Paul Anthony Shortt’s Locked Within, the first book in his Memory Wars trilogy, is an urban fantasy set in New York City. While you may start reading it and go, “Oh no, vampires again?” (Like I did), if you keep reading past the character’s first introduction to the magical world teeming beneath New York’s skin then you will find a fascinating world of “reborns” versus immortals, the Conclave versus the Council of Chains. Vampires do exist in this book, but I got the feeling they were more of henchmen to the big baddies instead of the big baddies themselves.
Locked Within follows Nathan Shepherd, an office clerk who likes to do some unofficial crime investigation on the side. When he receives paperwork he’s supposed to process for requests for more information on mysterious groups of deaths that occur every ten years, the investigative bug bites Nathan, and he goes out to investigate what he can about those past deaths. He finds himself in a deadly situation involving vampires, barely escapes with his life, and discovers a body of a woman who died with a look of pure horror on her face.
As things continue, Nathan starts to remember memories that he doesn’t think are his, but they are–in this universe, people are reincarnated after death. Nathan is one of the few Reborn, people who can remember their past lives. The Reborn are part of the Conclave, who seek to keep people safe. They’re up against the Council of Chains, a group of people who believe that when people die and are reincarnated, they’re a completely different person with nothing but the energy of the original soul left behind. Because of that, the Council of Chains are afraid of death and seek any way they can to become immortal.
I was fascinated with these opposing groups and wished I saw more opposition between the two groups. Seeing as the third book in the trilogy is called Memory War, I’m guessing that will come to pass. Even though the disparate groups didn’t take center stage, there was still definite opposition between some of the Reborn and a member of the Council of Chains, Dorian, who is basically the Council’s version of a mob boss of New York.
As the focus at the beginning of the book was heavily centered on vampires, I was worried that vampires would be the main villain. But no, it quickly becomes apparent that there is an even greater evil lurking in New York, a fascinating one that I think I’ll leave a mystery so that any future readers can discover it themselves.
I enjoyed this book. Shortt’s world building is simple enough to understand (if something’s too convoluted, it’s not believable to me), but intriguing enough to hold my interest. The action, too, was gripping and made the pages fly by. I actually stayed up an hour and a half longer than I planned last night just so that I could get through the final “boss battle.”
The characters could be a bit more fleshed out, though, especially the minor characters. Shortt loves his one-syllable names and his single-time descriptions. I kept getting Ben and Mike mixed up, even though after reading I’d realize that Ben is Nathan’s friend and Mike is Nathan’s father. And two of the Reborns, Adam and Sam, were so ill-formed that I suppose they could be classified as thugs or bouncers (or “shield bearers,” for a theater term). It was also hard for me to remember what the characters looked like. They would be described a single time, and if I didn’t remember those vague descriptions, tough noogie. That also made it hard to keep characters with similar or short names apart, especially if they didn’t do anything that made me think, “Best friend” or “Dad” within the first few paragraphs.
For those of you not wanting to dive into a trilogy, this book also works well alone. There’s no large loose ends, just the usual, “People are continuing their lives, some are stepping up to their destiny, others are hiding to lick their wounds.” There’s enough left open to have the same characters leap into the second book, but the main antagonist is defeated and all is well in the world (well, “well” in comparison to what could be happening). It’s not necessarily a happy ending, but it is an ending. I may pick up the second book, I may not. We’ll see.
*Ending Note: This book took me longer than I thought to read, and apparently it’s only a couple hundred pages long. I blame my phone. I got the Kindle copy of this book, but didn’t take my eInk Kindle on the plane with me on my recent vacation. I read eInk faster than any other form of e-book mediums, so things like screen strain may have contributed to my slowness. Other people on Goodreads have read this in an afternoon, so if you want a fun book for a slow afternoon, this is a good one to pick up.