Tanya Huff, patient whose “Smoke” series I reviewed here, viagra approved here, this and here, is one of the more prolific Canadian sf/fantasy writers. Her first novels were published back in 1989, and I’ve been reading her books, mostly when they come out new, since 1995 or so. She’s probably most famous for the “Blood” series which was adapted into the TV show “Blood Ties” that was on a Canadian channel I can’t remember and Lifetime in the U.S.; I’m fairly certain that the success of this show led to the adaptation of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books as “True Blood” on HBO. (Which I do not get, or I’m sure I’d be watching it.)
Claire Hansen is a Keeper; postulate that the earth is the neutral ground between a delicate balance of Light and Dark. Keepers (and their lesser-in-power relatives, Cousins) help maintain this balance by working for the Light, which generally isn’t as pro-active as the Dark. One day, she’s called to a site of a disturbance in the Force (har) that happens to be a bed-and-breakfast in Kingston, ON. (That’s in Canada.) When she gets there, the owner — a Cousin who was monitoring the site — runs off and leaves everything to her: the B & B, the site, and Dean McIssak, the incredibly stable yet incredibly young cook and caretaker. Oh, and did I mention that the site itself is a hole to Hell in the furnace room?
Other than a few excursions to various realms out of reality, the action in the book is pretty much confined to the Elysian Fields Guest House, once Claire actually gets there. Of course, a three-story guest house with a hole to Hell in the basement, an attic full of antiques, a ghost, and some imps, and an elevator that doesn’t quite go where it’s supposed to would make enough setting for a book by itself. Add in a wardrobe that Claire uses to travel to strange places, a room on the third floor containing a woman who isn’t quite Sleeping Beauty, and a really crazy next-door neighbor, and three hundred pages go by in a flash.
Of course, the setting is only part of the joy of the book. Let’s not forget that Claire is running a bed-and-breakfast, and that means guests. These guests run the gamut from a medium to werewolves to honest-to-Zeus Greek gods. Knowing that the place is owned by a Keeper (or Cousin) makes the paranormal beings more likely to stay there, and stay there they do. The Greek gods were probably my favorite; they’re pretty much all retirement age (except Hermes, who has been kept in service because of flower delivery vans using his image) and definitely starting to lose it. Hades accidentally kills birds; Zeus is still trying to seduce every female in sight, but it ain’t a pretty picture when his transformations go wonky.
Overall, this is a hilarious book. A good deal of the jokes are related to the setting and as such, might not be quite as funny for readers who didn’t grow up in Canada or watching the CBC. That certainly won’t take away all the humor in the book, though, and eventually readers will figure out that, for example, people from Newfoundland and people who are French-Canadian historically don’t get along, and also that icing and offsides are two different things to be penalized for in hockey. (Icing is when the puck gets ahead of you; offsides is when you get ahead of the puck. Roughly.) I’d definitely recommend this book to fans of Tanya Huff’s writing, or as a good entry book into her fantasy work. While intellectually I know it isn’t her best work, it’s definitely one of my favorites. 4/5 stars.