Following up a well-received debut novel is always a bit tricky, but Nancy Holzner doesn’t miss a beat with the second book in her Deadtown paranormal series.
Last year, Deadtown introduced us to Vicky Vaughn, a shapeshifter demon hunter, who lives in the quarantined area of Boston that’s now home to the city’s resident zombie, vampire and werewolf population (the Deadtown of the title).
It gave Holzner the chance to set up her fully formed world – complete with paranormal politics – in an action-packed story peppered with wry humour.
In Hellforged, the action picks up again in Boston, where Vicky is continuing to ply her extermination trade while dealing with the repercussions of binding herself to the demon who killed her father.
But she has a few other things on her mind: as well as some troubling political changes in the wind, there’s a series of gruesome zombie murders in Deadtown. And when Vicky realises she may have a connection to the macabre crimes, she heads to Wales to learn more about her family’s shapeshifter heritage.
There, she resumes training with her enigmatic Aunt Mab and meets a “cousin” with a dark agenda. Ultimately, Vicky must face her demons – figuratively and literally – and learn to use a new weapon known as Hellforged to save Boston’s zombie population. Not to mention save herself from a fate worse than death.
One of the things I liked most about Deadtown was the social justice sub-text, where zombies and other paranormals were struggling for equal rights alongside their human counterparts.
There’s still a flavour of this in Hellforged – in fact the checkpoint scenes reflect restrictions imposed by an oppressive regime in a certain part of the world today – but Hellforged also delves deeper into Vicky’s story. The focus enables some interesting plot development and world building, with Holzner introducing more Welsh mythology into her Deadtown universe.
By moving a large part of the story to Wales, Holzner is able to create a new atmosphere, which keeps things fresh. But there’s still plenty of non-stop action and tension.
Supporting characters from Deadtown return, including zombie teenager Tina (slightly less annoying this time around), good guy cop Daniel, and werewolf civil rights lawyer Kane, who finally gets out of the court room and flexes some muscle.
It’s a good addition to the series, resolving a couple major plot issues, and setting up at a few new ones for the next instalment.