Titanshade by Dan Stout

Titanshade by Dan Stout has to be the most enjoyable urban fantasy book that I have read in the recent past. It is gritty noir, a police-procedural set in a masterfully created world. An absolute blast of fresh air - doesn't read like a debut at all. Dan Stout's writing is a great balance of assured masterful storytelling gorgeous world building and some compelling characters. The narrative is relentlessly paced, starting off as a murder mystery investigation set in this dark gritty town fraught with suspense and perils before heading down the lanes of twisty political intrigue - all of this headlined by a brooding cop hero named Carter, who's been dogged by misfortunes all his life and now has a penchant for the bottle but also built up a reputation for solving crimes. An excellent nose for detective work and perhaps trouble. If you think you've read this before, then think again. Be prepared, for Titanshade will blow your mind wide open and then some.

Titanshade is a gritty town set closer to the North end of this world, inhabited by eight different races. An erstwhile boomtown based on the oil economy, now the oil wells are drying up and the town authorities are trying hard to revive the flailing economy by negotiating to set up wind-farms to harness energy to keep this town running. Squibs, a frog-like race are the ones who are looking to invest and set up these wind-farms. But unfortunately, one of the negotiators - a Squib official - is found hacked to pieces in his hotel room. And this could potentially derail the talks and thus land the leaders in a hot mess.

Carter whose reputation in the media and the police force, is a bit skewed due to some unfortunate incidents in the past, is sidelined as the lead for this case in favor of Angus, another rising hotshot in the department, who plays well for the media and the crowd. And to add insult to this injury. Carter gets partnered with a rookie college-pass out called Ajax to help solve this high profile case. Now Ajax is a Mollenkampi, a non-human race that has mandibles sticking out of their scale-faced jaws (Look at the freakin' awesome cover!) and have two mouths, including a separate one for talking and eating. (fascinating, right?) But as Carter soon finds out Ajax might be a greenhorn but he is an intelligent one and a quick learner with a background in political science, Carter figures out that he might actually be an asset on this case.

Soon enough, clues start stacking up, lead to baffling scenarios one after the other, leading Carter and his partner deeper into this politically charged web of deceit. And with a few political honchos breathing down their necks to wrap up the case sooner so to get the negotiations back on track, there is a lot of pressure. There are the 'candies' [ prostitutes] who had possibly turned up at the Hotel, solicited for by the Squib official, possible suspects. Then there is the beautiful envoy of the Titanshade Ambassador who seems all too eager to help out the cops. There is also the angle of a former corrupt cop arrested by Carter himself, who could possibly have been blackmailing the Squib. With the noose tightening around him and his own friends and family, Carter has to act fast to clear up his name and nab the real powers behind the scenes.

The suspense and the tense thriller that Dan drums up is an absolute cracker, a loaded spring waiting to release hell, a loose dynamite fuse primed to be lit. His writing is solid, immersing you into the story without overloading you with information bits - organically building out the world behind you even as Carter chases leads and false leads. This was what I found most impressive in his book - the effortless world building. There are some amazing concepts that blew my mind - like the Sky Funerals ( In a town where real estate is ridiculously expensive and  dead bodies needs to be 'buried', the cremation act is about leaving the dead bodies on the other side of this huge holy mountain for the buzzards to take care of!), the One path and the eight races ( really hoping that Dan delves deeper into this concept in his follow up!) or even the concept of sorcery using a resource from the older forgotten world called Manna.

Carter is absolute train wreck of a character, with his failed career that he has self-sabotaged, his inability to warm up or trust people and his drinking habits. But the saving grace for Carter is his brutal honesty. And for this, time and again people (like the TPD station chief Captain Bryhh have given him second chances. Plus, he is good at tracking down leads on a case. Scary good - and it's great fun to be on the chase as this devoted detective throws caution to the air and bulldozes his way through myriad difficulties and roadblocks to see justice served. His partner Ajax as well was a real fun character. A disco-lover with a college education might seem like a misfit for a cop career but Jax proves himself time and again to be reliable partner to Carter. Those horrendous eating habits, not withstanding.

In short, Titanshade is an absolute entertainer, a science fantasy tale effectively mashed up with detective noir bringing to life an incredibly detailed gritty urban-fantasy world. I cannot wait to get back into the dark shadowy streets and the icy-barrens of this amazing world. Titan's Day (Carter Archives # 2) comes out April, 2020 ! 


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