I've read most of Holly Black's young adult titles - certainly all the Fairy-based ones and really enjoyed them. I think she's a really interesting writer, a great world builder who incorporates all sorts of established myth, folklore and fictional sources into her work. Those books are funny, smart, complex, interesting, and entertaining. My relationship with YA is a bit uneasy, on the one hand, there are excellent writers doing interesting things, on the other I'm a bit old to want to read many books aimed squarely at a teenage audience - and that's just fine.
News then that Holly Black was writing a book for adults was more than interesting, I bought this the day it came into the shop - and then sat on it for a couple of weeks, nervous that I just wouldn't like it that much. For the first 50 or so pages, I didn't. And then I clicked with it. The tone is definitely different; it's much darker and grittier than the already quite dark teen books, and whilst there's a supernatural/fantasy element it's miles away from the established fairy tale world I associate Black with.
Here, the heroine, Charlie Hall is a bartender and recovering con artist. She's been shot and is trying to go straight, but it's not entirely working for her. She lives with her sister, Posey, and boyfriend Vince who is himself something of a mystery. It's a contemporary world, but one where shadows can have a life of their own and confer powers on those they belong to, they can also be stolen.
The feel of the book is distinctly noir - I'm thinking of Ross Macdonald, Margeret Miller, Vera Caspary, Sherwood King. Charlie has seen something she shouldn't have, started looking for answers, and found herself in more trouble than she wanted. She also keeps coming up against the mystery of Vince who has always seemed too good to be true.
It took me a while to care about Charlie, but when I started to the book really took off for me. Black is good on morally ambiguous characters and Charlie perhaps isn't quite the mess she first seems to be as her character fills out. There's quite a bit of world-building to get through - I think I'm right in saying this is part of a duology - which also slowed things down initially, but worked as the book carried on. Especially with the character of Vince...
Altogether it's definitely a Holly Black with a lot of her characteristic flourishes, but distinctly different in mood to her YA books, and in the best way. One of the things that makes me uneasy about Sarah J Maas is the way that her A Court of Thorns and Roses series reads like teen fiction with a lot of added smut. Black has never really done smut and doesn't do it here either (there's some sex but she's all about the plot), but she nails the 30s state of slowly losing time to turn things around and the sense of your choices starting to define you.
It's been a really successful hardback, and if you like something a little bit dark, with a fantasy element that still feels grounded in our own world, lots of twists, and a good mystery I recommend it.