumble across something as original, as exciting and as well written as “Heartsnare”. A must read, it’s out in October – so get preordering today!