Series: SOULWOOD (set in JANE YELLOWROCK world)
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—3; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles: Roc
Blood of the Earth (8/2016)
Curse on the Land (11/2016)
The heroine of the SOULWOOD SERIES is Nell Nicholson Ingram, a mostly human 24-year-old woman who lives alone on her late husband's forested property outside Knoxville, Tennessee. Nell met Jane in "Off the Grid" (in Hunter's Blood in Her Veins story collection) when Jane requested her help in rescuing a vampire from the clutches of God's Cloud of Glory Church, a religious cult in which Nell was born and raised, but has long since denounced. God's Cloud is a patriarchal, polygamous group that adheres rigidly to societal rules in which women wear long skirts, bear many children, and leave the running of religious, social, and financial affairs to the men. It's a place where the church leader has the power to order unmarried women to become wives or concubines and where arranged marriages of young teenage girls are the rule.
When Nell was just twelve years old, the church's former leader demanded that she marry him. Nell publicly refused and instead became the second wife of John Nicholson, whose first wife (Leah) was dying of cancer. When Leah died, Nell and John married in a legal, civil ceremony and he left her his land in his will when he died three years ago—a nasty surprise to the church, which had assumed that the land—called Soulwood—would be theirs. Since then, the churchmen have been trying to get the land from her through threats and violence. Many of them believe that she is a witch and want to burn her at the stake according to church law. Ever since Nell and John and Leah left the church at the time Nell joined them, Nell has had little contact with her parents and siblings. As the series begins, Nell is all alone. The churchmen have even killed her three dogs. She has guns hidden all over her house and garden, but she's pretty sure that some day soon she won't be able to fend them off.
Nell knows that she has "powers," but she isn't sure exactly what she is or how her powers work. Eight years ago, she killed a man who tried to molest her and "fed" him to the earth on her farm, which sucked in all of his blood and bones, leaving only an oily smear on the surface of the ground. "I had fed him to the forest. I hadn't even known for sure who he was. I still didn't know. But that was my secret, never shared, not with anyone." Nell can feel the land's reactions to visitors, so she always knows if someone is on or near her land and if they are friends or enemies. Jane Yellowrock tells Nell that her magic is "similar to the Cherokee Yinehi," who are like the fairies in European folklore. In "Off the Grid," Jane muses about Nell: “Her magic was peculiar, but it clearly had a spatial net of sensory awareness, an ability to tell when she was being studied or hunted. My beast had the same awareness...The word came to me slowly, the Tsalagi syllables sounding in my mind, whispery and slow. Yi-ne-hi. Or maybe yv-wi tsv-di. Or a-ma-yi-ne-hi. Fairies, dwarves, the little people, or in her case, maybe wood nymphs would be closer. Mixed with human. Mostly human. Fairies in Cherokee folklore weren’t evil, just private and elusive, and sometimes tricksters, but this girl didn’t look tricky. Just wary. But the magic was woodsy, like the fey, the little folk. In American tribal lore, only the Cherokee had fairies and little people, possibly from the British who intermarried among them for so many centuries.” (Click HERE to read the entire scene in which Jane first meets Nell.) By the end of “Off the Grid," Jane has shoved Nell out of the shadows of her reclusive life into new adventures that begin in Blood of the Earth.
In the first novel, Nell explains that her magic "could help seeds sprout, make plants grow stronger, heal them when they got sick and tried to die off." She also knows that if a person spills blood on Soulwood land, Nell can kill them: "All I needed was one drop of...blood and I could take his life. It was my best protection; it was my magic and the magic of my land." She knows that "if they bled onto my land, they were mine." She keeps this part of her magic secret from everyone and tries not to think too much about it herself.
Set in the same world as the New York Times bestselling JANE YELLOWROCK novels, an all-new series starring Nell Ingram, who wields powers as old as the earth.
When Nell Ingram met skinwalker Jane Yellowrock, she was almost alone in the world, exiled by both choice and fear from the cult she was raised in, defending herself with the magic she drew from her deep connection to the forest that surrounds her.
Now, Jane has referred Nell to PsyLED, a Homeland Security agency policing paranormals, and agent Rick LaFleur has shown up at Nell’s doorstep. His appearance forces her out of her isolated life into an investigation that leads to the vampire Blood Master of Nashville.
