Triad Soul by Nathan Burgoine
Published by: Bold Stroke Books
Genre: urban fantasy/queer fiction
(available now at the publisher, 20 June at other retailers)
Reviewed by: Edwin
What to Expect: Wizards, Vampires, and Demons with a heaped serving of queer found family and an unconventional not-quite-romance.
Plot: The law of three is everything: three vampires for a coterie, three demons for a pack, and three wizards for a coven. Those alone or in pairs are vulnerable to the rest. Luc, Anders, and Curtis—vampire, demon, and wizard—sidestepped tradition by binding themselves together.
When something starts brutally killing demons in Ottawa, the three find themselves once again moving among the powers who rule the city from the shadows—this time working with them to try to stop the killings before chaos and blood rule the streets.
Hunting a killer who seems to leave no trace behind, the triad are forced to work with allies they don’t dare trust, powers they barely understand, and for the good of those they already know to be corrupt.
They have the power of blood, soul, and magic. But they have to survive to keep it.
Review: ‘Nathan Burgoine’s Triad Blood, the first book in this series, was one of my favourite books of last year and Triad Soul is, if anything, even better. It’s possible to read it without having read Triad Blood (the plot largely stands alone) but you’ll miss a lot of background and Triad Blood is amazing, so I’d suggest reading that first.
As the blurb states, the main plot motivator here is a murder mystery: someone is killing demons, and the supernatural government (such as it is) want it investigated but doesn’t want to be seen to be involved. So they ask our triad of main characters – powerful, but outside the usual hierarchy of the supernatural world – to investigate. The mystery plot works nicely, and I didn’t guess until close to the end who the culprit was. It’s quite important that we get clear plot drive from the mystery element, because the book does a lot of other things, and has a number of allegorical strands, that would have bogged down a less skilful writer.
One of the most prominent of these other elements is the fantasy worldbuilding, and it’s done very well. Wizard, Demon, and Vampire magic and society are well explained and really interesting, as are the werewolves (a new supernatural species that didn’t feature in the first book in the series). It’s also a specifically Canadian form of society: the French/English dichotomy that’s defined Canadian society for 200 years. In very broad terms the Wizards seem to be Anglos and the Vampires are French. It’s the sort of detail that entirely makes sense in a story set in Ottawa, and really helps give the book a concrete sense of place (and does Burgoine’s local knowledge of various Ottawa neighbourhoods and landmarks).
So far, all of this is good – I really enjoy a well-crafted paranormal mystery. But what sets it apart, and makes me genuinely love this book (and series) is the depiction, both in fact and in allegory, of queer community. This is an own voices work, and found family and the sense of support one can find in a queer community are clearly really important to Burgoine. The Triad are all, in their own way, alone and vulnerable: the cultured Luc has lived a long time, but most of that has been in the shadows. Anders, a confident, assertive man, had to fight his own instincts to stay beneath the radar and survive. And most of all Curtis, who’s only in his early twenties, watched his parents killed by those he ought to have been able to trust. In each other, the three of them find community and find safety, even if others don’t understand how. Their relationship isn’t quite a romance (though Anders is a sex demon so there is some sex there), and though it may be heading that way, the mutual support the triad provides doesn’t depend on it. It’s great to see this – it’s something that is largely absent from both m/m fiction and urban fantasy.
Throw in Anders helping other queer demons find a pack and Luc finding places for vampires who are usually ignored or hunted down, and the book’s overriding concern with finding a place for people who the mainstream has cast out becomes crystal clear. At a more prosaic level, I also like that all three in the triad, but particularly Curtis, have other queer friends and acquaintances. Too often the main queer character and his love interest are the only gays in the village, and Burgoine avoids that trap. I love Curtis’s pansexual friend Matt and his boyfriend and Anders’s frenemy gay demons.
The prose is generally crisp and cleanly written, but there are also flourishes of creativity that elevate the writing above the prosaic. It has heart, imagination, and skill. Like Triad Blood before it, I suspect this is going to be one of my favourite books of its year.
What you might not like/doesn’t work for you: The relationship at the heart of this book isn’t romantic, though there is the hint of one starting to appear. If you’re coming for a full-on romance, you’re going to be disappointed.
What you will love: A creative urban fantasy world that you’ll love exploring. An outstanding own voices reflection on the importance of found family and community. And a hilariously profane sex demon.
Edwin gets grumpy if his SF/F reading doesn’t feature happy queer main characters. Aside from that, he reads and writes for a living (though not fiction), so of course his hobby is reading, and now writing about what he reads. Why do anything else?
Connect with Edwin on Twitter: @gaybookgeek