Rating: 5 out of 5
Skyla Dawn Cameron’s Solomon’s Seal (Livi Talbot) (Volume 1) starts off a new series with a bang! It has a bit each of a handful of genres: thriller, urban fantasy, adventure, and horror.
Livi Talbot is an ex-rich girl whose father disowned her when she got pregnant out of wedlock. The Pulse is a weird event which recently “activated” a bunch of magical artifacts, and brought out the non-human in some people. Livi supports her and her daughter Emaleth (Em) by hunting Pulse-activated artifacts for wealthy clients. Unfortunately, sometimes she goes up against her own brother, Martin, who hunts artifacts in order to put them in museums–and who isn’t afraid to play dirty to beat her at her own game. A rich man, Moses Ashford, proposes to pay her five hundred thousand dollars–an unheard-of amount that she badly needs–to find and return to him the Seal of Solomon. He’s put together a team to go caving in Ethiopia with her: Dawson, tech genius; Laurel, his “voice” at the expedition; Mr. Rolph, a scholar; and a handful of mercenaries. They plan to delve deep underground in order to find the ring. Once they enter the cave system they find chewed-on human bones, and Livi starts to suspect there are things she hasn’t been told.
There’s a wild ride of an underground adventure here, with definite overtones of horror. The group isn’t alone down there, and the mercenaries make sure they know there’s no going back. Livi and Mr. Rolph are experienced cavers, and Dawson was left back at base camp, but Lauren at least is new to caving–not a great trip to start with! Livi also ends up contending with Mr. Ashford’s right-hand man, Dale West, who’s rumored to have done some very nasty things to people who have failed Mr. Ashford. Add to that the fact that they’re on a deadline, Martin is also on the hunt for the Seal, and someone really doesn’t want Livi to give the ring to Ashford, and things get dicey.
Even the smallest details are done really well. When someone has to buy new clothes for Livi without her input, they don’t measure her with their eyes and understand women’s sizing well enough to magically provide her with a perfect fit. It’s the little things like that which give the story a very “real” feeling. The setting is great, ranging from a gala event to mud and blood in underground passages. Livi’s roommate (and occasional babysitter for Em) Pru has MS, but does her best to help out, and she and Livi are clearly close. I also love the fact that Livi nicknames a large white tiger “Buttons.” (Why no, tigers are not native to that area. That’s part of the fun!)
The characters are great. There aren’t many black-and-white characters. Even Livi’s more principled brother Martin will go to great lengths to beat his sister to an artifact–from having his helpers shoot at her to having the police arrest her. There are, however, a couple of truly nasty characters. I loved seeing Livi try to mesh mothering a six-year-old with finding ways to support both of them. Em is having trouble in the private school Livi springs for, and it’s awfully hard for her to deal with it from Ethiopia.
There’s terror, danger, and… well, more terror. Also some snark. All in all, this is a fantastic book and I can’t wait to read book two!