Book/Author and Year Published: Hypnos by R.J. Blain (2019)

Reviewer: Bethany

Age/Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy

Preferred Reading Environment: Let the bathwater rejuvenate you while you read this book.

Reading Accoutrements: Your favorite chocolate-covered fruit and soft-lighting.

Content Notes: PTSD,  violence and death, racism, ableism

For those of you who don’t know, I really like the Adult Urban Fantasy genre. I don’t read it very often because I tend to become immersed and forget about my other responsibilities…like eating…and sleeping…but when I find a new urban fantasy that appeals, I look for the right time in my life to think about nothing else before I get started. With Halloween near, I’m making the time! So, I pulled out Hypnos

Special Agent Olivia Abrams’s life has been torn apart and put back together on multiple occasions. World War III was fought with nuclear weapons – and they had surprising consequences. Nature reacted to the nuclear material with magic, creating magic users of many different power levels and skill types. While on a college trip, Olivia was one of very few survivors of the bomb that devastated New York City. As a result, she is now a powerful water elementalist with the power to manipulate H20 in myriad ways.

Her power meant that she would be drafted into service to the government for two years, so she joined the FBI and quickly rose to become supervisor of several quads (groups of four powered special agents who are deployed to handle specific situations based on their skill sets) in San Francisco, where she grew up. She is very good at her job, although she tends to get in trouble for being a bit too straightforward when her people are threatened or someone gets in her way. So she is surprised when a police officer charges into her office and accuses her of stealing a statue of a fish.

Detective Raymond Davis of the Oakland Police Department is a very talented investigator – and 100% magic-free. Police departments from all over California regularly borrow him for their tricky theft cases. This case happened in his own backyard, however, and after exploring every other investigative avenue he resorts to checking on people with the required power rating. On paper, Olivia Abrams, registered high-powered water elementalist and Chinese-American, seems like the perfect suspect to steal a Chinese koi statue. Her alibi – spending the night at San Francisco FBI Headquarters – quickly clears her name.

When one of Olivia’s quads goes missing and a large-scale magical attack occurs downtown, victims spouting tales of ghost fish force Olivia to call the detective. Together, they use their unique skill sets to investigate the missing statue and the terrorist attack on San Francisco. 

I’m not going to lie, if I was a character in an urban fantasy novel, I would want to be just like Olivia Abrams. She might have gone through some horrible trauma, but she has come out the other side stronger and more determined than ever. The woman has some serious sass, and despite the fact that she has human limitations (she has to sleep and eat and, yes, she is breakable), she still manages to get more done than most people could imagine. Olivia is a badass. She has also surrounded herself with people she cares about and who make sure she eats and sleeps and doesn’t hurt herself (too badly). I fully relate to Olivia’s need for people who make sure that you are taking care of yourself while you take on the world (or your next book adventure); I have people like that in my life, too.

Speaking of people who care about her, Olivia’s decision to join the FBI was a point of contention with her father, a police commissioner who wanted her to join the police force. She takes every possible opportunity to poke at her father when she has to work with local police. When Olivia and the detective are assigned to work the case together, she calls him her “pet cop” just to rile her father – and also to get back at Raymond for accusing her of theft. Olivia’s mother is a determined matchmaker and she continuously throws Olivia and Raymond together to try spawn a relationship.

That might have bothered me, because no badass lady needs a man. But Olivia wants to be in a relationship and she and Raymond are cute together. They have a very straightforward conversation at the dinner table to establish the rules of their potential relationship, including what justifies missing dates (since both of them are workaholics). I love that, despite the fact that Olivia has powers and Raymond does not, neither of them acts more important than the other. Olivia fights to get Raymond a police dog and argues that his magic-free-status shouldn’t preclude him from certain jobs. Raymond makes sure that Olivia takes care of herself while she takes care of business, because she has a tendency to put others before herself at great cost to her sleep and mealtimes. 

Hypnos addresses some problematic societal issues that history has taught us become exacerbated following major wars:

  1. PTSD: Olivia was a civilian and victim of one of the most destructive bombs of the war. She suffers from PTSD that she is still working through more than a decade later. She often wonders what her life would be like if she hadn’t been in New York when the bomb dropped. Occasionally, she has panic attacks, flashbacks, and nightmares.
  2. Ableism: Interestingly, the draft after the war focused on people with magical abilities. Meanwhile, the government sought out humans with no magic (called “pures” because of their pure genetics that were not harmed by nuclear fallout) and tried to encourage them to breed to preserve “normal” genetics. Raymond, a man who has always wanted to be a cop, struggles against this institutional need to protect his genetics, since his job as a cop is dangerous and the government continuously tries to protect him and his ability to have genetically pure children.
  3. Racism: Additionally, there are clearly some prejudices against people of different races stemming from the war itself. While the book doesn’t directly address the racism – probably because it doesn’t discuss which countries fought and what issue spurred the conflict – it is peripherally present. There were several comments made in passing by various characters that suggest there is still mistrust of specific races due to the war.

I appreciated the realism in the repercussions following such a major conflict. I hope these issues continue to be addressed throughout the series. Which reminds me! Hypnos is the first book in the Seeking the Zodiacs series.

You guys! I’m cursed! Why do I always find insanely addictive urban fantasy series early on??? This is like Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series all over again! Now, I’m going to have to wait for every single book release. It’s going to be agonizing…And the series is called Seeking the Zodiacs, which means there are probably going to be TWELVE OF THEM! 

Uuuuggghhh…

Also: I can’t wait!

Anyway, I am so glad that I waited until I could pause my real life, because I barely remembered to look up from this book. Have you ever been so into a book that you forgot to shower?

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