Spotlight On: Romancing the Null

gowerTitle: Romancing the Null (The Outlier Prophecies Book One)
Author/Publisher: Tina Gower
Pages: 220 pp
Price: $9.99 (paperback) / free (ebook)

In a world of Gods, elves, leprechauns, witches, druids, werewolves, and lots of ordinary humans, everyone has a Fate. It’s the job of the oracles to see those fates and help people find the best path possible. Sometimes that means helping them find true love, other times that means helping them avoid a traffic accident, still other times that means stopping a murder.

Then there are people like Kate Hale — that extremely rare being who is, essentially, Fateless. The oracles can’t see people like Kate. People like Kate are holes, blind spots in the fabric of fate. Which makes Kate the perfect person to help Jack, a low-level weather oracle, figure out why he is fated to be murdered in two days … and, hopefully, save his life and the lives of every other oracle ….

I stumbled upon Romancing the Null by accident. I was browsing the Barnes and Noble website, looking for free ebooks to download. I just wanted something simple to occupy my brain during my lunch break. The title did nothing for me, but the cover was interesting, and the synopsis really got my attention. I downloaded it immediately and began to read.

You know how I complain constantly about the dearth of Pagan- and polytheist-friendly fantasy, especially urban fantasy? About how so much of that genre is some variation on the same quasi-Christian cosmology and it’s really annoying?

Yeah. Romancing the Null is so not that. When I talk about Pagan- and polytheist-friendly urban fantasy, this is what I am talking about. Kate’s civilization looks a lot like the modern United States: big cities, computers, traffic jams, cubicle drones in business suits. But that is where the similarity ends. This is a naturally, openly polytheistic society. Everyday speech is peppered with references to “the gods.” Government offices are closed so people can observe the holiday “Feriae of Jupiter.” Kate’s cousin and best friend Ali is a druid and a blood witch (in training) who prays to “the Goddess,” practices defensive, protective magic, and engages in live sacrifice. There is even a nutter terrorist group called the Norns who are trying to kill off the oracles under the mistaken belief that they can then decide their own fate (yes, they deliberately took that name as a slight directed against the Goddesses).

It was so much fun to lose myself in the world Gower had created. I could disappear into a society where I was … well … normal. Plus there was action, narrow escapes, crazy baking scenes (did I mention that Ali has to be celibate during training?), and a sexy, very lonely werewolf/police detective who has latched onto Kate and her bizarre case and just won’t let go.

As much as I enjoyed Romancing the Null, I do have a few minor complaints. In a few places, it felt like Gower was trying to rush her story along; connecting scenes were missing or abbreviated, or characters would move from one position to another with only the barest explanation as to how they had moved (if at all). Additionally, the ending — I promise, no spoilers — could have been tightened up. The next to last chapter included a wonderfully dramatic, heartbreaking twist and then the denouement just sort of … drifted. A punchier ending, such as a stronger reference to the Outlier Prophecies which presumably tie the series together, would have served to keep readers hooked; it would have created an “I need to know what happens next!” compulsion.

As it stands, Romancing the Null is a thoroughly enjoyable urban fantasy with an unusual heroine, a terrific supporting cast, and strong world-building. Highly recommended to fans of The Medusa Files  by CI Black, The Faery Queen of Spencer’s Butte by Jolene Dawe, The Ordinary Magic series by Devon Monk, The Elder Races series by Thea Harrison, Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper by JL Bryan, Veiled Magic by Deborah Blake, and the Monster Haven books by RL Naquin.