(Note: Not every book I read in 2016 will be reviewed. I will specifically be writing reviews for self-published books. To start the year with a bang, my first novel has been one that has only recently been released by an author I have been following for several months. Shanan Winters is a great writer that I met through NYC Midnight, and every piece I have read of hers has been fantastic. Be sure to check out her blog and follow her, if you’re so inclined. She is a freelance writer and editor, and aside from writing frequently, she works full-time, has two children, and still manages to do write & edit on the side. I started this book on Monday, this week, and finished Friday night. Needless to say, I enjoyed it.)
Title: Rising: Book One of the Adept Cycle
Author: Shanan Winters
Available: Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, nook, Paperback (U.S. only)
Shanan Winters’s debut novel, Rising: Book One of the Adept Cycle, is a fun ride. With believable characters, an interesting premise, a strong setting, and a well-constructed plot, it pulls you in from the start. A mixture of crime thriller, science fiction/fantasy, and supernatural, it breaks many genre conventions while staying true to many others. There are werewolves and demons aplenty, and not a single one of them are sexualised, which is a huge bonus.
The story centres on Kessa St. James, an FBI media relations expert from San Francisco. She is sent to Gig Harbor, Washington, to assist in the murder investigation of a senator and partners with Seattle FBI profiler Danny Harmon. Her main role is to keep the media away from the case during their investigation, but she gets a bit more than she bargained for when she realises that supernatural forces are at work in the small community. The two have history together, as well, having met each other fifteen years ago during what Kessa believes was a prank that drove her away from the Pacific Northwest for as many years and forced her to try to block the events from memory. Those memories come racing back and threaten to change her perception of the world once more. Only this time, there are some clues and people that help confirm there is something darker at play along the way. Kessa soon discovers she is Adept , and she has the power of a natural magic. Harmon and Kessa also discover that they are in the middle of a demon turf war, and though they are both well out of their depth, they are thrust straight into this new world with very little in the way of Cliff’s notes.
Kessa is a relatable character (it does help that you are reading the book through her perspective), and you pick up straight away that she is pragmatic and firmly seated in reality. She butts heads with her temporary partner, Danny, as he is overzealous, compulsive, and believes in the extraordinary. As two main characters go, they are definitely polar opposites, and it makes for more than a few amusing scenes. There are supporting characters aplenty, but I will not go into the finer details of these, as half the fun of reading the book is seeing the world unfold.
The location of the story is firmly set in the Pacific Northwest, and you get transported there from the first page. As you go further into the book, the supernatural or fantasy elements bring on a more defined state, and you do feel like you are walking alongside Kessa. There are worlds outside our own, and this is where a lot of the book shines. There is no heavy description in these parts, which makes it easier to paint the picture in your own mind.
In terms of story and pacing, the book travels along very well, especially for a debut novel. As it is the first in a series, it is information heavy, as the building of the world is really important. However, Shanan has done a great job of mixing in this information between action sequences, and it does not slow very much throughout the story. The first quarter of the book sets up the location and characters, the second quarter starts to ramp up the tension and add the right mix of action and exposition, and the last half is all go-go-go. To put it in perspective, I started the book on Monday. By Thursday, I was halfway through the book. Then on Friday I finished it. It went so fast, I was surprised when it ended, despite having that little indicator at the bottom of my Kindle app telling me how far along I was. The book takes place across two days, basically, so that is part of the reason it feels so fast-paced.
In regards to the story’s bigger surprises, there were plenty of hints throughout to give you an idea what may be occurring, and for me, that was a good thing. There’s nothing worse than a big reveal coming from left-field, and I appreciated that Shanan spent so much effort building that part of the story.
Due to some minor errors, it’s not quite the perfect novel. I had a tough time believing some of the finer details. Kessa was sent to Gig Harbor specifically to handle the media. She keeps thinking to herself that she needs to address them, but she doesn’t for quite some time. Additionally, Kessa’s actions and thoughts sometimes do not reflect her history of being a FBI agent, as she is often found in situations she wouldn’t go into if she had the level of training she attests to. Lastly, Shanan does do a great job building the world, but there are some unnecessary descriptions that do sometimes slow the story. Early in the book, Kessa and Harmon arrive at the witness’s house. We go inside only the once through the book, but half a page is spent on describing the house’s interior. There are around 3 other times that this occurs, and unfortunately, it feels a bit like padding to make the book that little bit longer. Overall, these things barely hinder the story, though, and I mention them only to provide some constructive criticism to an otherwise great book.
Rising makes for a fantastic time, especially if you’re after something unconventional. The characters make the piece believable, while the setting and themes are deeply rooted in both reality and fantasy. I enjoyed the book immensely, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the supernatural. For a debut novel, Shanan has crafted a polished and believable piece, and I cannot wait to see more from the Adept Cycle.