Thursday, 9 February 2012

Keri Arthur: Destiny Kills (2008)

Having just read a novel which was the second in a series, I thought I had done the same again when I began to read Destiny Kills. The opening chapters seem to follow on straight from an earlier story, and that back-story is very complete and alluded to in such a way that it makes this seem like it continues something fully written out. But it turns out to be the start of the series - though of course it is possible that there is an earlier, unpublished story.

The opening is also remarkable for its use of a rare conceit: a narrator with amnesia. It is a striking device, which is very useful to the author as the narrator naturally needs lots of things explained to her that she would otherwise be expected to know, and this makes it easy to introduce ideas to the reader in a fashion which seems natural. There are two serious problems, however, which explain why it is rarely used: real world amnesia is not all that common, especially of the all-enveloping type which is used here, so readers find it inherently implausible (have you ever met someone who, when sober, is unable to remember their identity?); and it is a too striking device, which will all too easily overwhelm everything else in the story. Indeed, only a single other instance of its use occurs to me: the brilliant Traitor's Purse by Margery Allingham, from 1941, where the idea is sustained for much longer (and more ingeniously made part of the plot and characterisation) than it is here.

Being an amnesiac on a deserted beach with a dead body is a difficult position to be in. And it is not long before Destiny McCree (for that turns out to be the narrator's name) is on the run from the police, joining a professional thief who is the brother of the dead man, summoned telepathically by him. The moment of amnesia passes, and Destiny remembers that she is a shape-shifting sea dragon, who had fled (with the dead man, an air dragon) from a group of amoral scientists who have held her captive for a decade to study her. As in another recently reviewed novel, this leads to a chase across the United States, this one from Oregon to Maine.

While the amnesia is not used as much or as interestingly as it could have been, Destiny Kills is an enjoyable thriller-with-magic. The romance between Destiny and thief/air dragon Trae is well handled too. Compared to many fantasy novels around at the moment, the story is quite soft-centred: more Anne McCaffrey than Richard Morgan. But it's well written, and enjoyable to read, without having any pretensions to profundity - 7/10.

Edition: Piatkus, 2011
Review number: 1449

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