Review: Dark Vision / Author: Debbie Johnson / Publisher: Del Rey / Release Date: Out Now
The debut novel from freelance journalist Debbie Johnson, Dark Vision is a vibrant and sexy fusion of urban fantasy and Celtic mythology of varying authenticity.
Lily McCain is a music journalist for a Liverpool newspaper who avoids all human contact (both emotional and physical) due to the fact that, when she touches anyone, it comes with the unfortunate side effect of being granted (often morbid) visions of their future. But that’s not all. Turns out she’s also the mortal avatar of a Celtic goddess and is subsequently caught in the middle of a millennia-old power struggle where she is destined to make a choice that will decide the fate of all humanity for aeons to come. So, no pressure or anything.
One of the biggest appeals of urban fantasy is the contrast of modern-day environments with the magical underworlds hiding in the shadows of the city streets. The best examples of the subgenre are ones that not only give a true feel for the city in which they take place, but also leave you with the impression they could not have been set anywhere else. Like Kate Griffin’s London, Tanya Huff’s Toronto or Sergei Lukyanenko’s Moscow, the Liverpool that Debbie Johnson crafts feels intimate and familiar, even if it’s a place you’ve never set foot in your life. The city’s rain-swept streets, crowded nightclubs and the bustling vibrancy of everyday Scouse life are given an otherworldly counterpoint by elements such as Celtic warriors, fae barmen, vampire rock bands, a drunken goddess tutor and one quite ballsy use of a deus ex machina (in the truest sense of the phrase).
Not your standard fantasy heroine, Lily spends the entire book in a state of almost perpetual bewilderment as the truths of her origin and newfound responsibilities come to light. She’s self-deprecating about her shortcomings and the somewhat lamentable situation she’s been thrust into, but is never self-pitying, preferring instead to face each new obstacle with dry wit and a healthy volume of alcohol. While her sardonic sense of humour in the face of supernatural adversity could be compared to Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, she doesn’t do so with as self-conscious a desire to be funny, instead coming off as though if she didn’t just run with the overload of revelations and acknowledge their inherent absurdity, she’d likely go mad.
As well as crafting the overview of her fantasy world and fondly detailing the muscular forms of all the hunky men who have dive-bombed Lily’s life, Johnson also revels in letting her geek flag fly. References abound throughout to, amongst others, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, Heroes, Logan’s Run, Clash of the Titans, The Addams Family and Bill & Ted, usually invoked by Lily in an effort to make some degree of sense of what’s going on.
Although Dark Vision is very much a self-contained story, it’s likely to be the first of a series. Not just because books like these almost always are, but also due to identifiable seeds of further stories planted along the way of this one. If future instalments build on the strength of this debut, they’ll be ones to look out for.