It is my turn on the blog tour for May Day, a book that certainly left me with a variety of thoughts. I am very grateful to Dave @ The Write Reads for awarding me with a place on the tour and to Josie Jaffrey for providing a free e-copy.
Published: 9th July 2020
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Trigger warnings: Drug references, strong sexual references, allusions to rape, sexual harassment, misogyny
If the murderer you’re tracking is a vampire, then you want a vampire detective. Just maybe not this one.
It’s not that Jack Valentine is bad at her job. The youngest member of Oxford’s Seekers has an impressive track record, but she also has an impressive grudge against the local baron, Killian Drake.
When a human turns up dead on May Morning, she’s determined to pin the murder on Drake. The problem is that none of the evidence points to him. Instead, it leads Jack into a web of conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the country, people to whom Jack has no access. But she knows someone who does.
To get to the truth, Jack will have to partner up with her worst enemy. As long as she can keep her cool, Drake will point her to the ringleaders, she’ll find the murderer and no one else will have to die.
Body bags on standby.
As concepts go, they do not come much more enticing than vampire detectives investigating a murder in present day Oxford. This is an inventive book with a mystery that carries plenty of intrigue and a very well crafted plot, but it also left me with extremely mixed feelings as the process of building any sort of connection with the characters took much longer than anticipated.
For much of the early part of the story I really struggled to like it despite the occasional flashes of promise, but thankfully it gets much better during the second half and by the end I was not only a lot more engaged, but tentatively looking ahead to the sequel. It is one of those rare books where the positive elements were not very evident to begin with, only for my patience to pay off somewhat later on.
Jack Valentine is one of the Seekers, a group of detectives who solve crimes that take place among a society of blood-consuming, erstwhile humans called the Silver. She is skilled but also hot-headed, and she carries a fierce grudge against the Baron of Oxford, Killian Drake, a highly influential individual whom she blames for ruining a romantic relationship years earlier.
When she and her team start to investigate the death of a man at the hands of a Silver, Jack attempts to pin the murder on Drake, but none of the evidence points towards him. Instead, they end up having to work together in a case that is being closely watched by the most powerful Silvers in the country, who believe it is linked to a string of other killings that threatened to expose their existence.
But as Jack slides deeper into the case, she encounters a conspiracy that goes far beyond the authority of the Seekers, and faces a battle to convince the rest of her team that her theory is worth pursuing. At the same time, she falls in love with an attractive pathologist, though is unable to escape the attention of her nemesis Drake.
Let’s start with the things I did like. First of all, the concept and the world building. The story takes place in contemporary Oxford, but we are given such good insights into their powers, the places they frequent, and how they live alongside normal society. As the mystery deepens, we also discover some of the unsavoury practices that take place within its terribly patriarchal elite.
Another thing I loved was the diversity. Romance plays arguably just as significant a part in the story as the mystery itself, and it is fascinating to follow as Jack – who is bisexual – struggles to deal with her feelings. There is also gay representation in the shape of her colleague Cam, although I felt his ongoing sub-plot with Ed was lacking in development.
Even at the start when my relationship with the book was uncertain at best, my attention was always drawn by the mystery. The investigation into David Grant’s death contained a wealth of components and clues, taking Jack’s team to different places and back and forth between suspects who all seem to have solid alibis. It becomes even more interesting when talk of a wider conspiracy is added to the mix.
For all of these positive aspects, the thing that threatened to totally spoil my enjoyment of the book was the main characters, including Jack herself. The entire story is told by Jack in the first person present tense and at first I did not just find her unlikable; I found her unbearable. She was just so petulant, complaining nearly all of the time and acting like a spoilt child.
But in fairness, she does mature and develop a little along the way, so in the end my feelings towards her improved. I really liked the fact that she knew her own mind and became willing to fight for what is right regardless of the obstacles that are put in her way. In this respect, the writing is pretty good. So on the whole, though she might never appear on a list of my favourite protagonists, there are some redeeming features there for sure.
Killian Drake is a curious character; charming yet somehow elusive. It becomes unsettling during the moments where he effectively manipulates Jack into submission, and their complex feelings towards one another is a recurring theme throughout. I did not particularly like Drake, but he does add an extra layer to the story and the love triangle between him, Jack, and Tabitha plays out quite well.
I found Tabitha adorable, possibly because of the affectionate way that Jack describes her. As far as her personality goes, she reminded me a little of Professor River Song from Doctor Who. I also really liked Cam, and also Ed on the rare occasions on which he appears, but in contrast I could not stand Naia.
I loved the fact that it was set in Oxford, which is Josie Jaffrey’s hometown and one of my absolute favourite places to visit. The Seekers work in a fictional university college, and some of the areas around the centre of the city are nicely described along with places such as the opera house and the many bars that Jack seems to visit.
The writing is generally very good, with the mystery moving at a quick pace and containing excellent attention to detail. There is possibly a little bit of inf–dumping in places, but this was never a problem as it helped to enhance the reader’s understanding of the story and the concept. However, one issue I did have – which I rarely point out – is that the book contains a lot of bad language; certainly more than necessary in my opinion. It is only personal preference, but it did have an impact on how I related to Jack and some of the other characters.
Overall, this a book that started off feeling as though it would be a desperate chore to reach the end, but it grew on me to the extent that I actually quite liked it. The essential components such as plot, mystery, concept, and setting are all impressive, and once I overcame my initial frustrations about Jack and her turbulent narrative, it developed into a reasonably good read.
Josie Jaffrey completed a degree in Classics before working as an investment banker and solicitor, but has always loved writing. She decided to take up writing full-time in 2016, and has now produced nine self-published novels.
May Day is the first in the Seekers series, but the latest of many set in the world of the Silver. This began with the Solis Invicti series in 2014, and her other novels include The Gilded King. She lives in Oxford along with her husband and two cats, and her assistant is none other than fellow book blogger Asha @ A Cat, A Book, and a Cup of Tea.
A book of two halves. It was difficult to enjoy to begin with, but it got considerably better as it went on. Ultimately, there is plenty to like.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐
*I received a free electronic copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Be sure to check out the reviews from all the other wonderful bloggers on this tour! And also, you have just got to admire the beautiful banner Noly created for this one.