Though I read a good bit of it, I’m really quite picky about urban fantasy. There seems to be a lot of sameness in the genre, and it’s hard to sell me on a new series. Kristi Charish did it quickly, however with “Owl and the Japanese Circus,” ($18, Simon and Schuster).
“Owl and the Japanese Circus” contains all of the expected elements of urban fantasy – the prickly and clever heroine, a little bit of mystery, a little bit of horror, fast-paced adventure, vampires. It also sets itself apart in a lot of ways.
Owl is an antiquities thief. She was once an archaeology student named Alix Hiboux, until she stumbled on something that she shouldn’t have. Her discovery got her kicked out of school and made her a pariah in the archaeology community.
Now, she lives in a Winnebago with her Mau cat – a natural vampire hunter – and procures artifacts for shady clients. One of those happens to be Mr. Kurosawa, owner of the Japanese Circus Casino in Vegas. After she delivers him an ancient egg, he requests a personal meeting, which Owl doesn’t do. Mr. Kurosawa is quite insistent, though. He’s also a dragon.
The egg, it seems, was missing a piece. If Owl can retrieve it, Mr. Kurosawa can make her biggest problem go away and provide her with a more normal life. If she can’t, well, she’s likely to end up as a dragon’s lunch.
And that’s only the beginning of her problems.
Owl is an interesting character in that she’s often quite annoying from a personality standpoint, but at the same time very likeable. She’s a bit of a female mix between Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden (without the magic, of course) and Indiana Jones, but a little shadier than either. Like Dresden, she has a tendency to crack wise even when it’s very much in her best interest to keep her mouth shut, and it often gets her in trouble. Like Indy, she’s an amazing archaeologist, who can crack codes and find things others can’t. She just works for a slightly different team.
Even though she hates supernatural types and is on a quest to avoid them, she also has quite the blind spot for spotting them. That’s not a good thing for Owl, but it’s a great twist for the reader.
Every good urban fantasy hero needs a colorful cast of friends and associates, and Charish does a very good job with that part of the formula. She has surrounded Owl with some very intriguing friends, all of which have secrets of their own.
“Owl and the Japanese Circus” delivers exactly what you want from an urban fantasy. It’s a fast-moving thrill ride that’s fun, funny and smart. It doesn’t deviate greatly from the urban fantasy formula, but Charish also throws enough kinks into the program to set it apart from the sea of books in that subgenre. Oh, and dragons are always a plus.
I think I’ve added another to the short list of urban fantasy series that I consider must-reads.