Alayna Williams
Dark Oracle
Oracle, Book #1

Review brought to you by OBS staff member Verushka

I love urban fantasies, but after some time, there are certain elements that become familiar and routine. Alayna Williams has for me, done something different – created a world, and a character that is as fiercely based in the human world as she is in the supernatural parts of it – Tara, the main character is a criminal profiler, an every day job in comparison to the vampires, witches, warlocks and assorted supernatural beings that are in such books. Tara is as defined by her human world and job, as she is by her power and her power to “see” the future through her tarot cards. Even that isn’t entirely correct, her power, as such, guides her intuition, if anything. Generally, Williams writes it as subdued, never letting it take over anything.

The surprises continue – no one knows that she reads the cards which helps keep the “normalness” a constant presence in the story. Tara worked for a “Special Projects” branch of the FBI, and no one there knew what she could do. Williams never skirts the details of her talent, or the details of how her job as a criminal profiler defined her – when we meet her, she is living as a recluse after surviving an encounter with the Gardener, a serial killer. It left her physically scarred, and turned her away from her cards and her talent and the Daughters of Delphi who are a society of oracles, who like Tara, have the power to see the future through whatever means that each has an affinity for. The Pythia, the head of the society sees the future in fire, ie pyromnacy. There’s a rich history between Tara and the Daughters, and it makes Pythia, especially a multi-dimensional character, for someone in a supporting role.

Harry Li, the agent assigned to babysit Tara while she aids Special Projects in the search for a scientist researching dark matter. He is a skeptic, but his emotions and relationship with Tara help him move past that to on the path to believing in what she does – he’s not quite there yet. The beauty of Harry is that Williams’ gives him enough care for us to realize his frustrations with his job, with being blindsided by bureaucracy as he tries to solve the case. Further, through the case, we are introduced to his past, and he is fleshed out more without ever taking away from Tara and the case.

Every character, secondary (Harry) and supporting (Pythia and Cassie Magnusson, the missing scientist’s daughter) has a part to play, and each is written strongly enough that for whatever length they have devoted to them, every word matters. I don’t usually like jumping around from character to character in books, but Williams’ makes this work, for everyone matters on their own, and to Tara. Each character is as fully realized as they can be supporting Tara’s story.

Tara’s tarot reading, I will admit, can become a bit much to read in this book, for it slows down the pacing considerably. But the details of it are interesting, and nothing that I have read before, and by the second book, which I’ve just started, Williams’ seems to have found her pacing, and made those moments of tarot cards and Tara’s voice as she reads them fit into the story much better than in the first. In retrospect, the pacing issue in this book could very well be considered Tara finding her stride with reading the cards again, as when we meet her, she hasn’t done so in a long time.

The book revolves around the search for a missing scientist, and as much as that comes with a bit of the unexplainable/fantastical what makes it unique is Williams’ style of writing and talent for grounding her writing so well that this could be a crime novel, with a fantasy twist, instead of an urban fantasy, with a cops and robbers theme.