It was strange being there, eating dinner with them. They knew that I knew, and I knew that they knew, and there we all were, a zombie, an assortment of werewolves and/or weredogs, and me, a nurse who was getting used to dealing with vampires. I was struck by how completely normal it felt to be with them, for all of our differences.
Dragons and vampires and zombies… oh my!
Cassie Alexander’s debut urban fantasy novel, Nightshifted, hits a sweet spot with an appealing mix of action, imagination and humor, with just the right dash of romance.
I picked up Nightshifted on the recommendation of Angie, whose taste in Urban Fantasy seems to be pretty similar to my own. She promised that this book featured a jaded heroine who’s easy to root for and a gritty world, and did Nightshifted ever deliver.
Edie has taken a nursing job in a secret ward, Y4, at a run-down county hospital. The patients there aren’t quite… normal. They’re paranormal beings of all sorts, and many of them are very, very dangerous. Despite the low pay and occupational hazards, Edie works there as part of a deal with some unsavory characters who promise to use their magical mojo to keep her addict brother off of drugs following a near-overdose.
Things get a whole lot worse when a “Daytimer” (a semi-vampire thing—it makes sense, trust me) dies during Edie’s shift, and she goes looking for Anna, a name he uttered with his dying breath. She stumbles upon some bad stuff, and accidentally kills a very nasty vampire in the process of rescuing Anna, who appears to be a teen girl (trust me, no one in the Nightshifted world is as they appear). As a result, Edie finds herself wrapped up in the paranormal underground, trying to save her own life.
Edie is a fantastic narrator—she’s real and funny and prickly.
Unlike a lot of Urban Fantasy heroines, she’s relatable in a lot of ways—she doesn’t have super strength, or awesome fighting skills or some sort of recently-discovered supernatural ability. She’s a nurse and her superpower is cynicism. She screws up and gets lucky to escape some pretty dangerous situations. And her commentary about her job left me giggling—because she sounded like some nurses I’ve known,
Nurses are natural kleptos. You don’t want to be in a room without enough supplies, so every time you walk past the med-cart you pocket another saline flush. By the end of the shift you can look like a chipmunk if you’re not careful. Some days it’s hard to remember that the gum at the end of the grocery checkout aisle isn’t there just for you.
Besides the humor and well-developed world, where Nightshifted stands out the most for me is Edie’s tenuous connection with Ti, a zombie (not the gross kind), who moves her out of her comfort zone and forces her to make a bit of a connection with another person.
“Because. I don’t want to die alone.” I separated myself and looked at him. If I blinked right, and fast, I could see him there, looking like a soft yellow haze beside me. “My whole life I haven’t been good at making connections. There was me and my brother, yeah, but other than that? No one else really. And most days he doesn’t even count. I do all right at work, but no one really gets me. School was lonely, except for the times that I was taking care of patients, because they were happy to see me, you know? I either talk too much, or tell too much, and it scares people off, and I’m not sure what to do about that.” I looked up at him, and saw his expression momentarily cloud. “Like now.”
It’s funny, because the romance element in Nightshifted is a relatively small part of the novel.
But, it’s what softens the grittiness just enough for me. Sometimes, I struggle with the rougher, tougher urban fantasy (I’m a lightweight, okay?) and Nighshifted struck a great balance for me. The same can be said for the minor plot point of Edie’s devotion to, and tough-love attitude with, her brother, who has serious problems. She’s not so jaded that I didn’t care about what happened to her—I not only rooted for her to—you know—not die, I rooted for her to be happy.
Nightshifted is also full of consequences—which is a big plus for me. Edie makes some big-time mistakes throughout the novel, and she pays for them. She rushes into dangerous situations, and she gets hurt. She makes a bad deal with some bad folks to save her brother and finds herself in a pretty lousy work situation.She makes a stupid decision at a nightclub and she has to face the results of that decision,
Sure, nurses were all trained on STDs. That hadn’t stopped me from having unwise and unprotected sex with a British stranger two nights ago, though. Shit.
Regret and coulda-woulda-shouldas are big themes in Nightshifted. And nothing is tied up with a bow.
I was frustrated in the first half of the novel, however, because there is quite a bit of meticulous world-building and a fairly complex setup for the story that it takes some time for the plot to get rolling. Because character development is a big priority for me, it wasn’t a deal breaker, but if I’d been one to quickly abandon a book because of a slow-moving plot, I would have been pretty unsatisfied. Much of the action takes place in the Y4 ward where there’s an engaging and colorful assortment of colleagues and patients that help keep the first chapters from lagging. But be forewarned if that’s an issue for you.
I’m hoping that because the world and circumstances were well-established in this first novel in the series, that the subsequent books will move at the fast pace of the second half of Nightshifted. The second half of the book is very action-oriented, with moments of poignant connection between Edie and her zombie love interest—if the series keeps up that momentum, I’ll be very happy.
I am concerned that there’s a hint of a possible love triangle in future books.
Y’all know how I feel about triangular love—I do not like it. At all. Ti steals the show in this novel, and I’d hate to see a love triangle introduced just for the sake of adding conflict—there’s enough conflict as is, without introducing an unnecessary second suitor (the aforementioned British stranger) vying for Edie’s attention.
Finally, I have a very important and urgent question,
Is Ti’s name pronounced, “Tie” or “Tea”?
I must know this ASAP. It makes an enormous difference.
Nightshifted brought me back to E.R. (RIP)—which I loved in all its angsty drama, despite that it jumped the shark well before its cancelation—with the added fun of paranormal creatures, minus helicopters crashing into buildings and such. While it started out a bit slowly for my tastes, because it is a fresh voice and premise among the crowded shelves of Urban Fantasy, I eagerly anticipate what’s in store next for Edie and her colleagues when Moonshifted is released this November.
FNL Character Rating: Tyra’s jaded attitude and loyalty to the few people she really cares about fits the bill for Edie.