Seraph by J.C. McKenna
Seraph (A Novel of the Seraph Book 1), by J.C. McKenna, is a moving urban fantasy, blending runaways and exploitation with an intriguing dreamworld.
A man wakes up alone in an alley, with a vague idea of how to get back to an apartment where notes and an ID with his face on it help let him know who he is. It’s clear from the start of this book that something otherworldly is happening to the man who goes by “Raymond” but it takes a while for this to be explained to either Ray or the reader. He also experiences a shifting dreamscape, where he had another identity and strange powers. It’s an intriguing situation, but sometimes this works a bit too well, and certain scenes when Ray is confused and disoriented leave the reader confused, too. But mostly, Ray’s dreams and his search for his missing identity propel the story forward.
Meanwhile, Ray uses his unexplained powers to help the police catch criminals. By touching a victim, Ray is often able to learn something about their life, which can often be a clue to their identity or their attacker. Ray doesn’t have much use for laws or authority figures, but he shares his supernatural talents with a certain trusted police officer when needed, in the hope of bringing murderers to justice. And this city has lots of Jane Does, usually runaways without family to claim them, and they’re all found with the same strange hexagonal symbol on their wrists...
Seraph never asks questions about whether supernatural creatures exist. It’s clear from the very beginning of this novel that everyday rules do not apply. Instead, Ray questions which events are caused by supernatural evil and which are regular human greed, selfishness, and addiction. With a wide cast of characters and many different agendas, plus a dreamscape Ray can’t quite understand, readers are led to question each character’s true motives, too.
Throughout the book, Ray’s narrative style is casual and matter-of-fact, whether he’s telling the cops that a twisted rave is actually sponsored by a very unlikely source, or explaining that he woke up naked in the alley, again. Ray’s casual style works well when facing the dark forces at work in this novel, without ever becoming too comic. Ray’s friends, particularly Rev. Ruth and Baron Saturday, are unique characters, too. There are moments of banter, especially when their agendas don’t line up, and lighthearted moments of friendship, but again, Seraph never becomes a goofy comedy. Ray, Ruth, and Saturday are all well aware that they are trying to protect their innocent charges from true evil.
Through dreams, hypnosis, and visions, Ray gets tantalizing hints of who he might really be. These intriguing hints of further powers blend with the constant awareness that true evil is real.
In Seraph, there are several interlocking conflicts that take readers through the underbelly of our own world, through a dreamscape, and through memories of a distant life. The twists on Ray’s path are surprising, ending with a satisfying conclusion to this urban fantasy and hints that these characters’ stories are far from over.