DISCLOSURE: I received an e-copy from the author in exchange of a review. My opinions are honest, fair, and my own.
I fell in awe of CT Phipps’ urban fantasy world found in Straight Outta Fangton. Mindful of those emotions, naturally I was excited to dive into I Was A Teenage Weredeer.
That isn’t to imply that the two share the locale. They were approximately thirty miles apart, resulting in minimal crossover. The aforementioned vampire homage wasn’t a prerequisite.
As expected, Phipps and his collaborator, Michael Suttkus, took the former’s fortified foundation and built upon Detroit’s sordid history, laws, and magical creatures, and developed a world that was much more than what transpired before.
”America is a study in contrasts. It is a nation founded on the principles of equality and democracy but built with slavery as well as genocide. We must acknowledge both sides of our heritage to forge the future.”
It was such a pleasure to read, and learn about, the intricacies of Bright Falls, and how the protagonist, Jane Doe, fit in the grand scheme of things, in both worlds: the mundane and supernatural. I reveled in those chapters and characters. I wanted to savor it as much as I could, but impulsively, I had to know what happened next.
Despite its darker storyline, this was technically young-adult, and working within those restraints, they had to tone down the profanity. In lieu of colorful words often found in adult publications, the author’s came up with many creative substitutes that not only worked, but made for a more fun and original narrative. Whereas a lot of writers would forgo that admittedly implied contract with said audience, or simply said she/he cursed, they didn’t take that responsibility lightly. They, in fact, honored it with minimal cursing, and only to emphasize the mood and frequently intense situations.
The prose was an improvement from Fangton,and Jane was decently fleshed out. She was so intriguing. Other key players, like Maria, the werecrow, were even intense. FBI Special Agent Alex Timmons, and notorious crime lord, Lucien Lyons, were eccentric, too. Occasionally, the pace was perhaps a little too fast, but not to the point that the myriad of details and complexities of character (Jane especially,) became a blur. Contrarily, Phipps and Suttkus offered a nice blend of the fantastical, intricate, and subtle, with profound revelations into the human condition, superimposed by pathos, naivete, and regret. Deep regret.
As promising as all that might sound, it was the characterizations themselves which was the novel’s biggest flaw. As mentioned above, our loveable weredeer was nicely developed (par for the course, being the first in the series.) Special Agent Timmons and Lucien were good, too, featuring a surprising connection I didn’t see coming. And for one, a backstory steeped in tragedy. I kind of had a sense of who Emma O’Henry, Jane’s best friend, was, but I wanted more than substance, and less snark from her. The other townsfolk, though, left much to be desired.
Featuring a similar setup to Straight Outta Fangton, things began innocent enough and, turn by turn, became increasingly perilous, dark, and hostile. The mystery on display here was fully engaging and thankfully, it wasn’t another rehashed plot device. Admittedly, a group of novice sleuths was a cliche decades ago, yet there are more important things than a working premise: keeping things interesting and fresh. Phipps seemingly specializes in taking familiar concepts (“tropes are tropes for a reason,”) and making them his own. That’s what makes his work so fun to read.
“This was plain old human evil at the start. It infected the spirit of these woods and turned it into a monster. Everyone else just paid the cost.”
As with anything else, there are pros and cons. For instance, in the twenty-third chapter, when Jane confronted her shaman mother, Judy Doe, additional exposition would have been beneficial. Not a lot, but given the heavy-handedness of the scene, it felt rushed. Generally, less is more, but sometimes “more” is needed. Feelings of detachment ensued.
There were additional instances where more clarification would have been advantageous, but would I be nitpicking? Perhaps. Instances revolving around Lucien, and how his notoriety affected him personally, and how his actions impacted Bright Falls. It’s possible that I missed some subtlety or other, but certain aspects were talked about in dialogue, and it was almost like it was implied that the reader knew all the history.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that I’m to blame, because I have concentration issues and I could have easily missed the subtle details. I probably missed a lot.
Aside from minimal typos and awkward word choice, the prose was fairly clean. They pulled me out of the story temporarily, but never overtly. And while I enjoyed the deer puns, they became too much. They slowed the pace slightly, and I felt impatient to keep the story flowing. The pop culture references were constant, and they helped informed their world.
In summarization, this was a highly ambitious, complex story, seasoned with compassion for humanity, and that of the gods, regardless of their intentions. For those reasons alone, I’ve discovered an ever deeper respect for CT Phipps, and a curiosity about Michael Suttkus’ work.
Overall, a job well done. 👍
I’m very much looking forward to the additional Jane Doe adventures, found in the second Bright Falls book, An American Weredeer in Michigan, the short story, “Jane Verses the Black Knight,” in the Blackest Knightsanthology, and any forthcoming novels.