Nell has a team—and a mission. But to find the Master’s kidnapped vassal, Nell and the PsyLED team will be forced to go deep into the heart of the very cult Nell fears, infiltrating the cult and a humans-only terrorist group before time runs out.
In the opening scene, Rick LeFleur and his werecat mate, Paka, arrive at Soulwood to request Nell's assistance on a case. After Jane met Nell and recognized her powers, she described Nell to Rick and suggested that she would make a good PsyLED agent. PsyLED is the shortened name for the Psychometry Law Enforcement Division of Homeland Security, and it deals with all crimes involving magic. Rick became a werecat through a bite, but Paka was born a werecat. To be completely accurate, they are actually African black were-leopards.
Rick wants to hire Nell as a consultant to PsyLed on a single case involving the God's Cloud church. Depending on how that works out, he might hire her on as an agent. But first, he has to convince Nell to help him out.
The case involves a group called the Human Speakers of Truth, a terrorist, anti-anyone-nonhuman, militant group that is on the run from the federal authorities. After the Speakers were tracked to Knoxville, they disappeared, and Rick believes that the Church is hiding them. That makes sense to Nell because both groups are ultra-right wing paranormal haters with legal and financial problems. After Nell sends Rick and Paka away without an answer, three churchmen attack her with gunfire. Just as she is about to give up hope, Paka arrives in leopard form followed by Rick with his own gun, and they basically save her life. They are accompanied by Pea, who is a grindelow—a small, neon-green, cat-like creature with long steel claws and sharp teeth that serves as an enforcer of were law by keeping weres from spreading the were-taint or killing humans. At this point, Nell agrees to help Rick with the case.
Then, Rick sends a team of newly trained PsyLED agents to stay with Nell, both for her protection and for her to help them with the case. She soon makes friends with all of them, some more than others. The early stages of a love interest appear to be developing between Nell and Occam, a handsome, blond were-leopard with a Texas drawl. Another male team member also becomes Nell's friend: an empath named Tandy who promptly falls in love with Soulwood and its magic.
The plot moves in a meandering manner as Nell and her PsyLED allies follow one lead after another as they try to figure out whether four local kidnappings of young women are related, whether the Speakers are the perpetrators, and how the Church is involved with the Speakers. Meanwhile, Nell is forced to make contact with some of her family members to ask pertinent questions about the case, and during this process she learns some shocking information about her own personal history. As the case progresses, Nell becomes increasingly comfortable working with her PsyLED comrades, which surprises her because she has always preferred to be alone on her land with no contact with any other people. She also begins to test the limits of her magic.
As usual, Faith Hunter tells a great story, but I do have two minor nits to pick. First, Nell is just too good to be true—too kind, too thoughtful, too well educated (by reading books from the local public library)—basically too flawless in every way. She cooks like a dream, keeps her primitive home spotless, shoots all kinds of guns with great accuracy, and is the perfect hostess—all in a house with limited electricity and no running water. Unfortunately, a perfect heroine is not nearly as interesting as a flawed heroine. The second problem has to do with the distance between Soulwood and the Church lands. Soulwood has no cellphone service, but the Church does, even though the Church settlement is within walking distance of Nell's house. It seems to me that a cellphone tower that services the Church would also serve Soulwood. Also, Nell has access to Wifi as long as her generator is operating. How can she have Wifi but not cellphone service? It may seem that I'm making a big deal out of nothing, but actually, the lack of cellphone service at Nell's house becomes critical at several points in the story.
Putting aside these minor problems, this is the beginning of a great series. In this book Nell begins to blossom, emerging from her solitary existence and entering a world full of support and friendship among her PsyLED teammates. Although the plot is dark and violent, there are moments of humor, particularly when the PsyLED agents listen to Nell's hill-country accent and underestimate her intelligence. When she demonstrates her top-of-the-line powers of deductive reasoning, they discover that her intellectual abilities are right up there with Sherlock Holmes. Nell even learns to laugh, something she hasn't done in many months.
This book could be read as a stand-alone, but it's better if you have some background on the JANE YELLOWROCK world. For example, Nell notices the strained relationship between Rick and Paka and makes some deductions and assumptions about the cause, but if you have read the JANE books, you'll already know what the problem is. Give this series a try; you won't be sorry.
NOVEL 2: Curse on the Land (11/1/2016)