This book has been on my wishlist for a while now. I added it to my list based on a recommendation from the usual site (Fangs for the Fantasy). I appreciate that sites like Fangs and Goodreads exist because otherwise I would have looked at the book’s generic cover and given it a pass, and that would have been a shame, because there’s a good book under the generic trappings.
Valerie McTeague’s bookstore is a late night haven for students from Edgewood College who are looking for a place to have late night study sessions. When a mysterious book ends up in her possession, Val has to fend off the monstrous creatures known as Jackals who desperately want the book. Finding herself thrust into this conflict with a mismatched crew of humans, vampires from her past, and lesbian succubi, her ultimate goal is to keep the book out of Jackal hands, whatever the cost.
So many urban fantasy novels these days have jerkass heroines who push everyone away and are snippy even to characters who are supposed to be their friends. Night Owls has characters who are genuinely nice. Val looks out for students and staff at her place of business. Elly, a member of a brotherhood that specializes in slaying jackals, is a young woman with an unstable home life and a fresh trauma while Justin is just a nice kid who gets caught in the crossfire. The cast supports one another in various ways. Another thing that I liked is that point of view characters are not infallible. When Valerie screws up in the first few chapters, Chaz, her Renfield (basically a servant) chews her out and she apologizes. Elly’s brother, Cavale, confronts his sister over how she idealizes her now-deceased mentor. Many stories seem to have either protagonists that can do no wrong or protagonists that never really apologize even when they have screwed up. Some series introduce huge worlds to explore right off the bat. Night Owls universe is comparatively small: the Jackals or Creeps are the main antagonists, with vampires as their natural predators, and werewolves are also mentioned. Cavale is a warlock, and of course there are the succubi. The Jackals are something like demon-possessed werewolves who were once human, which is a bit of a change from the standard “fur vs. fang” plot.
One particularly refreshing change is the complete absence of romance. The closest thing to a romance in Night Owls is a couple characters admitting they have feelings for someone and never acting on them, and of course, Sunny and Lia are already a couple. There’s no love triangle, and no mention of a “sexy” character in the back cover text. It’s quite refreshing to read an urban fantasy novel without a romantic subplot. It’s nice to see a book that doesn’t rely on romance so much to create tension. Val worries about her past literally coming back to bite her. Chaz worries about Valerie. The Creeps are constant threats.
Unfortunately the book isn’t very diverse. The only characters of color are Sunny (who, as a shapeshifter, can change her appearance) and an unnamed child who spends her “screen time” in a catatonic state. Sunny and Lia are the extent of the book’s sexual diversity. It’s a shame that more diverse characters weren’t seen given the close proximity of a college, usually a very diverse place unless it’s one of those yuppie private colleges.
If I had any criticisms of this book besides the lack of diversity, it’s that I wish Sunny and Lia had had a role in the story that was a little more than glorified babysitters for Justin and then an appearance in the final battle. I also felt like it took some time for the plot to really get going. One thing that I thought was pretty abrupt was the way Elly goes from idolizing her mentor to the way that illusion is suddenly shattered. It felt like it could have used more build-up or had the character begin to question her idealized picture of him before the ball dropped. The one other thing I didn’t like is the way Val is catty with another vampire, because one thing urban fantasy can’t do without is cattiness. However, it’s a small, personal issue when the majority of the main cast supports each other in ways we don’t see very often in urban fantasy.
I liked this book, it had nothing that made me frothing at the mouth angry and the lack of a strong romantic subplot was a refreshing change. I want to see where this story goes, especially given where the characters are when the first book leaves off. In some ways it is a fairly typical story in urban fantasy, but if you’re looking for a typical story and are just tired of endless love triangles, I’d recommend this book.