Review: Uncanny Times – Laura Anne Gilman
by Laura Anne Gilman
Series: Huntsmen #1
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication Date: October 18, 2022
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Huntsmen, according to the Church, were damned, their blood unclean, unholy. Yet for Rosemary and Aaron Harker the Church was less important than being ready to stand against the Uncanny as not being prepared could lead to being dead.
The year is 1913. America—and the world—trembles on the edge of a modern age. Political and social unrest shift the foundations; technology is beginning to make its mark.
But in the shadows, things from the past still move. Things inhuman, uncanny.
And the Uncanny are no friend to humanity.
But when Aaron and Rosemary Harker go to investigate the suspicious death of a distant relative, what they discover could turn their world upside down—and change the Huntsmen forever
The cover is what initially caught my eye, and the blurb solidified that. This is quite an odd duck of a book (as the characters would say), a slowly paced historical fantasy mystery that at times feels more focused on the main character relationships than the murder plot. But I found it absolutely fascinating and very enjoyable!
“To be Huntsmen was to be quiet, to be known only to your prey, and never those around you, to never speak freely of the things you had done.”
Rosemary and Aaron were raised since birth to be Huntsmen. Charged with protecting regular humans from the the uncanny, they’re skilled at combat and subterfuge. When a distant relative reaches out after the suspicious death of her husband, Rosemary and Aaron arrive to find that all is not as it seems in the small upstate New York town of Brunson, and not everything they’ve been led to believe is true.
While I’m a huge fan of romance, it was nice change of pace to have a pair of siblings be the main characters. The book switches between Rosemary and Aaron’s POVS, giving insight into both characters’ thoughts. They don’t always see eye to eye but they work well as a team, balancing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“You have the worst habit of jinxing us.”
“It’s a simple grave desecration,” he said. “What could possibly go wrong?”
“I hate you so much right now.”
Rosemary is the older sibling and naturally protective of Aaron. She’s thoughtful and methodical, preferring to use logic and technology against the often unexplainable uncanny. Aaron on the other hand prefers sigils and spells and is much more impetuous. He’s written as neurodivergent, mostly with a disregard for social conventions. He tends to be a bit callous, for instance, focusing more on the excitement of a new hunt than that a relative has just died. Rosemary’s father had an interesting theory for why he’s that way, but no matter what, he’s a Huntsman to his core. And while Rosemary wonders what her life would be like if she weren’t a Huntsman or even how much more freedom she’d have if she wasn’t a woman, she feels the same way, and can’t imagine life without her brother as her partner.
“Anyone wandering this late likely deserves to see a hellhound pacing through the streets.”
“Don’t call him that,” Rosemary said, walking a little faster to keep up with the tug of the lead. “It’s unkind.”
And of course there’s Botheration, their hound. He’s much than a simple dog and he’s almost as much a part of the team as the siblings, helping detect traces of the uncanny that are too small for them to find. His relationships with Rosemary and Aaron – not to mention the reactions of other people when they meet him – were one of my favorite parts of the book.
Northeast America in 1913 is a wonderful setting for the book. There’s union uprisings, suffragettes, and the lure of easy travel by rail. But there’s also the uncanny, who greatly outnumber humans. They mostly keep to themselves or only go where they’re invited (if you’re foolish enough to invite a brownie) so the Huntsmen only go after the ones that become dangerous. There’s tantalizing hints about various types of uncanny and magic and it’s definitely something I hope to see more of in future books! The book is slowly paced with sudden action scenes surrounded by lots of more mundane research. As the first book in the series, a lot of time is spent learning the characters of Rosemary and Aaron, enough that it overshadows the actual murder mystery at times.
Overall, a delightful read but not the type of book for someone looking for high tension in the plot. This book is much more suited for a snowy afternoon and a cup of tea, so if that’s what you’re looking for, highly recommended!
Content notes: View Spoiler »violence (including gore and death), intimidation by cop, desecration of a grave, period-typical misogyny, ableism, drug use, death of parents (before book starts), grief « Hide Spoiler