The seventh in the Esther Diamond books by Laura Resnick, Abracadaver is every bit as fun and inventive as I’ve come to expect of this series. A lighter take on Urban Fantasy that I find refreshing after all the gruesomeness that permeates the genre. As much as I enjoy such stories, not every Urban Fantasy needs dismemberment or tortured protagonists—and I do love my tortured protagonists. Esther isn’t tortured. She’s practical.
1—A Normal Heroine
Esther is a normal woman—as normal as an actor can be, anyway. She’s not a martial arts specialist, she’s not an expert with a gun, she doesn’t have great and powerful magic—or any magic at all. Most of her knowledge of the supernatural comes from what she learns from her new friend (in-universe, it’s only been a little over a year since the first book), Dr Zadok, and what information she can find in his specialized bookstore.
But she also doesn’t panic or faint—ok, she panics sometimes, but only when there’s actual reason to, and she doesn’t let it stop her from thinking. She has empathy but doesn’t let it get in the way. As Esther notes, sometimes people get put off by her when she isn’t as distraught over something as they think a girl should be. But that’s not who she is, and I love that about her.
Esther figures problems out by being observant of what happens around her and by doing research. She gets help from whoever she can, without ego or simpering about it. It’s just the practical thing to do. In fact, I’d say Esther’s practicality is what makes her heroic. It’s what lets her accept the supernatural world she stumbled into a year ago and deal with the problems that arise as a result.
2—Evil With a Capital E
Just because this series doesn’t feature the same level of gore found in most of the current generation of Urban Fantasy doesn’t mean the villains aren’t every bit as despicable. In the first book, the villain summons a virgin-raping demon to take over Manhattan. Actually, several villains try to feed New York to unholy creatures. That’s why Esther keeps finding herself fighting Evil, because if all of New York is in danger, so is she. Like I said, she’s practical.
In Abracadaver, Esther and motley crew of friends face off against yet another demon, albeit one present of its own volition rather than having been summoned. And of course this all happens just as Esther’s acting career is starting to get on the right track. But then, being an actress in New York is never easy.
It’s not always demons though. There are plenty of creatures going bump in the night, or whatever time they want. And some of the most disturbing Evil is, as always, human. The lengths some people will go to achieve their desires—whether magic is involved or not—the price they’re willing to make other people pay…that’s always scarier to me than eldritch monsters.
3—Friends to What is Hopefully Not the End
Speaking of Esther’s friends, I love them all. They’re so much fun, so vibrant and full of personality. Three of my favorites are Satsy (short for Saturated Fats), a large black drag queen Esther meets in the first book, Disappearing Nightly, after another drag queen goes inexplicably missing during a magic act; Lucky (Alberto “Lucky Bastard” Battistuzzi), a mostly retired mob hitman whose grandmother taught him enough that he knows magic exists; and Nellie, Dr Zadok’s familiar in canine shape.
There are too many nifty people Esther meets, either as a result of her profession—acting—or her hobby—fighting Evil—for me to mention them all, but here’s a few that stuck out in my memory: the young voudoo priestess and her brother, Dr Zadoc’s colleague from the Magnum Collegium who protects Altoona from Evil—apparently it’s a big problem there—and Lucky’s handsome, Chinese-American mortician God-nephew. Then there’s Esther’s vampire cast-mates, one wanna-be and one real, a self-absorbed actor ex of Esther’s, and her agent, Thackery Shackleton, who we take a while to meet in person—most of his and Esther’s interactions are over the phone—but he’s worth the wait. And in the last book, The Misfortune Cookie, we meet Lopez’s new partner. Speaking of Lopez…
4—Spark of Love
Esther meets Detective Connor Lopez in the first book and the two of them have smashing chemistry right from the start. I’m not much into that, but in the Esther Diamond books, it works well. The tension between Connor and Esther is well-written and well-developed over the course of the books. There’s plenty of will-they, won’t-they, of course. But whereas most iterations of that trope drive me insane with the convoluted twists the writer has put the story/characters through to achieve it, Laura Resnick makes it feel natural because it is natural—the natural result of Esther breaking and/or bending laws in the fight against Evil and Lopez thinking her belief in magic is crazy. Crazy as in, he suggests she might want to commit herself. That kind of thing puts a damper on a relationship.
I also appreciate that the romance is worked naturally into the individual plot of each book without allowing it to overgrow. And I know I keep using that word—natural—but that’s because so many romances feel forced to me. And again, the events of the books so far have taken place in only a little over a year, in-universe. That’s not a lot of time for a romance, or so many tribulations.
Alas, not all is sunshine and roses with these books. Ms Resnick likes her recaps, and they can take a while. I understand the desire to be completely thorough, as I suffer from it myself. But for the last several books, I’ve found myself skimming through the first chapter and sometimes the second. This problem is exaggerated for me since I got into the series when book five or six was already out, so I read them in fairly short order. But as someone who likes rereading a series, this would happen anyways.
Too much recapping is tedious. Hitting the points relevant to understanding the current plot and leaving the rest of the details off serves a story better. I can always go back and reread the last book. Or the last all of them, which I will.
Don’t let this scare you off from the Esther Diamond series though. I just got my sister into it and her usual fare is historic fiction and alternate universe with a historic bent. She loves the Esther Diamond books too, despite the over-recapping. And that’s because she loves Esther, our practical, non-super-powered heroine who gets shit done.
What other heroines do you know like that? I’m always looking for a new book or show or movie to get into, so if you’ve got a favorite, drop a comment and let me know.