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Monday, January 30, 2012

Tooth and Nail - Jennifer Safrey

Contrary to the article that graced this blog last week, I have been known to choose a book to read (or not read) based on genre. Usually I do it to avoid things I know I won't like, as opposed to trending toward things I know I will. For example, I hate paranormal romance and dislike most urban fantasies (because they masquerade as paranormal romance). Over the weekend, I made a choice to read an Urban Fantasy book specifically because I realized I should practice what I preach. With that in mind I read Jennifer Safrey's novel Tooth and Nail, from Night Shade Books.

Gemma Cross's boyfriend is running for congress. She used to be a professional pollster, but now she's retired to support her boyfriend's ambition. To keep herself busy she's rededicated herself to boxing, a childhood love and lifetime hobby.  Her life is perfect, until a magnetic young woman shows up at her gym offering her the job of a lifetime.  See, Gemma is half faerie - specifically half tooth faerie. Get it? Tooth and Nail.  As a hybrid of fae and human, Gemma is destined to defend the Olde Way, the memory of an idyllic life that pre-dates humankind. To bring back the Olde Way, the fae collect innocence, which is -- not surprisingly -- encapsulated in the baby teeth of children.  Someone is threatening that process, and Gemma is the only person who can stop it.

Before I go any further let me be clear, this is an utterly ridiculous premise. How ridiculous? Like John Travolta insisting he's straight, ridiculous. Ok, maybe not that bad. But, Tooth and Nail is about the tooth faerie saving the world, an idea I thought put aside for good after the movie starring the Rock. Unlike the movie, I'm pretty sure Safrey isn't going for tongue in cheek comedy (unless I'm really dense), instead opting for a serious take on (I feel silly even saying it) the mystical being that replaces teeth with small change. Some readers just won't be able to get past that, and I wouldn't hold that against anyone. That said, and believe me this is hard to say, I really enjoyed it.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much I read it in one sitting.

Perhaps I was predisposed to like Safrey's novel. Set in Washington DC, in the midst of a Virginia Congressional election, the book moves through a lot of my circles.  Even a boxing gym in Chinatown, where one actually exists, is rendered with a touch of familiarity. Safrey deftly captures the paranoia of a political race, and the mindset of most candidates as they have their life picked apart. There's even a blogger called the D.C. Digger.  Trust me when I say, there are plenty of those in the real world. Added to this perfect (for me) milieu, are dynamic and effective characters, a distinct lack of overt romance, and a well designed plot, making Tooth and Nail everything I want from my urban fantasy (that I almost never read).

The novel focuses on three primary points in Gemma's character that ultimately drive the narrative. First, that Gemma isn't some trophy wife, who will sit on the sidelines while her man makes laws.  Second, being a tooth fairy isn't exactly what she had in mind.  Third, filling that role is a lot more than she bargained for, jeopardizing her life, her boyfriend's career, and the way she relates to the world at large.  To the first point, I think a lot of the novel's success is predicated on Gemma being a real woman with... AGENCY. I've been waiting to use that term ever since Liz Bourke wrote her review of Theft of Swords.

Gemma doesn't wait around for men to solve her problems. She isn't overly beautiful, or stereotypical in any way that I've come to recognize females in fantasy novels. Sure, she gets weak in the knees at the sight of a set of six-pack abs, but that comes across more realistic than gratuitous and for an urban fantasy novel, Tooth and Nail spends very little time developing romantic tension.  Safrey instead develops tension by challenging her characters and their mores, asking them to exist in real space, not some contrived romantic or supernatural boondoggle. That's not to say there aren't some contrived scenes (there are several), but they are the exception as opposed to the rule.

For those who read this blog regularly and/or converse with me on Twitter, I'm sure this review is somewhat staggering. Tooth and Nail is radically divorced from what I typical read or enjoy. Tying it back to my article from Friday, that's the beauty of reading without preconceptions. The truth is there are good urban fantasies and paranormal romances, just as there are epic fantasies and space operas. It's unfortunate that I'll read very few because of how they're defined by the marketplace.

I'm glad to have read Jennifer Safrey's newest novel and I'd love to hear from anyone out there with ideas for novels I might enjoy off my beaten path.

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At January 30, 2012 at 2:33 PM , Anonymous Bibliotropic said...

I got a copy of this one for review, and I'm really glad to know that I'm likely to enjoy it! The tooth faerie aspect kind of made me raise an eyebrow, but I decided to give it a chance based on the fact that it's not a YA novel (if it was, it would be likely to be filled with a bunch of stuff that wouldn't interest me, stuff that doesn't fly well when done in an adult-oriented novel). Good to know that I probably won't be disappointed in my choice!

At January 30, 2012 at 2:43 PM , Blogger Josh (Fixed on Fantasy) said...

This is similar to what I try and convince a lot of people of ... yes there are some books out the, the Lord of all being Twilight, that are absolute rubbish and have terrible premises, but that are in fact great. They're an addictive, fast read and sometimes you even enjoy rolling your eyes a little.

Probably totally not your point with this review, but it makes me think of some friends who refuse to read books like this because they think themselves too good - when really, sometimes reading something fluffy can be really enjoyable.

At January 30, 2012 at 3:47 PM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Thanks Justin.

The premise doesn't at first glance sound up my alley--I'm not a heavy UF guy, kind of like you, but this one might be an exception to that.


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