Wicked City is the second installment in Alaya Johnson’s Jazz Era Zephyr Hollis series, which begins with Moonshine. Set in 1920s New York City, the series follows Zephyr Hollis, a vampire’s rights activist and charity worker who comes from a vampire hunting family.
Wicked City opens six months after the close of Moonshine, during which Zephyr has done relatively little to deal with the aftereffects of her actions. They’ve now collected interest and require some attention ASAP. Not only is she not fulfilling her responsibilities to the djinni Amir, but she’s now under investigation for harboring an underage vampire. In order to stay ahead of the game, Zephyr must enter the realm of politics and do some good deeds for the Mayor without attracting even more trouble. If only it were that simple…needless to say, if you haven’t read Moonshine, it is required to really enjoy Wicked City. Everything here hinges on the previous book, and there are no recaps to catch up with.
A very, very busy book
At just over 300 pages, Wicked City is on the short side for fantasy nowadays, and Johnson has packed every nook and cranny of it with plots. So much so that I’m not convinced that all of the plot lines she has going were served as well as they could have been. The pacing is frenetic, and the bouncing between plot lines is not always as smooth as I like. By the time the book ended I really felt that to really do this story justice, the book could have been a good hundred pages longer. I wanted things more fleshed out, with a few more peaks and valleys with the pacing.
I also missed some of the Jazz Era atmosphere that was everywhere in Moonshine. In this book, Zephyr isn’t visiting speakeasies, attending protests, or singing at swanky parties. She’s not even doing a great deal of charity work, as NYC would essentially shut down every summer before the invention of air conditioning. This is the only Jazz Era urban-noir fantasy that I know of, and I wanted more of that little spark that sets it apart from everything else.
Johnson does a fantastic mystery
I don’t read a lot of mysteries because I tend to put the puzzle together a little too soon. A good author will give me the pieces, but interest me in how it plays out so that I don’t stop reading somewhere in the middle. I love an author who blindsides me, and Johnson did. While I figured how the murders were done, I did not see the who-done-it, and I seriously felt like clapping when Johnson made the reveal. It was truly masterfully executed and the real highlight of the book. It made up for the lacks I listed above, and let me end the book on a positive note. She also left a bit of a cliffhanger, and I’m impatiently awaiting the next installment to see where Johnson is going to take us.
Why you should read this book
Well, first, because it’s unique. The Roaring Twenties were a good time for a lot of people, and make for fun books. Second, because you liked the first book. If you haven’t read Moonshine, you should go read it now and then pick up Wicked City. If you like noir mysteries, vampires, and a dash of historical settings, this is a series for you.