Book Review: There’s a Dagger in Your Back // Stacey Willis

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What happens when a criminal falls in love with the detective?

This is the question posed by Stacey Willis, author of new fantasy novel There’s a Dagger in Your Back. The first book in a new series, it follows assassin Lorrin Raffe as she seeks power over the assassin rings in her city, Idun. With the book being marketed as an urban fantasy, Idun is described as a modern city inhabited by magic users, wyches, elves, mermaids, syrens and more.

The opening of the book feels particularly well-paced. The reader knows what is about to happen, more or less, but is kept invested in the plot by a satisfying escalation of the action on Willis’ part. We get a good sense early on of what Lorrin is like as a character and what journey she is on, as well as hints of the sad past that have brought her to where she is today and caused her to become so guarded.

These moments, however, feel a little like diamonds in the rough. One can’t help but notice that the writing feels somewhat unpolished. Grammatical errors abound in places, with semi-colons being scattered everywhere in place of commas. There is plenty of detail in Willis’ descriptions, but at times it strays too close to the superficial, leaving the reader feeling as though they’ve missed pieces of information along the way. The nouns ‘male’ and ‘female’ are used in place of ‘man’ and ‘woman’, making some of the dialogue feel oddly clinical, and characters being referred to as ‘the blonde’ or ‘the iman’ rather than simply using their pronouns or names becomes tiresome.

Although it is marketed as an urban fantasy, the book feels more like high fantasy with the amount of worldbuilding it tries to fit into its exposition from the beginning. New readers may feel pushed in at the deep end; those who aren’t hardcore fantasy fans may have a harder time with it as it’s more like high fantasy with elements of modern times involved. As a result, these modern elements can feel jarring – cars and transparent parodies of Pinky and the Brain shoot seemingly from nowhere, right after fantasy elements that feel as though they wouldn’t be necessary in a modern world. Urban fantasy is a fine line and this doesn’t quite walk it.

This isn’t to say the book isn’t promising. Lorrin and her detective rival have interesting chemistry, it has to be said, and with time and expansion the series might iron out these initial kinks. In addition, fantasy isn’t my usual genre of choice, so my inability to fall in love with this book may in part be a matter of taste. For hardcore fantasy readers the book is certainly worth a try.

There’s A Dagger In Your Back releases in eBook format on the 25th January and in paperback format on the 30th January.

Words by Casey Langton

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