Shane Berryhill’s first dark adult fantasy is the story of Zora Banks–a beautiful, Southern conjure woman of mixed race–as told through the eyes of her partner, Ash Owens, a pretty boy-redneck cursed with a monstrous alter ego.
When Tennessee State Representative Jack Walker hires Ash to find his missing, drug-addicted wife, Ash finds himself at odds with Chattanooga’s various underworld gangs–both the living and the unliving–as he and Zora become embroiled in a far-reaching occult organization’s grab for ultimate power.
Equal parts True Blood and Justified, BAD MOJO will prove a dark delight for fans of urban fantasy, Southern Gothics, paranormal romance, and hardboiled crime.
Our protagonist, Ash Owens, is a chip off the old block of Dean Winchester from Supernatural–a pretty boy who, even though it looks like he can’t do much damage, is anything but a pretty face and brings the fight to his enemies big time.
He’s sassy, brash, Southern, and doesn’t waste time getting to the point. He’s also unflinchingly honest to the reader, whether it’s about his feelings for conjure woman Zora, or whether it’s admitting that he’s a monumental jerk who doesn’t deserve her (which, to be fair, is mostly true.) Still, he’s a jerk that readers will like in spite of his garish behaviour.
He does, of course, have his redeeming qualities, otherwise the reader wouldn’t be able to get on board with him as the lead. He has a good, playful relationship with Zora’s daughter, and he’s generally on the side of good. But he’s also a “spook,” a vicious supernatural beast who has done some things in the past that continue to haunt him to this day.
Make no mistake–this isn’t a self-professed monster who feels sorry for himself. He struggles enormously to keep his inner beast at bay, which gets more difficult as the novel goes on, which came across as an authentic battle with himself, but he doesn’t get teary or mopey about it.
Now on to the conjure woman, Zora, whose name is indeed inspired by one of my favourite (and woefully under-read) authors, Zora Neale Hurston.
Berryhill’s Zora is a powerful conjure woman who works in hoodoo and doesn’t take any guff from anyone, especially not Ash. She’s also a woman who puts up a lot of walls around her and understandably so. She’s been hurt before, and doesn’t want anything bad to happen to her family. There’s an interesting backstory to why things are the way they are between Zora and Ash, and their history, but the author did a good job balancing this with the present narrative, as well.
Chattanooga, Tennessee is a refreshing change of paces from the Chicagos and Seattles that litter the urban fantasy landscape. Berryhill uses Chattanooga to its full potential here, and makes it spring to life on the page. I’m a huge fan of supernatural novels set in the South, and while Louisiana is at the top of that list, I’m glad that more urban fantasies set in the South are coming out that aren’t just the same retreads of New Orleans (Gail Z. Martin’s Deadly Curiosities, set in Charleston, NC, is another good example that comes to mind).
The bad guys. So, vampires are “vipers” with a snake-like From Dusk Till Dawn vibe, which was also a nice change of pace. Another thing I enjoyed was that the author has done some research into hoodoo and shows respect for the tradition. It also helps that he doesn’t hit readers over the head with endless descriptions and rules of hoodoo, and huge points to him for not confusing the tradition with voodoo, or trying to suggest that they’re the same.
The dialect. Berryhill’s approach to dialect was refreshing and a good example of what more authors should follow–one of the most common mistakes with the Southern dialect in fiction is this business of apostrophes for tryin’, buyin’, lyin’, etc., which is downright irritating, so I was glad to see the author’s more natural approach.
Although I wasn’t too crazy about the plot aspects that involved the missing senator’s wife, the interactions he had with vipers and other foes as a result were what I found most compelling and interesting.
In sum, Bad Mojo is everything a die-hard urban fantasy fan could want out of a compelling, page-turning story: a tortured but cool protagonist the reader can get on board with, a unique setting that offers elements of things we haven’t seen before a million times, good world-building and rules, and an exciting plot with conspiracies afoot at every turn. I hope there will be more books in the series so readers can enjoy more of Ash and Zora’s adventures.