Vigil by Angela Slatter is an urban fantasy set in Brisbane, Australia.

Brisbane has a number of nicknames, I generally call it Brisvegas but this book uses Brisneyland. Whatever you call it, Brisbane has a cliched reputation for warm weather, theme parks and palm trees. But Vigil shows Brisbane in a completely different light.

Verity Fassbinder is a woman who strides between two worlds. The world of the Normals, us everyday types and the Weyrd, the paranormal underworld sitting just below the surface of everyday Brisbane. Verity is the product of a Normal mother and Weyrd father, she inherited some powers, extraordinary strength, but the rest of Verity is very Normal.

Her father was a Kinderfresser (child-eater) and a controversial figure in the both Weyrd and Normal community, he was caught by the Normal police, arrested as a paedophile and child-murderer, later dying in prison. Verity was raised by her Normal grandparents but now works to keep the peace between the Normal and Weyrd.

Verity starts off investigating her missing next door neighbour’s child, Lizzie and follows the trail into a world of child abductors, eerily similar to the story of her own father. Someone is taking children, not just the children that no one misses but Normal children and now the police are involved. Someone is also making wine from the tears of children and selling it on the Weyrd market.

Through her police contacts, Verity is led to another mystery and the world of sirens, bird-like women with wings and custom made shoes to hide amongst the Normals. When a siren is found murdered, the Normal police contact Verity and in her investigations Verity finds evidence of  a missing baby and no one knows where the baby is. And no one wants to help Verity either.

To add more work onto Verity’s already full plate, her ex-boyfriend the dark and brooding Bela, enlists  her to help with another missing person. The grown-up son of a Gold Coast business magnate has gone missing and he turns out to be half Weyrd like Verity. Plus there’s some interesting footage floating about the internet showing a rubbish whirlwind eating people on the Brisbane River.

Vigil is set is a wildly rich world under the surface of Brisbane with an entire eco-system of paranormal characters living alongside the Brisbane Casino, Southbank and Brisbane River. I’ve spent a little bit of time in Brisbane and found it really fun to imagine this supernatural activity happening alongside the buildings and landscapes I know.

Like Brisbane and Australia, itself, Slatter has created a mixing pot of different fantasy traditions, all learning to live with each other in a new country. Or not.

The Weyrd world of Brisbane governed a council of elders, those migrating from persecution in the Old Country (although which country is never named), plus angels, archivists, the Boatman on the Brisbane River and a trio of psychic sisters.

The world is really rich with its layers of paranormal, in fact I was excited to imagine this much paranormal life going on ‘hidden in plain sight’.

Verity is a strong and tenacious character, dogged in her pursuits of the answer when no one tell her the truth. She seems to have a calling to protect children beyond everything else, despite being childless herself, perhaps making amends for the deeds of her father.

She’s the single-minded private detective, rarely sleeping, eating when she can and patching herself back together as she gets punched, kicked and stabbed along the way.

There is a strong female element within the book. The majority of characters are strong women in all the shades of grey, from good to bad. There is also an interweaving of fairytale and myth, plus a little bit of romance with the traditional roles of hero and heroine reversed.

Sometimes I find urban fantasy a little bit cheesy and too self conscious, with their hard action, smart talking characters. Maybe it was the familiar setting and the imaginative blending of the weird and the normal, or maybe it was Verity and her healthy dose of Australian smart-arse and cynicism, but I was engrossed all the way through to the end.

If you like paranormal coffeeshops, magical weapons, winged creatures, mysteries, cake and Brisbane, do yourself a favour and check out Vigil by Angela Slatter.

This book review first appeared as a part of Madeleine’s Speculative Fiction Review radio show on artdistrict-radio. You can listen to the podcasts here.